Futures are Formed through Narrating Pasts: Intergenerational feminist work in Tamil Nadu, India

Authors: Anusha Hariharan*, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Topics: Cultural Geography, Women, Asia
Keywords: Feminism, Activism, Temporality, Care, Intergenerational, futurity
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/10/2021
Start / End Time: 3:05 PM / 4:20 PM
Room: Virtual 30
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In the wake of the United Nations’ Decade of Women (1975-1985), feminists around the world mobilized to build global solidarity. This imperative was echoed by a group of forty women across class, caste and religious identities in Tamil Nadu, southern India, who converged to form a collective called the Tamilaga Penngal Oringinaippu (TPO), in 1989. Spanning three decades, the TPO members have built a rich legacy of feminist activism in the region, and sustained themselves through friendship and care. While the first decade of the TPO’s existence was marked by extensive campaign work, organizing protests, rallies and conferences to shape a feminist discourse in the Tamil political landscape, they eventually began working in education. Today, most TPO members work with Tamil youth, actively fashioning a “next generation” that furthers their anti-caste work to dismantle patriarchy in Tamil social and political life. Drawing on long-term ethnographic and archival work, this paper examines how the TPO strive towards feminist futures by building memory in an inter-generational space. They do this by narrating histories and memories of conducting activism, bringing the past alive in embodied ways to a young audience. The paper argues that for Tamil feminists, this is a form of care-work: to tend to, or nurture minds and bodies that serve as sites of feminist potentiality and feminist futures. This paper comments on the temporalities of feminist work and life by attending to how the TPO marshal a collective past to inhabit their present in meaningful ways and envision feminist futures.

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