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Gender roles made Kalpana Rao Hulluru interested in women's issues

News: May 28, 2015

During four weeks, Dr. Kalpana Rao Hulluru from Pondicherry University in India is a guest scholar at the Department of Literature, History of Ideas, and Religion at University of Gothenburg.

You are specialized in American and Canadian literature, women’s literature and feminist theories. What specific areas have you been doing research on?

– I am interested in how women writers seem to portray anxiety. When I was in Canada I started working on short stories by Alice Munro and the Indian writer Shashi Deshpande. Everybody said to me that these two women were so different that there was no point at looking at them at the same time, and that acomparative study between them should be set with a question mark. But, when I started to work, I found that despite the fact that these two women were very different, they still seemed to be bothered about their own positions. Even the Canadian author Alice Munro kept writing about roles – as a mother, as a daughter or as a wife – and what the society expected. It was very difficult to her to be just a woman.

– I thought that this was very interesting, because I had heard so much about the western world being so advanced and that women there were given so much space, but when I was in Canada I found that women there have lots of problems too – for example violence against women. So, it is not true that just because a country is advanced, women are in some way or the other better off. I am very interested in that and repeatedly I have tried to explore those kinds of backgrounds, whenever I look at literature written by women.

How come you became interested in women's literature and women issues?

– Probably because of my own background. I had quite a liberal upbringing, and was brought up in a home where there were no gender restrictions. Until I was 24 or 25 years I didn´t find a big difference between men and women. But, once I got married it happened to be a rather conservative set-up and the mindset was really different from the backdrop that I came from. Suddenly, there were many restrictions at home, which were new to me and I had to struggle with that. I started to think that I should be looking more at women issues.

– After I got married we moved to North East India, and there I found that many women had similar kinds of problems when they got married. They all seemed to think that they in some way or the other had lost their identity after the marriage. This was very interesting for me because I could, to some extent, understand these kinds of predicaments. That probably gave me that background. After that I have tried to concentrate on women issues and feminist studies, although the western feminist studies are very different from what India probably needs. Still, it was very good as an opening for me.

You have used a Swedish author in your teaching: Stieg Larsson and his The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. What did the students think of the book?

– At first they were very excited. Many of them had seen the film and they were very excited about this young girl who could do things on her own, hack and so on. The woman is given an independent outlook, and this is something that they all wished they could do. But when we started to read the book and look closely at it, many problem issues popped up. Every chapter had a small introduction, saying for example that 65 per cent of the women in Sweden have experienced violence, and so many women in Sweden have been raped. I told the students to look at these texts, and then they started to become very bothered. They were like "does this happen in Sweden?". They had an idea of a large amount of liberty and rights given to women in Sweden, so there were questions about that.

You are staying in Gothenburg for four weeks. What are your plans?

– I’ll be participating in two seminars, one about a book that has created a very large amount of fury. The book is called One Part Woman and is written in Tamil. When it was translated into English the book was banned and people from the Hindu group burned it. The writer was so troubled about this that he decided not to write any more. One seminar will concentrate about the controversy about that book.

Why were they angry over the book?

– It has a section about consensual sex, which some people think is wrong. But there should be a big question mark around this, because Hinduism is big and what you believe changes from group to group.

– My other seminar will be about culture and identity in a postcolonial perspective. I will be looking not only at India but at countries like Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal and Pakistan. This is due to an interest I developed when I was at University of Alberta, Edmonton. There, I was mentored by Professor Stephen Slemon, a postcolonial critic who influenced my studies on culture, identities and postcolonial perspectives.

What do you think of Gothenburg so far?
– I haven’t seen much, but the little bit I have seen I really love! I like the public transport system here, because I have been in the US and if you don’t have a car there it's difficult for you to move around. Also the academic environment has been very welcoming in a way that I don’t find so much at home. The openness in the workplace is something that I really enjoy.

– The second day I was here I took a long walk, and people were extremely helpful. I didn’t know where I was, but I showed them the map and said where I wanted to go, and everyone really tried to help me. Even if they didn’t know, they called somebody and asked how they could help me! That was very nice.

 

At Pondicherry University, Dr. Kalpana Rao Hulluru is an associate professor at the Department of English.

On the 29th of May, 15.15–17.00, Kalpana Rao Hulluru will hold the seminar Religion, Literature and Freedom of Speech. Focus will be on the writer Perumal Murugan and his novel One Part Woman (published in English 2014). The seminar will be held in E322.

On the 10th of June, 14.15–16.00, Kalpana Rao Hulluru will hold the seminar Identity and Culture: Postcolonial Perspectives in Select South Asian Literature. That seminar is also held in E322.

Both seminars are public.

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