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Gendered narratives of alcohol/drug consumption and violent nationalism in India

Soans, Sonia (2016) Gendered narratives of alcohol/drug consumption and violent nationalism in India. Doctoral thesis (PhD), Manchester Metropolitan University.

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Abstract

Alcoholism and drug addiction have come to be regarded as psychological and social disorders in recent times. The international diagnostic system ICD (International Classification of Diseases) provides a diagnosis for severe cases of alcoholism/addiction that meet clinical standards. However, the consumption of these substances even recreationally has been challenged. In the case of India the problem of alcohol and drug consumption is tied to nationalism and is gendered. My work in a rehabilitation clinic in India introduced me to learning about the non-clinical side of the condition. While literature from around the world supports the idea that female alcoholics and addicts in recovery are treated differently by medical staff, it does not look at how some of these narratives about the addict are sometimes tied to the prejudice against the substances themselves. This leads to the research question - How are gendered narratives of alcohol and drug consumption represented in Indian society in general, and Bollywood movies in particular. The thesis also explores to what extent, if any, such representations relate to the rise of violent nationalism within Indian society. Tracing the history back to the disease model that has come to dominate our understanding of the condition, one can observe that these diagnostic criteria have been evolving, as has the social milieu that creates these breaches in normality. I am not looking at the clinical diagnosis itself but at the fears that surround addiction narratives. These narratives are to be found in everyday life, in cinema, in policy, in crime. The ‘addict’ is not only a clinical being but tells a different story which varies according to the identity that they embody. Women in India who transgress boundaries of ‘culture’ are often at risk of being sexualised even by their recreational use of psychoactive substances. These narratives are present everywhere, especially in cinema. The work of postcolonial theorists such as Ashis Nandy and Partha Chatterjee is used to trace a nationalistic discourse, that in recent years has turned violent, providing a critique of the modern Indian state. Writing by black feminists such as Audre Lorde, bell hooks and Gloria Anzaldúa provide another critique and that is of gender and race in opposition to culture. The methodology used (eccletic, feminist and discourse analysis) positions me as a researcher not a neutral bystander, but entrenched in and participating in the production of knowledge that makes me question my privilege. Bollywood films have been used to trace these gendered, nationalistic and violent narratives. I show how a popular form of entertainment is also used as a means of propaganda. Cinema in India is an important medium of communication that permeates most aspects of our lives. Widely imitated for its fashion, dialogues and ideology too are imitated. Similar to cinema around the world, Bollywood uses tropes, westernised women who consume drugs and alcohol is one such trope. Reading the discourse that runs through these films reveals there is subversion in the way in which women’s bodies are exploited on screen yet a guise of decency is maintained. The discourse that runs on screen through films is similar to incidents of violence against women in everyday life. Nationalism runs through these narratives, as does gendered violence.

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