Re-Narrativising Abortion Narratives in India

46 Pages Posted: 7 Apr 2011

Date Written: May 11, 2010


This is a paper about abortion in India. I am interested in examining whether anything useful can be learnt from narratives about abortion in India. Whose narratives of abortion are salient? In this age of instant communication, and online archival, what do we do now that we have all our narratives down? What does 'narrative' have to contribute to legal theory, especially feminist legal theory? This is also a paper, in a sense, about the futility of narratives, the dangers of over-narrativisation.

In this paper, I have attempted to demonstrate how a narrative focus on statistics of female foeticide has contributed to a particular framing of the issue. In these accounts, female foeticide emerges as lower class, rural, non-modern, religio-cultural, immutable and ageless which implicitly installs the opposing paired terms - elite, urban, modern, secular, dynamic and new – as 'ideal' others. Such a framing prevents a more meaningful understanding of the distinctly 'modern' history of rural immiseration and the patriarchal reconstitution of domestic relations that led to female foeticide becoming a generalized phenomenon. Modern medical technologies, rather than facilitating female reproductive sexual independence, have been co-opted as a factor in the operation of state-underwritten patriarchy. I have suggested, following Ashis Nandy, that a meaningful engagement with the issue would be one that is targeted at dissipating the concentrated force of patriarchy - for instance by attempting to valorize the conjugal relationship over the mother-son relationship.

Keywords: abortion, gender, justice, narratives, India, culture, Ashis Nandy, Veena Talwar Oldenberg, feminist theory, feminism, technology,

Suggested Citation

Iyengar, Prashant, Re-Narrativising Abortion Narratives in India (May 11, 2010). Available at SSRN: or

Prashant Iyengar (Contact Author)

MESAAS, Columbia University ( email )

New York, NY 10027
United States

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