Interested to learn more about Indian women & politics? Here is our curated reading list
Updated: Apr 25
Recognising that Indian politics can be very complex to unpack and keep track of, we asked some Indian women to suggest books that helped them learn more about politics, women in politics and inspired them to do the work they do. We ended up with this very interesting list:
The Brass Notebook: A Memoir by Devaki Jain
“At the outset, this may not look like a book about politics, and it is not. Devaki Jain was an economist, after all. And yet, she led a fiercely liberated and political life marked with a constant engagement with the country and its public life. Born into a fairly privileged family, Devaki used those privileges to not just build a spectacular life for herself, but in the process questioned so many notions of life imposed on women in the country. Born in 1933, when India was still under colonial rule, she grew up as free India took upon itself the momentous task of democratic nation building, and she was determined to make a contribution to it.
Her memoir is as liberated as she was in her life, and she opens up about a range of her life's experiences - from the intimate to the public, the personal and the political. Devaki made several notable contributions in her life - from rethinking Indian economics from a gender lens, to questioning global hierarchies of knowledge production. She studied, she taught, she traveled, she participated passionately in the Bhoodan movement, was part of several policy making bodies, and founded several institutions. Her rich life shows the remarkable potential of what women - and men - can achieve and do for their country (and the world) when they are not bound by social norms and gendered notions of skills or ambition. I hope every young person wanting to do something substantial for the country reads this.” by Akshi Chawla, independent researcher and curator of #WomenLead newsletter
Sarpanch Sahib edited by Manjima Bhattacharjya
“One of my one favourite books on women in politics is “Sarpanch Sahib" by the Hunger Project India edited by Manjima Bhattacharya, where a number of writers profile women Sarpanches across Odisha, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Madhya Pradesh and other states. This was my first reading on women in grassroots politics and it completely broke the prevailing myth of women as proxies. It also gave me the theoretical framework to look at my own series of women in Panchayat politics from Tamil Nadu which you can read here.” by Bhanupriya Rao, Founder, Behan Box
Seeing Like a Feminist by Nivedita Menon
“Seeing Like a Feminist by Nivedita Menon is an essential read on the modern history of feminism in India. While reading this recommendation, it's important to reflect on how these stories affect different kinds of women beyond caste, class, and religious lines.” by Bhumi Purohit, Political Science PhD candidate at UC Berkeley, researcher focused on political representation, gender, and governance
Space Invaders: Race, Gender, and Bodies Out of Place by Nirmal Puwar
“This book has substantially influenced my own research on women in Indian political party cultures. The book has studied the experiences of ethnic minority women legislators in the British Parliament. The book shows that the spaces of higher political institutions such as the British Parliament are supported by gendered and racialised premises which privilege and naturalise the authority of affluent white men and render minority women as constitutively 'unfit' for power. The latter therefore become 'bodies out of place' in white male-dominated institutional spaces.” by Proma Raychaudhury, PhD Candidate at the School of Law and Government in Dublin City University
Last among equals: Power, Caste and Politics in Bihar's villages by M.R Sharan
“Why should one read this book? Because it gives hope and poses a challenge. Even though we are an unequal society surrounded by stories of powerful men contesting elections, this book narrates the story of Sanjay Sahni, a MNREGA activist who contested MLA elections. His story shows how citizens who address local issues can overcome their limitations and build the political capital required to contest elections. In Sanjay's case, his education, profession, and socio-economic background were his limitations. However, the power of data and mobilising capabilities helped him overcome his limitations. But this was not sufficient to win elections. This is the challenge that we as a democracy are facing. Even though we are an equal society where anyone can contest elections, it is almost impossible to win elections. Thus, when one finishes reading the book, it points at the challenge that we are facing - "How to make Indian elections a level-playing field?" by Sushma Mahabala, Lead Governance, Reap Benefit
My big book of Girls, edited by Geeta Dharmarajan
"I have always been appreciative of the illustrations and inspiring stories that Katha books bring to children. This book smashes down gender stereotypes in a way that is relatable to young Indian readers and is fun to read" by Sugandha, co-founder, Women for politics and Centre for Gender and Politics (CGAP).
Her Right To Equality: From Promise to Power by Nisha Agarwal
"Oftentimes, gender related issues are seen through a singular lens that precludes a well rounded understanding of a subject that is essentially complex and intersectional. The book is a comprehensive view of a gendered India including the social, economic and political status of women and non males as seen through the eyes of diverse scholars and practitioners." by Tara Krishnaswamy, author, Co-founder, Political Shakti and Citizens for Bangalore
Behenji: The Rise and Fall of Mayawati by Ajay Bose
“This book helped me understand how Mayawati broke into Indian politics and became the Chief Minister of one of our largest states, four times. The research in this book uncovers a lot about her inspiring journey in politics and the challenges she faced while building BSP with her mentor Kanshi Ram. This book also breaks many stereotypes and narratives about Mayawati that had been built by the media over the years.” - Shevika M, founder Kuviraa
The persistent gender gap in political participation in India by Soledad Prillaman
“Soledad Prillaman's article gives a basic primer on understanding the vast gender gaps in women and men's political participation. If we are to improve women's political representation, understanding issues of access experienced by everyday women is an essential first.” by Bhumi Purohit
21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari
"This book '21 Lessons for the 21st Century' struck my mind as it outlines the understanding of the broader picture and emerging trends. Understanding them is essential for aspiring political leaders to face the world and lead with confidence and like a visionary.” by Akhil Neelam, co-founder, Women for politics and Centre for Gender and Politics (CGAP).