September 2021

The Ideal Indian Woman: Defined by Hindu Nationalism and Culture
Sneha Singh
Central European University

Google Scholar Download Pdf

This paper discusses how the notion of “ideal femininity” is understood in the Indian context. I propose the term Sati Savitri aurat (woman) to describe this ideal image of an Indian woman. The paper argues that the modern Sati Savitri woman must embody three values that make her truly an ideal Indian woman in the eyes of society. Those values are modesty, marriageability and silence. The combination of these values makes an Indian woman socially respected and desirable. These themes reverberated when I asked my interview participants, 10 female journalists from diverse age groups, about the concept of an ideal Indian woman. In-depth qualitative interviews were conducted with these women journalists and their ideas about formulation of the concept of “ideal Indian woman” were recorded and analysed. In this paper, I categorise their responses into the three values (modesty, marriageability and silence) and thereby propose that the embodiment of all these values constitute the modern Sati Savitri, a prototype for middle-class Hindu women. By proposing this concept of Sati Savitri, a Hindu mythological idea, I argue that respectable norms for women’s sexuality are located within the discourse of Hindu nationalism and culture.


1) Altinay, Aysegul. The Myth of the Military-nation: Militarism, Gender, and Education in Turkey. Springer, 2004.

2) Anthias, Floya, and Nira Yuval-Davis. Woman-Nation-State. Springer, 1989.

3) Bartky, S. L. "Femininity and Domination: Studies in the Phenomenology of Oppression Routledge." New York, London (1990).

4) Banerjee, Sikata. Make me a Man!: Masculinity, Hinduism, and Nationalism in India. Suny Press, 2012.

5) Bannerji, Himani. “Attired in Virtue: The Discourse on Shame (Lajja) and Clothing of the Bhadramahila in Colonial Bengal.” In. From the Seams of History: Essays on Indian Women edited by Bharati Ray, 67-106. Oxford University Press, USA, 1995.

6) Beauvoir, Simone de. "1989. The Second Sex." Trans. HM PARSHLEY. New York, Vintage Books (1949).

7) Chatterjee, Partha, and Pārtha Caṭṭopādhyāẏa. The Nation and its Fragments: Colonial and Postcolonial Histories. Vol. 4. Princeton University Press, 1993.

8) Chakravarti, Uma. "Conceptualising Brahmanical Patriarchy in Early India: Gender, Caste, Class and State." Economic and Political Weekly (1993): 579-585.

9) Dhillon, Komal Kaur. "Brown Skin, White Dreams: Pigmentocracy in India." PhD diss., Virginia Tech, 2015.

10) Dhruvarajan, Vanaja. Hindu Women and the Power of Ideology. Bergin & Garvey, 1989.

11) Duncan, Patti. Tell This Silence: Asian American Women Writers and the Politics of Speech. University of Iowa Press, 2009.

12) Fernandes, Leela. “Nationalizing `the Global’: Media Images, Cultural Politics and the Middle Class in India.” Media, Culture & Society 21, no. 5 (2000): 611–628.


14) Forbes, Geraldine, and Geraldine Hancock Forbes. Women in Modern India. Vol. 2. Cambridge University Press, 1999.

15) Hervey, Tamara, and Jo Shaw. "Women, Work and Care: Women's Dual Role and Double Burden in EC Sex Equality Law." Journal of European Social Policy 8, no. 1 (1998): 43-63.

16) Hooks, Bell. Talking back: Thinking feminist, thinking black. Vol. 10. South End Press, 1989.

17) Hunter, Margaret L. Race, Gender, and the Politics of Skin Tone. Routledge, 2013.

18) Jayawardena, Kumari. Feminism and Nationalism in the Third World. London, Zed Books,1986.

19) Kelleher, Fatimah, Francis O. Severin, Meera Samson, Anuradha De, Tepora Afamasaga-Wright, and Upali M. Sedere. Women and the Teaching Profession: Exploring the Feminisation Debate. UNESCO, 2011.

20) Lahiri-Dutt, Kuntala, and Pallabi Sil. "Women's ‘Double Day’ in Middle-Class Homes in Small-Town India." Contemporary South Asia 22, no. 4 (2014): 389-405.

21) Liddle, Joanna, and Rama Joshi. Daughters of Independence: Gender, Caste, and Class in India. Rutgers University Press, 1989.

22) Lindholm, Charles. Generosity and Jealousy: The Swat Pukhtun of Northern Pakistan. Columbia University Press, 1982.

23) Majidi, Khesraw. “Norms of Beauty in India Fair is Beautiful: A Legacy of Colonialism and Globalization”. The Lion and the Hunter (2020).

24) MacKinnon, Catharine A., Andrea Dworkin, and N. D. Andrea Dworkin, eds. In Harm's way: The Pornography Civil Rights Hearings. Harvard University Press, 1997.

25) McClintock, Anne. "Family Feuds: Gender, Nationalism and the Family." Feminist Review 44, no. 1 (1993): 61-80.

26) Mehta, Rama. The Western Educated Hindu Woman. Asia Publishing House, New York, 1970.

27) Mishra, Neha. "India and Colorism: The Finer Nuances." Wash. U. Global Stud. L. Rev. 14 (2015): 725.

28) Mohanram, Radhika. Imperial White: Race, Diaspora, and the British empire. University of Minnesota Press, 2007.

29) Mookherjee, Nayanika. "Gendered Embodiments: Mapping the Body-Politic of the Raped Woman and the Nation in Bangladesh." Feminist Review 88, no. 1 (2008): 36-53.

30) Mosse, George. Nationalism and Sexuality: Middle-Class Morality and Sexual Norms in Modern Europe. Madison, University of Wisconsin Press, 1985.

31) Munshi, Shoma. "Wife/Mother/Daughter-in-law: Multiple Avatars of Homemaker in 1990s Indian Advertising." Media, Culture & Society 20, no. 4 (1998): 573-591.

32) Nagel, Joane. "Masculinity and Nationalism: Gender and Sexuality in the Making of Nations." Ethnic and Racial Studies 21, no. 2 (1998): 242-269.

33) Narayan, Deepa. Chup: Breaking the Silence about India's Women. Juggernaut Books, 2018.

34) Puri, Jyoti. Woman, Body, Desire in Post-Colonial India: Narratives of Gender and Sexuality. New York: Routledge, 1999.

35) Radhakrishnan, Smitha. "Professional Women, Good Families: Respectable Femininity and the Cultural Politics of a “New” India." Qualitative Sociology 32, no. 2 (2009): 195-212.

36) Rajan, Rajeswari Sunder. Real and Imagined Women: Gender, Culture and Postcolonialism. Routledge, 2003.

37) Ramu, Gaddehosūr N. Women, Work and Marriage in Urban India: A Study of Dual-and Single-Earner Couples. SAGE Publications Pvt. Limited, 1989.

38) Rich, Adrienne. "Taking Women Students Seriously." The Radical Teacher 11 (1979): 40-43.

39) Sharma, M. "Contemporary Women’s Problems and Their Solutions’." The Power of Motherhood (2000): 61-63.

40) Sarkar, Tanika. “A Historical Trajectory for Hindu Identity Politics.” In Appropriating Gender: Women’s Activism and Politicised Religion in South Asia edited by Patricia Jeffery and Amrita Basu. New York, Routledge,1998

41) Sarkar, Tanika. “Hindu Conjugality and Nationalism in Late Nineteenth Century Bengal”. In Indian Women: Myth and Reality edited by Jasodhara Bagchi, 98-115. Vantage Press, Hyderabad, 1995.

42) Sarkar, Tanika. "Nationalist iconography: Image of women in 19th century Bengali literature." Economic and Political Weekly (1987): 2011-2015.

43) Shevde, Natasha. "All's Fair in Love and Cream: A Cultural Case Study of Fair & Lovely in India." Advertising & Society Review 9, no. 2 (2008).

44) Smith, Bonnie. “Introduction: Gender and Mirror of History.” In The Gender of History: Men, Women, and Historical Practice by Bonnie Smith, 1-13. London: Harvard University Press, 1998.

45) Srinivas, Mysore Narasimhachar. "The changing position of Indian women." Man (1977): 221-238.

46) Uberoi, Patricia. "When is a Marriage not a Marriage? Sex, Sacrament and Contract in Hindu Marriage." Contributions to Indian Sociology 29, no. 1-2 (1995): 319-345.

47) Uberoi, Patricia, ed. Family, Kinship and Marriage in India. Oxford University Press, USA, 1994.

48) Sharma, Meghna. “Tall order: Jiski Biwi Lambi, Uska Bhi Bada Naam Hai?” DNA (2010).

49) Vivekananda, Swami. Our women. Calcutta: Advaita Ashram, 2000.


Indexed In

Avatar Avatar Avatar Avatar Avatar Avatar Avatar Avatar Avatar Avatar Avatar Avatar Avatar Avatar Avatar Avatar