Wendy Singer, Roy T. Wortman Distinguished Professor of History, has published “Women in the State: Elected women and the Challenge of Indian Politics (1957-1962)” in South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies Volume 44, Issue 1 (2021).
When Parvathi Krishnan (MP, Coimbatore Madras) entered India’s parliament on 28 March 1958, it was just a regular workday. She questioned a government minister about his policies toward railway workers, and solicited funds to repair a post office in her constituency. And yet as a woman legislator, she balanced the everyday tasks of governance with the difficulties of functioning in a male-centred institution. This essay, based on research in legislative debates in Madras and Bihar as well as in parliament, argues that especially for the period from 1957 to 1962, when so much of the legislative process was still in flux, women legislators challenged government structures even as they participated in making them. Their work—for the state and for their constituents—necessarily shaped the institutions to which they were elected. Looking beyond high-profile policies like the Five-Year Plans, this essay reveals the complex task of governing and the critical roles of women in it.