Early 1990s marked by India’s late entry into the liberalisation/globalisation regime, is noted for the (increased) visibility of various debates in the cultural sphere such as debates around same-sex practices, gender, sex workers’ rights and caste. Along with all these, there is an increased visibility for sexuality in the form of debates around opening up of intimate scenes in films, advertisements, moral panics around pre-marital heterosexual relationships, same-sex relationships and so on. The book is motivated from the curiosity to probe into the modalities of the constitution of the increased visibility of gender/ sexuality in the post-1990s to understand the peculiarities of how it is being made visible in the public space. It does not assume “visibility” as the obvious, instead it is analysed as a concept that permits certain things to be visible while masking several others. Such an understanding of “visibility” necessitates references from the period before and after 1990s, though the reference point remains the 1990s. The book is also informed about the disciplining potential of visibility as espoused by philosophers like Foucault.
The book straddles between an understanding of the sexual subjectivities that emerge from this visibility and the integral tendencies of the public space of Kerala, the southernmost state of India, which such a discourse points at. By analysing the conceptual discussions around sexuality, the woman sexual subject is understood as contingent and relational. It has attempted to look at the relational experiences of sexuality, through various vectors of power such as caste, for women from different backgrounds even when the central subjects of the book get culturally signified as coming from relatively stigmatised communities. One of the crucial ways in which this book departs from some of the previous studies of sexuality and women’s lives in contemporary Kerala is that the book rather than understanding “marginalisation” through the marginalised subject or “domination” through the dominant woman sexual subject, it attempts to understand the relational positions of power that constitutes/makes them perform as sexual subjects.
The book analyses the modes through which this visibility has been constituted, thereby problematising the same, rather than valourising the 1990s as the radical moment for the visibility of sexuality. Thus, this visibility is seen as performed alongside the dynamic cultural configurations of power in the specific spatio-temporal context of the regional space of Kerala. The book identifies some of the modes and incidents through which this visibility could be studied; they are -- the Suryanelli case, neology in the media and the debates around the autobiography of Nalini Jameela, a sex worker. These modalities and events were chosen for specific reasons— neology in relation to sexuality to understand how it has been normalised, sanitised and subverted in diverse ways which has implications for understanding sexuality in the region. Suryanelli serial rape case is one among the first of its kind that was prominently reported in the print media since 1996 and the discourse around the case still continues in the public space through various other media as well. Autobiographies of Nalini Jameela is another moment that has been analysed for the flutter it created in the public space for its explicit demand of selling sex be considered as any other kind of work. These incidents are historicised and analysed from multiple sources, which could be termed as ‘eventalization’ as Foucault suggests. Theoretical possibilities rather than the empiricism of these events and the cultural registers, has been central to the method of the book.
The book follows the cultural texts/formations in analytical mode while also historically locating them in the contemporary. Along with what happened, how and why these events happened in the way it did, what Foucault calls “problematization” (Foucault 2001: 171), is a prime concern of the project. It strings together diverse cultural texts such as print media, law, cinema and literature to look at the constitution of the woman sexual subjects emerging from the increased discourse around sexuality. These texts are seen as constituents of the public space through which various objects including sexuality gets discursively constituted. The most original contribution of the book is its attention to the specificities of gendered relations in the local / region without losing sight of the larger global transformations that informs the changes after the 1990s.