ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Women Who Persisted Nevertheless

Fleeting Agencies: A Social History of Indian Coolie Women in British Malaya by Arunima Datta, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (Global South Asians), pp 240, 1,099.

Fleeting Agencies: A Social History of Indian Coolie Women in British Malaya is a strange and enigmatic name to give to a book about Tamil women who went as labourers to the rubber plantations of British Malaya in the late 19th century and the first quarter of the 20th century. But it is a title that captures Arunima Datta’s intent to look past all the omissions and silences in the official record—for signs of these women having made bold choices that showed them to be much more than the helpless victims that written history has made them out to be. These women, Datta contends, exerted “agency,” even if only for short periods, and often in unconventional ways, to gain for themselves advantages, or at least “survivance,” in a very difficult situation.

Across the rich tapestry of case studies, one common thread appeared to link all the stories with each other: in their engagements with various actors, structures, and sociopolitical and economic contexts, coolie women constantly displayed situational agency. Like a dim and flickering light in a dark room, hints of coolie women’s agency appeared, reappeared, and disappeared intermittently in the available archival records. (p 20)

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Updated On : 15th Feb, 2022
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