In This Review

Specters of Mother India: The Global Restructuring of an Empire
Specters of Mother India: The Global Restructuring of an Empire
By Mrinalini Sinha
Duke University Press, 2006, 392 pp

In 1927, the American journalist Katherine Mayo shocked the reading public with her exposé Mother India, which told in graphic detail how women were mistreated in Hindu culture. Now Sinha, using the advantages of hindsight, has gone back over the reactions to Mother India to explore contesting views of colonial rule and social transformation. Mayo endorsed the British officials' view that India was not ready for self-rule, but Indian nationalists responded that British colonial practices and priorities had contributed to the deplorable Indian social conditions. Meanwhile, the debates over Mayo's "facts" led to greater social and political awareness of Indian realities. Sinha makes the case that the Mother India turmoil profoundly altered India as a society, in that before the debates Indian society was composed of numerous "communities" -- castes, linguistic groupings, regions -- but the new attention on women's rights cut across these communities and reorganized society according to class categories. After independence, the term "Mother India" was turned on its head, becoming a positive symbol of Indian nationalism.