ABSTRACT

The eff ervescence of post-independence women’s activism in India is usually told as a story with two catalysts.1 The fi rst catalyst was the so-called Mathura case. When Indira Gandhi declared the Emergency from 1975 to 1977, she clamped down on basic civil liberties of association and freedom to dissent. Women’s organized resistance to state repression exploded within a year after the Emergency ended in 1977. Early in 1978, women in cities around the country protested the Supreme Court’s decision on the Mathura custodial rape case fi rst fi led in Maharashtra in 1972. Many historians explain this surprising confl uence of anger and public outcry for Mathura, an adolescent from a disenfranchised adivasi, or scheduled tribe community, in terms of the suppressed outrage at the abrupt suspension of civil rights during the Emergency.2 The other catalyst is a document, Towards Equality, that assessed the status of women in India at the request of the United Nations.3 Completed before the Emergency in January 1975, most of the report was not made widely available until after the Emergency ended.4