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Claiming Continuity: Family Planning, Political Dynasties and Narrative Form in the Indian Emergency

November 25, 2013 @ 3:30 pm - 5:00 pm

Portrait image of Ayelet Ben-Yishai seated outdoors wearing sunglasses, jeans, and a blue shirt
Monday Seminar:

Ayelet Ben-Yishai

Honorary Fellow (2013-2014)

English Department, University of Haifa, Israel


Imposed by India’s “Greatest Prime Minister,” from June 1975 to January 1977, the State of Emergency is usually presented as an anomaly in the annals of the world’s largest democracy. As anthropologist Emma Tarlo has noted (2010), while historians, political scientists and sociologists have been reluctant to examine the period, “Press censorship, arrests, torture, the demolition of slums and tales of forcible sterilization have all made the Emergency fertile food for fiction.”

Reading this fiction, one recognizes narrative forms that describe excesses and anomalies, but do so in ways that paradoxically stress historical continuity and cohesion, rather than disruption and dispersion. Focusing on novels by Rohinton Mistry and Nayantara Sahgal, I highlight the different strategies they choose to write this tension between continuity and crisis, and the political, historical and cultural implications of these narrative forms.


Ayelet Ben-Yishai is an IRH Honorary Fellow for 2013-2014. She teaches Victorian and Postcolonial Literature at the English Department of the University of Haifa, Israel. With degrees in both Law (LL.B. Hebrew University 1996) and Literature (Ph.D., Comparative Literature, University of California, Berkeley 2005) she has published in both fields and on their intersections. Her book, Common Precedents: The Presentness of the Past in Victorian Fiction and Law was published by the Oxford University Press in 2013. She is the recipient of a three-year Israel Science Foundation grant for her research on realism in the Indian Novel in English.


November 25, 2013
3:30 pm - 5:00 pm
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University Club, Room 212
432 East Campus Mall
Madison, Wisconsin 53703 United States