Tharu and Tejaswini Niranjana have provided an insightful account of the images invoked and the vocabulary used to describe the anti-arrack movement by different activists and the popular press. "Across the political spectrum valiant women battle forces of evil represented by the politicians, the arrack contractors, and the whole corrupt apparatus of State and civil society."19 They have argued that "by emphasizing the 'familial impulse" behind the women's 83 militancy dominant explanatory narratives deny the status of the political to their actions and seek thereby to contain their scope."20 These women are repeatedly described as icons of purity and idealism who are entrusted with the task of cleansing the nation.21
Several writers have pointed to the fact that the majority of the women involved in the struggle belonged to the Dalit and Muslim communities. "The village committees formed in different villages are invariably led by the women belonging to the poorer Dalit households."22 However, the dominant images of these women deployed by the press erase the caste and class identities that overdetermine their lives, turning the category 'women7 into a monolithic construct.
It is amazing how pervasive this discourse about women is and how readily it is deployed across a range of cultural practices including the popular press, women's magazines, and so called women's films. The twin images of the weeping, helpless and vulnerable woman clutching her 'taali' and the woman roused to rage and action with flowing hair, flaming eyes, resplendent kumkum and trident in hand are part of our everyday mythologies about Indian women. Given the pervasiveness of these vocabularies the questions to ask seem to be — whether they are really empowering, and whether anything is to be gained by critiquing them. What these images seek to do is to legitimise only those struggles which seek to keep the family intact or protect a woman's 'honour' and which in no way challenge patriarchal ideologies. For instance the Eenadu editorials' repeated emphasis on women's tears and the family mask the multiple methods the women were employing in their struggle, such as attacking the contractors and excise department officials, destroying arrack shops, using household items like the broom and the chilli powder, refusing to cook at home, even threatening to divorce their husbands and confronting the goondas belonging to the liquor mafia.
Given the powerful ways in which the popular press can take up issues like the anti-arrack movement and attempt to define their scope and direction, it becomes imperative on our part to understand the modes by which they achieve these. We al^o need to devise ways and means to promote representations of women and their struggles t^at are more nuanced in terms of caste, class and gender in their complex interrelationships.
An earlier version of this paper was presented at the workshop on Media and Gender organised by Anveshi Research Centre for Women's Studies and the Centre for the Study of Culture and Society at the University of Hyderabad on February 22-23,1997. I am grateful to the participants of the workshop for comments. My special thanks to Tejaswini Niranjana for extremely helpful comments on different drafts and to Ashish Rajadhyaksha for helping me extend the scope of this paper. My thanks are also due to Rekha Pappu, Mohan Krishna, S. Jaya and P. Shailaja for helping me in so many different ways.