“The Hindu Woman’s Question” Article Summary Notes

Nicki Bannerman

ECS 110

Dr. S. Pete

October 16, 2012

“The Hindu Woman’s Question” Article Summary Notes

  • This article discusses Asian men and women immigrating into Canada, beginning in the 1850’s, and concluding in the 1920’s. At the time, Canada was expanding in agriculture and industry, and this led to the need for more labourers. Asian workers were in high demand because they were considered cheap labour. They worked in the production of agricultural equipment and building railways, but were not allowed to work in other areas. This was oppression based on race.
  • The term “The Hindu Woman’s Question” refers to a debate that questioned whether or not women from South Asia be permitted to migrate to Canada. However, at the time European women were allowed to enter Canada, whether they were single or married. These women experienced racism and gendered inequalities.
  • Other themes that are discussed in this article are nation-building, racism, and how racism is established and originates.
  • At the time, South Asian men were already allowed to immigrate to Canada. However, they were only granted temporary status, were not permitted to buy certain types of property, or encourage and sponsor their spouses and children to migrate to Canada. The article also notes that the Hindu Woman’s Question did not apply to all South Asian women. The people who were debating the issue were only concerned with married Asian women and their children, not single Asian women. In addition, South Asian men only focussed on getting their families into Canada, not all Asian women. This was discrimination based on race, marital status, and socially constructed impressions.
  • The people debating this issue did not want to allow married South Asian women, and their children, into Canada because they saw a connection between the women and the building of communities, of which the majority would be South Asian. They believed that the women began the formation and continuation of these communities, which was the reason these women were viewed as threats. The article states, “While the work of Anglo-Saxon women in reproducing the Canadian nation was to be valued, South Asian women were seen as a menace to that same nation – threatening to spawn the kinds of communities that would imperil the nation-building project” (p. 6).
  • If South Asian women were allowed to enter Canada, it would also lead to men gaining a permanent residence status in Canada, and therefore the creation of new communities.
  • The paper states “The social construction of the nation-state is central to understanding the institutional forms of systemic discrimination in society” (p. 2). This means that how society is made up will determine in what ways others are categorized as different, and either shown favouritism or victimized, like the Anglo-Saxon and South Asian women.
  • There are two features which talk about nationalism and racism. The first has to do with the “imagined community,” and how it is created in the nation-state. The second has to do with how the nation allows the recruitment of employment from outside of itself to play a role in capitalist production.
  • The article states that an imagined community was based on the idea that Canada was “a white man’s country.” This idea marginalized aboriginal people, and brought the Europeans who moved here closer with Canadians, and “thus, while capitalist expansion created a demand for wage labour, the contradictory forces of Canadian nation-building meant that the incorporation of wage labour was racialized in important ways” (p. 4).
  • There is a relationship between Canadian nation-building and discussions of race, and even racial purity. The social construction of Canadian nationalism was built on the idea that some ethnic groups were unsuitable for Canadian citizenship. This shows favouritism towards Anglo-Saxons because of their appearances (skin colour) and social group.
  • Asian people were believed to be unsuitable for immigration because they would be unable to assimilate into our society, and some thought that it would be difficult to combine all of the ethnic groups into a unified Canadian citizenship.
  • Citizenship and nationalism became linked to discussions of racial purity. The government tried to validate their procedure of limiting the number of Asian immigrants, and allowing for the differences in their “temporary” citizen status, therefore creating a hierarchy in Canadian citizenship status.
  • Another concern was if the immigrants would be under Canada’s social laws, or their own countries, and how our laws would be managed. This was applied to the Hindu practice of polygamy. People did not want to recognize this as a legitimate practice, nor did they want anyone practicing it in Canada. This discrimination was linked to cultural identity and religion.
  • Many of the people who fought to let the South Asian women immigrate were fighting for gender equality. They wanted the wives allowed in, or the men deported in order to be fair and equal. These people also only fought for the wives and families, not all women.
  • In addition, “the desire to ensure that South Asian men were able to participate in familial relations also ensured that these relations were patriarchal and heterosexual” (p. 9).


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