‘Lessons of perseverance and patience’
: Creatively telling the long history of India’s female anticolonial environmentalism

  • Sarah Hussain

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


The idea of the ‘white woman’s burden’, as termed by Antoinette Burton, has contributed to the stereotypical image of the oppressed native woman we see in representations of South Asia in Anglophone fiction. This thesis aims to challenge such Orientalist depictions via my novel, In the Foothills of the Himalayas.

In the Foothills of the Himalayas features a heroic South Asian female protagonist. Vidhya, born under the British Raj, grows up observing her father fight for a free India. Balraj is a follower of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and follows his principles and is motivated to participate in the struggle for an independent nation. Vidhya learns a great deal from her father about the economic and social implications of British rule on her homeland but, later, she also learns about ecological degradation in the region as a result of colonisation. After witnessing catastrophic consequences (major flooding) caused by deforestation by order of a powerful English agent, Vidhya begins to understand the importance of preserving the forest. She is able to challenge the axe-men by leading a group of women on a non-violent protest.

The purpose of the creative work is to amplify the voices of indigenous South Asian hill women by acknowledging their knowledge of forestry and non-violent forms of activism. The creative element of this project, In the Foothills of the Himalayas is a unique work of postcolonial ecofeminist fiction. Through the analysis of the creative work, the narrative describes how the felling of trees by British contractors had devastating effects on the region. And, through fictitious
characters, the story highlights South Asian hill women’s distinctive knowledge and celebrates their non-violent activism.
Date of Award11 Apr 2023
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorMichael Stewart (Main Supervisor) & Jodie Matthews (Co-Supervisor)

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