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In India , the tumultuous 1970s saw the beginnings of Women's Studies when women's movements gathered momentum in a context of wider social unrest, fueled also by international women's groups that were preparing for the UN Year for Women. Simultaneously, the intellectual climate was changing from the prior historical emphasis on providing education for women to the view that women' s lives and experiences were a legitimate area of academic inquiry and theorizing.

This marked the institutional birth of WS/GS in higher education in the sub-continent. Unlike in many other Asian countries, Women's Studies was initially envisaged as “interventionist” within higher education, and not as a “discipline” with a corresponding curriculum. In 1974, the first unit of Women's Studies was set up at the SNDT. Women's University in Bombay , and, from the 1980s, university-based centres swelled, which today have expanded to 33. Many of these centres have been supported in varying degrees by the University Grants Commission (UGC), the central state body that finances the university system in India . As per UGC guidelines, these centres are supposed to teach and conduct training at all levels of the educational system, engage in research and extension activities, as well as disseminate knowledge on women through library acquisitions and publications. However, resources fall far short of the ability to carry out such multi-dimensional tasks. A number of these centres end up being hubs for projects working either with existing staff or supplemented by external sources, and are often unable to connect with other academics and departments in the university that they were supposed to draw in. Since 1995, a few such centres have been teaching courses in Women's Studies, which put additional pressure on overstretched staff.

On the other hand, a number of universities, such as the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), Delhi University and Bombay University , have offered optional WS/GS courses within certain mainstream disciplines. The disciplines that have played a distinct role in the shaping of research on women and gender issues include especially the fields of economics, literature, history and sociology. While this may have its shortcomings in terms of visibility of WS/GS as a cohesive body of theory and research, proponents argue that students require the necessary skills grounded in the disciplines in order to meaningfully appreciate the critical potential of doing feminist research. However, due to the strong cross-cutting location of WS/GS in these contexts, the propensity to treat the category of ‘gender' as just another ‘variable' – rather than an analytical perspective or worldview – has often been the downside. Despite the dispersed institutional arrangements of WS/GS in Indian universities, with all their diversity and context-specific expediencies, space and interest has grown significantly, sustained in various ways by the women's movement, by fluctuating state support, a large university system and the proliferation of publishing houses.

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