The gender paradox: professionalisation of a form of traditional martial arts, Lathi Khela, in the sociocultural context of Bangladesh


Paraules clau:

Lathi Khela, gender, female body, woman, autoethnography, prestige, gender capital


In the midst of a COVID-19 pandemic-struck India, this paper was born as an autoethnographic and analytical inquiry; it presents qualitative and multimodal research into a martial arts dance tradition, Lathi Khela, conducted from 2017 to 2018. This practice developed as a martial art, with little or no patronage, during the colonial days of the still undivided Bengal. Indeed, it still lives on as a popular martial arts dance tradition in many districts and rural communities of Bangladesh. Compared to other districts, the Lathi Khela group from Narail has continued this practice through innovative methods. The distinctive character of the district is governed by the multi-generational practitioners of Lathi Khela and their creative choreographies, as well as the knowledge it articulates and embodies. Moreover, in Narail, this previously male-dominated profession has also included women since 2008. The focus of this work was the role of gender in the continuity of the Lathi Khela tradition in this district. This was achieved
through five semi-structured, demonstrative interviews intuitively applied in the field. The research also drew on an ongoing conversation on Facebook with M. Rahat, an experienced Lathi Khela practitioner, who took stock of the current cultural landscape of the practice in the context of COVID-19. On the one hand, the women of this district occupy a contested space when representing this male-dominated tradition, and on the other, they physically embody lives within the patrilineal boundaries of kinship and marriage. The performativity of gender is thus, directly connected to the symbolic meaning of maan, that is, the prestige attributed to the female body within the sociocultural contexts of the Lathi Khela


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Biografia de l'autor/a

Sumedha Bhattacharyya, O.P. JINDAL GLOBAL UNIVERSITY

Sumedha is an interdisciplinary dance artist, scholar, researcher, educator, dance filmmaker, and primary caregiver based in India. She holds a full scholarship for her master’s degree in dance knowledge, practice, and heritage from the Erasmus Mundus program at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU). Her research and teaching interests lie at the intersection of dance and cinema, performance, gender, and tradition. She has a graduate degree in liberal arts management from Ashoka University in India and is the founder of an evolving creative research lab, Duet with Camera, dedicated to sustaining the growing area of interdisciplinary practice, experimentation, and collaboration in dance and cinema.


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Com citar

Bhattacharyya, S. (2022) “The gender paradox: professionalisation of a form of traditional martial arts, Lathi Khela, in the sociocultural context of Bangladesh”, Debats. Revista de cultura, poder i societat, 7, pp. 69–86. Available at: (Accessed: 11 December 2023).