BHUBANESWAR: Literature is a powerful tool to change the mindset of society towards women, said Jnanpith awardee and noted writer Pratibha Ray on Tuesday. Chairing Odisha Literary Festival, 2014 session on 'Can literature change mindsets, especially about women', Ray said women should start writing more to portray their real status in society.
"Though Indian mythologies have depicted women as Goddesses, a contrasting picture prevails in reality. The image of women can be transformed through literary texts," said Ray. She further said it is literature which has set the prevailing mindset towards women and it also has the power to change the attitude. Positive portrayal of women characters and right understanding of the readers are required to change the mindset towards women, Ray added.
The panel members, Islamic scholar and politician Maulana Mahmood Madani, Kerala Sahitya Akademi winner and noted writer in Malayalam KR Meera and academic activist Monica Das spoke at length on the topic.
Meera said religious and moral texts, and even bedtime stories have played a role in shaping gender values. But women writers have changed the scenario by claiming their space in literary landscape. Giving examples of several Malayalam poets, she said efforts of Kamala Das, in particular, in changing the prevailing mindset of the society towards women are noteworthy. "Without Das, women writing in Malayalam would not have been possible. If women writers write and argue strongly for their cause, the society can be influenced and mindset changed," she said.
Only women writers have come forward to raise their voice on gender values while men have observed an intriguing silence, Meera added.
Panel member Das said changing the prevailing mindset is an episodic, long-term process. Various studies across the world have stressed on how stories have changed the attitude of society towards women. "I don't write stories. I tell them. And by amalgamating socio-economic condition with Literature, I attempt to show how art reflects life," she said.
Das also gave example of Charles Darwin's 'Memes' concept in which an idea spreads from person to person within a culture through writing.
The only male panel member, Madani said the impact of lon society has not been noteworthy. Though mindset is changing, the process is not visible to the outside world. The society has two sets of rules for men and women. People think and act in different ways but there are brighter days ahead as the attitude is changing, he said.
"On the other hand, Literature should also take a reasonable stance instead of being extreme in its portrayal of society, which would help avoid unnecessary controversies," he added.