Like racism, sexism is also one of the most disturbing issues which is largely present in the society. Discrimination based on gender has crept into all forms of life, including literature. While this has changed to a large extent, with more women writers coming up, Urvashi Butalia, co-founder of Kali for Women, India’s first feminist publishing house, feels that it has not always been the case and women have had to face a huge battle from within to gain recognition in the field of literature. “When we started publishing books on and about women in 1984, our objective was to try and ensure that women’s voices are heard. For that to happen was a huge battle as most women were under-confident and lacked self-belief. To turn it around was the biggest task of a feminist publisher,” she said while speaking at a panel discussion on ‘Gendered Tales’ at the fourth Hyderabad Literary Festival on Sunday.
An independent researcher and writer, she has long been active in the women’s movement in India and her writings have been published in books and journals at home and abroad. “When feminist publishers began, it was something unheard of in the world. It was a completely male-oriented industry. So, our first challenge was to get more women to start writing. After this had been accomplished, our battles changed. The market opened up and publishing became a business. We had to stop getting infuriated at authors leaving us for other avenues,” she shared.
Among her best known publications is the award winning Partition: The Other Side of Silence – Voices from the Partition of India.
“Some of things we tried to do as feminist publishers was to find the voices of women who were not writers and publish them. There was a story of a poor woman we published, which, quite ironically, turned things around for us economically,” she added.
Urvashi also pointed out that even though more women started writing, the characters were still predominantly male. “In spite of many women writers coming up, there are not many women characters. The other challenge is to get women writing on women,” she said.
Among the few women authors writing on women is author Suniti Namjoshi, who was also present at the discussion. Explaining what it is like to write about women, she said, “I think the language changes when you have women characters as opposed to men. Also, the way a woman writes about a woman is completely different from the way a man does. From a feminist’s point of view, I would like to see more women-oriented characters,” she said.
An internationally-acclaimed Indian writer in English, some of Suniti’s works include The Fabulous Feminist: A Suniti Namjoshi Reader and Blue and Other Stories. “My advice to young writers is to first get a job and then write. Apart from instances like JK Rowling, it is extremely difficult to get paid while starting off as a writer,” she concluded.