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Women writers raise pertinent questions at Litfest

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The women writers’ panelists at LIC Gateway Litfest held at NCPA in the city on Sunday.The women writers’ panelists at LIC Gateway Litfest held at NCPA in the city on Sunday.

Mumbai : Is there a glass ceiling that woman writers in regional languages have to break? Is the literary machine ignoring them, with Indian literature becoming synonymous with Indian writing in English? These were some of the questions raised in a session at the LIC Gateway Litfest held at NCPA on Sunday.

The women writers’ part of the panel felt that categorising them as ‘women’ or ‘feminist’ stereotypes them, hindering their growth as writers. “When I started writing, critics ignored me, saying she is a housewife with three children, what will she write, she sees through a window. I showed them that I don’t see through the window, but by standing under the sky,” said Pratibha Ray, Jnanpith award-winning Oriya writer. A problem women writers experience is lack of mobility, since experience is most important for writing, she said.

Leena Manimakelai, Tamil poet and filmmaker, said, “When the writer is a woman, the discourse is not on the writing, but on the woman.” In the 90s there was strong expression from women, to which society reacted by banning and burning. This chaos, she said, is also about rejecting and denying scholarship to literature. Commenting on the lack of recognition to regional literature, she said, “Who is publishing poetry, that too translated Tamil poetry? It is farfetched.” Her battle with language is overwhelming, she said, language being encoded with misogyny, caste and feudalism. “Women, Dalit and queer writing make the space equitable and neutral. They sanitise the language.”


Shefalika Verma, Sahitya Akademi awardee, said that she has seen many woman poets who are nowhere today, their talent going unrecognised. When 10 awards are given to men, one is given to a woman just for the sake of it, she said.

Kaushiki Dasgupta, academic and Bengali poet, pointed to the 1950s when the word ‘subaltern’ was used for women.  Even today, women writers are categorised into one homogenous category, she said. There is a nexus between local and the bigger international publishers. They do not want to publish women writers, she added.