A gender literature fest is is a good idea, if it’s not politicised
Nitish Kumar’s proposed gender literature festival could be a good platform where real issues concerning women writers in India are discussed. The state government should not sue it as a political bragfest to showcase its pro-women initiativeseditorials Updated: Jan 19, 2017 18:03 IST
As the star-studded Jaipur Literary Festival gets underway, it is heartening to hear that the Nitish Kumar government is planning a gender literature festival in Patna, where writers from across the world will be invited to discuss women-centric issues from April 7. Much of the agenda for the festival is unexceptional. It aims to discuss gender equity, discrimination and challenges for women as well as issues related to the transgender and LGBTQ community.
Where the agenda of the festival goes awry is in the aim of the state government to consolidate the women constituency. This could be partly because it is being organised by the gender resource centre under the women development corporation of the Bihar social welfare department. But, this means it runs the risk of being a showcase for the government’s achievements in the field of women’s empowerment, like 50% reservation for women in panchayats and local bodies, 35% reservation for women in government jobs, school uniforms, bicycles, scholarship schemes, targeting creation of one million self-help groups, imposing prohibition of liquor, and so on. This will make it a drab political bragfest rather than a showcase of the vast body of women’s literature in India by both men and women.
This festival should be used to open up conversations about the kind of pressures that women writers face in India for a start. The festival should also be a platform for aspiring women writers to get mentorship from more established ones and gain some visibility. Indian women authors have not really got their place in the sun in the past as their experiences were not deemed as worthy as that of their male counterparts. They were supposed to write on light themes and leave the “really serious” issues to men. But women writers broke that mould with powerful writings from people like Kamala Das to Mahasweta Devi to Ismat Chugtai to name a few. It was with such writers that feminist ideologies began to be reflected in Indian literature in English and the vernacular languages.
The core of the festival which is meant to be appreciating gender issues through popular literature, art and culture should not be diluted. This will also hopefully encourage the many women writers who are left out of the mainstream like those from the Dalit community and other marginalised sections to discuss their works and challenges. An issue that should also be discussed is the paucity of proper translators among languages and from the vernacular into English with particular reference to women’s writings. This is where the government can help, not by using this proposed festival as a political tool.