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Tiwana gave a voice to voiceless women of Punjab

OBITUARY A daughter of the soil, Dalip Kaur Tiwana (May 4, 1935 to January 31, 2020) was a story teller par excellence, one of the foremost writers, educationists and a woman of substance beneath a gentle demeanour and her passing away is a deep loss to Punjabi language and literature
By Nirupama Dutt
PUBLISHED ON JAN 31, 2020 05:29 PM IST

CHANDIGARH: Born at Rabbon village in Ludhiana district to a family of land-owners, Dalip Kaur Tiwana’s talent blossomed in Patiala, the princely town where she studied, worked and penned fiction inspired by life around her.

An author of more than 50 books of fiction besides autobiographical writing and criticism, her second novel, Eho Hamara Jiwana (And Such Is Her Fate), published in 1968, telling the story of exploitation and suppression of women in rural Punjab, shot her into the forefront of fiction writers. The protagonist, Bhano, is one of the most memorable though tragic heroines of Punjabi fiction.

In giving voice to voiceless women, she painted with a difference a feminist landscape without raising slogans or offering easy solutions. This novel brought the national Sahitya Akademi award to Tiwana and a lifelong appreciation and friendship with the grand dame of Punjabi letters, Amrita Pritam. The latter hailed the entrance of the downtrodden village woman Bhano into Punjabi fiction as revolution. It would not be wrong to say that in Bhano she achieved what Gurdial Singh has done in the classic ‘Marhi da Diva’ (The Last Flicker) in bringing forth the poignant tale of Jagseer, a landless labourer.



Rising above a traumatic personal life, she became the first woman to do a doctorate in Punjabi literature and was an inspiring professor to many including the celebrated poet Surjit Patar. She was also one of the few to have received recognition and awards at the state and national level, including the prestigious Saraswati Samman and the Padma Shri.

Yet the brave woman took the lead in the award-wapsi times by returning her Padma Shri to uphold her conviction. Many Punjabi writers followed her by returning the Sahitya Akademi awards. Asked why she did so and her candid reply was, “This was the highest honour I had received so I felt obliged to return it.”


Always attired in salwar-kameez, her hair loosely plaited and most often a dupatta covering her head, Tiwana could have been just another aunty ji of the neighbourhood but for her probing mind and the strong pen she wielded in laying bare the oppression of people, women and men alike and thus rubbishing the fad that a writer must be Bohemian.

Once in an interview she said, “Readers often ask me why don’t my heroines revolt and my answer is that it is enough if the reader feels that they should rebel.”

Her autobiography, Nange Pairan Da Safar (A Journey Barefoot), is yet another sensitive testament of a woman’s life told with restraint that made it all the more intense.

Tiwana will always be remembered and read for showing through her characters that there could be another and better way.

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