Introducing: Violence on the Page: A Literary Symposium

This year, as one of our 16 Days Campaign programmes, we have curated a “blog symposium,” by which we mean a collection of perspectives on a given issue, published online, where writers, publishers, editors and literary critics reflect on how sexual and gender violence is portrayed or represented in literary works.

We imagined this “symposium” in two parts: first, our contributors would write a short post about any one work of fiction (written in any language) that portrays gender or sexual violence, directly or indirectly, by which they have been particularly impressed for some reason. It’s important to clarify that we understand that gender or sexual violence takes many forms and guises, and so we were happy for our contributors to choose works that either focus on a specific form of violence (such as rape, domestic violence or street sexual harassment, for instance) or broadly on violence in general.

For the second part of the symposium, we invited each of our contributors to respond to three key questions. We have compiled and will publish these responses in addition to the posts on specific works. These questions explored two issues –

  • the role that literature plays in depicting social realities such as violence, and its potential to alter, in any way, the discourse around it;
  • broad reflections on the rhetoric within Indian literature (if any) on gender and sexual violence.

The questions we sent the participants are as follows:

  1. Violence against women has been – and continues to be – one of the biggest priorities of the women’s movement in India, for over half a century now. And in so many ways, it is such an everyday reality for so many of us. Do you think Indian literature reflects this reality? Or has violence remained relatively invisible? Please illustrate with an example or two if possible.
  2. In ‘Reading Rape: The Rhetoric of Sexual Violence in American Literature and Culture, 1790-1990’, Sabine Sielke ‘traces the evolution of a specifically American rhetoric of rape‘. Do you think there is any such rhetoric of sexual or gender violence in Indian Literature?
  3. We know that gender and sexual violence in India transcends boundaries of religion, caste, class and age. How have Indian writers addressed this multiplicity of complexities?

Symposium posts will appear at regular intervals through December 1, 2012.

We are very grateful to those who took the time to participate in this symposium. We invite you to participate by leaving a comment on this blog.

Participants

C.S. Lakshmi

C. S. Lakshmi (Ambai), born in 1944 in Tamil Nadu, is a distinguished fiction writer in Tamil. Her works are characterized by her passionate espousal of the cause of women, humor, a lucid and profound style, and a touch of realism. She is one of the most important Tamil writers today. She is the only Tamil writer to have been included in the recently published Picador Book of Modern Indian Literature edited by Amit Chaudhuri. Most of her stories are about relationships and they contain brilliant observations about contemporary life. Exploration of space, silence, coming to terms with one’s body or sexuality, and the importance of communication are some of the recurring themes in her works. A Doctorate from Jawaharlal Nehru University in the 1970’s, she is presently the Director of Sound & Picture Archives for Research on Women (SPARROW) in Mumbai. She is a recipient of Narayanaswamy Aiyar Prize for her fiction. Among her works are Sirakukal muriyum, Vittin mulaiyil oru camaiyalarai and The Face behind the mask : Women in Tamil literature. Many of her stories have been translated into English. (Adapted from the Library of Congress website)

A. Mangai

Mangai is the pseudonym of Padma who is a theater director and a Professor of English Literature in Stella Mary’s College, Chennai. As a member of All India Democratic Women’s Association and Chennai Kalai Kuzhu. Mangai actively took up several issues relating to women and presented them in the form of street theater and stage plays. Later she became the key person in a theatre group called Voicing Silence that is being supported by the M.S. Swaminathan Research Centre. This group has scripted and enacted a range of issues from female infanticide to recasting women characters from epics. Mangai has scripted and participated in some of the plays and has directed some of the plays presented by the Voicing Silence group. Her Tamil plays raise many issues on gender, theatre and language that belong to debates within feminism. (Taken from Culture Unplugged)

Srilata K.

Dr K Srilata is an award-winning poet, with two collections of poems, ‘Seablue Child’ and ‘Arriving Shortly’. She has also written a novel, ‘Table for Four’, which was long-listed for the Man Asian Literary Prize. She was the Charles Wallace India Trust writer-in-residence at the University of Stirling, Scotland, in 2010. She is also the co-editer of ‘Rapids of a Great River: The Penguin Book of Tamil Poetry’, which was published in 2009. Her other books include ‘Short Fiction from South India’ and ‘The Other Half of the Coconut: Women Writing Self-Respect History’, which is an anthology of women’s writing from the Dravidian Self-Respect movement. She also writes regularly for The Hindu’s Literary Review. Dr Srilata is currently an associate professor at the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, IIT Madras, where she teaches creative writing and literature.

Sharanya Manivannan

Sharanya Manivannan was born in Madras, India in 1985, and grew up in Sri Lanka and Malaysia. Her first book of poems, ‘Witchcraft’, published in 2008, was met with critical praise. Her poems have appeared in several print journals, anthologies and online journals. She is currently working on a book of stories, ‘The High Priestess Never Marries’, a novel, ‘Constellation of Scars’, as well as two manuscripts of new poems. She received the Lavanya Sankaran Fellowship for 2008-2009 from Sangam House International Writers’ Residency. She has also received an Elle Fiction Award 2012, and was nominated for a 2012 Pushcart Prize. Sharanya is also a journalist and columnist, and wrote a personal column, ‘The Venus Flytrap’, for The New Indian Express from 2008 to 2011. Sharanya has done readings extensively since 2001, including at literary festivals across the world.

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