Violence on the Page: Symposium Compendium

Contributions to our online symposium, Violence on the Page, posted through December 1, 2012. For ease of access, we are compiling links to all the posts here:

Introducing: Violence on the Page: A Literary Symposium

Violence on the Page: C.S. Lakshmi writes on ‘Ratha Uravu’ (Blood Ties) by Yuma Vasuki

Violence on the Page: A.Mangai writes on “Padhaiyil Padintha Adigal” by Rajam Krishnan

Violence on the Page: Srilata K. writes on “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Violence on the Page: Sharanya Manivannan writes on “Possessing the Secret of Joy” by Alice Walker

Violence on the Page: Symposium: Does Indian literature reflect the everyday reality of violence against women?

Violence on the Page: Symposium: Is there a rhetoric of sexual or gender violence in Indian literature?

Violence on the Page: Symposium: How do Indian writers address the intersection of diversity and violence?

We invite you to engage with the posts in the comments section.

Violence on the Page: Symposium: How do Indian writers address the intersection of diversity and violence?

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?

C.S. Lakshmi

I think my previous answer would do for this question also.

A. Mangai

The intersection of gender, caste, religion and class in literary works is one of the most significant aspects of Tamil literature over the years.  Religion per se has a limited canvass in most works.  But caste and gender are key axes upon which the literary depiction of social relations revolves.  One is aware of the way Bama’s Karukku deals with caste, religion and gender.  In the works of Hepzibah Jesudasan one finds a faithful, de-romanticised portrayal of the nadar community’s struggle for social upliftment.   In Azhagiya Nayaki Ammal’s Kavalai on the other hand we find an internal critique of the same community.  Most of Tamil Selvi’s works deal with women as labourers – farm workers to Tiruppur Bunyan factory workers.

Even though this discussion has to be done with each text in context, it can surely be claimed that Tamil literature is not just sensitive but aware of the implications of the nexus of caste, religion, class and gender matrix.

Srilata K.

This is a very large question and I am not sure how best to answer this.  I think there have been some writers, mostly women as I have already said, who have been extremely brave and have used their imaginations to  question all that is wrong with a patriarchal culture. Each has done it in her own way and one cannot really generalize. But those who have done so have been unflinching, meticulous in their attention to detail.  The anthologies edited by Susie Tharu and K.Lalita “Women Writing in India” (OUP) volumes 1 and 2 trace the various trajectories of resistance and how women writers have responded to that.

Sharanya Manivannan

Gender and sexual violence anywhere transcends demographic boundaries. I’ve addressed part of this question in the previous one. At present, politicized writing is very popular in India. Nuance is less visible, and perhaps less viable from a perspective of finding takers. But addressing multiplicity is all about nuance – if it is complex, it is therefore also delicate. Ambai (C.S. Lakshmi) does this beautifully. As a reader I admire most the writers who seem to write or have written at a distance from the urgencies of their contemporary moment, even when addressing those same urgencies, like Kamala Markandaya and Susan Visvanathan. The long view, which is Janus view, including past and future, isn’t taken enough.

Violence on the Page: Symposium: Is there a rhetoric of sexual or gender violence in Indian literature?

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?

C.S. Lakshmi

I don’t see why Sabine Sielke’s book must be taken as a model rhetoric. Every  culture has its own way of analysing and talking about rape. Indian women’s movement took up the issue of rape with the Mathura rape case and has since dealt with several aspects of it including caste rape, custodial rape, political violence in which women become rape victims and marital rape. What should be considered rape (vaginal   penetration or anal entry) and on whom the onus of rape  must fall have all been taken up in the context of class, caste, religion, power and politics.

A. Mangai

In my limited understanding I don’t think one can systematically trace rhetoric of that kind in Indian / Tamil literature. Tamil cinema however has it in a more pronounced fashion.   However the formula of violence/ victim / heroism is a very pronounced schema in both short story and novel.

Srilata K.

The rhetoric of sexual violence in Indian society at large is a rhetoric of trivializing. Rape becomes eve-teasing. It becomes “fun”.  If it is treated seriously at all, it becomes a question of “honour”.  The woman is seen as having asked for it by dressing provocatively or behaving in non-conventional ways.  It is never about bodily pain or violence.   The Ramayana is a good example.  Sita is blamed for her abduction by Ravana. She is rejected by Rama after he “wins” her back for she is a “tainted” woman.  Ultimately, she must ask her earth mother to take her back.  Draupadi of the Mahabharata is less passive, more of a fighter.  But she too is an object shared by five men and this is not a matter of choice, not a matter of her right to sexual expression.

Sharanya Manivannan

There is a rhetoric of sexual and gender violence in Indian politics and Indian media – and it is a highly misogynistic one. This same rhetoric bleeds into popular forms like cinema and advertising. Literature must necessarily complicate the debate, but I would put forth the argument that debate as such has not yet fully evolved a vocabulary or a syntax that adequately expresses various subjectivities. There are some very uncomfortable questions that we need to ask ourselves – literally, our individual selves – about demographic and circumstantial baggage we carry relating to our religious backgrounds, education levels, family ties and choice of media consumption – which like it or not, whether we know it or not, affect our politics and aesthetics. In urban middle-class India especially, there is a danger of confusing generational affluence with individual agency. We carry this baggage into the arts we create, the arts we support, and the arts we criticise – or worse, ignore.

Violence on the Page: Symposium: Does Indian literature reflect the everyday reality of violence against women?

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.

C.S. Lakshmi

Violence against women has never remained invisible where Indian literature is concerned. Both mental and physical violence have been  talked about in works of fiction. R K Narayanan’s The Dark Room and Shashi Deshpande’s the Dark Holds No Terror clearly dealt with brutalization of women as individuals. Talking of modern Tamil literature here which I am familar with Anuthama (Jayanthiburath Thiruvizha) , Rajam Krishnan (Veedu and many other novels), R Chudamani (Iravuch Chudar) deal with violence at home and violence against women in the society. Some of the novels of  Thamizchelivi (Alam, Maanickam, Kiithaari) and those of Bama, Poomani, Imaiyam deal with violence. some of my own stories talk about violence as a continuing factor in the society and how they affect women (for example, Unpublished Manuscript, A Movement, A folder, Some tears).

A.Mangai

I would rather keep the discussion within the purview of Tamil literature.  Depiction of violence against women in Tamil literature has been quite an articulate aspect.  Right from the turn of century most nationalistic texts dealt with the plight of women, especially child marriage and widowhood.  In fact, Va. Ramasami’s  Kothai Theevu constructs a feminist utopia.  Most male writers of pre-independence era have evinced a sympathetic portrayal of women in society.  The stronger women, of course, had to be in the disguise of men.  After the fifties, we have writers focusing on diverse themes like indentured labour (Thunba Keni of Pudumai Pithan), domestic abuse (Rajam Krishnan’s Lamps in a Whirlpool), rape (Jayakanthan’s Sila Nerangalil…) and caste based violence (Poomani’s Piragu).  Attempts at exploring woman as subject, with a sexuality that is forever contested have been the source of Thi. Janakiraman’s writings.  Women writers too have co- existed with their understanding of the world.  Krithika’s depiction of bureaucracy is one of its kind, in the way it weaves the personal and public spheres.

The eighties women’s movement did not really take the literary aspects seriously in Tamil.  Rajam Krishnan’s works were the primary inspiration to address women’s issues.  Ambai ushered in female subjectivity into the Tamil literary world.  Quite a few male bastions were unnerved by her first collection of short stories.  Her ‘thinking women’ did ‘sleep with monsters’.  Chudamani was more subtle in her pen portraits.  Jyothirlatha Girija faced strident criticism for her outspoken comments.  The nineties saw the new language of women’s poetry in Tamil.  Thus the visibility was not an issue but the rhetoric built around violence needed much more nuanced and complex understanding.

Srilata K.

It seems to me that violence against women is an issue that has bothered only women writers, if at all. Writers such as Mrinal Pande, Ambai, Ismat Chughthai and others have written evocative stories about various forms that violence against women can take.  But thanks to the way the literary canon works, thanks to the way the publishing industry and readership patterns work, the work of women writers often remains invisible.  Which then means that the literature most of us end up reading is not really about women at all– certainly not about the violence inflicted on them.

Sharanya Manivannan

Any comment on “Indian literature” on the whole must navigate the question of translation – which in fact is a kaleidoscope of questions, revolving around who gets translated and why, and who gets to translate. This is not in the least an uncomplicated matter, and I’ll cite as example the fact that one of the best-known translators of contemporary Tamil women’s poetry works based on commission and not on aesthetic or political allegiance. So to make this simpler, let me address only writing that is available in English, the language I work and read in. My sense is that violence against women in Indian literature is as commonplace as the details of a table setting, sometimes offered with an irony that indeed reflects the ironic and acquiescent way in which we as a society treat violence in real life. There is a line in Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things that is very memorable because it is equally ironic and empathic – “The Kathakali Men took off their make-up and went home to beat their wives.  Even Kunti, the soft one with breasts”.

Violence on the Page: Sharanya Manivannan writes on “Possessing the Secret of Joy” by Alice Walker

Alice Walker’s Possessing The Secret of Joy lays bare two secrets deep at the heart of misogyny. The first is that female sexuality is a threat, and must be controlled. The second is that sometimes, it is women who do the controlling, who act as the agents – and therefore are the perpetuators – of the establishment known as ‘the patriarchy’.

The first of these secrets is not really a secret, at least not among people who consider women’s issues, even superficially. It’s the second of these that is so difficult to speak about that it is almost unspeakable. Walker’s 1992 novel revolves around female genital mutilation (FGM) – a practise that still continues in various places in the world, and can range from a ceremonial ‘nick’ of the clitoris to the removal of all the external genitalia, leaving only a small wound through which menses and urine can pass (the woman is later cut open for intercourse and childbirth). FGM brings a variety of physiological problems, but arguably its deepest wounding comes from the motives for its existence: to curb sexual agency through the restriction of pleasure and desire. It is generally, as in Possessing The Secret of Joy, performed on girls by women, who themselves had it performed on them as children or adolescents.

There is violence – the act itself – and then there is scarring. Scarring occurs with and without explicit intent. It occurs in flippant ways. It occurs above all in an elision – an elision of meaning, sentiment or consequence. A clitorodectomy is all these things. It is also only the most extreme manifestation of the oppression of female sexuality that occurs almost everywhere, in myriad ways.

At this juncture, I will confess that it has been several years since I read this novel. I did not reread it for purposes of this note. I did not think I had to, because of how deeply its most shocking scene is embedded in my mind – I clearly recall gasping aloud when I encountered it. I am nauseous to think of it now. It is a simply described, absolutely horrifying scene. I reproduce it here without further comment:

“…I knew instinctively that it was Dura being held down and tortured inside the hut. Dura who made those inhuman shrieks that rent the air and chilled my heart. Abruptly, inside, there was silence. And then I saw M’Lissa shuffle out, dragging her lame leg, and at first I didn’t realize she was carrying anything, for it was so insignificant and unclean that she carried it not in her fingers but between her toes. A chicken – a hen, not a cock – was scratching futilely in the dirt between the hut and the tree where the other girls, their own ordeal over, lay. M’Lissa lifted her foot and flung this small object in the direction of the hen, and she, as if waiting for this moment, rushed toward M’Lissa’s upturned foot, located the flung object in the air and then on the ground, and in one quick movement of beak and neck, gobbled it down.”

Violence on the Page: Srilata K. writes on “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Trapped in Medical Discourse: Gilman’s Response to the “Rest Cure”

An American novelist, poet and non-fiction writer, Charlotte Perkins Gilman imagined, wrote and lived like a feminist.  Her work defied just about everything, including conventional notions of genre, style and voice. Gilman was far ahead of her time, an early feminist visionary if you like.  In her long and enormously absorbing semi-autobiographical short story “The Yellow Wallpaper” (1892), Gilman speaks through an unreliable female narrator.  Gilman wrote this story after a severe bout of post-partum depression, following the birth of her daughter Katherine.  The story was essentially a response to her doctor, the well known neurologist S.Weir Mitchell, who tried to cure her of her depression through a “rest cure”.

In 1877, Dr.Mitchell published a monograph in which he described a rest cure for neurasthenia.  The idea was to “renew the vitality of feeble people by a combination of entire rest and excessive feeding”. Mitchell suggested to Gilman that she live “as domestic a life as possible”, to “have but two hours of intellectual life a day” and “never to touch pen, brush or pencil again.” (Mitchell, Weir, Fat and Blood: And How to Make Them (Philadelphia: JB Lippincot, 1878 2nd ed))

Gilman writes:

I went home and obeyed those directions for some three months, and came so near the borderline of utter mental ruin that I could see over.

        Then, using the remnants of intelligence that remained, and helped by a wise friend, I cast the noted specialist’s advice to the winds and went to work again–work, the normal life of every human being; work, in which is joy and growth and service, without which one is a pauper and a parasite–ultimately recovering some measure of power.

        Being naturally moved to rejoicing by this narrow escape, I wrote The Yellow Wallpaper, with its embellishments and additions, to carry out the ideal (I never had hallucinations or objections to my mural decorations) and sent a copy to the physician who so nearly drove me mad. He never acknowledged it.

        The little book is valued by alienists and as a good specimen of one kind of literature. It has, to my knowledge, saved one woman from a similar fate–so terrifying her family that they let her out into normal activity and she recovered.

        But the best result is this. Many years later I was told that the great specialist had admitted to friends of his that he had altered his treatment of neurasthenia since reading The Yellow Wallpaper.

        It was not intended to drive people crazy, but to save people from being driven crazy, and it worked.  (Gilman CP, Why I Wrote “The Yellow Wallpaper.” The Forerunner, 1913)

The innocuous sounding rest cure used to treat mentally “unstable”, “hysterical” women was really a way of infantilizing its subjects. Told in the first person in the form of journal entries, the story is an intense reflection on attitudes towards women’s mental and physical health at the time. By employing an unreliable narrator, Gilman complicates things for her readers. At first, we are not sure what position to take since the narrator, also the story’s protagonist, is obviously depressed and mentally ill. The narrator’s physician husband John confines her to a room in a house he has rented for the summer so she can rest and get over her “hysterical tendency”.  Confined thus, the narrator becomes increasingly obsessed with the wall paper that surrounds her. She begins to see women creeping about inside the wall paper and the story ends rather dramatically with her husband John forcing his way into the room in which she has locked herself and fainting at the sight which confronts him.

As Gilman’s story unfolds, we learn to recognize the psychological and physical violence inherent in the rest cure and the violence that it generates in turn. It is a powerful and frightening violence. The narrator is forbidden from writing and makes her journal entries on the sly when no one is looking.  This is part of the violent logic of the “rest cure” that the patient (typically a female patient) must not use her mind or her imagination for this can lead to a worsening of the hysterical condition. Hysteria was constructed as an illness of the uterus. The narrator, in an attempt to reclaim control over her own life, suggests to her physician husband that she be allowed to work and socialize. Her suggestions, however, are dismissed. Ironically, the rest cure only makes the protagonist more ill than she is at the start of the story, marginalizing and isolating her, snatching from her all agency.  She is an infantilized prisoner, trapped by the violence embedded in the logic of an apparently “rational” medical discourse. The sense of being confined is very strong.  At first, the protagonist remarks that there is “something queer” about the house and wonders why it would be let so cheaply. Soon, we learn that the windows are barred and that her husband is “very careful and loving and hardly lets me stir without special direction”.

The story is a powerful expression of the gendered violence that can inhere in seemingly rational discourses such as medicine, a violence that will not allow for women to be treated as fully functioning, intellectual subjects seeking control of their lives.

Violence on the Page: A.Mangai writes on “Padhaiyil Padintha Adigal” by Rajam Krishnan

Rajam Krishnan, Padhaiyil Padintha Adigal, Thagam Publishers, 2000 (first edition 1991)

Rajam Krishnan as a social realist writer with a very strong commitment to Marxian ideology is well known.  The book I would like to cherish as something that weaves the narratives of violence and resistance at all levels – personal and public – highlighting the power of transgression is a biographical novel on Manalur Maniamma.  Exploring the history of agrarian struggles in East Thanjavur region of Tamil Nadu with all its complexities the text has played a crucial role in my life and art.

Born in a conservative Brahmin household, married as the second wife of a lawyer at the age of nine, widowed within ten years, her first encounter with violence begins at home.  She undertakes to take up Shiva worship, usually denied to women, but permitted in her case as she is widowed and therefore asexual.  The everyday practice of widowhood in Brahmin community is the most harrowing violence of dehumanizing a woman.  Living with her mother, who is also a widow, she begins to take care of the lands and cultivation.  The first exposure to being complicit in the oppression of farmers strikes her when she learns of ‘karaveli’ – a system by which the female agricultural labourers are divided in to half and a competition is enforced to speed up the process of planting the seedlings.   She takes charge of farming with out the assistance of the middle man.  Insulted by her action, she is attacked in the dark and falls on the ridge.  She is also teased for being a woman and a widow (pottachi and mottachi).  She decides to counter that.  In a very dramatic move, she combs her hair with middle parting into a crop; wears a dhoti; a khadi shirt with half sleeves; and throws a towel over her shoulders like the Kerala women.  This new incarnation drew scorn from her family members and wonder from those who admired her.

It was the era of Gandhianism.  Most of her relatives were part of the Congress.  She too joined the party and soon became the District Committee member.  As a Gandhian, she strived to work against untouchability and caste discrimination.  Disturbed by the insults devadasis faced in Congress circles and the lukewarm attitude about widowers’ hurrying to get remarried, she feels that”Gandhi’s nationalism was not beyond the conservative attitudes of the age-old practices of feudalism”.  Her younger brother refuses to give her any share in the property.  Determined to prove herself in her own village she buys land and also builds a house.  Realizing that she needs to protect herself she learns Silampam , a martial art of Tamil Nadu.  Next in her leap was to learn cycling to increase her mobility.  She soon joins the workers and farmers movements.

She becomes a member of the then Communist party.  Her tireless work with the people makes the party be identified as Maniamma party in her area.  But, the party is not exceptionally progressive to accommodate a woman of her stature.  She is not allowed to contest elections.  She takes it in the stride and does not mind the hesitation sensed within the party.  She is then accused of taking decisions without consulting the party.  She is imprisoned.  And in the prison, she meets Janaki, Shajathi and other Comrades.  She works for the welfare of children kept in the prison along with their parents.  Her health fails.  In the hospital while still a prisoner, Rukmani Ammal meets her.  On her release, she goes back to Thanjavur.  She realizes that she is not selected as a delegate for the Party State Conference at Nagappattinam .  Caught between her people’s commitment and the Party’s negligence, she decides to attend the conference as a book-seller.  The previous day of the Conference while visiting a village the deer groomed by a landlord hits her ribs.  The same Conference that had planned to pass a resolution against her, turned in to her glorious funeral procession!

This novel, usually not considered to be a portrayal of violence, succeeds in making the readers aware how violence is the very weave of our lives.  The structural nexus of how caste, class and gender intersect with every single aspect of life is faced squarely by Maniamma.  While the dominant tone of the novel is celebratory, it is deeply moving in presenting the constant emotion of being made to feel alone – at home, by the women in Congress households, by the Party leadership; and the attendant respect and affection showered on her by the simple farmers and labourers.

It is very easy to discuss violence as part of the discourse of trauma or survival; but an overwhelming sense of sorrow engulfs one when one reads of Maniamma’s hope and courage and the image of being cornered by feudal, patriarchal and discriminatory attitudes in various spheres.  Above all, the text documents a history that is buried deep.  It also has opened up a way of writing history from women’s perspective.  It is not about claiming a space denied to her but about re-telling the history from a critical point of view.

Maniamma was dramatized by me for the AIDWA State conference at Nagappattinam in 1991. Rukmani  Amma , who was a character in the play watched it.  A woman who had travelled with Mani Amma on her cycle was moved beyond words.  Mina Swaminathan, who helped me in shaping the play, later became a fellow traveler in my theatre work through Voicing Silence.  We revived the play as Chuvadugal in 1994.  V. Geetha’s Kaala Kanavu  (2007) tracing the history of feminist thought in Tamil Nadu referred to her movingly.  She seems to live in us in our frustrating and joyous moments.

The wheel rolls on /
the blood splashes; /
the path is swamp – red; /
every step is a hibiscus.

Violence on the Page: C.S. Lakshmi writes on ‘Ratha Uravu’ (Blood Ties) by Yuma Vasuki

Ratha Uravu, New Horizon Media, Chennai, 2007, translated by Gita Subramaniam

In recent times the novel that has dealt with domestic violence in an almost  shocking and heartbreaking manner is Yuma Vasuki’s Ratha Uravu (translated as Blood Ties by Gita Subramanian). It is a disturbing tale of relentless domestic violence, fear and alchoholism set in a small town in Tamil Nadu. The story is woven around three brothers and a cruel widowed mother in a joint family and the travails of the family of one of the brothers, Dinakaran who is an alcoholic who thinks that battering his wife and children is his right. The graphic accounts of  violence send a chill down the spine but the children and their relationship with their elder sister, who tries to remain calm and hold the family together and the poetic style of writing of Yuma Vasuki make this novel an important novel that deals with violence and its impact on the family.

 

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.