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Shardaben's autobiography, originally written in Gujarati and published in 1938, describes the life of an Indian woman at the turn of the twentieth century. She describes her childhood, and her innermost feelings and emotions. Despite considerable opposition from society, in 1902, Shardaben and her sister became the first women graduates in Gujarat. This marked the beginning of her lifelong commitment to the cause of women's education. Here, she documents both that and the political and social changes that were sweeping over India. For over half a century, she and her husband interacted and worked in close association with many important political leaders and literary figures of India.
Purnima Bhatt is a Professor of History, Anthropology and Interdisciplinary Studies at Hood College, U.S.A. Her publications include Scholar's Guide to Washington, D.C., African Studies and Sharadabehn Mehta: Una Mujer Exceptional en al India de su Tiempo.
Svati Joshi is Professor of English Literature at Miranda House College, Delhi University.
Hansa Wadkar (born Ratan Bhalchandra) was one of Maharashtra's best known stage and screen personalities. By the time she was married to a much older family friend and impressario when she was just 15 she had already starred in nine or ten movies and was becoming a name in the film world. Supporting her family on her earnings, her brother sick with malaria, and both parents having taken to drink, life was not easy for the young woman. But Hansa was not only beautiful and immensely talented, she was tough, willful, capricious and headstrong.
Her autobiography, published in 1970, created a sensation for its frankness and directness.
It was later made into a film, Bhumika, by the well-known director Shyam Benegal and starred Smita Patil in the title role
The first full-length autobiography in Bengali, Amar Jiban (My Life) was written in the early nineteenth century by an upper-caste rural housewife named Rashundari Debi. Published in 1868 when she was 88 years old, the book is a fascinating snapshot of life for women in the nineteenth century. Debi, who gave birth to eleven children—her first was born when she was 18-years-old, the last when she was forty-one—ruminates on her very individual understanding of bhakti as well as the new times that were unfolding around her.
Offering a translation of major sections of this remarkable autobiography, Words to Win is a portrait of a woman who wants to compose a life of her own, wishes to present it in the public sphere, and eventually accomplishes just that. The words, in the end, win out. First published in 1999, the book is a must-read for anyone interested in nineteenth-century Indian history. The classic text is reissued here in a new paperback format.
"Sarkar's dissection of the text - the autobiography of an upper-caste East Bengali widow from a family of landlords, who teaches herself to read and write in secrecy as it's a taboo to do so - yields a cracking yarn of social history." -- Pothik Ghosh, Outlook
The constructed “naturalness” of a world made up of two sexes, two genders, and heterosexual desire as the only legitimate desire has been continuously questioned and challenged by those marginalised by these norms. This forces us to ask some important questions: How is gender really understood and constructed in the world that we inhabit? How does it operate through the various socio-political-cultural structures around us? And, most crucially, how is it lived?
No Outlaws in the Gender Galaxy answers these questions with a research study that attempts to understand gender through the lives of queer persons assigned gender female at birth. The lived realities of the respondents, echoing in the book through their voices, help to interrogate gender as well as provide clues to how it can be envisioned or revisioned to be egalitarian.
This book explores how gender plays out in public and private institutions like the family, educational institutions, work and public spaces. Looking at each of these independently, it elaborates the specific ways in which binary gender norms are woven into each arena and it also explores the multiple ways in which interlocking systems of heteronormativity, casteism, class and ableism are enmeshed within patriarchy to create exclusion, marginalisation, pathologisation and violence. This book illustrates the multiplicity of ways in which people live gender and testifies that even if there are gender laws, in a just world there can be no gender outlaws.
In 2008, when the Azad Foundation, an NGO based in Delhi, began training poor women to become drivers of commercial and private vehicles, most people thought they were somewhat out of touch with reality. Poor, illiterate women, many of them from violent homes, some of them single mothers, others from families and communities which had never allowed women to step out of the home – how could these women take the wheel, drive around in unsafe cities, be confident and competent, earn money? At the time, there was only one known woman auto driver in Delhi. When Azad turned to radio cab companies to suggest they take in women drivers, there wasn’t much interest. Today, more than 300 women drivers have received training from Azad and are on the roads of several cities. Nine years after radio companies turned Azad away, special services or women with women drivers are being introduced within these same companies. In 2015, the Delhi Transport Corporation got its first woman driver, and in 2016, the Delhi Commission for Women recruited 25 women drivers to be part of their women’s helpline. Clearly, things are changing.
Lady Driver maps the journeys of twelve women from poor, marginalized communities who have transformed their lives by taking up the challenge of becoming women drivers. Each story is unique; there’s no Cinderella effect here. Reality does not change overnight. Instead, as the women featured here painstakingly claim a relationship with the road, it translates into claims for identity, for dignity, for a livelihood. Their stories are about beginnings, but have no endings – there is still quite a way to drive. OR – there are many kilometres to drive yet.
Vibrant, dynamic, spirited and forceful. The contemporary women's movement in India, which began in the late 1970s protested against the dark times, the violence and the misogyny. It also colourfully celebrated liberation, solidarity among women and breaking the shackles of patriarchy. It sang, performed and painted, to draw attention to the burning issues of the time: dowry death, widow immolation, acid throwing and rape.
Over the past three decades, the women's movement has matured and broadened to include a gamut of issues related to women's health, sexuality, the environment, literacy, the impact of religion and communalism on women's lives, political participation, labour rights, disability rights, class and caste issues, and many more. Indeed, feminism meant looking at the world through women's eyes.
This book constructs a pictorial history of the complex and multi-layered women's movement through its visual representation: posters, drawings, pamphlets, reports, brochures, stickers, all writing and photographs. The posters reproduced here are part of Zubaan's Poster Women project, which has attempted to locate and archive as many posters of the movement as possible to be able to visually map the women?s movement and its concerns.
The Poster Women archive can be accessed at www.posterwomen.org.
A true-life ‘rags to riches’ story of the First Lady of Bengali Cinema. Kanan Devi, one of the early singing stars, came into the film world in the silent era and, unlike many others, survived the transition to talkies.
Reduced to working as a domestic help after the death of her father, her life took a dramatic turn when she was offered a film role and, encouraged by her uncle, took it.
In this lively and candid account of her experiences (originally published in 1973 as Shobarey Aami Nomi), Kanan Devi recalls the early days of cinema in Bengal, analysing and comparing conditions of film acting in the early 1930s with what she saw about two or three decades later when she herself was a producer and director, with her own film company, Shrimati Pictures.
This fascinating and unusual story offers not only a different perspective on the growth of the film industry in Bengal, but also a first-hand account of the position of women who came into the public sphere in the early decades of the last century.
Imelda Connor is a classic Irish lass—a fiery, red-headed beauty, quick to anger and fiercely protective of her younger siblings. Growing up on a small farm in the rolling hills of County Cork, she thinks she has her life completely mapped out. But Imelda soon finds that life doesn’t always go according to plan.
Everything is turned upside-down when Imelda moves to England and happens to meet a dashing Bengali man named Shu Bose. Shu is captivated by Imelda’s natural beauty and charm, and the two embark on a whirlwind romance. At the age of eighteen, in the spring of 1932, Imelda boards a ship bound for Calcutta—and a very different life to the one she had always imagined.
Milty Bose’s writing transports readers back to pre-Independence India, to London between the wars, and to the genteel life of bhadralok Bengali high society. From Cork to Calcutta tells the true story of Bose’s parents, their eccentric and unforgettable family, the trauma of loss, and the triumph of one woman’s remarkable spirit.
One of Hindi's best known writers, Prabha Khaitan spent much of her life as the 'second' woman in a long-term relationship with a married man. Born in a conservative Marwari family, she defied tradition and family expectations, insisting on living life as a single woman, setting up her own business and earning the respect of her peers and colleagues in the corporate world. Despite her yearning to be loved and cherished by the man to whom she gave her life, Prabha Khaitan lived life on her own terms.
With a frankness that is rare in the world of Hindi autobiographical writing by women, Prabha Khaitan here speaks of her feelings, her sense of discomfort and unease at not being the 'legitimate' woman, about what she gained and lost from a relationship that was generally frowned upon by society and how she fought to become her own woman. In doing so, she reflects on marriage, relationships, intimacy and distance, the professional and the personal, and the ways in which women are caught within these often conflicting forces.
"Prabha Khaitan's story of her life and times is possibly one of the most honest books I have ever read. Sometimes it cuts too close to the bone for middle class comfort, unsettling the safety net and entitlements of complacency and convenience. All her life, she swam upstream, defying convention, defying prejudice, questioning choices." -- Namita Gokhale
"One of the most arresting things about feminist writer and poet Prabha Khaitan's autobiography is its naked narrative and almost poetic vulnerability. Simply written, the narrative flows languorously."-- Prerna Kalbag, The Hindustan Times
On Feb 6th 2003, Anjum Zamarud Habib, a young woman political activist from Kashmir, was arrested in Delhi and jailed under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA). Her crime? Being in the wrong place at the wrong time. And being the Chairperson of the Muslim Khawateen Markaz and in that capacity, a member of the Hurriyat Conference.
In this passionate and moving account of her days in prison, Anjum Zamarud Habib describes the shock and bewilderment of arrest, the pain of realizing that there is no escape for not days, not weeks, but years, the desperation for contact with the outside world and the sense of deep betrayal at being abandoned by her political comrades. Her story is both a searing indictment of draconian state policies and expedient political practices, and a moving account of one woman's extraordinary life.
"Prisoner No 100 illuminates the darkest corners of Kashmir's political experience. A brilliant critique of patriarchy in politics, a searing tale of the terrible humiliations visited upon political prisoners, a poignant story of a woman who dedicated her life to political change in Kashmir, a passionate love letter to Kashmir. Everyone interested in Kashmir should read it." -- Basharat Peer, author of Curfewed Nights
This endearing, witty, self-deprecating memoir documents the life of one of the leading feminists of the contemporary Indian women's movement. Vina Mazumdar, one of the key researchers and writers of the landmark report of the Committee on the Status of Women in India, Towards Equality, here documents her early life, her gradual politicization in a household of liberal, educated Bengalis, and her involvement in women's issues and the women's movement.
Brought up to be outspoken and frank, Vinadi, as she is affectionately known, began by becoming involved in university-led politics in Bihar. Marriage and a young family did not prevent her from pursuing her studies and her career, in the teeth of considerable opposition from relatives but with constant support from her mother. On her return to India, Vinadi first moved into the field of education, and then, with her involvement in the research and writing of Towards Equality, was catapulted into the women's movement. An activist and institution builder, Vinadi set up the Centre for Women's Development Studies in Delhi, one of the leading research and outreach institutions for women in the country. In this rare memoir, Vinadi provides a rich history of the contemporary women's movement in India.
"Gulabi Gang! Gulabi Gang!
Watch out, here we come!
Don't try and step out of line
for the Gulabi Gang will win!"
Donning pink saris and holding sticks in their hands, the Gulabi Gang is a threat to every policeman who refuses to file a report on violence against a dalit, every husband who beats up his wife, and every goon who grabs land that does not belong to him. In this recounted autobiographical account, Sampat Pal, the founder and leader of the Gulabi Gang, looks back to trace her journey as a young girl of twelve, forced into child marriage, who later goes on to become the leader of the most feared group of women vigilantes in the country. Her rebellious instinct, fervour for justice and her desire to free women from their everyday oppression led her to organize the women in and around her village in Uttar Pradesh into a gang.
The Goddess and the Nation charts the pictorial life and career of Bharat Mata, 'Mother India,' the Indian nation imagined as mother/goddess, embodiment of national territory, and unifying symbol for the country's diverse communities. Soon after Mother India's emergence in the late nineteenth century, artists began to incorporate the map of India into her visual persona. The images they produced enabled patriotic men and women in a heterogeneous population to collectively visualize India, affectively identify with it, and even become willing to surrender their lives for it. Combining visual studies, gender studies, and the history of cartography, The Goddess and the Nation offers a rigorous analysis of Mother India's appearance in painting, print, poster art, and pictures from the late nineteenth century to the present. By exploring the entanglement of the scientifically mapped image of India and a (Hindu) mother/goddess, Sumathi Ramaswamy reveals Mother India as a figure who relies on the British colonial mapped image of her dominion to distinguish her from the other goddesses of India, and to guarantee her novel status as embodiment, sign, and symbol of national territory. Providing an exemplary critique of ideologies of gender and the science of cartography, Ramaswamy demonstrates that images do not merely reflect history, they actively make it.
Radhaben Garva lives in a small village in Kutch. She’s an artist who has for long years documented the rural women’s movement in her area and beyond in her paintings.
These unique pictures—more than 200 of them—tell stories of the involvement of women from her village, and from the Kutch Mahila Vikas Sangathan, the NGO she works with, in campaigns for women’s rights, for economic empowerment, for resistance to globalizing corporations.
In one sequence of pictures, Radhaben receives a phone call inviting her to a meeting abroad, and she paints the entire journey from village to town to airport to the international destination and her first ride in an elevator. In another, she depicts the Chipko movement, in a third, the fragmentation of fields and farming activity as a result of globalization.
This unusual and beautiful document provides that rare thing, a political perspective from below and a vibrant portrait of the rural women’s movement in India.
This unique autobiography by veteran BBC and Associated Press journalist Sabita Goswami documents the extraordinary, single-handed fight of an ordinary woman in the heart of Assam, against family and social obstacles, to establish herself emotionally and professionally.
An unbiased and ruthless no-holds-barred account of turbulent contemporary Assam in particular and the Northeast in general, the book covers more than three decades of events in this volatile region and insightful analyses of its complex social and political history. The racy and strong narrative, recounted simply and with rare passion, makes this book a compelling read.
"Crafted with skill and full of lyrical prose, the best thing about this memoir is its honesty, as the author doesn't flinch from telling the truth." -- Abdullah Khan, Earthen Lamp Journal
One of the grand ‘singing ladies’ who began their lives in the first quarter of the twentieth century, Malka Pukhraj was educated in Urdu, Persian, music and dance. These latter two became her life an she began her career as a court singer in the erstwhile princely state of Jammu and Kashmir, going on to become an independent performer, whose voice and words are now familiar to millions in the subcontinent.
In this remarkable, witty and candid account, Malka Pukhraj recalls her rich and eventful life, ‘My birth’, she begins, ‘was nothing short of a miracle’. Then, in her simple and inimitable style, she takes us through her childhood as a court singer, her absorption in her music, and her gradual understanding of the intrigues of court life. From singing and dancing, to acting, from childhood to adolescence and romance, and finally to marriage and family, the author brings the reader close to her sorrows and joys, her dilemmas and concerns, and ends with a moving and poignant account of the acceptance of old age, and all that it brings with it.
Saleem Kidwai is a historian who taught at Delhi University. He is co-editor, with Ruth Vanita, of Same Sex Love in India: Readings from Indian Literature and History.
“This must be one of the most gripping memoirs ever translated from an Indian language…Saleem Kidwai…has done a wonderful job of preserving the idiomatic vigour of the original, has skilfully edited Pukhraj’s account of her time in Lahore, which she wrote in one uninterrupted paragraph. …But it is the adventure of Pukhraj’s early days, with her masterly ability to recreate a lost world, that makes this book so memorable.” -- India Today
“…this remarkable saga is a vivid sub-continental document of interesting people in interesting times, the kind we no longer seem to have.” -- The Indian Express
For more than ten years now Irom Sharmila, a young woman from Manipur, has been on hunger strike, demanding the removal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, a draconian law that allows the army unfettered powers in areas that are considered politically sensitive or disturbed. Taken into custody and released every twelve months by the State for attempting suicide (considered illegal in India) Sharmila is being force fed to keep her alive. Her unique battle for peace in her strife torn homeland, has become a powerful symbol for all those engaged in fighting for peace in the northeast of India. As she fulfils her chosen role in this movement, Sharmila sometimes longs for all those things that young women treasure love, freedom, the sheer joy of living a free life, even simple things like being able to drink water, to brush her teeth. This small compilation of twelve of her poems in her native language Meiteilon and in English translation, provides a moving account of the underbelly of one woman's lone struggle for peace.
All proceeds from the sale of this book will go towards supporting Sharmila's campaign.
Part memoir, part oral testimony, part eyewitness account, Binodini's The Maharaja's Household provides a unique and engrossingly intimate view of life in the erstwhile royal household of Manipur in northeast India. It brings to life stories of kingdoms long vanished, and is an important addition to the untold histories of the British Raj.
Maharaj Kumari Binodini Devi, who wrote under the single name of Binodini, published The Maharaja's Household as a series of essays between 2002 and 2007 for an avid newspaper reading public in Manipur. Already celebrated across the state for her award-winning novel, short stories, and film scripts, Binodini entranced her readers anew with her stories of royal life, told from a woman's point of view and informed by a deep empathy for the common people in her father's gilded circle.
Elephan hunts, polo matches and Hindu temple performances form the backdrop for palace intrigues, colonial rule and White Rajahs. With gentle humour, piquant obersavations and heartfelt nostalgia, Binodini evokes a lifestyle and era that is now lost. Her book paints a portrait of the household of a king that only a princess - his daughter - could have written.
When Revathi’s powerful memoir, The Truth About Me, first appeared in 2011, it caused a sensation. Readers learned of Revathi’s childhood unease with her male body; her escape from her birth family to a house of hijras (the South Asian generic term for transgender people), and her eventual transition to being the woman she always she knew was. This new book charts her remarkable journey from relative obscurity to becoming India’s leading spokesperson for transgender rights and an inspiration to thousands.
Revathi describes her life, her work in the NGO Sangama, which works with people across a spectrum of gender identities and sexual orientations, and how she rose from office assistant to director in the organization. Today she is an independent activist, theatre person, actor and writer, and works for the rights of transgender persons.
In the second part of the book, Revathi offers the reader insight into one of the least talked about experiences on the gender trajectory, that of being trans men. Calling several female-to-male trans persons her sons, Revathi puts before us their moving, passionate and sometimes tragic stories of marginalisation, courage, resistance and triumph.
An unforgettable book, A Life in Trans Activism will leave the reader questioning the ‘safe’ and ‘comfortable’ binaries of male/female that so many of us take for granted.
A many-layered work of historical reportage, Watercolours draws on the real life story of Dina Gottliebova-Babbitt (1923-2009), a Czech-American artist of Jewish ancestry, who was a prisoner at Auschwitz, and whose story came to light in the late nineties. It was at this time that Gottliebova attempted once more to recover the art she had created in the concentration camp, and which had become the property of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum. The dispute escalated into an international scandal, with the American Department of State and the Polish government becoming involved.
Here, journalist Lidia Ostalowska reconstructs Gottliebova’s time in the camp, while looking also at broader issues of historical memory, trauma, racism and the relationship between the torturer and the victim. In Gottliebova’s case, SS Doctor Josef Mengele took a special interest in her talent, commissioning her to paint portraits (the watercolours of the title) of Roma prisoners. Mengle himself is one of the many characters in this narrative.
Ostalowska draws on hundreds of studies and accounts of the hell of the camps, and tells the story of one woman’s incarceration and her battle for survival, bringing in many other supporting lives. Before she worked for Mengele, Gottliebova had decorated the children’s barracks at Auschwitz with of the Disney film, Snow White and The Seven Dwarves. After the war, she worked as an animator for Warner Brothers and married Walt Disney animator Art Babbitt, the man behind many of the world’s best-known cartoon characters including Goofy and Dumbo. Gottlibova (under the name Dina Babbitt) lived in the California until her death in 2009 at the age of 86.
India is changing.
At the heart of the change are its women.
The change is widespread and varied, individual and collective and is reflected across the spectrum of women’s lives, whether in politics or in economics, in their daily lives, in business, or the field of work within the home and outside.
This book attempts to map – in words and photographs – some of the change that is both visible and invisible in the India of today. Six writers from India write the stories that six photographers from the world-renowned Magnum
Photos Agency capture. Their beautiful and evocative photographs focus on the world of women working with microcredit, participating in grassroots governance, moving into new jobs, working behind the scenes in the male world of the Mumbai film industry, making their individual contributions in varied fields and imagining a new future for themselves and their sisters.
Published to celebrate 150 years of BNP Paribas in India and to mark the 25th anniversary of the feminist publishing house, Kali for Women/Zubaan,
Women Changing India offers a window into the lives of women living in India today and brings to public attention their complex realities and their aspirations for a better world.
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