women in literature

Nine books you must read to understand women’s issues in India

Indian women's realities are multiple and complex. These books will help you dig deeper.

The week prior to International Women's Day seems to have been swallowed up by the controversy surrounding Leslee Udwin's documentary India's Daughter. Many have argued that she is only telling the truth, while many others have criticised the film and the filmmaker for making sweeping generalisations and not giving enough of a voice to Indian women.

To shift the focus a little, here's a curated – by no means exhaustive – list of books you can read to deepen your understanding of women's issues in India. It is no coincidence that most of these are testimonies and memoirs. Or that many different truths and experiences emerge from just these nine.

Seeing Like A Feminist, Nivedita Menon
If ever there was a lucid and comprehensive primer to feminism, is it this book. Menon explains complex concepts with the kind of accessibility that is very rare in most academic works. This contains the zeitgeist of contemporary Indian womens' movements, and includes everything from discussions about reproductive choice, to the Pink Chaddi campaign, to queer politics. If you want to understand women's issues in India and don't know where to begin, look no further.

My Friend, My Enemy, Ismat Chughtai
Badaun was in the middle of one of India's rapid-fire media cycles recently, because it is where the bodies of two teenage girls were found hanging from a tree. But it is also the birthplace of iconic Urdu writer Ismat Chughtai. This collection of non-fiction writing – containing both autobiographical work and literary criticism – is a glimpse into the life of one of the most fascinating and path-breaking Indian women writers in history.

Why Loiter?, Shilpa Phadke, Sameera Khan, and Shilpa Ranade
This is a work of beautifully written non-fiction about contemporary urban public spaces, and gender. Its basic premise coincides with the central demand that emerged from the December 2012 protests in India, perhaps best articulated in the slogan “bekhauf azaadi” - freedom from fear. This book explores the ways in which women deserve to be able to loiter anywhere they want, and at any time. Why Loiter? is now an ongoing campaign for women who assert their right to freedom.

My Story, Kamala Das
The incandescent Kamala Das, eminent writer of prose and poetry in Malayalam and English and Nobel prize nominee, published the story of her life in 1973. In speaking lyrically and candidly of her struggles, and her loves, she offers her readers an important insight into many significant issues that continue to be central to the lives of women everywhere today.

A Life Less Ordinary, Baby Halder
Baby Halder's story is extraordinary precisely because domestic workers' realities are so invisible in middle and upper-class peoples' everyday consciousness. Halder battled enormous odds, including domestic violence and the murder of her sister, to arrive in New Delhi, a single mother of three, at the age of 25. Her autobiography, written alongside her job as a domestic worker, is a bestseller and has been translated into twenty-one languages.

Writing Caste/Writing GenderShantabai Dani, Mukta Sarvagod, Shantabai Kamble, Baby Kamble, Kumud Pawade, Urmila Pawar, Janabai Girhe, Vimal More
This is a collection of eight beautiful testimonies by dalit women writers in Maharashtra, extracted and translated from larger texts by each author. These life narratives counter the invisibility of dalit women's lives, experiences, and concerns in the discourses of brahminical Indian feminism. The writers resist tokenism and the homogenisation of the experience of dalit women in presenting their richly layered and diverse writings. These and other dalit life narratives are a must-read for anyone who hopes to engage in any meaningful way with women's issues in India, and understand the crucial intersections between caste and gender. This collection is introduced by the late Sharmila Rege.

Fragrance of Peace, Irom Sharmila
What does a woman who has been on hunger strike for more than a decade think about? Irom Sharmila has been force-fed, been accused of trying to kill herself, and has been imprisoned, all for her peaceful protest against the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act. Her endurance of the longest hunger strike in the world is reflected in her fine poetry, tender and determined all at once.

Dangerous Sex, Invisible Labour, Prabha Kotiswaran
Kotiswaran, a professor of law, went to Kolkata and Tirupati for her research on sex work. The result is a compelling work that questions and ultimately overturns the most common assumptions made about sex workers and their lives. Considering the complex nature of the issue, and the sheer number of sex workers in India, this is definitely worth a read for anyone who wants to broaden their understanding before making judgments based on pre-conceived notions.

Me Hijra, Me Laxmi, Laxmi Narayan Tripathi
This is the life story of India's most prominent hijra activist. There are many different kinds of transgender people, and all of them cannot be conflated into the category of hijra. These and other nuances form part of Laxmi's narrative, along with the fascinating story of her achievments in the glamour industry, and as a social worker.

Support our journalism by paying for Scroll+ here. We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Bringing the glamour back to flying while keeping it affordable

The pleasure of air travel is back, courtesy of an airline in India.

Before dinner, fashionable women would retire to the powder room and suited-up men would indulge in hors d’oeuvres, surrounded by plush upholstery. A gourmet meal would soon follow, served in fine tableware. Flying, back in the day, was like an upscale party 35,000 feet up in the air.

The glamour of flying has been chronicled in Keith Lovegrove’s book titled ‘Airline: Style at 30,000 feet’. In his book, Lovegrove talks about how the mid-50s and 60s were a “fabulously glamorous time to fly in commercial airlines”. Back then, flying was reserved for the privileged and the luxuries played an important role in making travelling by air an exclusive experience.

Fast forward to the present day, where flying has become just another mode of transportation. In Mumbai, every 65 seconds an aircraft lands or takes off at the airport. The condition of today’s air travel is a cumulative result of the growth in the volume of fliers, the accessibility of buying an air ticket and the number of airlines in the industry/market.

Having relegated the romance of flying to the past, air travel today is close to hectic and borderline chaotic thanks to busy airports, packed flights with no leg room and unsatisfactory meals. With the skies dominated by frequent fliers and the experience having turned merely transactional and mundane, is it time to bid goodbye to whatever’s enjoyable in air travel?

With increased resources and better technology, one airline is proving that flying in today’s scenario can be a refreshing, enjoyable and affordable experience at the same time. Vistara offers India’s first and only experience of a three-cabin configuration. At a nominal premium, Vistara’s Premium Economy is also redefining the experience of flying with a host of features such as an exclusive cabin, 20% extra legroom, 4.5-inch recline, dedicated check-in counter and baggage delivery on priority. The best in class inflight dining offers a range of regional dishes, while also incorporating global culinary trends. Other industry-first features include Starbucks coffee on board and special assistance to solo women travellers, including preferred seating.

Vistara’s attempts to reduce the gap between affordability and luxury can also be experienced in the economy class with an above average seat pitch, complimentary selection of food and beverages and a choice of leading newspapers and publications along with an inflight magazine. Hospitality aboard Vistara is, moreover, reminiscent of Singapore Airlines’ famed service with a seal of Tata’s trust, thanks to its cabin crew trained to similarly high standards.

The era of style aboard a ‘flying boat’ seems long gone. However, airlines like Vistara are bringing back the allure of air travel. Continuing their campaign with Deepika Padukone as brand ambassador, the new video delivers a bolder and a more confident version of the same message - making flying feel new again. Watch the new Vistara video below. For your next trip, rekindle the joy of flying and book your tickets here.


This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Vistara and not by the Scroll editorial team.