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Bihar Literature Festival Showcases Indian Women’s Fight Against Patriarchy Through Notable Women Speakers

on Mar 23, 2023
Bihar Literature Festival

With a burst of laughter, a woman disregarded the societal expectations of modesty designated for her while seated on the platform of the Bihar Literature Festival. This voice above the din and the act of rebellion belongs to Outlook India's first female editor Chinki Sinha in a nation that continues to strive to tame the daughters to just be courteous and never make a sound. 

She performed on stage with notable women authors of Hindi and English literature during the Ahad Anhad festival in Patna, Bihar, which honored words and performances. Usha Kiran Khan, Savita Singh, Geeta Shree, Vandana Rag, and Chinki Sinha represent several generations, languages, and philosophies.

Yet what unites them is their battle within a patriarchal system and their quest to overcome it. These ladies have made noises above the commotion rather than simply being voices.

Men have dominated the language and knowledge systems for ages. They have controlled editorial boards and newsrooms, and males have influenced writing and encouraged gendered labor. Still, Sujata Prasad, the director of Ahad Anhad, organized a session utterly devoted to talking about the significance of female voices in literature via her imaginative efforts. It's poignant to have voices that resist norms despite the forces of patriarchy, history, and brutality conspiring against them, Sujata remarked in response to why she decided to create an all-female panel.

Veteran author Usha Kiran Khan, a Padmashree recipient, spoke on women's intrinsic inventiveness. She described how males have long sought to limit women's imagination. "Men have always encouraged women to be creative, but that creativity had to stay inside his house's four walls. Males desired that women had education, but not to the extent that she would burn his papers."

She offered historical examples of women's creative skills and noted that males have only sometimes possessed them. She described how women have been toying with language and creating songs, using examples of folk songs and paintings like the renowned Mithila picture.

Paintings are also known as likhiya (written) since women used art to express themselves on the walls, according to Khan.

"When you are born a woman, you are essentially political." Chinki Sinha emphasizes the importance of the narrative "I" in feminist texts and finds Carol Hanisch's "The Personal is Political" resonant. She discussed her experiences as a female editor and political writer in a predominantly male field. "I would first be requested to write about topics like lifestyle and would never be allowed to discuss political issues. Moreover, because we are women, our perspective prevents us from seeing politics through the masculinity  objective lens of men."

Thus, Sinha addressed a fundamental element in feminist discourse; a feminist perspective that views theorization and thinking from women's and marginalized lives, concentrating on experiences not as passive subjects but as sources of knowledge creation. A sociopolitical writer and thinker, Vandana Rag recalled similar occasions in which her "well-wishers" advised her to avoid writing about contentious political problems and instead concentrate on gentler, comforting topics.

Savita Singh, a feminist political thinker and poet challenged the stereotypes of love and passion created by the masculine gaze. She described a time when she attacked "romantic" novelist Shamsher Bahadur Singh vehemently and caused a commotion by criticizing him for being overly preoccupied with his misery.

"He doesn't appear to be in love, but rather a betrayed lover who has failed in finding love. He doesn't even love the woman he is writing about, so how can this be the finest piece of love poetry in Hindi? "She made a pointed criticism.

Singh's observation refuted the traditional romantic tale. She discussed how males influence and dominate women while hiding their manipulation behind fake shows of love and affection. Singh used feminist literature to attack the patriarchal conception of love. The feminist criticism held that such love violates one's privacy, infringes on other people's space, and pressures and oppresses women, leading to control and dominance.

Geeta Shree described her experience of attempting to break through what she called an "iron ceiling" a decade ago. Geeta Shree praised Chinki Sinha for making history and shattering the glass ceiling by becoming a female editor in charge of a newsroom. Shree worked as an associate editor but was never promoted to the role of editor. Usha Kiran Khan referred to Geeta Shree as a firebrand who railed against criticisms of feminist literature and feminism. She discussed two groups of female authors, one that rejects feminism and the other that embraces it as she does.

Claiming the agency of her work, Shree strongly asserted in her Maithili dialect that the lens to analyze her art must be feminist. You can adopt your ideals and personal style from your tradition, but the lens must evolve and be hybrid. She also took great delight in pointing out that women have learned to be carefree, making the feminist literary moment we are presently experiencing possible. Geeta Shree and Chinki Sinha dismantled the burdens that society instills in women beginning at a young age. Women have traditionally been trained to be cautious, behave, and act properly.

While she laughed, the "Men and other people "queries had hatred and anger," Sinha said of the comedic tragedies that begin with a woman's fate. Women have their laughs. "To have one final chuckle, she says.

Women are not ignorant of the patriarchy's collaboration with the capitalist economy or the capitalist forces controlling the market and economy. Even in the third decade of the twenty-first century, Sujata Prasad detailed the deplorable state of female fiction. "It seems absurd that we still require a separate session for female authors. We hope for the day when we don't need to single out women whose writing is a kind of resistance."

Rosa Luxemburg, a communist, spoke about the worst theft of women's labor in human history more than a century ago. The steadfast individuals seated in their chairs expressed the same worries as Luxemburg in Patna. Singh expressed his opinion that a capitalist system built on patriarchy must fail in order for it to function. "Let it collapse if necessary to compensate women for decades of unpaid labor and exploitation." She did, however, add that because "nobody else is paving the path for us," women are sadly doomed to perform twice or treble the amount of labor that males do, whether it be in the context of her family or in writing.

Vandana Rag spoke out against the sins of gender inequality and how male authors have historically and currently supported the establishment of the works of other men while denying the spotlight to their female rivals. She emphasized this while drawing attention to the persistent masculine criticism of female writers.

When speaking during the three-day event, Savita Singh made a number of contradicting claims. Although she discussed feminist publications, she saw the "Burn the Bra" campaign as a radical branch of the feminist movement.

She later acknowledged that the frameworks of honor and religion had been superseded, but she still portrays the ideal of women standing on an equal footing with men.

The all-female panel, which was led by Vyomesh Shukla, also agreed that Indian feminist literature and art needed to be more intersectional, though this was also evident during the festival. Savita Singh spoke about her upcoming anthology, which would have writing from women who represent different cultures, but it doesn't seem enough, given the dearth of voices from underrepresented groups that were referenced throughout the event.

It must be remembered, too, that the initial Bihar Literature Festival was an effort to bring democracy and feminism together in a world that was already divided in these ways. 

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