The term South Asian literature refers to the literary works of writers from theÂ Indian subcontinentÂ and its surrounding areas. Countries to which South Asian literature writers are linked includeÂ India,Â Pakistan,Â Bangladesh,Â SriLankaÂ andÂ Nepal, TheÂ Maldives,Â Burma,Â Bhutan,Â AfghanistanÂ andÂ Iran.
South Asian literature is written in English as well as the many national and regional languages of the region. After the success ofÂ Booker PrizeÂ winning authors likeÂ Salman RushdieÂ andÂ Arundhati Roy, many people got encouraged and started writing. South Asian literature has been produced in about forty major languages, including translations into Persian, Portuguese, French, and English.
Apart from the male writers there have been many great female writers in the south Asian literature as well. Many female writers have written novels on different topics but mainly their concern has been the mistreatment or ill treatment of the women in our society. They have also written novels on the taboo topics such as widow-marriages, child marriages, love stories, sexual content and certain family issues.
Women in our culture are depicted as a weak and burdened member of the family. It is said that we live in a male dominant society but things are changing day by day and more and more women are getting education and standing for their rights. But the writers portray them in the same old traditional way. In their stories the women are suppressed to the level that they almost die. Women are shown desperate for marriage as they can't survive alone is this world. Writers, especially the female writers have described the qualities of an ideal woman, as a person who is tolerant, patient and surrenders to the will of the man in her life and she, herself has no identity or freewill.
This attitude of the female writers towards their female characters is quite evident in their works. Arundhati Roy in her novel "God of small things" depicts women in a very submissive way. She portrays woman as a desperate being who would break any law for her desires and if she doesn't gets what she wants, then she becomes a sadist. The novel deals with many aspects; one of them is the life of Baby Kochamma, whose actual name is Navomi Ipe. She is the aunt of the main protagonist Ammu Ipe. As a young girl, Baby Kochamma falls in love with Father Mulligan, a young Irish priest who had come to their city to study Hindu scriptures. In order to get closer to him, Baby Kochamma becomes aÂ Roman CatholicÂ and joins a convent, against her father's wishes.
Roy here portrays that women in the Asian society has no regard for religion when it comes to love and marriage. Baby kochamma is described as a woman who completely changes herself even when there is no positive response from Father Mulligan's side, which afterwards she realizes, that her vows brought her no closer to the man she loved. Baby Kochamma remains unmarried for the rest of her life, gradually becoming more and bitterer over the years. Throughout the story, Baby Kochamma delights in the misfortune of others and manipulates events to bring pain in the life of the people close to her; in short she is so desperate and frustrated that she becomes a sadist.
In the same way, when the main protagonist Ammu Ipe falls in love with a forbidden man, Velutha, Baby Kochamma opposes to it and locks her up. She even reports to the police and Velutha is arrested and later killed due to the brutality of the officers. Roy could have shown some mercy towards Ammu Ipe but she doesn't. Ammu Ipe is also portrayed as a desperate woman, who at first runs away from home to get married and later falls in love with an untouchable. Even Baby Kochamma does not care, they both suffer and go through the same pain, both break the rules of the society but Baby Kochamma does not relates herself to her niece or helps her. Yet she makes her life more miserable and is the cause of sorrow for everyone.
Even Anita Desai's in her novel "a village by the sea", portrays the two women Lila and Bela as weak and burdened member of the family. Even though they try to help the family but are only able to give moral support because they are girls they are not able to do much for the family.
Desai in her other novel "Clear light of the day", depicts the story of Tara, the wife of India's Ambassador to America, who is suppressed by him. Her husband is a highly educated, civilized and good man, but the male dominancy and her surrender in shown in the novel. She is an obedient wife who even agrees not to attend her sister-in-laws's daughter wedding just because her husband had said so. She tries to reunite her husband with his sister. She realizes that family's love is irreplaceable and reunites them, eventually and then goes to the wedding. In the same novel, Desai has described the life of Aunt Mira, who is a widow and is mistreated by her in-laws. She is not able to escape the torture by herself until Baba, who isÂ autistic, rescues her and helps her to raise the children. But she is not able to cope up with life and the society, thus, she becomes alcoholic and dies of alcoholism.
Similarly, Bapsi Sidwa wrote the story of a child marriage , following Hindu tradition, that when a man dies, his widow should be forced to spend the rest of her life in a widow's ashram, an institution for widows to repent for the sins of her previous life that has caused her husband's death. In her novel Water, Chuyia, a seven-year-old girl, is widowed, and due to the traditions she is dressed in a white sari, her head is shaven and she is left in an ashram forÂ HinduÂ widows to spend the rest of her life in repentance. There are fourteen women who live in the small, two-story house, who are sent to ask for forgiveness but mostly to relieve their families of financial and emotional burdens. Chuyia is convinced that her stay is a temporary one, and that her mother will come to take her away. But that does not happen. The ashram is also used for prostitution. Chuyia becomes a victim of it and is not able not escape but later when she receives help from Narayan; she is rescued and has a brighter future.
In the same novel, another widow Kalyani also becomes a victim of this sinful act but her grief and conscience forces her to drown herself and die.
Anita Desai, Arundhati Roy and Bapsi Sidwa are great and most popular south Asian female writers. They have written novels which have got international acclaim. But in their novels they have depicted the female characters as desperate, suppressed and frustrated beings. The women are not given their due respect as they receive in the society. The issues that they have discussed in their novels are not completely absent from the society but slowly and gradually are disappearing. Even if we agree that these issues due exist on a larger scale yet their attitude towards the female characters and their approach to life has a narrow approach. The only solution to these problems as described by these writers are shown by the help of suicide, alcoholism, tolerance and patient or waiting for the right man to enter into their lives and help them escape the misery. The women are not taught to stand for their rights or speak up. The women are not even encouraged or given the idea of escaping the misery by themselves and having a brighter future.