Womens Empowerment In Indian English Novels English Literature Essay

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First, the phase of imitation is prolonged and the dominant tradition and the international roles have affected the social roles. Secondly, the phase of protest was established against the standards values of life which also includes demand for autonomy. Lastly, Self-discovery is a phase, where search for identity was the main aim of the writers to project in their writings, as they experienced freedom from self-dependency.

Thus the critic supplanted the traditional definition of feminism especially in literature by a new paradigm for manifesting the evolutionary aspect of woman's consciousness as reflected in literature specifically in the British novel through three stages of progression- the feminine, the feminist and the female.

While the post-colonial enigma gradually changed into a neo-colonial consciousness in India, the creative writers specially the woman factionalists resorted to examining the role of modern Indian women vis-…-vis family and society differently and more positively. The second generation of Indian women novelists like Anita Desai, Shashi Deshpande, Bharati Mukherjee and Shobha De specially exhibits a steady progression in context of the three stages advocated by Elaine Showalter. Their female protagonists display a psychic transformation traversing and evolving gradually but firmly through the respective stages of imitation of tradition, protest and advocacy of rights, and eventually introspection leading to self-discovery which metamorphisezes them into strong, independent, expeditious women willing to encounter the onslaughts of life not merely as a minority group but with the cognizance of being powerful sustaining force for society as a whole.

It has been observed that the position of women in India has been subjected to varieties of changes over the past few years. From equal status with men in the prehistoric times through the less equality which was prevalent in the medieval period. The promotion of women's rights had been taken up by many reformers in India in order to emancipate their position.

In the contemporary times, women have been at high post in the nation like India, that includes, the post of President, Prime Minister, Speaker of Lok Sabha and Leader of opposition party respectively. Not only that women have done exceptionally well in different spheres of life, be it academics, teaching, defense, media or entrepreneur etc.

In Ancient India, many scriptures had written about the situation of the women, where she enjoyed equal status as that of men. Not only in the sphere of rights but also in the field of education, were women given equal opportunity. Vedas like Rigveda and Upnishads, wrote about women sages and seers, Gargi and Matreyi.

After the medieval period the position of the women got deteriorated and evil practices like Sati, child marriage, ban on widow remarriage became part of social life in India. The conquest of India by the Muslims brought in practice like purdah and Jauhar. The conditions were difficult and stringent for Indian women, and few women excelled in the field of literature, politics, religion and education. To name some women who excelled in different field, Razia Sultan who ruled over Delhi, Durgavati, the Gond Queen, Chand Bibi fought against Mughal forces of Akbar and defended Ahmednagar, Nur Jahan established imperial power and was a real force behind the Mughal throne. Mirabai,a female saint-poet was an important Bhakti movement figures.

Many reformers during the British rule also worked for the upliftement of the women, and some of the freedom fighters included women in forefront like Bhikaji Cama, Dr Annie Besant, Vijaylakshmi Padit, Kasturbha Gandhi and Rani Laxmibai

If we talk about defining women empowerment, it simply means giving the women crucial authority. It has been proved since time immemorial that women are more responsible when tackling a situation, so delegating authority with confidence is the first step towards women empowerment. It also means to give rights and power to women to face the challenges of life. When we analyze empowering women, it emphasizes on inspiring women with the courage to break free from the barriers of patterns of society or religious norms that kept traditionally women suppressed.

It is known fact that women, particularly in India are still backward and they are not aware of their rights that the constitution has endowed. The mission of many reform institutions in India is to make them aware of all these facts and fight against the torture and all evil things caused to them by the society and the husbands and other people is called "Women Empowerment". Women empowerment is instilled by many with the aim of giving power to women to make their own decisions in their lives. It includes social, economic, legal, and political and health empowerment. It is a central issue which is growing at a slower pace.

In India, Women Empowerment was a challenging task and one needs to acknowledge that gender based discrimination and due to this social malice was prevalent for many years. The malice cannot be removed by adopting few laws or policies, as many of them though may be on paper, but are not implemented in actual terms. The power structural forces of the society never tried to uplift the status of women at different levels and the growth of the women was stunted.

At this juncture of complexities related to the rights of women, the situation can only be improved, once the social attitude is revamped and the prevalent evil practices against the women should be banned. This can be brought in by women's access and control over the decision making. Further increasing the social interaction on women at different levels in the society.

In India, women are marginalized at every level of the society whether in economic, social or political participation and gender disparity is crept in the life of people that

The rise of the novel in India was not purely a literary phenomenon. It was a social phenomenon as much, rather the fulfillment of a social need. It was associated with social, political and economic conditions which were comparable to those which favoured rise in England. The rise of novel and appearance of it in nineteenth century India as it did in eighteenth century England synchronized with the rise of individualism and with all the consequent political and social reorientations which followed.

The eighteenth century was a n age of anarchy from a political point of view, torn as it was by wars, conquests and annexations.The character of Indian novel is bound to vary from language to language and is bound to be conditioned by the regional, linguistic and cultural peculiarities characteristic of the writer and his environment. But the Indian novel, whether in English or in any other Indian languages, has an individual quality, a distinctiveness which calls for serious critical attention and the Indian novel in English has this distinctiveness much more than the novels in other languages of the country, a distinctiveness which transcends all the peculiarities characteristics of different linguistic and cultural milieus. Though this would mean our accepting the Indianness of the Indian novel in English as one of the important frames of reference in all critical studies of the genre, one has to guard oneself at the same time, against the danger of the `Indianness' becoming, with the writer and the critic alike, an obsession, an unhealthy pre-occupation with "orientalism, lush scene painting" and with a desire to "pander to the national self esteem of the Indians or gullibility of European intellectuals."

A novel written by an Indian writer will certainly be Indian without any conscious effort on the part of the writer to the extent to which it depicts Indian life and culture, reflects faithfully the life and spirit of the Indian ethos and grapples with the problems and tensions generated by the rather unique way in which an individual's life and character are determined by home, family and society in the Indian social milieu. It can be peculiarly Indian in respect of its form, narrative techniques employed and the manner in which it adapts the English language to the native sensibility.

It can be much more characteristically Indian in its moral and spiritual content and in the values and ideals it upholds and it may even show another worldliness, a predilection for myth and fantasy, a tendency to turn one's back on the here and now and show "a basic hunger for the unseen'- all deriving from the Indian writer's unconscious affiliation with the world of legends, fables and puranas.

But any deliberate attempt made by the writer to make his novel Indian or to design it for a Western audience will make it artificial and unreal. Though no Indian writer writing in English can be absolutely free from being conscious of the Western reader, he can at least avoid designing his work specifically for a Western audience. He may write for a Western audience as much as for an Indian audience but he must write as an Indian with India in his bones, of course, but without a conscious or deliberate effort to make his work distinctively Indian.

Indian fiction in English has emerged as a separate entity for the study of the rapid change and development in social, economic, political and psychological facets of Indian society.

"To judge rightly an author" wrote Samuel Johnson once, "we must transport ourselves to his time and examine what were the wants of his contemporaries and what were his means of supplying them."

In the case of Indian novelists in English, it is not difficult for us to comprehend their life.

More than a century old Indian novel in English has faithfully recorded the challenges and confrontation of values and the process of transition and transformation going on in the Indian society. In particular, a large number of novels have been written underlining the essential dignity of man in the changing scenario and there is a strong ideational affinity of these works with the best in world literature.

As observed, in Indian English novels, women writings presented Typical Indian feminine sensibility and of certain emotional aesthetic propensities and predilections which are shared by all Indian women writers writing in English till our own day.

Feminism has grown from Kamala Markandaya, Anita Desai, R.P.Jhabvala and Nayantara Sahgal to pave way for Shobha De, Shashi Deshpande, Nina Sibal, Anees Jung, Raji Narsimhan, Bharati Mukherjee and others. These newer female voices have highlighted the interior landscape of the emancipated woamn's sensibility and her psychological pragmatism.

This changing scenario in Indian fiction in English has witnessed change in tone, temperament and thought-content as a result of the novelist's newly acquired conviction and maturity. Modern woman has now acquired conviction and maturity. Modern woman has now acquired substance and an unconventional character and has paved way for a new dimension of the Indian novel in English. The novelists of today have begun to delineate the psychology of the characters amd the complex environs which has greatly affected them. International marriages which were frowned upon earlier, have gained greater acceptance and have transformed the Indian young women, who are now falling unabashedly in love with foreigners. Their oddities and uniquenesses, vagaries and vanity, faith and fickleness still need to be rendered artistically in the changing scenario of Indian society.

When we talk about Indian women novelists, a substantial contribution to Indian fiction in English has come from women. Women are born storytellers. Their fiction can be the expression of a different way of looking at the world with a female pair of eyes. The work of novelists like Kamala Markandaya, Anita Desai, Nayantara Sahgal and Shashi Seshpande has been widely noticed and acclaimed. But the recent emergence of women writers like Shobha De, Manju Kapur, Kusum Sawhney and Arundhati Roy forces one to consider whether our best-selling or prize-winning authors are really our best.

In Indian literature, there has been writing in various languages that had spanned from ancient to the contemporary times, which included the women writers. The writings of the women specifically focused on the problems and issues related to the women. We can find a distinct character in the women writers who were western educated from the class family and intended to portray the discontent due to repressive situation in which the women were trapped.

When we look at different genres in Indian English literature, the portrayal of women has been written with emphasis. The purpose behind portraying women was to empower the situation of women, particularly women in India.

Toru Dutt was the first Indian woman poet who wrote in English. Her poems depicted archetypes of Indian womanhood, such as Sita and Savitri, exhibiting suffering of the women, self-sacrificing roles and reinforcing conventional myths in a patriotic manner.

Another famous poet, Kamla Das, wrote a vigorous and a poignant feminine confessional poetry, in which the major theme was to explore the man-woman relationship. Her poems were based on women's subjugation by the men in the society, through the string of relationship. Life of Single Women, was portrayed in such a manner, that brought out a sympathetic attitude in the reader, and thus generated pathos in her poems.

When we talk about novels and short stories, many India women writers have explored the female subjectivity in order to establish the female identity in the patriarchal society. The theme of growing up from woman childhood to womanhood, that is, the Bildungsroman, is a recurrent strategy, adopted by the writers. For instance writers like Nayantara Sahgal explores the quest of female identity in her novels and tries to untie the complicated notions about the society, thus bringing out root cause of the female subjugation in the Indian society.

After the Independence, the writings in the domain of women writings gained momentum and was marked by an impressive feel for the language, and authentic presentation of contemporary India, with all its regional variations. Writers like Arundhati Roy, Anita Nair,Suan Viswanathan had written about the urban middle class, thus portraying the struggle of modern women to cope up with the rules of the male chauvinistic society at different levels.

Many Indian women who were settled abroad, Like Jhumpa Lahiri and Bharati Mukherje too shared the common concern for bringing out the problem of female subjugation and give a new identity to the women of modern times. In their novel, the theme of multiculturalism and and self discovery was prominent.

Anita Desai in her novels,which were particularly, psychological novels, presented the image of a suffering woman preoccupied with her inner world, her sulking frustration and the storm within: the existential predicament of a woman in a male dominated society. Through such characters, and she differentiates between female-centered and male-centered narrative. In her novel, she explored the diasporic issue that dealt with the fate of immigrants and a growing distance from the reality of India, which is viewed from the outside.

In an article entitled `A Secret Connivance', Desai criticizes `subtle, deep-rooted form of suppression' in India and she attributes this convenience to the denial of education to women, and hence their complete dependence on men for their livelihoods and sense of themselves and their social place.' Like other countries where women are traditionally suppressed,' she observes, `India defies its women', as mother goddesses and loyal wives devoted to their husbands as lords and masters. An Indian girl is brought up on myths and legends celebrating these archetypes, and inculcated with the belief that her mission in life is to try and live up to them, even `if in reality she is nothing but a common drudge, first in her father's house and then her husband's'. She cannot speak out or rebel because to do so is to question the myths and legends, `the cornerstone on which the Indian family and therefore Indian society are built'.

This is a situation for which men are not entirely to blame, for Desai sees women as conniving in it, and she attributes this connivance to the denial of education to women and hence, their complete dependence on men for their livelihoods and sense of themselves and their social places. In classical poetry of the oral tradition by women poets, this predicament is encoded in the recurrent theme of a woman pining for a man, often camouflaged as `the pining soul for the godhead, a spiritual longing'. Desai in her novel tries to show how the material privation of women is justified in a complex of ideological expressions which constitute India's cultural inheritance. Indian themselves, according to Desai, ` have been a guilty' in creating and perpetuating these notions which shield both themselves and readers in the West from truths about `the human being within', and a quotidian reality which is often seen as dull and exciting. Desai concludes:

If literature, if art has any purpose then it is to show one, bravely and uncompromisingly, the plain face of truth. Once you have told the truth, you have broken free of society, of its prisons. You have entered the realm of freedom.

In her novels, she enacts not only the courageous attempts of individuals to emancipate themselves from inherited cultural and social bonds but also her own freedom as artist; the shifting contours of everyday life throw up new locations of truth, and constitute the fertile ground of fiction itself. In her fictional revelations about the truth of women's lives in India, Desai shows that for her women characters, `at home' in India all too frequently means the confinement to a domestic milieu, and the bearing of an intolerable cultural tradition.

This is the experience of Nanda Kaul in Fire on the Mountain, published a year before Games at Twilight, and Bim and Tara in Clear Light of Day, Desai's first major- and critically acclaimed- novel. These women protagonists have connived in their own imprisonment in the sense that Desai has argued, that they have accepted the grind of domesticity in a familial and cultural situation when other choices do not seem available or the opportunity for seeking them out does not arise, and being an outcast is unthinkable. The struggle to transform home from prison to some semblance of expressive private space is the measure of the women's agency and selfhood. In the struggle for liberation, memory is often the key, both as it turns the lock which can shut and open the prison gate. The novels locate these women in the present and, from this point in time, narrate their past- as memory triggered consciously or unconsciously, or by the external reminders - in its haunting of their daily lives, forever unsettling `home' with the `unhomely'.

The desire for emancipation from the past as bondage, and the quest to see her life truthfully and see it whole underline the narrative of Nanda Kaul in Fire on the Mountain. In this novella, Desai explores the genealogy of the desire, its nature, and tragic outcome in the chaos of the inner self, the trauma of loss and betrayal, and ultimately, in death. The conduct of Nanda Kaul's quest of truth, half-willed and half generated by the force of circumstance, takes the form of interior monologues for most of circumstance, takes the form of interior monologues for most of circumstance, takes the form of interior monologues for most of the novel; as in the short stories, there is minimal dialogue, which is characteristic Desai technique to suggest the break-down of social relations.

In the novel, Bharati Mukherjee has struck a balance between tradition and modernity by representing past and present which is achieved through the female protagonist -Tara, who severed her links with tradition but remains tied to her native country. Tara is influenced by ancient customs and traditions, but is rooted to modern customs. She is conscious of her existential predicament which is mirrored in the epigraph:

"No one behind, no one ahead the path the ancients cleared has closed. And the other path everyone's path. goes nowhere, I am alone and find my way."

Tara is alienated from the society as she oscillated between the nostalgic fascinations of a traditional past and the romantic and adventurous allurements of the present. The diasporic qualities exhibited by Tara establish the merging of the East and West which shows the clash.

The Identity of the protagonist is highly assimilative, can adopt and accommodate herself both to her traditional Indian way of life and to her newly adopted American ethos. She tries to move away from the constrained identity and vacillates between two lives: "maybe I really was between two lives."(251).

Tara's reconstruction of identity is rooted in her nostalgic and romantic recollection of her past. It is based on the flux of her thoughts about the past coming to her mind in the present but in fragments, and not whole. She tried to reconstruct her identity through her diasporic experience. She was attempting to redefine the importance of her cultures through space and time. Loneliness had made Tara a little wanton and wantonness had made her very lonely. In these five years she had changed beyond recognition, but other character Bish had not changed at all.

Bish is also an upholder of tradition. He prefers the values of an imagined past than those of contemporaneity.

The concept of home and migration is very much embedded in the narratology that Bharati Mukherjee presents in Desirable Daughters. It is the sense of migration which brings about a change to the identity of Padma, who has finally made New York her home, her land of choice. But her inalienable attachment to her home makes her the sustainer and preserver of Bengali tradition in America. The alien culture thus fails to subvert her traditional identity. On the other hand it only remaps nad reconstructs her cultural identity. Hence migration plays a crucial role in restricting individual identifies and cultural attitudes and perceptions.

Bharati Mukherjee depicts a liquid society in her novels, ie a society in flux. It is a society of constant flow, the flow of migrants, the flow of machines, flow of criminals, flow of power structures, flow of people and commodities.

Desirable Daughters is the novel that takes a long time to lift itself from the surface and once it releases its themes and characters, it seems to get liberated from the trapped situation. Engrossed in Indian culture old and new, it keeps strucking down in tight little circles of detail that create an atmosphere of cramped inwardness, even suffocation.Bharati Mukherjee, like in her previous four novels and short stories, tries to portray the repression that enables the women of her culture nailed down in subservience to male desires. The feelings and emotions are discovered after exploring traditional Indian society.

In her novel, Desirable Daughters, Mukherjee paints a clear picture of her cast. A close drawn attention to social class, castes, and the clash between old and new India is presented. The players spend a great deal of time remembering their place and living to an image that is slowly loosing superiority. The story grows more complicated as it pregresses. There are many names dropped, religions judged and castes prioritized.

Tara's search for answers leads her to New York, where she's introduced to her sister's Indian world. The "musterious son" guides the plot, but Tara's re-emerging self awareness is what makes this story shine.

The conclusion of Desirable Daughters is highly suspenseful. Mukherjee's description of the homelans is magical, but some symbolism was lost on this simple American viewer. Even in the confusion, the message of women emancipation in this story is vivid. It's fascinating, beautifully written, and not to be missed.

Sultry Days by Shobha De is the most striking attempt in propogating the idea of female subjectivity, which is not just a sloavish succumbing to male dominance but every woman is a staunch feminist in her heart resisting male injustices. In her novel, a victimized woman is presented as face life in a struggling yet confident manner. The novel infers that a woman with a fully integrated personality can solve many problems in her life and she need not be a victim, a fact manifested through the powerfully drawn character of Nisha Verma.

Nisha initially worked in an advertising agency subsequently adopting the career of a journalist. During her college days she met Deb or Dev, referred to as God in the novel, a freelance writer with a working knowledge of German, French and Spanish. He had won scholarship to Columbia but failed to avail it because his father couldn't afford the air -fare. God was a talented man who could cook and sew, write poems, quote from the Upanishads and had an ear for music as well. Nisha was favorably impressed by God's ways like other young girls were and would spend a lot of time with him buying him plenty of gifts. To quote the novelist,

I learnt very quickly that I had to bury whatever little ego and pride I had if I wished to hang around God. His attitude towards girls was simple- use them and leave them. There were enough takers around- bold girls whose jaws never stopped working on the thick wads of gim in their mouths.

Nisha's encounter with God brought to light several stark realities about life and society. God belonged to the very ordinary strata of society living with parents and brother in a dingy one room apartment with hardly any privacy. Comrade, his father was a union leader. Nisha's class was much above that of God's. Her father worked for a multinational company, their life revolving around company dinners and parties. Nisha's parents were fond of dressing up elegantly. In short they stood in rich contrast to God's parents. It was certain that Nisha was relishing her associations with a family hailing from a different class, admiring their sense of togetherness in spite of the fact that they subsisted just above the poverty line. She had everything at home but it was the sense of belonging that brought her close to God and his family.

The novelist has described a few other situations to prove that people were tired of their class and occasionally they enjoyed an interaction with members of the other classes. De tries to portray through her characters the metropolitan social life and cultural cross-fertilization. However, the novelist cannot restrain from writing about the problematic lives of Indian women residing in the metropolis. Shobha De's observation coheres with Cora Kaplan who claims,

Literature has been a traditional space for the exploration of gender relations and sexual

difference, and one in which women themselves have been formidably present.

Kaplan also affirms that gender and class go together and when these two terms are interpreted in union then our analysis of them is totally transformed.

Such a transparency in man and woman relationship constitutes the main fabric of Sultry Days in which the novelist has portrayed a variety of women belonging to different classes and has shown diverse attitudes in each. First there is God's mother who adopts a reticent view of life. She is compromised to whatever she has lives life courageously and never thinks of revolting. Then there is Mrs Verma, Nisha's mother who in the beginning is quite contented with her married life. However, she is emotionally shaken up when she discovers her husband's infidelity having extra marital affair with a Sindhi divorcee. Mrs Verma becomes rather moody but soon she gathers up all her courage preparing to face life boldly deciding to take up a job and when Mr Verma furiously reacts to this idea, Mrs Verma is blunt enough to tell him that her determination to work was final and she was not at all bothered about others. To quote the novelist,

`And you want me to bother about them? Why should I? Why should I bother about you either? You can go to hell with your pompous talk and empty boasts. I am sick, do you hear, sick of living this false life varnishing my nails, setting my hair, wearing those silly saris and smiling through your office parties pretending nthing was wrong with my life. Well- It's my turn now. And you can listen to me for a change. I will go along with Pratimaben with anything I choose to do.And the first one is that I'm taking a job.'

Through the portrayl of Nosha Shobha De throws ample light on the psyche of single woman. Nisha's home was an unhappy one. They lived together, yet they persued their own paths. Nisha's social life was dominated by girl friends, divorcees, widows and other singles.

Sultry Days ends on a note of optimism for the women folk belonging to the upper-middle-class Inidan milieu. Nisha learns to be courageous from her mother and both the women begin to sustain the men in their lives.

The novel presents before us a world of glamour, affluence, advertising, models, filmstars and many other glittering aspects of the so called high class society. For a moment the reader is blinded by the glitter and shoon through gradually hollowness, the artificiality, the pangs and the inner fragmentation of such a falsified life strikes them with a cathartic revelation. Episodes which had initially frustrated the readers with their atmosphere of unreacheable luxury, ultimately purge them into reality through the epiphany after epiphany. For example, while hollowness of the class difference is shattered consistently, the folly of accepting the slavish subjectivity of women to male dominance is brought out, at the same time the feminine consciousness with its sustaining and pathological impact on family, community and society is proved time and again. Cora Kaplan stresses this fact in the following words which may be suitably applicable to Sultry Days:

The psychic fragmentation expressed through female characters in women's writings is seen

as the most important sign of their sexual subordination more intresting and ultimately more

meaningful than their social oppression.

Female subjectivity is one of the most regressive elements in a social set up. The women long for love, dependency and the material and emotional comfort of fixed class identity. At the same time there is the ardent desire to be autonomous, so she is torn between the two and suffers quietly "constraints of bourgeois feminity" and oscillates between "reason and desire, autonomy and dependent security, psychic and social identity".

Interestingly enough the arguments related to feminism and female subjectivity are not new, they have existed since time immemorial. In 1792 Mary Wollstonecraft's book A Vindication of the Rights of Women discussed the psychic life of women as a crucial element in their subordination and freedom.


It is important to change the perception of the society, and then only the emancipation of women can be a success at different levels. The people in the society need to accept the truth that there is a discrepancy in the ideology and the practical implication of the same. To emphasize on the upliftment in the status of the women, the laws need to be strict and also implemented in judicious manner.

Women Empowerment can only be possible if the women come together and decide to self-empower themselves. A movement for women emancipation needs to gain momentum which makes a woman a strong being instead of being the Others.

Simone de Beauvoir has given a full length commentary on the plight of women today. It is worthwhile to quote the author on this subject:

The women of today are in a fair way to dethrone the myth of feminity, they are beginning to

affirm their independence in concrete ways; but they do not easily succeed in living

completely to lift of a human being. Reared by women, which still means practically

subordination to man; for masculine prestige is far from extinction, resting still, economic

and social foundation.