20 Must-Read Books to Understand Feminism in India

20 Must-Read Books to Understand Feminism in India

Unfailingly female authors have penned their struggles as works of fiction and non-fiction. The unending battles of women to claim their space in society are marked in innumerable books.

So, here are some feminist writings by female Indian authors that provide valuable insights into the history of feminism and why everyone needs to be a feminist.

1. Chup: Breaking the Silence About India’s Women – Deepa Narayan

A book based on 600 detailed interviews with women and some men across India’s metros tries to identify some common habits in women irrespective of their career, education, and circumstances. The author tries to explore culture by asking what it means to be a good woman or a good man. Through Chup, she aims to break the silence about the lives of women in modern middle and upper-class families.

Deepa is an independent international poverty, gender and development advisor.

20 Must-Read Books to Understand Feminism in India

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2. Seeing like a feminist – Nivedita Menon

The book is about the global and intersectional movements of feminism that is borderless. The subject of marriage, Hindu Code Bills, Pink Chaddi campaign and laws that support women are some of the topics dealt with in the book. The author, all through the work, focuses on the fact that the country’s economy is based upon the unpaid labour of women.

Nivedita is an influential feminist academic and a political science professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University.

20 Must-Read Books to Understand Feminism in India

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3. Lifting the veil – Ismat Chughtai

Known for its wry humour and detailing this book is a blend of fiction and non-fiction. It consists of complex female-centric stories of boldness, marriage, love, freedom and much more. It also explores the power of female sexuality by all terms.

The author is popular for creating some of the most powerful women characters in world literature. She is commonly described as the fourth pillar of modern Urdu fiction and is one of India’s earliest feminist writers.

20 Must-Read Books to Understand Feminism in India

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4. My Friend, My Enemy – Ismat Chughtai

The book is a collection of prose writing, comprising essays, commentaries and pen-portraits of the author’s contemporaries. It gives a clear picture of the artistic, political and social structure of her time, that is 1920 to 1990.

20 Must-Read Books to Understand Feminism in India

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5. Mapping Dalit Feminism: Towards an Intersectional Standpoint – Anandita Pan

This path-breaking work criticises mainstream feminism for its ignorance of caste and the Dalit movement for remaining patriarchal. The book discusses black feminism and Dalit feminism through an analysis of autobiographies. She also focuses on the need to look at caste through a gendered lens and discuss sexual violence against Dalit women as a way of exercising Brahminical control over Dalits.

20 Must-Read Books to Understand Feminism in India

Anandita is an assistant professor at the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, IISER Bhopal.

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6. Law and Gender Inequality: The Politics of Women’s Rights in India – Flavia Agnes

The book raises questions about why the economic rights and power of women are affected by the personal laws of the various religious communities. The author also tries to address these questions from a legal point of view to derive answers. An overview of the origin of Indian personal laws and how gender discrimination prevails despite the constitution guarantees equality are deeply discussed in the work.

The author is an activist and lawyer specialising in women’s rights.

20 Must-Read Books to Understand Feminism in India

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7. Writing Caste/Writing Gender Narrating Dalit Women s Testimonios – Sharmila Rege

The book deals with the emergence and assertion of Dalitbahajun women’s organisations both regionally and nationally. The assertion of caste in modern spaces like universities, bureaucracies, women’s movements and studies are to be brought forward and that’s exactly what the book tries to do. It is a comprehensive study material for humanities students.

20 Must-Read Books to Understand Feminism in India

The author was a sociologist and feminist scholar.

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8. Me Hijra, Me Laxmi – Laxmi Narayan Tripathi

The memoir wonderfully narrates the story of how Laxmi Narayan Tripathi, the eldest son of an orthodox Brahmin family, became Laxmi, a hijra who made history. The experiences and struggles of someone who fights for their gender identity are insightfully briefed in the book. Childhood sexual abuse, learning to stand up for oneself and raising their voice against unlikely happenings are all well narrated.

The author is an artist, activist and ambassador of her community.

20 Must-Read Books to Understand Feminism in India

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9. Those Magnificent Women and Their Flying Machines – Minnie Vaid

An interesting account of women who became significant parts of space missions of the country. The book is easy to read and free of technical jargon. Women who pursue a career in space and how they cope with intrinsic societal biases and family pressures are explained well after conducting a series of interviews with several experienced ISRO women scientists from around the country.

The author is a print and television journalist, documentary filmmaker and creative producer for feature films.

20 Must-Read Books to Understand Feminism in India

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10. Why Loiter? – Shilpa Phadke

Women’s access to urban public space has increased, but they still don’t have an equal claim to public space in the city. This book provides an insight into the exclusions and negotiations that women from different classes and communities encounter in the nation’s public spaces. It was published after three years of research in Mumbai. The book implies that only by celebrating loitering, a truly equal, global city can be created.

The author is a researcher.

20 Must-Read Books to Understand Feminism in India

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11. My Story – Kamala Das

This autobiography is all about desperate longing for real love, desire for transcendence and the sad solitude of a passionate lover. In an age when even desires were restricted for women, Kamala Das explored and celebrated the idea of female love through her writings. The book narrated the intensely personal experiences of Kamala, which became sensational with its total disregard for convention and its fearless articulation of subjects still considered taboo.

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Known as Madhavikutty in Malayalam literature, the author wrote poems, short stories and novels in both languages.

20 Must-Read Books to Understand Feminism in India

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12. What is Patriarchy – Kamla Bhasin

The biggest threat to people of all genders is the existence of patriarchy and this book tries to deal with the questions related to it. In addition to that, women’s struggles for social changes are noted with a special focus on South Asian countries.

The author was a developmental feminist activist and social scientist.

20 Must-Read Books to Understand Feminism in India

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13. Tohellwithyou Mitro – Krishna Sobti

The book is an unapologetic portrayal of a married woman who puts no limit on her sexuality. This novel is not just the story of its protagonist but also any woman who breaks the non-constructed boundaries inside a household.

The author was a Sahitya Akademi winning essayist and fiction writer from Pakistan’s Gujarat.

20 Must-Read Books to Understand Feminism in India

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14. The Vigil – Sarah Joseph

This translated fiction from Malayalam depicts the celebrated mythological text of Ramayana from a different woman-centric angle. The author provides a new spin to the grand old story, bringing in contemporary concerns such as the environment, peace and women’s empowerment, and provides a fresh way of understanding it. It doesn’t celebrate the hero– Raman, instead it comes up with a logical and fair ending with Sita’s involvement.

Sarah is a feminist, activist and Sahitya Akademi Award-winning writer.

20 Must-Read Books to Understand Feminism in India

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15. Hangwoman: Everyone Loves A Good Hanging – K R Meera

Another translated novel from Malayalam, the gripping story of a hangwoman, her relationship with men, professional and personal struggles are fabulously narrated. A woman’s entry into an unconventional work, her graceful and fierce embrace of it is the crux of the story. It celebrates courageous women and womanhood.

Meera is a former journalist and best-selling author who has received Akademi and Vayalar awards.

20 Must-Read Books to Understand Feminism in India

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16. Drawing the Line: Indian Women Fight Back! – Priya Kuriyan

The book is an anthology by 14 women of their day-to-day experiences in India presented comically. It was made after a week-long workshop with Indian women artists. It majorly deals with the sexual discrimination that emerged in the aftermath of the brutal gang rape and murder of a young medical student in 2012. Intersectional feminism forms the basis of the anthology.

The author is an illustrator and animation film writer.

20 Must-Read Books to Understand Feminism in India

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17. Interrogating Motherhood – Jasodhara Bagchi

The fourth book from the theorizing feminism series, says how important it is to understand motherhood to get an idea about Indian society. It shows motherhood both as an ideology and a practice. The complexities between motherhood and mothering where the concepts are glorified but the women remain subordinate are shown.

The author was a feminist professor, critic and activist.

20 Must-Read Books to Understand Feminism in India

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18. Women Contesting Culture: Changing Frames of Gender Politics in India – Kavita Panjabi, Paromita Chakravarti

The dialectical nature of culture as a site of women’s oppression as well as of feminist resistance and transformation is the crux of the book. Cultural politics and its changing significance about gender, community, caste, class, borders, sexuality and disability forms the major part.

It is a collection of works from feminist authors of the country, curated and edited by Kavita and Paromita, both researchers.

20 Must-Read Books to Understand Feminism in India

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19. Revolutionary Desires: Women, Communism and Feminism in India – Ania Loomba

The book deals with the lives and subjectivities of militant-nationalist and communist women in India from the late 1920s. It is rather a study that shows how India’s revolutionary women shaped a new female political subject, in collaboration with Indian nationalist, liberal-feminist, and European left-wing models of womanhood.

The author is a literary scholar who focuses on colonialism, postcolonial studies, race and feminist theory.

20 Must-Read Books to Understand Feminism in India

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20. Rescued by a Feminist: An Indian tale of equality and other myths – Saloni Chopra

It is a set of opinion pieces and personal anecdotes with peculiar themes such as feminism in modern India, love, language, family, beauty, gender roles and abuse. This raw and powerful account is present with a tinge of humour that attracts readers more. The book aims to question the prejudices inside all of us.

The author is an Indian-born Australian actress and model.

20 Must-Read Books to Understand Feminism in India

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Edited by Yoshita Rao

Author: Aaron Ryan