This was a high-octane discussion about the revolution of gender identity and equity that is shaking the foundations of established patriarchy worldwide. The panel of women, who hail from various spheres of feminine thought, discussed the roots of this revolution in mythology and delved into themes of female marginalisation and emancipation, sexual exploration, and the anxieties of the female writer.
Moderator Malashri Lal asked reputed writer Sukrita Paul Kumar what drew her to the subject of the marginalised in her work. Kumar responded that she questioned the term ‘marginalised’ in itself, and looked at it more as a perspective than a watertight category. She spoke of the ways that women became marginalised over time: ‘we were absent from the discourses of knowledge.’ Kumar claimed her inheritance came from her father, who himself wrote against the discrimination of ethnic groups in Africa, and recited a poem about a nomad, that illustrates the value of empathy as a way to end discrimination.
Sangeeta Bandopadhyay, an acclaimed writer known for her uninhibited and controversial works on female sexuality and desire, was asked about the source of her courage, which empowers her to write about subjects usually pushed under the cover of middle-class morality. Bandopadhyay confessed that the necessity to write on these subjects was all that drove her to do it: ‘It’s about what I have to write.’ Claiming she wrote solely from her own beliefs, she said, ‘When I write, there is no reader in front of me.’ Bandopadhyay read an extract from her novella Hypnosis, which conveyed the breaking of all social taboos.
Renowned academic and writer C. Mrunalini argued that this gender movement started many years ago, even citing powerful inspirational female representations in mythology such as Antigone. She drew amazing parallels between the portrayal of women in Greek and Indian mythology, pointing out that ‘women always had to fight for their lives.’ Mrunalini spoke of an empowered woman as one who no longer sees life as a burden of patriarchal norms, but rather, is working as an active agent of change. For her, the ‘specific voice’ of the female writer allows her to have a unique perspective of the world around her.
When asked what the panel would wish to change about patriarchy today, Kumar fired, ‘I will shoot at patriarchy in a big way’, and pointed out the unconsciousness complicity of women to their own subjugation. Mrunalini declared that she wished that men too would break free from stereotyped ideas of masculinity, adding, ‘I would like men to become more like women.’ Bandhopadhyay preferred that a distinction between men and women remained.
The session represented a wide range of female opinions, each taking a different path towards the same goal: for a liberation of both the masculine and the feminine.