Feminism, A Review of Telugu Literature

Feminism is a campaign for the rights of women, including social, political, and economic equality with men.Early European campaigners of the 17th –19th centuries fought for women’s right to own property, to have access to higher education, and to vote.In 20th century, the emphasis shifted to the goals of equal social, economic and employment opportunities for women.

Literature is a means for the propagation of ideas in the society.Feminists have used this effectively.Some feminist writers are expressing their views in an entirely new perspective.The feminist writers include not only female writers, but also male writers, e.g., Chalam, Kodavatiganti Kutumbarao etc., are such progressive male writers who strived for the emancipation of women:

“To say woman enslaves herself because she loves her husband and children is not only a lame excuse, but an outright lie.No woman needs to love a husband who made her parents bankrupt by demanding dowry.In a society where a woman cannot live alone at her will without getting married, to say she loves her husband through her heart is similar to obtaining a guilty statement in police custody by torturing the suspected. Love marriage is possible only in a free society.So long as woman is married away by force or tradition, love is irrelevant.” Kodavatiganti Kutumbarao, Andhra Jyoti Monthly Magazine, February 1975.

Women writers are portraying women’s world and women’s problems through their own eyes.They are choosing the issues that only women can discuss and are expressing their views without any inhibitions.

In a girl’s life, marriage should be a sweet feeling.However, she realizes that her dreams are all untrue in this patriarchal society. Society forces her to think of marriage as a life in a cage of knives or self-immolation in a bonfire. Savitri expresses these views in her poetry as a girl’s monologue:

I was scared of marriage,

When the teacher threatened me with the punishment of marriage.

I got doubt about marriage,

When my brother compared his cruel boss with a husband.

I understood when everybody gossiped that “he” was a king

That marriage was a punishment

Husband was the slayer of freedom

And half the population that drank our breast-milk ruled us.

Middle class women have been confined to kitchen for ages. Their life is exhausted in the daily chores of cooking, and washing.Poetess Vimala expresses her feelings:

“My mother floats there (in the kitchen) like a corpse.

Actually, my mother is like a walking kitchen.”

And invites us to breakdown the walls of kitchen and declares war against the (middle class) kitchen culture.

Gajjela Mallareddy (male) writes:

“Women’s slavery will be broken

Only when the woman

In the kitchen prison

In the bedroom cage

With her head down

Becomes stronger

And raises her head

And when the mold is broken

Women’s slavery will be broken

Today, in Andhra and the rest of India, women are exposed to a lot of harassment in many ways.Women are still not used to the outside world. They are uncomfortable with their fully clad bodies being exposed to the world.One of the reasons may be that woman is still treated as an object of pleasure.Indian women feel ogling is harassment.This is a typical middle class city dweller problem.Several female writers wrote on this theme, e.g., Jayaprabha writes:

“Now I fight those eyes

Chasing them with my piercing eyes

I am waiting for the day

When my whole body becomes thorny

Not just the eyes!”

One day, a man died in Mehendi Bazar, Hyderabad, at the feet of a woman. Police harassed the woman and the whole locality.Poetess Olga visited that locality and met several harassed women and expressed her frustration:

“Hey bull animals in the rut!

Die in your homes

Die on your wives’ laps

Die on your mothers’ breasts

Die, but don’t come to us to die

We are already dying

All kinds of deaths to live”

The middle class society is changing. It is becoming mechanical.Love and affection are fast disappearing between various relations. On this theme, Suneetha writes:

“Mother is angry like a child!

For her offspring rebuked her

For her children don’t love her

For she became lonelier

Surrounded by her children

Mother is angry like a child!”

So far, most of the feminist Telugu literature has dealt with the typical problems of middle class society. However, in Andhra Pradesh still 80% of the population is agrarian.The problems of women in the villages are entirely different from the city dwelling middle class women. Feminists have to focus on the problems of majority of women who live in villages.Women in villages are not caged in the kitchen or ogled at in bus stops or manhandled in trains and buses.Women in villages face problems like illiteracy, ignorance, poverty, superstitions, alcoholism, divorce, cruelty of husbands etc.Women are exploited in a different way in the villages.Feminists have to devise special programs to elevate the lives of women in the villages.

The emancipation of women is tied to the emancipation of all through education.However, the fight against the exploitation of women and patriarchy has to continue through every possible way and means, including the literature.It should not be a battle of sexes.It should be an attack on the antiquated society.It will be successful, only when men join women in that struggle.

Sreenivasarao Vepachedu, 02/07/2001

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