In a traditionally conservative society as India, Feminism revolutionized the prospect of Literature surprisingly quickly. From the pre-Independence era, Indian literature encountered writers such as Toru Dutt and Sarojini Naidu. Their freedom in expressing their opinion, paralleled with the struggle for the national freedom which was much needed. Even after India achieved its Independence, writers like Kamala Das voiced out very strong characters that went above the traditional notion of women’s position in society. The following paper seeks to trace the evolution of Feminism in Indian Literature in all literary genres.


Feminism has been defined as ‘a movement which advocates granting the same political, social and economic rights to women as those enjoyed by men. Women’s efforts to seek their independence and self-identity started a revolution all over the world which was termed by analysts and critics as “Feminism”.’ (131) Janet Richards imparts her understanding of Feminism as: “The essence of feminism has a strong fundamental case intended to mean only that there are excellent reasons for thinking that women suffer from systematic social injustice because of their sex, the proposition is to be regarded as constituting feminism.” (3) From these definitions, it can be justified in saying that the reason the feminist movement began, was to empower women and give them a voice in a male-dominated patriarchal society.


In India, feminism took the form of establishing a set of rights for women in the political, economic, and social spheres. In terms of culture, feminist movement took the form of opposition to patriarchal rituals such as ‘Sati’ or widow immolation and sex-selective abortion, and provision of free education to the girl child. Feminism in India, also had three waves, parallel with global trend. The first wave extended between the beginning and mid nineteenth century, and was initiated by male European colonials against cultural patriarchal practices. The second wave arose during the freedom struggle itself, involving women in the Quit India movement and the emergence of women organizations, as captured in Raja Rao’s Kanthapura. The third wave succeeded the freedom struggle and focused on equal opportunities and fair treatment of women in Independent India.


Suma Chitnis encapsulates the beginnings of the feminist movement as: “The most distinctive features of this movement is that it was initiated by man.” (?) This was because there was an array of men who pioneered the cause of the woman, beginning with Raja Rammohn Roy, and continuing with many other writers such as Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar and Ranade. The ideals of feminism in the Western context were not blindly followed but were adapted to the context of Indian women. This is because the attitudes of the Indian women had to be reformed to break free from the mould that dictated the position of women: “… in childhood a woman should be under her father’s control, in youth under her husband’s and when her husband is dead, under her sons’, she should not have independence…(x)”.

From the days when Indian women were hidden ‘behind barred windows of half dark rooms, spending centuries in washing clothes, kneading dough and murmuring verses from “The Bhagavad Gita and The Ramayana” in the dim light of sooty lamps’ (y) women have come a long way. The contemporary women is represented through the powerful figure of Draupadi.


In terms of Literature, feminism took an active role, in terms of women’s provision to write, the strong, rounded characters that were introduced and the opinions and ideals voiced by women writers and their characters. Feminists in India such as Anita Desai and Shashi Deshpande, wrote significantly landmark novels for the genre, such as Deshpande’s The Dark Holds No Terrors which portrays the modern educated and career-oriented middle class woman and their adaptation to the changing times. Deshpande creates an identity of a woman who understands the cultural taboos and the inequalities but are able to go around the system and create a comfort zone for themselves.


In terms of fiction, English fictions are very sublime and there are many novelists Suniti Namjoshi, Arundhati Roy, Shashi Despande who has raised their voices against social and cultural inequality that constrained women’s liberty and perpetrated institutional seclusion of women. (181).

One of the novelists Shobha De portrays the image of women from being marginalised to modern women in her novels. She feels that women are being marginalised even in terrms of sex. De’s women in her novels are dissatisfied and unhappy in sexual slavery in the hands of men. She focuses on the women who are subjugated and marginalised in her works. In the novel, Socialistic Evenings, she depicts the callous and non-responsive attitude of the protagonist’s (Karuna) husband. As a result of his actions towards her makes her to lose her identity. Karuna’s journey from middle-class girl to a self-sufficient women is portrayed in the novel. She also deny the idea of second marriage after divorcing her first husband. De’s attack is against the system that favours men who marginalise and subjugate women. Karuna being the protagonist attempts to abolish the gender discrimination which acts as the main source of oppression.


In terms of Drama, it is considered as the audio-visual art. There are also men ( Vijay Tendulkar, Girish Karnad )who writes about women’s sufferings but they lack credibility when compared to women writers. Men where the first to write dramas which were later followed by women. Earliest woman to write play is Swarnakumari Devi. Mahasweta Devi, Manjula Padmanabhan, Uma Parmeshwaran and few others are some of the feminist women playwrights.

One of the plays, ‘Lights Out’ by Manjula Padmanabhan pictures the incident of a gang-rape that has happened in the middle-class community in Santa Cruz, Mumbai 1982. The crime rate in the society increases each day and there is no assistance to the victims. The sexual violence scares women and they are mentally disturbed. The society doesn’t give a helping hand to the victims instead they switch off their lights on hearing the screams of the victims. The victims undergo both the physical and mental pain and they find it very difficult to overcome their pain. The world is been torn because of the unwanted hate and violence be it on the Jews, castes, class etc. The atrocities that happens to women gets increased each day. (170).


In terms of Poetry, Kamala Das is the bilingual Indian English Post-independent and post-colonial poet. She is also a confessional poet and her poems protest against the discrimination to women. She writes about marginalised and subaltern women. And also brings in the emotional emptiness and sterility of married life. Most of her works are her personal experiences which depicts her sufferings and her longingness for love.

The women writers have undergone lot of difficulties and they have expressed their concern for women and their problems. The themes used is a great contribution in creating awareness for the modern women all over the world. The writings of the feminist writers suggest that their inner spirit and feelings are the welfare of the women only.


Butalia, Urvashi. ‘Indian Women and the New Movement.’ Women’s Studies International Forum, Volume 8, Issue 2, pp. 131-133. Print.


Richards, Janet. Women Writer’s Talking. Cambridge: London. 1981. Print.


Chitnis, Suma, ‘Alphabet of Lust. Kenyan Review. Vol. 8. 1951.


Buhler, George. Laws of Manu. Delhi: Penguin Books. 1992.


Singh, Pramod Kumar. ‘Feminism in Indian Fiction in English.’ International Journal of Multidisciplinary Research and Development,  Volume 2, Issue 2, pp. 181-184. Print.


Burton, Antoinette M. ‘The White Woman’s Burden:

British Feminists and the Indian Woman,1865-1915’. Women’s Studies Internation Forum. Volume 13, Issue 4, 1990.pp 295-308. Print.


David, Hilda. ‘Stifled Voices: Indian Women English Playwrights Writing Themselves into Existence.’ International Journal of English Language, Literature and Humanities, Volume 2, Issue 3, 2014, pp. 166-174. Print.