Women Writers of Jammu

Lalit Gupta
Thanks to the growing credo of feminism, the creative expressions of women writers, the so-called ‘other sex’, are now seen as documents reflecting as to how women are negotiating systemic social injustice including patriarchy, religious extremism, political and sexual violence in present day world.
In corpus of modern literature being created in Jammu, the growing number of women writers through their textual creativity and in the writing practices, provide a window to their feminist vision of social transformation and change. This practice of looking at the world critically and creatively stems from a deeply collective nature of feminist thought and also by the fact that being a woman has political consequences in the world we live in.
Jammu region due to its unique multi-lingual and multi-ethnic legacy, today boasts of many well known women writers who through their creative writings in Dogri, Hindi, Punjabi and other languages have made mark at both local as well as national level. The trickle which started with the pioneering efforts of Shanta Bharti, Shakuntala Seth and others has today turned into a steady stream of women writers whose works now enjoy far better visibility in literary as well as public domain with the support of All India Radio, J&K Cultural Academy, Sahitya Akademi, New Delhi, local and outside literary NGOs.
Women writing in Hindi as compared to Dogri had taken a head start when in 1940’s, Hindi literary magazines ‘Bharti’ and ‘Usha’, were edited and published respectively by pioneer women writers Shanta Bharti (member of Hindi Pracharni Sabha) in 1941 and Shakuntala Seth in 1943. Shakuntala Seth through her poems and songs portraying the fervour of freedom struggle and nation building, fired up the imagination of women in general. Other women writers in Hindi of those times are Pursharthvati, Satyavati Mallick, Krishan Gupta and Sushila Tulli.
Aftermath of Partition, while the Hindi literary scene in Jammu suffered, the Dogri renaissance started in 1944 under the banner of Dogri Sanstha brought up a band of dedicated writers in mother tongue. It was in 1957, that Dogri’s first female writer Lalita Mehta came out with collection of her short stories namely Sui Tahga (Needle and Thread). The stories of this collection were descriptions of the rural life of Duggar in a folk style marked with simple structure and play of imagination.
Padma Sachdev, rightly hailed as ambassador of Dogri, made her appearance as a gifted poetess with her poem ‘Ae Raje Diaan Mandiaan Tundiaan N’ in 1955-56. One who emerged stronger after a brush with tuberculosis and failed marriage with Dogri poet Ved Pal Deep, Padma Sachdev is a quintessential voice of women in general and Dogra women in particular. Her literary oeuvre in Dogri and Hindi is marked with portrayal of women in myriad situations such as victims of systemic exploitation, belittling treatment, innocent longing for roots after displacement due to marriage, resolve to fight injustice and wish for a new future. Her anthologies of Dogri poems such as ‘Merri Kavita Mere Geet’, (Sahitya Akademi Award-1971),‘Tawi Te Chnaan’, ‘Nehriyan Galiyaan’, ‘Pota Pota Nimble’ (State Awards in 1983, 1988 respectively), ‘Uttar Behni’, ‘Dhenthiyan’, have a place of honour in modern Dogri literature. Bestowed with Padamshree in 20011, she is recipient of number of prestigious awards and honors. Her other works include ‘Naushin, ‘Main Kahti Hun Ankhin Dekhi’, ‘Bhatko Nahin Dhananjay’, ‘Jammu Jo Kabhi Sehar Tha’ and many more. Dr Shakti Sharma was another Dogri and Hindi writer who from 1960s onwards contributed actively as an essayist, critic and translator.
Ved Kumari Ghai, born 1932, is the scholar extraordinary who writes in Sanskrit, Hindi and Dogri with equal facility. Her books in Dogri include Narendra Darpana, Dogri translation of Vedic hymns in verse, Dogri translations of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra’s. Awarded Padma Shri in 2013, Prof. Ved Kumari Ghai, together with her scholarly husband Prof Ram Pratap, has co authored books like Urmika (a collection of Sanskrit poems), Mere Geet Tumhaaray Hain (Hindi).
By 1960’s, with entrenchment of Radio in everyday lives of people, J&K Cultural Academy’s magazine like Sheeraja, the reach of literary expressions increased; though the representation of women writers remained thin. Along with Rita (Langer) Jatinder, the poet, writer, playwright, radio voice, the other writers who came in prominence included Usha Chhavi Vyas whose poems are full of compassion and colors of life. She also wrote short stories and translated works in Hindi, like Kushwant Singh’s master piece ‘Train to Pakistan’ and edited Sheeraja Hindi successfully.
1970’s was a decade of great cultural resurgence in Jammu. Many new talented women poets and writers appeared on literary scenes. Some of these were ‘home writers’ while others were working women basking in the newly found freedom of action and thought.
In this band of new women writer figures Champa Sharma, a prolific writer and scholar who retired as a Professor and HoD, Department of Dogri, JU. Apart from number of academic articles and books, she is also a creative short story writer, essayist and poet who paints moving picture of mundane reality of ordinary Dogras preoccupied with contingent realities and grass root experiences. Her other works include ‘Chete Di Rohl’(Sahitya Akademi award-2008), ‘Duggar Dharti’, ‘Ikk Chahnk’, ‘Saak Sunna, Preet Pittal’, ‘Nihalap’and others.
Her other colleague in the PG Department of Dogri, JU, Prof Veena Gupta, is today the leading scholar contributing on various aspects of Dogri language and literature. Similarly Prof Shashi Pathania who was awarded with Best translation award, 2012, and Prof Archana Kesar, other than academic research papers are also portraying their world view through their short stories and plays.
Krishna Prem with her anthology ‘Sur Te Taal’ (Melody and Rhythm-1977) became another woman Dogri short story writer to explore the female psyche. Most of her characters are women through their social roles and situations allow a peep into the inner thoughts and psychological aspirations of the fair sex. Her latest book of stories is’Thahmm Te Klaawa’ (Pillar and Embrace-2011).
Some of the women writers came to prominence before and after 1980s were Kiran Bakshi in short story and Chanchal Dogra in poetry. Other women Hindi poets and writers known for their distinct style are Shakuntal Deepmala, Sharda Sahini, Chand Dipika, Uma Bhakhri, late Prem Subhash, and Shashi Padha.
Anila Singh Charak, the writer of ‘Nange Paon Jindagi’, for which she got State Academy award, is a young poetess also known for writing of satire.
Raksha Sahrma, wife of late poet Yash Sharma, with her two books ‘Seh Yatra’ and ‘Katra Katra Sach’, has made her place as competent writer. Vijya Thakur, Usha Kiran, Sudesh Raj and Nirmal Vikram are well known contemporary women poets and writers who having moved away from the confines of domesticity, engage with myriad dimensions of the public space viz a viz individual yearnings and aspirations. Nirmal Vikram, short Story writer in Dogri & poetess and translator, whose short story anthology ‘Rettu da Ghar’, has earned praise for deep insights into women psyche and quest for freedom from the confines of already established roles.
The post–migration phase in Jammu saw a hectic literary output by displaced writers. Two women Kashmiri pandit writers Kshma Kaul and Sanjana Kaul have earned laurels with literature about the reality of terrorism, of exile and of human apathy.
Kshma Kaul, poetess and prose writer along with poetic anthology ‘Badalon Mein Aag’, has come out with two novels: ‘Dardpur’ (City of Pain) has been acclaimed as a “brutally frank” exploration of themes such as exile, communal history while ‘Nikki Tawi Par Rehearsal’, is a piece of resistance literature.
Sanjana Kaul, with her novel ‘Pashaan Yug’ and short story book ‘Kaath Ki Machhliyan’, is a nationally acknowledged writer who is known for her depiction of terror stricken Valley, and conditions of chaos and uncertainty.
Aruna Sharma is renowned Hindi/Dogri writer, poetess, translator and a critic of Jammu. Her book of poems, ‘Prithiviyaan’ for which she has been conferred with “Hinditar Bhashi Hindi Lekhak Puruskar–2009, is about the women of different levels at different times in different moulds of relations. There are sufferings in store for them but they still sustain themselves like Earth. She has another book titled ‘Mahakavi Srivar Krit Kathakautak’ to her credit.
Surinder Neer, is well known contemporary Punjabi writer of Jammu who has been acknowledged in Pan-Punjabi literary world for her creative endeavor to break stereotypes associated with gender. Born in Kashmir, and settled in Jammu, she has already published ‘Dastak di Udeek’, ‘Khul Ja Sim Sim’ (short stories), ‘Shikargah’ and ‘Maya’ (Novels). Her latest 702 page novel ‘Maya’ speaks of the transformation of a woman in pursuit of a distinct identity and freedom.
Young Hindi writer Yogita Yadav, is a literary star on Jammu’s horizon. Bhartiya Gyanpith Navlekhan Awardee, she is a journalist, who has emerged as voice against dominant male psyche that continues to victimized females in homes and the society in myriad ways and disguises. Her latest book of short stories ‘Clean Chit’ is a master piece of Hindi prose.
Other than the writers mentioned above, there are number of women writers who are actively negotiating the predicament of women con-fronting the strictures of unjust power structures in home, outside and demands of a culturally constructed masculinity and writing at the same time to give wings to female imagination into realms of almost inconceivable freedom.