We asked our readers: Do books by female authors in India get equal visibility in bookstores, on the web, and in media reviews? What do you think?
And this is the prizewinning entry by Shalini Khandelwal:
I read this question on my Facebook feed and immediately dismissed it — yet another pseudo-feminist crying wolf and reeking of victim mentality, I thought. Books are displayed and reviewed on merit. The writer’s gender has nothing to do with it.
Then, I happened to visit a bookstore near home. With this question at the back of my mind, I scanned the shelves that displayed the bestsellers with most prominence in the front of the store. And only about one in four was written by a woman.
Then at home today, I scanned the top bestsellers on Amazon India. Only one of the Top 5 ‘literature and fiction’ is a woman (Preeti Shenoy). The same ratio played out in ‘Indian writing’ (Reecha Agarwal Goyal), and in ‘biographies and autobiographies’ (Janaki Lenin). No woman at all figured in the Top 5 ‘self-help’, or ‘business strategy and management’ or ‘history and politics’.
Thank goodness, two out of five authors were women in ‘crime fiction’ (Danielle Steel and Sujata Massey).
I am now also sure that, if I open the latest newspaper or newsmagazine, for every four or five reviews of books written by men, there will be just one review of a book by a female author.
Women authors are just as brilliant as men and there are numerous authors down history to prove it. This skewed ratio of books publicity cannot be reflective of merit. The publishing industry must take note.
The runner-up comment is by Reeti Roy:
Historically, while writers like Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters wrote fiction in their own names, authors like George Eliot and J.K. Rowling felt the need to disguise their identity (in the latter’s case it was using her initials, in the former’s an absolute change of name). In India today, look at the kind of mainstream space a writer like Chetan Bhagat occupies. Some of his plots centre on very misguided notions of what it means to be a woman, and often miss the mark. Compare that with a stellar writer like Anuja Chauhan, whose work exemplifies literary talent and yet is reduced to being deemed “chick-lit”.
This has nothing to do with her writing style (which is delightful). She is also the inventor of Indianisms such as the brilliant portmanteau ‘bhainscafe’.
I used two very successful writers (from the perspective of the market) to highlight the backlash and unfair criticism that female writers face. One hopes that media across platforms will advocate for fair coverage of women writers and not club them into one genre.
Both winners get a copy of The Lucknow Cookbook by Chand Sur & Sunita Kohli! Happy reading, ladies!