New Delhi: Feminism in India is more complex compared to the West, says writer-publisher-activist Urvashi Butalia, whose essay on a transgender`s life is the lone Indian contribution in the latest Granta anthology.
"A bit of blandness has crept into Western feminism. The Western feminists feel that most of the issues they have fought for have been achieved. But what we have here is much more," Butalia told reporters.
Butalia`s essay, ‘Mona`s Story,’ the life of transgender Mona Ahmed and her search for a feminine identity, features in the British anthology of new-age writing, ‘Granta: The F Word,’ devoted to exploring the changing dynamics of feminism through articles, opinions, life stories and poems.
"I am amazed that the current issue of Granta has engaged so many people in the debate about feminism," Butalia said.
Her biography of Mona dredges up the debates over gender swap which continues to vex millions of Indians to this day when alternative sexual groups and minorities are asserting their rights the world over and winning brownie points in their crusade.
In India, despite the amendment of Article 377 by the Delhi High Court to allow the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) communities marginal sexual freedom, eunuchs are still objects of curiosity and doubt in the conservative social fabrics - given the historical stigmas, roles and lifestyles associated with them.
"I met Mona, a boy-turned-girl, at a birthday party in a graveyard. The proximity of birth and death stayed with us for many years in the graveyard," Butalia said in her book.
"The back wall of her home abutted that of a morgue of a local hospital and Mona would often say to unsuspecting people, `I have the dead behind me and the dead below me`," she added.
Mona finds the grave on which people had built their homes a "fine way to live".
"Mona, born a boy, always wanted to be a mother. She learnt how to burp a baby even before she adopted one," the writer said.
But like all other members of the extended adopted families of transgenders in India, tragedy stalked her.
The birthday party where Butalia met Mona was heart-rending.
"It turned out that Ayesha (Mona`s daughter) had not come to her own birthday party because a few days earlier she had been abducted by her adoptive grandmother Chaman and `mother` Nargis, who along with Mona had formed themselves into a family for the child," the writer said.
If Butalia`s story in the anthology is a picture of an Indian reality, Caroline Moorehead`s ‘A Train In Winter’ is a wrenching tale of a police crackdown on French Resistance in 1942. It is a tale of the tough fronts women presented to the police.
Of the 113 people detained in the raid, 35 were women.
The youngest of those picked up was a 16-year-old school girl, Rosa Floch, and the eldest was a 44-year-old farmer`s wife, Madeline Normand, who told police the 39,500 francs in her handbag was the money she had paid for selling a horse -- standing her ground during interrogation.
Nine months later, the women were transported on the only train meant to ferry women from the French Resistance to Nazi death camps.
Said emerging African writer Taiye Selasi, whom Granta has introduced in its current issue on feminism: "In the peculiar hierarchy of African households, the only rung lower than the motherless child is the childless mother."
Her narrative, ‘Sex Life of African Girls,’ a comment on the vulnerability of women in big families, drives home an irony: "Africa may be opening itself to the world, but in the regimented filial closets voices of battered wives are the last ones to be heard."
After all, it is a man`s home.