I think it is high time women stop playing the victim card and stand up for themselves: Author Sujata Parashar

I think it is high time women stop playing the victim card and stand up for themselves: Author Sujata Parashar

Sujata Parashar is an award-winning Indian novelist, a short - story writer, and a poet. So far, she has written ten books across genres. Her debut novel, ‘In Pursuit of Infidelity’ was an instant bestseller. She also has a poetry book series to her credit, titled, ‘Poetry Out and Loud’.  Her first collection of short stories, ‘That Woman You See’ captures the dreams and aspirations of the modern Indian woman.

Sujata’s novel, ‘The Temple Bar Woman’, portrayed a sexual violence survivor’s determination and gumption to bring her perpetrators to book. Slotted as a socio–political thriller, the book is dedicated to the fearless survivors of sexual assault and rape. She has also written non-fiction on Dabur India’s CSR initiative called, ‘The Sundesh Story’. Her latest fiction, a mature romance and part of the Pursuit series, ‘In Pursuit of Mi Amor’, which primarily focuses on love, commitment and changing face of romantic relationships in modern times was released last month.

Sujata has served on the planning board for few prestigious literature festivals. She led a nature-writing initiative under the Kumaon Literary Festival (KLF) called Fellows of Nature (FON) to promote awareness about Nature. As a psychosocial expert, she founded a Talk–therapy and Expressive Art Therapy-based platform in 2017 called the ‘Talk it Out Express’ (TiOE) – a highly interactive program to encourage individuals to recognize and express their emotions positively.

Sujata has won literary awards for her first poetry book and her first short story. She was also conferred the prestigious Karamaveer Chakra Award 2016 and again in 2019 that was instituted by iCongo in association with the UN for her exemplary work in the social sector. In 2018, Sujata received the ‘100 Women Faces Award 2018’, jointly awarded by the Confederation of Women Entrepreneurs (COWE) and Wommenovator for her literary achievements.

Apeksha Sandesh had a chance to interact with the award-winning author, Sujata Parashar. Check out the excerpts!

You have 10 books so far in your credit on various genres. How has been your journey so far?

I started my writing journey as an accidental writer. My first novel, ‘In Pursuit of Infidelity’ did extremely well and catapulted me into the world of writing. After almost 11 years and with 10 books to my name, I can no longer call myself that. I write to express as well as to entertain my readers. It has been an amazing journey of self-discovery. Writing has helped me evolve as a person. It has also made me more compassionate and accepting of others or so I would like to think.

What is the biggest struggle of an author/writer/novelist today in India?

The biggest challenge for a writer not only in India but across the world is getting their books discovered and read by the readers. Moreover, the rise of digital technology has greatly impacted the publishing industry and booksellers, and while it has introduced creative ways to reach new markets, it has also changed the way books were traditionally consumed. Several of my writer friends have already transitioned to publishing their books digitally. Many are even choosing to self-publish. While earlier people enjoyed long narratives with a minimum word count of 80,000 or more for a novel, now publishers are looking for books that are short and crisp. A writer today has to not only write an engaging story, keeping in mind the changing reading preferences of the reader, but also has to equally work hard to make his/her books visible.

Your novel, ‘The Temple Bar Woman’ portrayed a sexual violence survivor’s determination and gumption to bring her perpetrators to the book. The percentage of survivors of sexual assault and rape coming forward and talking about what they have faced and registering the case against the violence is very less. Cases like ‘Nirbhaya’ are rare that get so much attention. What is your opinion on the same?

I agree. One of the main reasons I wrote the book was my distress and dismay at the way even the ‘Nirbhaya’ case was being initially handled. Despite clear evidence against her perpetrators, a section of people in the country still blamed her for going out to watch a movie with her male friend at night. In a patriarchal society like ours, victim-blaming (and shaming) is normalized and encourages an offender to commit such heinous crimes against women without feeling guilty. I think it is high time women stop playing the victim card and stand up for themselves and others, just like Nirbhaya did. That was the seed idea behind writing ‘The Temple Bar Woman’. The main protagonist, Radhika Chaudhury aka Radha refused to bow down and exhibited her mental firmness to bring her perpetrators to book.

Issues such as rape and women’s safety are indeed major ones not just in India, but globally. Where does India stand on the global map? What can we do to eradicate the issue?

Sexual crimes across the world are getting worse with each passing day. According to World Population Review 2021, South Africa has the highest rate of rape in the world of 132.4 incidents per 100,000 people. The reported number of rape cases in the US and several other western countries is also quite high. Rape is the fourth most common crime against women in India. According to the latest government data released on September 29, 2020, India has recorded an average of 87 rape cases daily in 2019 and overall, 4,05,861 cases of crime against women during the year, a rise of over 7% from 2018. It is important to keep in mind that the figures quoted are just the reported cases. A high number of sexual violence cases against women in India go unreported in the name of family honour.

As a society, we must change our outlook towards our girls and women. A drastic change is required in our collective mindset. It can be only achieved when we reject all harmful beliefs and practices against the female child. It is important to sensitise and teach our children to respect fellow humans irrespective of their gender. Also, girls must stop looking at themselves as the weaker sex and boldly speak up for themselves and others.

Your book ‘That Woman You See’ captures the dreams and aspirations of the modern Indian woman. What do you think are the challenges for the women of modern Indian?

The modern Indian woman is going through a period of transition. She is educated, sharp, aware, and even financially independent. Yet, she is in shackles in the name of tradition and culture. She has to be mindful, how she appears to others: what she wears, how she talks or smiles… she is judged by society on the smallest of things. The young women today, however, understand that they have to be their own saviors in order to progress and lead a wholesome and happy life.

Literature plays a huge role in the growth of the country, considering culture, youth, etc. According to you what kind of literature India needs currently?

I think what is more important is to create a reading culture in the country which is on the decline. And by ‘reading culture’ I don’t mean academic books. Children must be encouraged to read books that help them broaden their imagination and open their minds. It must be seen as an important life skill.

eBooks have been in trend. Is it a pro or a con for the publishing industry?

Both. eBooks are good because they are helping us to reach out to a wider audience and increase our readership base, but it has also affected the publishing industry negatively. The knock-down prices of eBooks are a big dampener. Besides, in India, it will still take a long time before readers take to reading books on kindle and other reading apps.

In your opinion, does the glass ceiling exist for women, in the publishing sector?

I haven’t experienced it.

What is your opinion about women being represented in the media, films, and literature?

Media and literature have a powerful influence on how people see themselves and others. Gender representation affects how the masses perceive men and women (and their roles). Unfortunately, in India, women are still underrepresented in films and those given a chance are given stereotypical roles to gain the attention of the audience to their sexual attractiveness. In literature, their portrayal is slightly more positive, and that may be because writers primarily focus on creating interesting characters and not their gender.

Please share a few tips and tricks for aspiring authors?

There are three things that a writer must possess - passion, compassion, and imagination. Everything else can be learned!

List down your favorite 5 must-read books for literature lovers.

  • My Experiments with Truth, M.K Gandhi
  • Wuthering Heights, Emile Bronte
  • Jonathan Livingstone Seagull, Richard Bach
  • Eat, Pray and Love, Elizabeth Gilbert
  • A Thousand Splendid Suns, Khalid Hosseini

Please share some details about your upcoming book which is part of the Pursuit series.

‘In Pursuit of Mi Amor’ was released last month on Valentine’s day. It is a mature romance and explores the healing power of love. The story is inspired by my work with the Hemophilia community in India, especially my close observation of the young men with hemophilia who undergo massive relationship challenges due to their disorder. The book is a tribute to these young brave hearts who deserve to love and be loved.

What does International Women’s Day mean to you? Is it important that we have one?

To me, it means celebrating womanhood. Yes, it is important that we have a day (perhaps even a month) reflecting upon women and their issues, both their challenges and the triumphs. Also, to create a time-bound action plan to address their various needs and concerns. While mindsets are changing and women have made progress, there is still a long way to go before we attain gender parity and gender equality.

Apeksha Sandesh congratulates Sujata Parashar for her contribution and commitment towards Indian literature with her works as well as words and wishes her all the best for her future endeavours!