South Asian countries may be in the late league of nations joining the bandwagon of literary prizes -- the likes of Booker and Pulitzer prizes are many decades old while the subcontinent's counterparts are just beginning to find a footing -- but the trends emerging from them show a staggering rise of women authors, writing on a multitude of themes, in diverse genres and languages.
The eighth edition of the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature, which is open to writers across the globe writing on South Asian themes, received 88 entries this year -- and 51 percent of them are by women.
"The world is obviously changing and women are finding their voice which had been dumbed down for centuries. A woman writing may be a new phenomenon, but she has more to say because of the observations she makes about relationships and people in her day-to-day job which has traditionally been the house and the hearth," Surina Narula, the Founder Director of the prize, told IANS.
She said she is personally excited that this prize has encouraged more women to write about South Asia.
"The impact of the prize can be seen with these submissions from woman writers. We at the DSC Prize are delighted to achieve such success in a short time," she said.
But has there really been a sudden rise in quality writing by women writers? The evidence comes from the submissions received from debut writers. While 25 of the 88 entries received this year are by debut authors, 15 of them are by women.
The DSC Prize is the most dominant literary prize in the subcontinent thus far, but the inaugural edition of the JCB Literature Prize, which will be awarding a whooping Rs 25 lakh to the winner, too has attracted a large number of submissions.
Thirty-five per cent of all entries received for the inaugural edition of the prize are by women authors.
"Many of India's best and renowned writers have always been women, and -- like men -- they write about everything. There are entries by women about life under fascist regimes, about ancient Indian empires, about ecological systems, about mythological creatures -- about everything. There is no doubt that woman writers are very prominent in Indian writing, but I don't think it is possible to say that there is a 'women's literature'. There is just literature," Rana Dasgupta, Literary Director, The JCB Prize for Literature, told IANS.
The JCB Prize, however, is limited to Indian writers.
Notably, an increase in the number of books published by women does not guarantee them recognition as every publisher has a set number of maximum entries that it can submit for most prizes. The submissions received this year, however, show that leading publishers have fielded their women authors for such prizes.
Since 1954, India's national academy of letters, the Sahitya Akademi, has been awarding writers of the most outstanding books of literary merit published in any of the major Indian languages. But it is only in the past few years that prizes such as the DSC, and now the JCB, have surfaced, attracting authors and publishers.
The New India Foundation (NIF) has also kickstarted Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay NIF Book Prize for works of non-fiction focusing on India after 1947, with a cash prize of Rs 15 lakh.