Circle of empowerment

Vandita Morarka founded The Sanskaari Girls Book Club to carve out a space for readers to engage with South Asian literary voices
For representational purposes
For representational purposes

NEW DELHI: The body of feminist literature in India is extensive yet little-known, with numerous works ranging from Ismat Chughtai’s radically progressive accounts of women’s sexuality to Savitribai Phule’s poems on the struggles to provide education to women. Fostering a space that allows readers to engage with texts by feminist writers, Vandita Morarka (27), a lawyer from Mumbai founded The Sanskaari Girls Book Club in June 2018.

The virtually-run community of bibliophiles is part of One Future Collective, a Maharashtra-based feminist social purpose organisation founded by Morarka. Their book club seeks to create a space to examine literature by South Asian women as well as queer authors through a feminist lens, and facilitate critical thinking.

The name of this book club—it is a satirical take on the word ‘sanskaari’, which means well-cultured—is derived from the idea behind its conception. “We thought it would be a fun take, honestly. [The word] Sanskaari when placed next to girls has always had such oppressive connotations—we wanted to flip that around,” shares Morarka.

Creating a space for dialogue

Sanskaari Girls Book Club organises a virtual meeting once every month wherein the members—they have 3,000 members across platforms, and an average of 200 members attend these e-meetings—discuss an author’s work. “It is similar [to a physical meet-up] except it doesn’t have that much food (laughs). We catch up, check in, and discuss the reading with a team member who facilitates the discussion. People can sign up for individual meet-ups but we have a lot of regular members attending as well,” shares Morarka.

In the past, the team has organised 11 physical multi-city meetings in places such as Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, Bangalore, and London. “Physical meet-ups would allow a stronger sense of community to be formed but we have managed that virtually as well,” comments Morarka.

Among the several titles they have discussed in their meetings, a few include the collection of poems I Cook My Own Feast by Babitha Marina Justin, as well as short stories such as Lihaaf by Ismat Chughtai, Lahore to Amritsar by Prachi Topiwala-Agarwal, and The Padishah Begum’s Reflections by Shweta Narayan.

Taking the idea across communities

The book club recently launched an Ambassador Programme under which 26 ambassadors from various parts of India were selected to take their [the club’s] mission to different communities. Be it engaging diverse communities or reading literature in other languages, these ambassadors “help create spaces that situate reading in our socio-political realities”.

“With going online, we realised how easy it was to become an echo chamber and how limited digital access was for several community members. The Ambassador Programme helps address these twin issues,” elaborates Morarka. “It is an opportunity for us to build a community that can take intersectional feminist thought, analysis, and literature to their circles,” she adds.

Morarka also looks forward to scaling the book club in the coming months by partnering with organisations to set up similar clubs in their institutions. The overall idea is to continue holding a virtual space for a growing community and “find asynchronous ways to engage a larger audience.”

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