Guest Editor’s Note: Women and Translation: A study

Nabanita Sengupta

Each year, August is observed as the Women in Translation (#WIT) month. When I came across this concept of #WIT, it set me wondering about the reasons that could have prompted the need for dedicating a month to women in translation. It was only then that I became conscious of the serious lack of translation of women’s literature worldwide. Working with women’s literature of nineteenth century Bengal, I was initially not very much aware of this gap. Due to a strong academic interest in the nineteenth century British Bengal interface and also in the position of women during that period, there is comparatively a better availability of nineteenth century women’s writings from Bengal. Though there is a lot of work that has to be done in that area as well, still the situation there is marginally better than other fields of women’s writing.

According to a report, in 2016 only thirty percent of the new books translated into English were by women. This is what led the young book blogger Meytal Radzinski to start with her project of Women In Translation to refocus attention on women’s writing from across the world. Though initially, there was not much of a response to her call, over the last few years the movement has been gaining strength steadily. There is a specific interest that has developed regarding women’s writing and consequently in translation of works done by women.

My tryst with women in translation began with my PhD project of translating a nineteenth century Bengali women’s travel writing into English. It was in the times when Translation Studies was slowly gaining a foothold in the academia and an English translation of a vernacular work could be a PhD dissertation from the department of English. Since nineteenth century has been an area of academic interest and a lot of research work has been done on the position of nineteenth century women, quite a number of women’s writings from Bangla is available in English. But the same is not true for other spheres. Women’s works have not gained much of attention either from translators or from publishers. One of the reasons of course is the availability of women’s work. In most of the societies women’s education had remained a taboo for long, so it is only natural that texts by male authors will be more in numbers and more easily available. But along with that there is also a conventional apathy towards women’s writings in general. Just as translation had occupied a secondary position in the literary world, women’s writings too have remained a grossly neglected area.

Why should translating women’s writings be such an important area of concern? Translation is an important tool that can bring marginalized voices into the centre. In the postcolonial context translations can be seen as one of the ways of the Empire writing back, questioning the hegemony of the West and challenging the binaries of White/Coloured, European/ non-European, male/ non male worldview.  Similarly, translation of works by women then can be a strategy of making the marginalized voices heard. Moreover, ‘woman’ is not a homogenous category, their experiences, sufferings, social positioning, exploitation, socio-economic condition, everything differs. The degrees and means of marginalization also differ. In such a situation, to challenge the concept of a universal homogenous categorization of women, translations are important. The exchange of literature between various language systems allows for a communication between linguistically different societies. As Mokkil and Jha say in their introduction to Thinking Women: A Feminist Reader, “for women from socially marginal locations, the very act of writing may be constitutive of a claim for recognition”. Similarly, translations of women’s writings in various languages, extends the domain of that ‘claim for recognition’ by making a literary work accessible to a wider range of readers. The marginalised voice, by its presence in multiple languages, gains strength. Translation can become a strategy of empowerment in a world of hierarchies and marginalization.

This volume of Women in Translation does not limit itself only to the works translated by women, but extends its scope to include women translators, translating both men and women authors. The gendered nature of language leads to a number of concerns such as: “can men translate women’s texts or women men’s? Does a translator need to be gay in order to successfully translate a gay writer’s work? How have women translators in the past fared with the male authors they translated; how have gender issues affected the work of male writers and translator” (Flowtow). The concerns are many more such as politics of selection, representation of texts, reception and even marketing of the translated texts. As Meytal Radzinski says, “The impression I got from those rare publishers who admitted their bias (through the thinly-veiled guise of “aesthetic” differences between men and women’s writing) was that they simply viewed all women’s writing as lower than men’s”. Translations from more marginalized languages, and from more marginalized communities of women are important from the perspective of gender studies as well as to emphasize on the plurality of voices. 

This issue of women in translation explores the concept from various perspectives. The first section is a medley of various essays on translation. While Sanju Thomas and Paromita Sengupta speak of their journey as translators, Trishna Basak delves into the world of Maithili translation in a personal essay. Readers are introduced to one of the most important poetic voices of Sri Lanka, Anne Ranasinghe, through the words of the noted novelist Ayathurai Santhan. Anne Ranasinghe through her own translations and being oft translated is an example herself of how the role of translation is significant in the exchange of literature across world. Though it has been mostly observed that women’s texts are translated more by women authors, Shyamal Bhattacharya, a multilingual translator speaks of his experience of interacting with the noted Punjabi author and poet Amrita Pritam. He has translated Amrita Pritam’s works from Punjabi to Bengali.

Each translation requires its own politics and strategies. Aparna Singh focuses on the translation of Dalit women writers. Like the gender of the translator, caste of the translator too comes into question as she explores the existence and possibilities of translation of Dalit women authors by upper caste women. This section also consists of two very important interviews of prominent translators, Prof Sanjukta Dasgupta and Jaya Choudhury. Poet and translator Kavita Ezekiel Mendonca’s conversations with Jaya Choudhury explores the circumstances that turned latter into a Spanish translator. On the other hand, Basudhara Roy’s interview with Prof Sanjukta Dasgupta is more concerned with the politics of translation and language and the role of the translator. She highlights the concerns of this volume by focusing on the issues of gender in translation. The section ends with a book review of an English translation of Lamikant Bezbaroa’s 'MorJibon Xuworoni' (My Life’s Reminisce) by Navamalati Chakraborty.

The second part of the issue consists of a diverse range of translations. While Anju Makhija presents translations of an eighteenth century Sufi poet, Mandakini Bhattacherya presents a translation of an extremely contemporary poem by Prof Jharna Sanyal. While Ratna Guha Mustafi’s translation of Suchitra Bhattacharya’s short story also highlights a present-day concern regarding Kashmir and Kashmiris, Oindri Roy translates a short story by an early twentieth century Muslim women. The short stories and an excerpt from a novel enrich this volume further. Lopamudra Banerjee, Oindri Roy and Sriparna Das’ Translators notes at the end of these prose translations add important dimension to the translations and contextualize them for the readers. Averi Saha translates Panchali with an interesting note on the subject that delves into the socio-cultural concerns found within these texts. Barak Valley and its concerns come across to the readers through Suranjana’s translation of Jhumur Pandey’s essay ‘People Suffer Still’. Sudeshna Chakravorty explores the path breaking relationship between Amrita and Imroz through her translations of a few letters exchanged between the two. The importance of Amrita Pritam in the context of Indian literature and the interest she has generated among authors across languages has made the editor include two pieces on her.

Women translators do not always translate only women authors. Hence we have Mitali Chakraborty’s translation of Tagore’s poems and Sutanuka Ghosh Roy’s translation of Gopal Lahiri that are included in this volume. All these pieces together add to the richness of translation and also focus on the multiple roles played by women in the field of translation. This issue celebrates the visibility of women both as a translator as well as translated and ends with a hope that more women’s voices will be heard.

Works Cited:

  1. Flotow Luise von. ‘Gender in Translation’ in Handbook of Translation Studies. Ed. Gambier Yves and L V Doorslaer, John B Publishing Co, Amsterdam/ Philadelphia. 129-133
  2. Mokkil Navaneetha and Shefali Jha. Thinking Women: A Feminist Reader.Kolkata. Stree. 2019
Nabanita Sengupta
Setu, November 2020 issue   

Guest Editor's Bio: Nabanita Sengupta is presently working as assistant professor in English at Sarsuna College, affiliated to the University of Calcutta. Her areas of specialization are 19th century travel writings, women's studies, translation studies. She has participated as translator in workshops of Sahitya Akademi, Viswa-Bharati, and others. She has presented papers in various national and international seminars in India and abroad. Her recent publication is A Bengali Lady in England, a translation of a nineteenth century travel writing by a woman from Bengal. She has co-edited a volume at Café Dissensus on women displacement in South Asia. A co-edited anthology on similar issue is shortly to be published. Her creative writings have also been published at various places like Muse India, Coldnoon, Café Dissensus,,, SETU and others. She may be contacted at

Women and Translation: A study (Setu Special, November 2020): Authors

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