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Urvashi Butalia

Urvashi Butalia
Urvashi Butalia | © Maik Schuck

Urvashi Butalia, born in 1952, studied literature in New Delhi and South Asian Studies in London. She has taught at university for over twenty years, currently at Ashoka University near New Delhi. In 1984, she founded the first feminist publishing house in India, Kali for Women. This led to the founding in 2003 of Zubaan (which translates as tongue, voice, language), a publishing house specialised in women’s rights, gender and sociological subject matter. In its Young Zubaan series she publishes books for young people on subjects that are often off-limits in India, such as alternative lives and families, disability, death and fanaticism. Although not directly involved in politics, Urvashi Butalia is well known throughout the country for strongly advocating for the rights of minorities and for dealing with the traumas of recent Indian history.

Since 1997, she has written regular articles for Lettre Internationale on women’s situations and socio-political developments in India as well as on the culture of remembrance after the partitioning of India in 1947. Her book The Other Side of Silence: Voices from the Partition of India (2000) is one of the most important works on this subject. Based on interviews with witnesses, it documents how they lived through the political division of India, during which about one million people lost their lives.

In her laudatory speech for Urvashi Butalia, sociologist Christa Wichterich emphasised Butalia’s pioneering work in publishing, saying, “She does not speak for others, she does not want to represent others, but above all to give a voice to those who stand on the margins of society, the injured and vulnerable who have no say, who have been silenced and who are consciously silent.” Wichterich continued, “Urvashi often hears comments from people in the West saying that it must very difficult for a woman to be a publisher in India. She replies that it’s no piece of cake to run a small feminist publishing house anywhere. She does not need pity. She is unflinching; she is obsessed, in the positive sense, emphatically and full of curiosity, with making the private a political issue using the spoken and written language.”