Translating Feminism into Telugu: A Socio-Historical Study of Agents

PhD defended at: 

English and Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad, India





The study attempts to understand the role of intermediary agencies in the area of translating global feminist knowledge
into the Telugu society. Identifying translators, organizations, publishing houses and magazines as such agencies, it
provides an analysis of the Skopos (purpose) and function of this feminist knowledge. The study further discusses the
intentions/ ideologies of agents in using translation as a significant sociopolitical instrument in the construction of the
feminist discourse in the Telugu society. While demonstrating how translation was used as a transmitter for the
circulation and distribution of feminist ideas in the Telugu society, it will try and gauge the influence of International
feminist thinking on Telugu feminist translators, writers and activists. It also throws light on the opposition met in
translating feminist ideas into Telugu, and the intellectual efforts and resistance provided by the feminist translators,
writers, activists and publishers as agents of social change, thereby bringing acceptability to the discussion on feminism
in public sphere is also attempted.

The study attempts to discuss “feminism” as a travelling concept journeying from one space to another through
translation: from sociopolitical contexts across the world to the Telugu context and vice versa. The first significant
feminist translator in Telugu was Volga. To protest against male domination, she left revolutionary organizations and
began translating feminist texts and ideas into the Telugu language. Basic concepts of feminism like patriarchy,
oppression, sexuality, motherhood, reproductive rights and sexual freedom were worked on to educate and enlighten
progressive groups and others. This was met with severe criticism. Numerous translators like, Popuri Lalitha Kumari,
popularly known through her penname as Volga, P. Satyavathi, a few organizations like, Stree Shakti Sanghatana,
Feminist Study Circle, Anveshi and Asmita, the publishing houses like Hyderabad Book Trust, and magazines like
Bhumika and Mahila Margam played a key role in translating feminist ideas and bringing their acceptability to the
discourse on feminism in Telugu.

In the globalised world, ideas travel from one setting to another including from one language to another, one culture to
another and one society to a different one. Feminist ideas, just like all other ideas and ideologies, have travelled across
the world through translations. Likewise their ‘travel’ from the international context into the Telugu society was
necessitated by the needs of women and demands of women’s movement. Ideas of feminism have travelled across the
world through translation in the context of the international feminist movement. Ideas are considered important
determinants of change in a society. We need to consciously acknowledge Telugu Feminists in their characteristic role in
trying to bring social change to the existing patriarchal society by introducing a certain version of feminism, made
accessible through translation, which combined theory with practice to the Telugu speaking readership.
They sought to do this by bringing to light painful narratives of women’s sufferings, voicing different forms of their suppression
and subsequent stories of their journey to liberation from dominant patriarchal institutions.

This dissertation consists of six chapters. The introductory chapter surveys debates and reviews of existing studies that
lie at the critical juncture of Feminist thought and Translation Studies. The second chapter analyses Volga’s role in
stimulating a debate on feminism in Telugu, through her translations, original texts and her role as an activist. Here, it
particularly discusses the opposition met in translating feminist texts or ideas into Telugu and the struggles of Volga in
establishing feminism as a serious discipline of thought. The third chapter discusses the emergence of feminist
organizations like Stree Shakti Sanghatana, Feminist Study Circle, Anveshi and Asmita and the influence of international
feminist thinking on Telugu feminist writers, translators and activists.

The fourth chapter attempts to study the role of Gita Ramaswamy as a publisher of Hyderabad Book Trust (HBT) in
translating the feminist knowledge into Telugu. The fifth chapter analyses the role of the translations published in two
Telugu feminist magazines Mahila Margam and Bhumika between 1989 and 2008 in translating feminist ideas into Telugu.
Thus, this dissertation shows how translation has played a significant role in the dispersal and dissemination of Feminist
ideas and knowledge in the Telugu public sphere. As an agency of knowledge production and dispersion, its function was
carried through various functionaries, both individual and institutional, and this dissertation attempted to locate them
within the socio-historical frame.

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