We’d never have books and the publishers who stand by them. And with South Asian publishing, rife with economic troubles, a dwindling readership and sometimes violence, the obstacles are great.
In South Asia, the independent publishing world is a bloodbath — and for some the risks are more than just financial. To put out work that can truly change the world, publishers often have to stand up to authoritarian governments and violent religious factions, sometimes risking their lives along with the authors creating such work.
Take for example, “Naxalbari,” a comic created by cartoonist Sumit Kumar, which talks about the history of the Naxal movement in central India. While it was being published, Kumar was nervous that the book would be seen as propaganda and insisted that his publisher print it in the dead of the night so as to avoid an altercation with the police.
As you will see in the stories below, some publishers in the five South Asian countries below have reason to worry for their safety. It’s a career promising anxiety, stress and immense financial pressure — yet, they show up to work in spite of the myriad challenges involved.
And the payoff? Books spark revolutions, change lives and open the world up across time and space. This World Book Day, let’s celebrate these heroes of our time.
Zubaan books is a leading feminist publisher (an imprint of Kali for Women) putting out books on, for, by and about women in South Asia based out of New Delhi, India. Zubaan is a Hindustani word meaning tongue, voice or language. Zubaan is synonymous with high-quality fiction by women in South Asia, both in translation and written in English. Additionally, they also publish titles in non-fiction and young adult fiction. If you want to get your hands on any of their titles, many are also available as e-books.
Pakistan’s literary publishing scene is due to reach its prime, so till then, most Pakistani authors go to get published in their neighbor’s more mature industry. One can imagine how underserved marginal voices, including those of women’s must be. But not on Zuka’s watch. The woman-led Zuka Books calls itself Pakistan’s cultural resistance in the form of the written word. Earlier this year, Zuka made it into the shortlist of the UN Women award for its efforts to create more literary space for female authors.
Award-winning publishing house Shuddhashar is phenomenal. It has the rare mix of commercial success as well as a long history of moral courage. Several years ago, two of its authors, Avijit Roy and Ananta Bijoy Das, were killed during a wave of violence against secular voices in Dhaka. Co-founder Ahmedur Rashid Chowdhury himself almost didn’t survive a brutal machete assault when the publisher’s office was attacked by a radical militant Islamist group. Read their magazines and blog in English, or order any one of their wonderful e-books in Bangla here.
Apart from the financial trials and distribution difficulties typical of the business, Nepal’s publishing industry’s challenges are also geographical in nature. Despite these constraints, independent publisher Kathalaya ensures that Nepalese children continue to read. Besides publishing, Kathalaya also organizes activities to promote reading culture among children and the youth, through literary festivals, workshops and collaborations with schools. It has also released Nepal’s first e-book reader app, called We Read.
For nearly 20 years, Perera Hussein has been putting out quality fiction and non-fiction titles in Sri Lanka for all ages. Many of these books are nominated for local and international awards. Featuring over 50 percent women authors on their list, and a growing number of regional and international authors, their books, available in several English-speaking countries, such as Australia, India, Singapore, the UK and the US, can be ordered from www.pererahussein.com.