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Discovering Women Publishing in Asia & the Pacific

I sent out the first letter regarding our project to publishing houses in Asia who were known to Spinifex sometime towards the end of August 1996. We wanted to know what they thought of such a project and whether it was a feasible idea. We hoped that we would be able to get in touch with other such groups through them and the network would slowly grow. I was only a few months old in Melbourne at that time and was facing the frustrations of not being able to reach my people in India by post. Judging by personal experience I was hoping to get a reply from Kali for Women and Narigrantha Prabartana by end of September. September became October and we still didn't hear anything from anyone. In the absence of any response we were left to conjecture. Maybe it wasn't such a great idea after all. Meanwhile I was getting to see more and more of Asia on the Internet. I was able to read my Times of India and Hindu sitting in front of a computer in Melbourne. I was meeting people from Orissa and Hyderabad in the virtual world. I was visiting bookstores and libraries and was enjoying the discussions on the mailing lists. Every day I was getting more and more convinced that the Internet is a space that could be used for commercial and political purposes. And if in the real world we have learnt to raise our voices against sexism we will have to learn to do the same in the virtual world. Before it is too late.

To go back to my story of networking, we decided to send a few fax messages to people we had written to. Urvashi Butalia from Kali for Women replied almost immediately. My letter and fax message had reached her in the same week. There was a postal strike and my letter was a near casualty.

Yes, I had heard of the strike and had suffered from it too. During that strike I had sent copies of The Falling Woman and Building Babel by registered post to a friend of mine in Hyderabad. I wanted her to be the first one in Hyderabad to read those two wonderful books. She is still waiting to read them. Urvashi's fax message worked like a goodluck sign. We heard from a number of other people around the same time and received information regarding their publications. As I have described in the Search Results section we have received information from unexpected sources, at unlikely places and from people whom we haven't yet met. The initial frustration with prevailing communication systems and the moments of exhilaration when we did get in touch with people, both have important implications. While on the one hand it is a source of worry that communication breakdown is still a reality in a large part of the globe, I also see a supportive culture building up around the Net. And if there is a lot of vulgarity found on the Web, I think those of us who are using it will have to take responsibility and change it. When I did a net search of Filipino women all that came up was thumbnail pictures of Filipinas 'who like American men'. I was angry and disgusted. If you do a search now and get to see our pages on Isis, and Gabriela we would feel that our voice of protest has been heard. That is the political purpose of this project.

But that's not all. I knew before that the personal is political. Since working with Susan Hawthorne at Spinifex I have learnt that the commercial is political too. I have learnt that it is not enough to write and publish, it is also extremely important to publicise and market our publications. At the beginning of the project I didn't know that so many women publish in Asia. I am aware that the information we now have is just a small part of the publishing activity that goes on in the region. Why don't we know about it then? Why do so many good books gather dust and don't ever make it to bookstores? If after getting to know about these groups and their publications you will write to them and buy their books we would feel that our commercial purpose has been fulfilled. At the time of writing this I have one email from a woman saying that she has bought a copy of Slate of Life after looking at the Kali page. It may not sound like big-business but we see it as a beginning.

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Women Publishing in Asia
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