“Daughter by Court Order”, Ratna Vira’s maiden novel, is about a woman’s fight for her identity
Ratna Vira’s debut novel “Daughter by Court Order” (DBCO) (Fingerprint) focuses on the status of a girl (Aranya) who is denied her rights, not just to inheritance but much more – her very existence. The narrative captures the emotions, the half-truths, betrayals and brings up the dirty family secrets, centring on an unequal battle between the wronged and a family which is huge, powerful, rich and ruthless too.
A postgraduate in English literature and an M.Sc in Industrial Economics and Personnel Management from the London School of Economics, Ratna has worked in corporates for about 16 years. Though creative writing was never a hobby, she says, “All of us have a book or a story in us to narrate.”
Having even given up her job to devote more time to the novel, she says the re were two points which triggered the story. Having been exposed to the legal system due to the work of her maternal grandfather, H.D. Shourie, the plot of the narrative revolves around a court case about the identity of a woman. Secondly, her experience while interning in Warlaw, an organisation run by Rani Jethmalani.
Says, Ratna, “I was privy to the problems which the women faced and observed that these were not limited to one particular segment of the society. In fact their suffering spanned the social and economic strata, the entire spectrum of women.” Further, the 16 December 2012 Delhi gang rape also influenced her novel, which she started in 2010 and finished in 2014.
Describing it as a “nuanced work on relationships and power struggles and centres within a family,” Ratna adds, “it is a story of hope and courage with a happy ending.”
Commenting on the age-old tendency in the Indian society, the writer comments, “When a girl demands what is rightfully hers in the inheritance she is branded as greedy and asked to sacrifice.” As for her protagonist, “She fights for her identity — what an individual is bestowed through one’s parents, family and kinship. When it is recognised she is elated and exhausted but sad too, as several of her beliefs are shattered.”
Agreeing that women play a role in perpetrating violence against other members of their sex, Ratna emphasises, “they have to break the cycle. And this what Aranya does — she stops the echo of her childhood and starts fresh.” The writer believes that “in the lower strata the differences are settled then and there, whereas in higher echelons the women indulge in silent violence which becomes bolder and worse because of silence on the part of other family members, resulting in breaking a person’s self-esteem — a permanent and lethal damage.” Ratna is optimistic that this will change since “in India women have a voice and now it is growing loud and cannot be written-off.”