Skip To Content

    If You Care About Women's Rights In India, You Now Have To Care About Chetan Bhagat

    One Indian Girl is about to become millions of Indian readers' introduction to the idea of gender equality. We can mock it, criticise it, and ignore it, but that won't make Bhagat's outsized influence go away.

    Prakash Singh / AFP / Getty Images

    We could, for the sake of consistency, go straight into the flaws and the plot holes and the pitfalls that riddle Chetan Bhagat’s new book, One Indian Girl — there are many.

    72 hours since the book’s release, here are your options: take umbrage at his single-pronged approach to a nuanced reality, sigh at his aversion to subtlety, or despair in the story’s construction itself.

    We can, as is habit, turn our noses up, weep for ruined literary tastes, and hope that turning a blind eye to the mess will make it go away.

    One Indian Girl is one simple book, and it makes no attempts at being more.

    But it doesn’t, and it won’t.

    Chetan Bhagat isn’t going anywhere. Check your shelves, he’s probably made his way there too, despite your best efforts.

    This is the man most of India’s reading even if you, your understanding of feminism carefully defined and your timeline curated with finely crafted arguments, aren’t.

    The thing is: Bhagat isn’t writing for you anyway.

    There’s no point flipping pages to spot the nuanced arguments and in depth analyses in this book; no point trying to identify complex plot points and rounded characters. You won’t find any, because you weren’t meant to.

    One Indian Girl is one simple book, and it makes no attempts at being more. It’s a basic, uncomplicated, 101-style introduction to feminism – a beginner’s class.

    I don’t even need to say this, Bhagat pretty much does it all by himself. He’s helpfully slipped in an actual dictionary-like definition:

    'Brijesh, do you know what is a feminist?'

    'Sort of. But what exactly is it?' he said and blinked his eyes. He genuinely didn't seem to know.

    'You haven't heard the word "feminist"?'

    'Of course I have. I sort of know what it is. Equal rights for women, right? Is that the definition?'

    'Feminism is a movement that seeks to define, establish and achieve equal political, economic, cultural, personal and social rights for women. A feminist is someone who believes in this movement.'

    'Wow,' he said.

    Wow, indeed.

    Bhagat doesn’t make Radhika choose one easily digestible feminine persona, and he’s right, she shouldn’t have to.

    Radhika, the book’s protagonist, is put together piecemeal, borrowing from stereotypes of strong, independent women. She’s plain first and beautiful later, driven about her career but vulnerable about her love life, comfortable with pre-marital sex and also sure about about wanting a marriage and kids.

    Bhagat doesn’t make Radhika choose one easily digestible feminine persona, and he’s right, she shouldn’t have to. This is the best thing about the book.

    Sure, Radhika’s complexities exist amid a supporting cast of cardboard cutouts – the last-minute arranged marriage escape, the big fat Punjabi wedding, the overbearing mother, and the lovelorn, apologetic exes.

    No doubt Bhagat understands the importance of creating the perfect book-to-movie plot (there’s just less work later, that way).

    But in this story, with all its flaws, Bhagat still manages to ask some of the right questions.

    He’s ambitious in the ground he covers, so that no one facet of gender inequality is covered deeply but a lot is touched upon — questions of careers and families, of motherhood and its demands, of hypocrisy and impossible beauty standards and expectations from women.

    But if you care about the issues Bhagat raises, One Indian Girl is a book you probably shouldn’t ignore.

    It’s his answers, with simple blacks and whites and easy resolutions, that will disappoint anyone in search of nuance. Your life won’t find much but the most faded of echoes here, and your existing notions most likely won’t be challenged.

    But if you care about the issues Bhagat raises, One Indian Girl is a book you probably shouldn’t ignore.

    Here’s why.

    The CB Family is larger than your average Indian family. It’s large enough to earn Bhagat the title of “the biggest-selling English-language novelist in India’s history” by the New York Times.

    The numbers are almost unreal – Bhagat has sold over seven million copies of his books. It took Revolution 2020 approximately a little over 3 months to sell a million copies. Half Girlfriend’s initial print run was 20 lakh, and its film rights were sold even before the novel was published.

    This in a publishing landscape where 10,000 copies sold classifies a book as a “best-seller”.

    More monumentally, according to one India Today report, the majority of Bhagat’s readers are Indians who only read two to four books each year.

    Bhagat’s reach is phenomenally expansive, and with this book, in one fell swoop, he gives his entire extended family a good old Bhagat-like lecture on women’s rights and equality, and to a certain, albeit simplified level, on feminism.

    What happens when Chetan Bhagat writes? His family listens, and more often than not, believes.

    His voice, then, is perhaps at this very moment influencing and shaping the ideas of countless Indians on the very issues you feel strongly about.

    What happens when Chetan Bhagat writes? His family listens, and more often than not, believes.

    Even if it fails to be a thorough lesson in feminism, One Indian Girl could become, for millions of Indians, the first spark of recognition that something’s not quite right in the world. By putting his voice behind gender equality, Bhagat might just help cement the idea’s reach in an unprecedented way.

    Am I giving him too much importance?

    How do you give a book written by one of the biggest selling authors in the country “too much importance”?

    We already know that feminism needs to be talked about without being demonised or rarefied. I’m often confronted with a thick haze of misconceptions and resentment around the movement, even among circles turning their noses up at Bhagat. It’s safe to assume that, outside this camp, feminism remains more misunderstood, or not dealt with at all.

    How do you give a book written by one of the biggest selling authors in the country “too much importance”?

    So here’s Bhagat, floating the notion of gender equality for his readers, introducing them to a woman with independent ambitions and personal conflicts and sexual agency, perhaps for the first time.

    Of course, his approach would make hammers look coy; his resolutions are almost magical, his issues are lifted straight out of the-little-book-of-common-womanly-complaints, and in terms of a deeper understanding of them, One Indian Girl does nothing at all.

    In fact, the biggest gimmick this book uses, which has Bhagat writing from a woman’s perspective, is also its biggest flaw. Radhika is essentially Bhagat’s mouthpiece. He’s not using a female voice; he’s merely letting Radhika use his to preach and advise.

    Truth be told, this isn’t written from a woman’s perspective at all. It’s written from a man’s perspective of what he thinks is a woman’s perspective, and that’s probably as close as Bhagat was ever going to get.

    Obviously flawed, and no doubt reductive, but a flawed and reductive step forward.

    BuzzFeed Daily

    Keep up with the latest daily buzz with the BuzzFeed Daily newsletter!

    Newsletter signup form