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Detective or crime fiction has had a long and varied history in South Asia, at times inflected by local concerns, at other times transporting readers into a world of international intrigue. This chapter traces its development from its colonial origins under the aegis of a local boom in print media, ‘intrusive’ colonial law and policing and the influx of European narratives combined with precolonial tropes. The chapter focuses on iconic ‘homegrown’ detectives like Byomkesh Bakshi in the 1930s, the quintessential Bengali gentleman detective engaged in the high pursuit of truth, the debonair detectives Faridi and Imraan created by Indo-Pakistani writer Ibne Safi in the 1950s–1970s, and the heroes of ‘hard-boiled’ Hindi crime fiction in the 1970s–1990s. Crime fiction has also allowed women writers to imagine bold female detectives who challenge and debate gender norms, from Kamala Satthianadhan’s trailblazing Detective Janaki (1934) to Sujatha Massey’s Perveen Mistry. Crime fiction in South Asia has been intensely translational, not just from English but also across South Asian languages. It has pioneered its own distribution channels and spawned adaptations across media platforms.
Through your literary creations cleanse the prescribed values of life and culture. Do not limit your objectives. Remove the darkness in villages by the light of your pen. Do not forget that in our country the world of the Dalits and the ignored classes is vast. Get to know intimately their pain and sorrow, and try through your literature to bring progress to their lives. True humanity resides there.
Dr. B.R. Ambedkar
In just the last few years, scholarly attention to the subject of Dalit literature in India has increased almost as dramatically as the recent surge in the production of Dalit literature across India. The first significant example of Dalit writing in English translation appeared in Orient Longman's anthology of the literature of the Dalit Panthers, Poisoned Bread (Dangle 1992), and though for almost a decade afterwards there was no significant publication of Dalit literary texts outside of India, save for the lifelong work of scholars such as Eleanor Zelliot and Gail Omvedt, the dearth of Western access to Dalit texts and scholarly attention paid to them has recently turned around. English translations of Dalit literature now abound, thanks to a surge in interest by academic publishing houses in India and abroad as well as the rise of specialty publishing houses such as Navayana whose entire catalog focuses on matters of caste in literature and society.
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