Tales of scarsEdited by poet Sarita Jenamani, ‘Still We Sing: Voices on Violence Against Women features poems by women from Nepal, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.
Ongoing incidents have left the world aghast. I am not referring to the Covid-19 crisis that has wreaked havoc in the Indian subcontinent. My concern is about the never ending miseries and plight of women. No sooner had they saved Malala Yousafzai, we lost Qandeel Baloch; no sooner had they rubbed ointment on Mini’s wounds, we lost Nirbhaya; and no sooner had Rihana Sheikh Dhaphali survived after being set to fire by her husband and her in-laws, Nirmala took her last breath in a sugarcane field. These are some of the fragments of women’s sufferings in today’s global village. Women are still imprisoned in the patriarchal slaughterhouse where their bodies, minds and souls are continuously chopped and scattered. For years women have had to live with the pain and sorrow inflicted by the patriarchal society.
Despite women’s rights movements, women are still treated as subordinates and left aside by the structural power. But women have not let their hopes down; they are constantly voicing for equality, freedom and justice.
The anthology of poems Still We Sing: Voices on Violence Against Women, which was published in 2020, aptly presents this fighting spirit despite all the pain. The collection is edited by an Indian-born and Austria-based poet Sarita Jenamani. The book features poems of seventy five women poets from South Asia.
South Asian women are connected by their similar thread of circumstances and sufferings. Until a few decades ago, it was customary for wives in the region to self-immolate at the demise of their husbands, a custom known as Sati. While Sati may be a thing of a past, setting women ablaze due to dowry is prevalent today. Female foeticide, molestation, acid attack, rape and murder, and honour killings are just as common. The poems included in Still We Sing portray the precarious situations of women in the region. Rape and murder of girls make the headlines almost every day. Women are neither safe at home nor outside. In most cases, the perpetrators in violence against women are people the victims know—friends, relatives to family members. Amidst such scenario Devrati Mitra’s poem ‘Kiki’ captures brutal rape-murder case of a girl.
The girl Kiki of Jade House was found
In the far north near the water line-…
Black bruises like fish bile on the throat,…
On her thigh not men’s caresses
Faint sores from cigarette burns
Kiki’s tortured body is just a representative one. There are many girls who have suffered her plight. The raped and murdered bodies of young girls can be found everywhere: in the woods, at the seashore or just in a bush nearby our locality. Proliferating violence against women unveils ruthlessness of our patriarchal society.
The capitalistic market and our patriarchal society has managed to commodify women and abuse them. Women are no more than flesh in today’s consumerist culture. Moreover their bodies have been used and abused as battlefields or as laboratories for experimentations. Poet Anar in her poem ‘A Woman Slaughtered’ explores the issue of women’s identity pointing towards socio-cultural understanding of their existence and bodies.
It is a battlefield,
a regular laboratory,
an everlasting treasure trove,
a permanent prison,
Anar’s verse has unfolded the sensitive issue of women’s existence. Most women are defined by their social roles and responsibilities. They become daughters, wives, mothers and grandmothers, but do they hold anything as a person beyond such roles or not? Anar and many other poets have shed light upon the question of women’s identity and dignity in this anthology.
Patriarchal society has always repressed women’s freedom through strict socio-culture values. They get imprisoned inside the household boundaries in the name of love, safety and security, and this aspect is what poet Geeta Tripathee has internalised in her poem ‘Chains’,
chains of Helmer-mentality/fastened further tightly,/and kept Nora-flowers/ensnared endlessly/in the name of security.
How women are viewed clearly shows our society’s double standard. On the one hand, it adores women as devis, and on the other hand it diminishes them as whores. As long as women follow the patriarchal values and submit themselves within the frame they are taken as devis, but as soon as they start resisting injustice and try to break-through the suffocating boundary, they become characterless and filthy women. Moreover, our society does not hesitate to dump resisting voices in a loony bin by questioning their sanity. Poet Deepti Naval presents a heart-wrenching tale of a woman who ends up in a mental ward in her poem ‘Goddess’. The society declares,
‘She is too dangerous to be left free!’/They signed on a piece of paper/Dumped her in the loony bin!
A woman’s beautiful body pleases the patriarchal eyes; whereas her brain becomes threatening as it carries the seed of resistance. The easiest way to control such rebellious women is to throw them into the musty cells by declaring them mad.
The world has confronted the latest surge of feminist movement, #metoo, which has unveiled the myriads of violence against women. But violence against women has not declined; it has rather increased during the Covid-19 pandemic. Women continue to fight several battles within their domestic boundaries and also push their territory beyond four walls. From one generation to another, women have suffered continuously. Kalpana Singh-Chitnis captures the tale of scars each generation carries with them in her poem.
You have bruises on your body, I said.
None of your business,
She responded and left.
I carry her scars now.
Even though a woman’s world is drenched with tears, blood and semen, they also have womanly happiness, joy, and pleasure. More importantly, they have inner strength and resilience. They have been suppressed for long; now they have started raising their voice for liberty. Women who have survived the draconian Hudood Ordinance, acid attacks, honour killings and various invisible violence can overcome any situation. Zehra Nigah in her poem highlights this strength.
from this weeping earth
and set your chained feet free.
Women are fuelled with dissidence and courage of Yogmaya to break themselves free from patriarchal chains. They have got blessings of Lal Ded and Akka Mahadevi to choose the right path.
Undoubtedly, Still We Sing has raised questions of identity and dignity of women, as editor Sarita Jenamani has claimed. It also presents the struggle, anger, agony and resistance of women. This anthology includes powerful women poets from Nepal, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Had there been poems from the remaining countries of South Asia, it would have added to the diversity. Beside that, this book is a powerful documentation of women’s history of suffering, resistance and hope, which is highly appreciable.
Still We Sing: Voices on Violence Against Women
Editor: Sarita Jenamani
Publisher: Dhauli Books, Odisha, 2020
Price: Rs 792 (approx)