Meena’s Story

Domestic violence and abuse can happen to anyone - as seen by the story of Meena Kandasamy, a feminist, writer, poet, translator and champion of Dalit rights

I hadn’t heard of Meena Kandasamy till the other day. I had picked up a magazine at the Delhi airport, and I read about her with growing horror, incredulity, and shame. She’s no ordinary woman. She’s a feminist, a writer, a poet, a translator and a champion of Dalit rights. She has credentials many people would give their right arms to achieve.

She has published two collections of poetry, ‘Touch’ (2006) and ‘Ms Militancy’ (2010). She was the Charles Wallace India Trust Fellow at the School of English, University of Kent, Canterbury, UK and also served as a Visiting Fellow at the School of Literature, Language & Linguistics, Newcastle University, UK in 2011. In 2009, she was a writer-in-residence at the University of Iowa’s International Writing Program (IWP).

She was a featured poet at the City of Asylum Jazz Poetry Concert 2009 held in Pittsburgh, USA and the 14th Poetry Africa International Festival in October 2010 in Durban. In 2011, she performed at the DSC Jaipur Literature Festival, Blue Metropolis Festival, Ottawa Writers Festival and the Kovalam Literary Festival.

Two of her poems, ‘Mascara’ and ‘My Lover Speaks of Rape‘ have won first prizes in pan-India poetry competitions, and her poetry has been profiled in several international publications. Previously, she edited ‘The Dalit’, a bi-monthly English magazine.

She holds a PhD in socio-linguistics from Anna University Chennai, and is now working on her first novel ‘The Gypsy Goddess’.

Trapped in a loveless, violent marriage for four months, she finally gathered the courage to walk out, thankfully into the supportive arms of her family, and she wrote what she endured in those nightmarish four months. She says she was married to a wife beater, a violent and suspicious man, and a liar. She talks of the beatings, the forced sex, the abuse, the fear, the shame and the agony.

She says she color-coded the violence, “fresh red welts on my skin, the black hue of blood clots, the fading violet of healed bruises…”

She talks of the instruments of punishment, “I learn that anything can become an instrument of punishment: twisted computer power-cords, leather belts, his bare hands that I once held with all the love in the world. His words sharpen his strikes…”

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She talks of the times when she was labeled a prostitute, “And when I tell him that I want to walk out of the marriage, he wishes me success in a career as a prostitute, asks me to specialize in fellating, advices me to use condoms.”

She talks of the sex, “Soon, in my loveless marriage, sex begins to replicate the model of a market economy: he demands, I supply. Never mind that my response does not matter, never mind that I bleed every single time, never mind that he derives his pleasure from my pain.”

He demeans her literary pursuits, “literary festivals are brothels, women writers are whores, my poetry is pornography…”

She craves for freedom, “I crave for a freedom that will just let me be me, I flounder to find the words to help me speak my story. I live in a house of slamming doors and broken dreams…I look forward to dying, I think death will put an end to this.”

It is heartbreaking even to read what she has written, and it needs courage to read it. Do read ‘I Singe the Body Electric’ by Meena Kandasamy, and I’ll leave it to you to decide what this world is coming to.

Post Script: I have taken the title from Meena Stories, a UNICEF initiative. Meena is a cartoon character from South Asia. She is a spirited, nine-year-old girl who braves the world – whether in her efforts to go to school or in fighting the stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS in her village.



About the Author


I am a former bureaucrat, and have worked a lot on gender issues, disaster management and good governance. I am also the proud father of two lovely daughters. read more...

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