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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…”
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.
I am a former bureaucrat, and have worked a lot on gender issues, disaster management
Well I do understand how it feels to be this lady..I can completely empathize. My story isn’t any different. My hubby just wanted a slave who would serve his parents and the others from the extended family from uncles and aunts to his sisters and their respective families. I had Diabetes Mellitus since the age of 5 which was let known to him the day he proposed me for a marriage.Its almost 26 years since am dealing with it. He had all the words towards me and a completely loveless but demanding marriage, a selfish dirty marriage. He put a colourful mask when in front of others and a harassing husband when others weren’t in front of us. It took a very long time for me to make my parents understand his criminal motives. He wouldn’t even hesitate to kill me.He had all plans which he openly shared it too as to how he could escape the clutches of law. His wife beating and tormenting me increased by the day. He took liberty of my whole existence. From controlling me in what I wear to whom I talk and what I should talk. He would call me a prostitute and a whore even if I was waiting for vegetable vendor to give me the vegetables. There have been many instances where his family also harassed me expecting me to fast couple of days a week,not allowing me to sleep at all on some or the other pretext like grahan and so on..His mother encouraged him to not have any physical intimacy and not to have a kid from me. Our internal life was almost NIL. Infact I’ve never known what the pleasure of intimacy and romance is. Imagine my husband had the audacity to tell me on our first night “if at all somehow you die within a year or year and half because of your diabetes, I would take your share of property from your parents & get married to another girl and live happily with her” He drove me into depression. 6 days of marriage and my hubby left abroad leaving me behind for 8-10 months. He frequently travelled. I lived a single life even after marriage.Throughout a 3 year married life we have stayed together for about 100 days and being intervened by his folks and the whole chaos. I haven’t known what it is to be happily married. I love kids and have always wanted a kid way since childhood even before knowing the process of childbearing. His parents and my hubby never allowed me to visit or talk to my parents. He had all the suspicion in the world. He even went to the extent of telling me I had relation with my dad. I had never come across any such insane and cheap minded people. His sisters would advice him to leave me/divorce me. When I wanted them to be happy with their BF/husband and genuinely with a good intention stood by them in their difficult times. I was humiliated everytime I visited my inlaws to the extent of my sisters in law asking me to walk out of the house at midnight as it was their parent’s house. What do I remember other than tears in the whole 3 years? and now I have lost the zest,being happy in a relation and of being married.Now that I showed my parents, my hubby’s true colours I have their support and am with them struggling through the battle of legalities, where at times I’m blank and confused too, not sure about the end. Would I meet JUSTICE? I do have faith in our legal system but I need to experience it to believe and trust in the system. Its now no more than a battle…Its just wait and watch..Though looking for help from all around and my belief in the divine existence. My inner strength is whats keeping me going with all kinds of struggles and i’m determined to not give up-NEVER say Die attitude.
Ah I also remember the incidents when he strangled me to death, told the neighbours i was a mentally ill patient receiving treatment when I was crying because of his torture..I have been thrown our of the house many a times middle of the house and had to go back to my parents and to be received by angered parents as he would have called them up and told them how bad I’ve behaved.When the reality was so different. He totally cut me off from all of my contacts. I had no one to share any of my fears, suppressed anger, frustration,hurt,nothing..A union that was supposed to bring us close has taken us poles apart..When I seek help from law court it needs evidences which I did not have as I never saved the prescriptions and the visible bruises had all vanished..Its unfortunate..The police advised me to stay away from complaining if I wanted the relation to work and again another chance given to him..I considered his aged parents whom he sent money every month,to those who treated him no more than an ATM machine. I thought god would punish him for his deed..or the law.. I was lonely..How can someone be sooo inhuman? where is all the love? what’s happening to our society that respected females? did it ever exist? How many females would go through such torturous life?
Deptii, again, I am just speechless.Could I know the current status of your marriage if you feel comfortable?
I went ahead and filed a DV case – did not opt 498A only considering my in-laws but now it looks like I would have no option but to take it up. It was in Feb 2011 that I approached the case. Its still hanging there, no conclusion yet. There is adultery involved as well, I had evidences against him. Its moving at a very slow pace. My evidence and cross examination is done. His evidence is done waiting for his cross examination. Irony is he said he wouldn’t be able to attend court when judge gave the next date on our anniversary. and according to hindu calendar its supposedly our anniversary today. Do share your email/chat id may be we could talk in detail.
I’ll be glad to be of help in any way I can. Do mail me at email@example.com
Thanks I’m adding you.
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