DAY THREE: Voices of Resistance: Women’s Folksongs and Response to Domestic Violence

Garima Singh engages with the everyday resistance posed by women’s folk songs to the dominant social structure and their response to domestic violence in their own melody. 

Women singing assembly

Garima Singh

Featured image: A group of women assembling to sing together

Ek chup sau sukh

Silence can yield hundredfold happiness

This popular North Indian idiom is often employed to curb women’s free voices. I remember this coming from my mother and my aunts, to my habitually defying objections against patriarchal conduct. Time and again they reminded me and other women around of being subservient to the dominant order and finding happiness as dictated by patriarchal forces.  The memories of this idiom have compelled me to scrutinize the patriarchal world as a seemingly stubborn and in-flexible mechanism but at the same time an easily threatened order that finds risks in women’s free expressions and often works to silence them.  

The motivation of the patriarchal values placed on women’s silence often impelled me to look at women’s voices that the social structure has been so fearful of. In my attempt to recover such voices of rural North Indian women, particularly Haryana, I was driven to recognize the power of women’s voices contradicting the submissive and repressed images that they are often portrayed in. While silence may be a conscious or a non-conscious strategy of self-representation deployed when it is expedient to do so, resistance often comes at multiple avenues.

Far from representing themselves in ways dictated by the dominant, women often imaginatively analyze and critique the social order that they experience and give voice to it in subversive expressive traditions or actions, some more blatantly defiant than others.  

James Scott in his work Weapons of the Weak: Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance’ (1985)  highlighted the relevance of everyday hidden resistance posed by the dominated Malay Peasants by often inoffensive behaviour  such as false compliance, clandestine sabotage, slander, and other hidden ways that ultimately posed restraints on dominant structures and debilitated their ability to extract resources from the oppressed.

In my analyses of finding women’s resistance against the patriarchal order, it was interesting to discover that women in their everyday life extend their limited boundaries and challenge the patriarchal society in their own melody.

Women voices can be heard unhesitantly offering firm criticisms to social structure in the local folklores. These collective voices may not pose an apparent threat or an overt rebellion against the dominant but they are the lens to find the women’s deeper consciousness and willingness to lament or resist the patriarchal order in its own way. 

While there is ample evidence of women being subjected to violence within the home and more so coming from a hegemonic masculine society like Haryana, it is exciting to note that women’s voices are not muted to the injustices that they so receive.

Resiliently recognising the wrongs and countering them, women’s songs are a way to understand how instances of domestic violence are often spoken about and addressed in solidarity, with a warning message, although in a different tone. One such song, where a woman resists against the advancements of her brother-in-law, highlights her assertion to respond to such household threats.  

Aadhi raat sikar mein ae mera jeth jiman aaya,

Roti ghal k deyan lag gyi, ae I tedi nazar lakhaya,

Thali bhi mari ae , mane bela bhi marya,

Gail patila uthaya,Rota rota gya bhai dhore, bolya teri bahu ne dhamkaya

My brother-in-law came to have food in the middle of the night,

I served him the food, but he had malign intentions,

I threw plates at him, I threw a rolling pin at him,

And I also picked up another big utensil, Crying he went to his brother to complain against me.

Addressing violence within these melodies not just hints at the women’s domestic miseries, but the voices of revolt show that such responses are registered individually as well as collectively. 

Image above: women assembled together to sing songs during wedding ceremonies

Another such song is sung like a crying narration by a woman who, besides being compliant to the patriarchal expectations. has to face regular violence by her mother-in-law. After her husband leaves for work, she duly performs all the duties expected out of her, but is treated with violence at home. Lamenting over her destiny, she finally lashes out at the mother-in –law and wishes for her family to be cursed.

Hey aape tahe jala naukari digar gaya chodh saas k bharose

Hey saanjhe te mere jetha keh gaya, tadke einkh nalana

Hey neend fikar mein aai kona, saanjhe chaakki jhoyi

Hey atharan ser maine gehun pise, fir makki piswai

Hey pis khot ke gayi khet mein, suraj mandare aai

Hey saara te maine einkh nalaya, pher mirch nalwai

Saanjh hui jab ghar ne aai, saasu ne kari pitai

Eb lagte sasu teri sunu thi, eb sunle tu meri

Sare te thare danger Mario, bhaisayan ne leja kasai

Charo te tere bete Mario, Mario tera jamaiBuddi ri tera Buddha Mario, huio rand lugai

My husband left for his job leaving me under my mother-in-law

My elder brother-in-law in the evening told me to go for weeding of sugarcane

I was not able to sleep due to tension, I started grinding from the evening itself

I grinded 18 kg wheat and then I grinded the corn

After grinding I went to the field, sun was on my head

First I weeded the sugarcane, and then I weeded the Chillies

In the evening when I returned home, my mother-in-law hit me,

It’s enough of you, now you listen to me my mother-in-law,

May all your animals die and may butcher takes away your buffaloes,

May all your four sons die, may your son-in-law die too.

These lamenting voices of women against violence inflicted on them signifies how women have been conscious of their everyday struggle and time and again, consciously and unconsciously, individually and in solidarity, pose a potent threat to the dominant.

These small acts of rebellion may not count as open revolts, but are still visible and loud enough protests to mark women’s expression in a society where voices are given to man alone.

Author’s bio:

Garima Singh is an Assistant Professor at the Vivekananda Institute of Professional Studies, Vivekananda School of Law and Legal Studies in Delhi. She has a keen interest in gender studies, particularly gender and language. She has published on the topics of caste and exclusion and has undertaken ethnographic work on the folk culture of Haryana. Her PhD awarded by the University of Delhi was entitled, The Gender and Politics of Language: Voice of Jat women in Rural North India.

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