DAY SEVEN: Systemic Stereotypes: Violence against Bonda tribal women

Nancy Yadav writes about stereotypes embedded in myth and colonial history that oppress the Bonda tribal women in India.

Nancy Yadav

Featured Image: Bonda women at Bhubaneswar (Odisha) Tribal Fair (author’s own)

“We have the same colour of blood as others, why are we kept behind and exploited?”

Mini (Bonda Adivasi/Tribal advocate

 The right to live free from violence is one of the most fundamental human rights; the Universal Declaration of Human rights internationally recognised documents advocate these rights. In India ‘Article 21 of the Constitution of India, constitutes a basic human right, the right to life with dignity sans violence. The introduction of “Report no.230 on Atrocities and Crimes Against Women and Children” mentions that women’s “status witnessed a sharp decline with pervasive gender stereotypes in society.” The situation of tribal women remains perilous, the reports observe that in the rural, tribal areas the communities accept atrocities as a way of life in the absence of organisational assistance. As per the National Crime Records Bureau records, which are documenting crime against women from Scheduled Tribes (ST) specifically since 2015, we see 1137 cases of rape being recorded against ST women in 2020 as against 885 intent to outrage the modesty of ST women. The situation of Bonda women is no different. 

Odisha’s “Remo” Bonda tribe is one of the Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTGs) among 13 PVTGs in Odisha and 75 PVTGs in India. The PVTGs categorisation, which was supposed to provide special rights, itself creates a divide discriminating the tribal women based on their ethnicity, gender and class in the larger Indian society.

Mini’s experience of hostility is one such example which indicates the systemic violence faced by tribal women in Odisha.  Mini is a Bonda woman from Malkangiri district Odisha (whom the researcher met and conversed with during her fieldwork), every year she puts up her stall, selling agricultural produce at Adivasi Mela Ground (annual tribal fair) at Bhubaneshwar.

When asked about her community, Mini says that she does not like the attitude of people from the plains; her community is often perceived as “violent” and women are seen as photographic objects because of the customary attire. “Only for mere 10 rupees tourists take pictures and advertise our community women as ‘exotic’ Indians and “naked” Indian tribes”. As someone actively engaging in social work in her region, Mini is determined to shatter the stereotyped identity of her community and challenge the idea that by “giving alms to the tribals they (the non-tribals) cannot exploit and restrict them from developing.”  

Mini’s reaction is against a long-standing historical violence and injustice done to the Bonda community. The narratives and knowledge formation of the community have its roots in colonial ethnography which stereotyped the community as “primitive” and “savage.” The “strange dress” and appearance of Bonda women, violent and homicidal ways of men, and inaccessibility of their villages, in the colonial narratives remained the primary information, recognising the Bonda tribe as “classical savage type.”

Historically, Bonda women keep their head shaved, covering it with a fillet of palmyra, olive shells or scarlet seeds. They cover their upper body with brass collars of different patterns of brass chains and beadwork necklaces of different colours. Their lower body is covered with a small ‘ringa’ skirt tied by a waistband attached in front. Though Bonda women cover themselves with a lot of ornaments and necklaces, their semi-naked appearance to others is determined to form the identity of the community as “naked tribe.”

In the Bonda community, all significant roles of gender-based identities are attached to myth and rituals, and the customary attire is part of myth which constrains Bonda women from wearing any other cloth except” ringa” (loin cloth). Gregory Staley (2008) in his essay published in the anthology Laughing with Medusa: Classical Myth and Feminist Thought, articulates that investigating myth is a constructive feminist exercise.

Myth becomes a tool through which women can escape the world which men have constructed for them through myth, can attack it, can begin their voyage of discovery’

Gregory Staley (2008:219)

Revisiting the Bonda myth explains the origins of the prohibition of clothing among the Bonda community.

The shaven heads and half-clad bodies are the result of a curse given by goddess Sita, as a penalty for laughing at the bathing goddess. It is necessary to note that the goddess Sita is a Hindu goddess, and the curse version is most widespread among ‘outsiders’–the non Bondas, most likely the non-tribals. The second myth explains that the scrap of cloth is given as a gift by Mahaprabhu (Bonda deity). There is no offence and no curse, the skirt is a gift of Mahaprabhu’s mercy, as an advance on complete nudity. In the third myth, a Bonda woman who has removed her clothes to husk grain on a warm day, jumps below the earth to avoid being seen in the nude by her brother; he catches her by the hair, and it comes in his hand. The woman thus stayed hairless and with only a tiny rug she was holding to wipe off her sweat.

These curse myths are the most narrated myths explaining Bonda women’s attire. The significant issue with the myth is that it propagates the stereotyped identity of the Bonda community as “naked,’ and ‘uncivilised”.

The myths reinforce the violent gendered stereotypes of cursed nudity, and  propagate and reinforce colonial stereotypes that justified the documentation of the tribe as ‘uncivilised’.  Thus, caught between tradition and coloniality, the Bonda women, ironically, face violence both within and outside the community.

Over time, wearing sarees (as many women in some parts of Eastern and Southern India do) and shedding the traditional clothing and nudity led to the Bonda women being outcast from within the community. On the other hand, appearing in customary clothing in weekly Onukadelli markets, Bonda women are objectified through a sexual gaze and ‘voyeuristic tribal tourism’ and “human safaris.” 

In sum, the myth and recorded history of the Bonda community intersect with violence against Bonda women making them stereotyped and reduced to bodily descriptions. But Bonda women like Mini brings a ray of hope, interrogating negative stereotypes that they are born into and repositioning their identity.   

Researcher with Bonda women at Mudulipada (Odisha)

Author’s bio:

Nancy Yadav is PhD candidate in Gender Studies at the School of Human Studies at Dr B R Ambedkar University Delhi.  

DAY SEVEN: When Bessie Guthrie met the Women’s Liberation Movement

Writer and Director Catherine Dwyer reflects on the Women’s Liberation Movement and the making of her film, Brazen Hussies.

Catherine Dwyer

Featured image: Bessie Guthrie: Fighter for Underprivileged Girls, Tribune 2 Oct 1973

I first came across the story of Bessie Guthrie and her campaigns for child welfare reforms in an essay by Suzanne Bellamy about MeJane, a Sydney Women’s Liberation Newspaper that ran from 1971-1974. I found it in a book called Things that Liberate An Australian Feminist Wunderkammer (2013) edited by Alison Bartlett and Margaret Henderson. The book is a collection of essays by various women centered around objects from the Women’s Liberation Movement. It became an object in my own ‘Wunderkammer’, acquired during the five years I spent researching and making the documentary film, Brazen Hussies.

Image above: Things that Liberate An Australian Feminist Wunderkammer, edited by Alison Bartlett and Margaret Henderson (2013, Cambridge Scholars Publishing)

In Suzanne’s essay I discovered the hilarious story of Vera Figner, a 19th century Russian revolutionary, whose name was used as MeJane’s ‘Publisher’. As a result, Vera Figner was later found to be a “New South Wales Person of Interest” in ASIO’s surveillance on the Women’s Liberation Movement. This story made it into the film where we also combined ASIO surveillance footage with the pop song ‘Girl Watcher’ by the O’Kaysions – putting an ironic twist on the sexist pastime of ogling women.

‘Girl Watcher’ ASIO Spy story featuring Vera Figner in Brazen Hussies (Film Camp, 2020)

But it was difficult to capture all of the facets of the women’s movement in one 90 minute film, and one of my favourite stories ended up on the cutting room floor. It was the story of Bessie Guthrie’s arrival one day at the MeJane Headquarters. She was armed with folders of documents from her one-woman crusade for child welfare reform that she had amassed over 20 years. She announced to the MeJane collective of radical feminists “I’ve been waiting for you girls all my life.”

Image Details: Bessie Guthrie at Sydney Women’s Liberation House, 1974. Photo by Anne Roberts courtesy of Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales and Tribune / SEARCH Foundation

One of the most significant campaigns [from MeJane] in terms of its success and coverage came in the wake of the arrival of the grand dame Bessie Guthrie … She was in her 60s when she arrived, a tall, elegant woman who came with piles of folders about her campaigns for child welfare reform. It was an astonishing amount of work and took us time to really process.

Suzanne Bellamy, during her interview for Brazen Hussies

Bessie was a local Glebe woman, concerned about the plight of runaway teenage girls and their horrific treatment in state institutions. She would often take them in, her home becoming a makeshift halfway house for runaways.

She fashioned this campaign through MeJane and she gradually allowed us to explore her material and shape it, and then to access what we had, which was the power of numbers. And so we had really important demonstrations outside the Bidura children’s prison in Glebe in which women climbed up on the roof.

Suzanne Bellamy
Image details: Women’s liberationists storm the roof at the Bidura Shelter for Girls in Glebe on International Women’s Day 8 March 1974. Courtesy of Australian History Museum at Macquarie University [Image 42000127]

With the power of numbers, they were also able to attract the attention of ABC journalist Peter Manning, who reported an exposé on the abuse of girls in state care and the barbaric act of forced virginity testing. It was in watching this report that I was struck by how absolutely horrific the treatment of these girls was.

Video: Parramatta Girls Home and Hay Institute for Girls – This Day Tonight (1973)

In a report for the ABC on the Paramatta Girls Home in 1973, Peter Manning discussed the ‘exposure to moral danger’ laws which could be used against girls up until the age of 18:

Annual reports of the child welfare department state that no young men or boys are ever picked up on the charge of exposure to moral danger. It is the section of the Child Welfare Act used exclusively on girls … They are made to scrub the floors of the shelter on their knees every day, ordered to wear a uniform, and they are given a medical examination.

The medical exam included a pelvic examination to determine whether or not they were ‘virginal’. For this white, middleclass, Australian millennial -at least-the idea that the state could compel teenage girls to be physically violated to assess whether they were virgins or not, sounds like something from medieval times, rather than a common occurrence in 1970s Australia. A pelvic examination is not at all a scientifically sound means of testing ‘virginity’.

Image details: Protest at the Parramatta Girls Home, December 9th, 1974. Photo by Anne Roberts courtesy of Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales and Tribune / SEARCH Foundation

The exposure to moral danger law was designed to ‘protect’ teenage girls from having sex out of wedlock, but the punishment was far worse than the crime. Only recently the 2014 The Royal Commission into child sexual abuse in institutions revealed horrific stories of physical, sexual and mental abuse of the girls who were taken into state care and put into homes such as Parramatta Girls Home.

Just like the criminalization of abortion, the lack of financial support for single mothers and the pressure on them to give their babies up for adoption, the ‘exposure to moral danger’ law was all part of the gendered violence that controlled women’s bodies, and subjugated them under a patriarchal society. Exposure to moral danger was a crime only committed by poor, often Aboriginal, young women, for no other reason than being born female.

Images Details: Bessie Guthrie (second from right) with members of Women’s Liberation, photo by Pat Fiske in Cauldron vol. 1, no.1, September 1974

Because of Bessie Guthrie’s collaboration with the Women’s Liberation movement, a group of women also made a short film exposing the plight of girls charged with exposure to moral danger. Home, made by Leonie Crennan, Margot Knox, Barbara Levy, Robynne Murphy and Susan Varga features testimony by Toni Wilson, a young woman who spent much of her adolescence in girls homes. The film shows a reenactment of legs going into stirrups from the patient’s point of view. She recounted the following:

The doctor sticks his finger up you. So you can imagine the effect that would have on a thirteen year old child. And a virgin at that. And the doctor saying you know when I resisted purely out of embarrassment, ‘Oh if you don’t lie still we’ll take you to Parramatta and tie you down.’ Completely misinterpreting my attitude, that’s what shits me. An air of defence is just born of fear and bewilderment and you’re penalised for it.

After the episode of This Day Tonight aired compulsory virginity testing was stopped virtually overnight. Eventually the charge of ‘Exposure to moral danger’ was also dropped.

For more information about the “Exposure to Moral Danger” laws and the girls institutions listen to Ann Arnold’s award winning ABC radio documentary from 2009, Exposed to Moral Danger.

For more info on Brazen Hussies:

Web: brazenhussies.com.au
Facebook: brazenhussiesfilm
Twitter: Brazen_Hussies
Instagram: brazenhussiesfilm

Author bio:

Catherine Dwyer is the Writer and Director of Brazen Hussies– an historical dive into the Australian Women’s Liberation Movement 1965-1975. She was inspired to make the film during her time as an Associate Producer on Mary Dore’s She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry (2014) – about the Women’s Movement in the United States. During this experience she realized how little she knew of her own country’s feminist history and how easily it was being forgotten. Catherine was nominated for an Australian Director’s Guild Award for Brazen Hussies as well as an AACTA award for Best Direction.  Brazen Hussies was nominated for the 2020 AIDC and AACTA Awards for “Best Feature Documentary” and is listed as one of The Guardian’s top 10 Australian films of 2020.

DAY FOUR: Bringing back hope

In working towards a domestic and family violence free Australia, Muslim Women Australia (MWA) use faith as a tool for empowerment.

Maha Krayem Abdo OAM

Featured image: Photograph of Maha Krayem Abdo OAM

Imagine you are a gardener, and you love spring. You are sowing the seeds to enjoy your garden in spring and maybe summer. You select the right seed and plant that can give you that satisfaction when the right season comes. But we also know we have autumn and winter, so we have to plan how and when to use different seeds and plants for a different purpose.  

Muslim Women Australia (MWA) is that garden, and I am bestowed and entrusted with a position of the gardener by my seniors. Together we plan, develop and implement the ways we can make a difference, just like how gardeners plan for different seasons.  

Together we are making a garden where people who want to enjoy peaceful retreat visit us, those who want a safe space visit us, those need some shade that can take their mind off the heat of stressful life visit us. 

Since its establishment in 1983, MWA has led the way in centring the needs of Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) and faith-based communities, advocating for holistic, culturally and religiously competent, community led and trauma-informed practice. In working towards a domestic and family violence (DFV) free Australia, MWA’s highly experienced and professional staff, highlight the healing and therapeutic nature of utilising faith as a tool for empowerment, with a client-centred focus to maintain a client’s dignity at every stage of support. 

Background 

Early on in the work of MWA, it was identified that while support and counselling could be provided to women and their children dealing with DFV, the issue of accommodation needed a more permanent solution. Thus in 1988 the first ever Muslim women refuge was established, the Muslim Women’s Support Centre (MWSC), which operated for over 25 years. 

This unique service was the first of its kind to be set up in Australia that catered specifically to the cultural and religious needs of Australian Muslim Women. The Centre provided clients with crisis accommodation, support to women and children escaping domestic violence, experiencing homelessness, marital disharmony, financial and other hardships. 

It gave women the autonomy to choose how to deal with their issues, by facilitating safe and neutral spaces for mediation and family restoration, where there was no continued risk of physical harm; as well as to provide a service that was culturally and religiously inclusive.  

MWA made a conscious decision to deal with DFV effectively by involving the whole community.

DFV is not simply a woman’s problem. The community must be involved and aware that no violence in any form or shape can be tolerated. The responsibility of dealing with DFV lies with every member of the community, including men.

A collaborative coordinated community approach to dealing with DFV was developed. 

The main focus of the MWSC was with providing women with choices and in empowering them with information and skills to enable them to make decisions. Muslim women had no access to appropriately tailored services which took into account their religious and cultural needs. They were now being provided with choices and options from which to make a decision which responded to needs appropriately, not what someone else perceived their needs to be.  

An integrated, holistic co-case management model was developed throughout the 25 years of operation. MWSC established collaborative partnerships with the police, the local courts, government departments, local hospitals, schools and other DFV service providers as part of ongoing improvement processes to streamline referral processes and to facilitate better access. 

After 25 years of operation, the changes from the NSW Government State Reforms saw an end to the MWSC as a specialist homelessness service. However, the best practice model used throughout its operation, its foundational principles and the sincerity and integrity of the experienced caseworkers for over two decades made an impact across the sector.  

MWA’s Linking Hearts Multicultural Family Violence and Homelessness Support Service is an actualisation and continuation of this history. When we connect heart to heart, and deal with causes, not just symptoms, real healing, connection and understanding can happen. 

Sowing Seeds of Hope 

Learning, understanding, and acknowledging the personal experiences of women informs a people-centred program design by bringing awareness of the impact of trauma as well as the complex paths to healing and recovery.

Therefore, our contribution to knowledge is an elaborative explanation of using culturally and religiously informed faith-based practice using trauma-informed expertise and experience. 

We cannot change the past, but we can certainly change the present for the future, and to do that we need to come together, we need to sincerely gather to recognize there needs to be healing. 

By enabling change to take place in all aspects of our lives, where hope is embedded in our framework, in our interaction with one another and most importantly, in the sector itself, through reforms, regulations, beginning the change within the sector, by the sector, for the health and wellbeing of women, children and society at large. 

We must begin from a place of sincerity, translating into words, then into action, while recognising the importance of transformation, just like the varying blooms of the garden. We allow people to evolve in their own colours and ways, supporting people to be who they are.    

Without healing, there is no hope. If we continue to sow the seeds of hope, they will be passed on and allow for growth and healing.  

The garden shows us that hope is clear, knowing that together we will walk the path of healing, with the hope of change taking place. 

We are all gardeners, aiming to grow, and showing that an individual is part of the community. Just like the garden itself, the different parts interact with one another. The individual as part of the community demonstrates that we rely on each other, for certainty, in being safe. 

For change is real, and reality is hope, and hope in uncertainty creates that change that we all look for.

Author Bio

Maha Krayem Abdo OAM is a passionate advocate for social justice and uses the common language of faith to bring healing and hope to people of all backgrounds. She serves as the CEO of Muslim Women Australia (MWA), a representative body for Muslim women working to enrich humanity, advocating for equality and the rights of all women, through authentic leadership based on Islamic principles.

DAY THREE: Can victim-survivors of violent crimes find justice through true crime podcasts?

Lili Pâquet discusses how Trace and The Teacher’s Pet can act as informal justice beyond police and courts.

Lili Pâquet

Featured image ‘Albert V Bryan Federal District Courthouse – Alexandria Va – 0016-2012-03-10’ by Tim Evanson is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

True crime podcasts investigating historical ‘cold’ cases where women and children are victims of gender-based violence are increasingly popular. Two recent Australian true crime podcasts, Trace and The Teacher’s Pet, discovered new witnesses in unsolved murder cases, which led to arrests and coronial inquests.

My research aims to discover if these kinds of podcasts can offer informal justice to victims who feel dissatisfied with the formal police and court systems of Australia. These podcasts have similarities to true crime podcasts from countries around the world with adversarial justice systems, like the USA, the UK, and Canada.

Trace

Trace Season 1 (2017-2018) is a seven-episode podcast narrated by Rachael Brown for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (the free national broadcaster). The podcast reinvestigates the unsolved 1980 murder of single mother, Maria James.

During the podcast, it is revealed that the local parish priest, Father Bongiorno, was sexually abusing James’s youngest son and that James was murdered the day she confronted the priest. A witness saw Bongiorno covered in blood. Police told James’s sons that Bongiorno was ruled out by DNA evidence. The podcast reveals that the exculpating DNA was from an unconnected police investigation and had been mistakenly mixed into the evidence from James’s murder. Following the podcast, the coroner opened a new inquest into James’s murder. James’s two sons state on the podcast that their voices had finally been heard, in a way they weren’t during the investigation.

Video above: ‘Invasion of the Pod People: Trace’ with Myf Warhurst, Rachel Brown, Ron Iddles, and Mark James at The Wheeler Centre, Melbourne.

The Teacher’s Pet

The Teacher’s Pet (2018), narrated by Hedley Thomas for The Australian, was downloaded over 28 million times. Over 16 episodes, Thomas investigates the 1982 disappearance of Lynette Dawson from Sydney. Thomas explicitly suggests Dawson’s husband killed her and buried her on their property. Chris Dawson’s teenage girlfriend, a student at the high school where he taught, then moved in with him and his two daughters. During the podcast, Thomas uncovers new witnesses and a disturbing culture of sexual abuse by teachers at the school, which led to a police strike force and the 2018 arrest of Chris Dawson. He is currently on trial for Lynette Dawson’s murder and the podcast has been removed for download while the case is before the courts.

Informal Justice

Definitions of ‘justice’ within formal institutions are based on successful convictions and punishment of offenders. However, this form of justice may not give victim-survivors and secondary victims a sense that justice has been achieved. Informal justice occurs outside police, courts, and legislation. According to Bianca Fileborn’s research, victim-survivors achieve a sense of justice if they have:

  • real participation
  • an active voice
  • vindication of harm they experienced
  • accountability by the offender.

Ideas of ‘justice’ should extend beyond outcomes in law and policy to include changes in social attitudes and representations of violence. Clare McGlynn and Nicole Westmarland argue that victim-survivors and secondary victims seek validation from their communities, which could include validation by podcast audiences. Academics such as Tanya Serisier argue that narrators of media about violent crime shape its representation and audience’s understanding of it.

By speaking about their victimisation to a public audience, some victim-survivors may feel they have achieved justice through true crime podcasts and, importantly, have been vindicated and validated by their communities.

Limitations of podcasts

While some podcasts allow victim-survivors or secondary victims to narrate their own stories, other podcasts have harmful representations of women. The Teacher’s Pet is empathetic toward Lynette Dawson, but its depiction of Joanne Curtis—a teenager groomed by her teacher into an unequal and controlling relationship—is problematic.

The language used, such as naming her ‘a teacher’s pet,’ is harmful. Thomas also uses audio recordings of her interviews by police, without any clear consent, replicating the abusive relationship she discloses in those interviews for the titillation of a public audience. Often, true crime podcasts also focus on certain kinds of victims: female, white, middle class, and heterosexual. Podcasts such as Bowraville challenge this stereotype in a promising way.

Some people might argue that true crime podcasts could cause unfair trials, which concerned some listeners of The Teacher’s Pet, but it is doubtful that these investigations would be reopened without the interest caused by the podcasts.

Trace and The Teacher’s Pet are examples of how true crime podcasts can act as informal justice beyond police and courts, but there are limitations. If the podcasts attempt to offer victim-survivors a sense of justice, they should give those people a chance to describe their experiences in their own voices and to feel vindicated through connection with their communities. In future, true crime podcasters could work in tandem with police, giving them access to community grapevines.

Author’s Bio:

Lili Pâquet is a Lecturer in Writing at the University of New England, Australia. Her research is in the areas of rhetoric, crime, environment, and digital media.

To get in contact:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/UniNewEngland/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/UniNewEngland

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/uninewengland/

LinkedIn: https://au.linkedin.com/school/uninewengland/

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. 

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.