My Grandmother’s Memories: Breaking The Silence


by guest
22nd February, 2011 at 4:51 pm    

This is a guest post by Rita Banerji.

My grandmother’s story is perhaps the story of thousands of Indian women even today. As a vivacious, young woman, she had attended college more than 73 years ago, at a time when most Indian women, even in the middle and upper classes were illiterate. She dreamed of becoming a lawyer someday, like her father. Even now she fondly recalls how in college she had played the role of Portia (who takes on the disguise of a male lawyer to save a friend’s life), in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice. But my grandmother never got to be Portia in real life.

She was soon forced to marry a man that her family considered to be a good match for her — an engineer, who had just returned from England, and had his own flourishing firm. However he did not appeal to her and she made that clear from the start. But her wishes and desires were of little consequence, and she was pressurized into the marriage. It was not just a marriage that was the equivalent of rape, but for more than 50 years she also had to endure terrible emotional and physical violence.

The first time that my grandfather had slapped her, she had turned around and walked out of the house just as she was — barefoot and in her dressing gown. She walked that way right across town, back to her parents’ house, and refused to return to her husband. It is something that women in the middle and upper-classes in India simply did not do! And still don’t. For a society that places the highest premium on “a family’s reputation” — the pressure is that much more on women in the educated and elite sections to remain silent, and return to their marriages to keep up social appearances. In the end that is what my grandmother too had to do.

I look around, among the middle and upper educated classes in India, and see my grandmother’s story repeating over and over again, even today!! How do these women endure the betrayal of their own parents, snuffing out their dreams and forcing them into unions that are nothing more than rape? How and why do they endure the continuing violence — and a society that remains blind and indifferent to the injustice of their lives, while it continues to exalt marriage and traditions as it supreme altars? Why, when they are educated and working, do these women not break their silence; break the tradition of enduring torture in the name of family and honor? This was my reason for writing ‘My Grandmother’s Memories.’ Read the article ‘My Grandmother’s Memories’ here in The Wordworth Magazine (click on Columns).

This is a guest post by Rita Banerji.


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Filed in: 'Honour'-based violence,History,India,Sex equality






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  1. sunny hundal

    Blogged: : My Grandmother’s Memories: Breaking The Silence http://bit.ly/h7rE24


  2. Lynsey McGough

    RT @sunny_hundal: Blogged: : My Grandmother’s Memories: Breaking The Silence http://bit.ly/h7rE24


  3. Sophia R. Matheson

    Pickled Politics » My Grandmother's Memories: Breaking The Silence: To clarify, Norwich Green councillors oppose… http://bit.ly/h7avwW




  1. Rumbold — on 23rd February, 2011 at 9:08 am  

    Excellent piece Rita.

  2. sarah — on 23rd February, 2011 at 11:08 am  

    Excellent article. (adds book to long wishlist)

  3. Kismet Hardy — on 23rd February, 2011 at 3:16 pm  

    It never ceases to amaze me that the south asian countries, where such stories are the norm for all of us who hail from there, have still somehow managed to have five female prime ministers (and a fair few presidents)…

  4. KJB — on 23rd February, 2011 at 4:49 pm  

    Kismet – It is odd, isn’t it?

    This is an excellent piece that I already Facebooked!

  5. shamit — on 23rd February, 2011 at 5:19 pm  

    This is indeed a great article.

    Kismet – spot on.

    You know what really freaks me out is New Delhi.

    It has more local, central and all sorts of paramilitary forces based there – and it is the capital of India yet it has more rapes (and I am not talking poor women being raped in their slums by police – which happens and is barely reported) and rape related murder of upper middle class women going to or back from work.

    This is where the President of India – a woman lives
    This is in a city where India’s most powerful women Sonia Gandhi lives. The Speaker of the Parliament is a woman – who lives there and the Chief Minister (who is actually an effective CM) Sheila Dixit is a woman but the CM does not control the police though. Yet it is by a mile and a half the rape capital of India. Wtf?

    It has pissed off the speaker soo much that she actually sent out a circular that from now on all women working in the parliament would be picked up and dropped off home in official cars with security- even if they work in the lowest possible ranks. Good on her but while that shows the extent of the problem – the family connections of accused have often through power play or money have shut up victims and bought them off.

    Welcome to the superpower of the 21st century. SAD.

    Sagarika Ghose (no relation of mine) has an excellent blog on this:
    http://ibnlive.in.com/blogs/sagarikaghose/223/62212/old-at-heart.html

  6. Rita Banerji — on 26th February, 2011 at 5:20 am  

    @Shamit — spot on! Women in positions of power in India are not speaking out against atrocities against women even in the public sphere. In Mayawati’s state — there has been an increase in incidents of rape of lower caste women and girls by upper caste men, but she (having come to power as a woman from the lowest caste) doesn’t seem to actually want to address this. But just in general why have there been no female voices from India speaking out — talking about their own experiences of violence and subjugation. For me what is interesting is that through the late 1800s and early 1900s during the British rule — women were writing copiously. Publishing autobiographical accounts of what their lives were like — and protesting furiously. Rasundari Devi, Geeta Sane, Vibhavari Shirurukar, Pandita Ramabai and many more. And these individual voices of women suddenly fell silent after independence. But we continue to hear these voices from Pakistan and Bangladesh. What happened in India? That’s what I want to know.

  7. halima — on 26th February, 2011 at 8:39 am  

    Thanks for posting this piece, i found the autobiographical intimacy of the article really engaging, often these accounts are more powerful.

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