Ultra Violet

Silence

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By Anasuya Sengupta

Too many women in too many countries
speak the same language of silence.
My grandmother was always silent –
always aggrieved —
only her husband had the cosmic right
(or so it was said) to speak and be heard.

They say it is different now
(after all, I am always vocal
and my grandmother thinks I talk too much).
But sometimes, I wonder.

When a woman gives her love,
as most women do, generously —
it is accepted.

When a woman shares her thoughts,
as some women do, graciously —
it is allowed.

When a woman fights for power,
as all women would like to,
quietly or loudly,
it is questioned.

And yet, there must be freedom –
if we are to speak.
And yes, there must be power —
if we are to be heard.
And when we have both (freedom and power),
let us not be misunderstood.

We seek only to give words
to those who cannot speak
(too many women in too many countries).
I seek only to forget the sorrows
of my grandmother’s
silence.

***

Anasuya Sengupta has worked for many years on issues of violence against women and children and police response, feminist advocacy and multi-generational leadership, and is passionately against fundamentalisms of all kinds. She’s from Bengaluru, but temporarily living in Berkeley. Her personal website is here and she can be contacted at anasuya[at]sanmathi[dot]org.

Editor’s Note: A chapter in Hillary Rodham Clinton’s memoirs Living History is dedicated to this poem. The poem was presented to Clinton in 1995 when Anasuya was a Delhi college student. It struck a chord and Clinton cited it in speeches in Delhi and at a United Nations women’s conference in Beijing, before using it in her memoirs. The chapter, ‘Silence Is Not Spoken Here’ is about Clinton’s visit to India and other countries in South Asia in March 1995 and being inspired by a Delhi college girl’s poem.

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