You are on page 1of 12

Rehman 1

Lubna Rehman Texts of Resistance In House Presentation M.Phil English Second Semester 14th March 2013

Resistance in Rajinder Singh Bedi's "Lajwanti" Introduction: "The leaves of Lajwanti wither with the touch of human hands". This very first line of the text shows Lajwanti, the protagonist's resistance towards human hands. Aptly named behind the touch-me-not plant, this abducted woman1 withers because the human hands do not just touch this flower, but tear it apart and crush it. To add to the trauma, the hands do not kill the flower to death, instead, force it to live a life much worse. This paper divided into seven sections, deals with Rajinder Singh Bedi's "Lajwanti" which focuses on the condition of abducted women, violence, rehabilitation, its aftermaths and societys psyche during partition, the various forms of resistance in the text, and questioning resistance itself. What instantly can catch one's attention is that this story is a feminist work written by a male writer. It is a work which not only focuses on the protagonist Lajwanti but at the same time throws light on the condition of all the women who faced similar circumstances.

Rehman 2 This male writer, Rajinder Singh Bedi could understand what a woman went through, at a time when a woman's voice was certainly not taken into consideration because of which this story is shown to be resisting various forms which society and "tradition" calls its norms. "Lajwanti" is about a non-heroic protagonist, an average male dominated wife who is forcibly abducted but later rescued and returned to her home. Her apprehension that she may not be accepted in her home dissolves as Sundar Lal, her husband, who is on the committee2 for the rehabilitation of abducted women, apparently practices what he preaches. However, as Sundar Lal publically argues for the acceptance of abducted women, he does not have the capacity to cope when faced with the same situation in his own life. Elevating her to the status of a Devi or goddess, he distances himself from her emotionally and desexualizes her resisting his perplexity and mental trauma.

Womens Voice and Violence: The voice of a woman holds paramount importance if times of conflict like the 1947 tragedy is taken into consideration. Writers and critics focus more on the analytical studies of cause and effects because of which a woman's voice remained submerged. But this voice is THE important key without which the understanding of partition can never be complete. But the larger question is- were they allowed to speak or resist? This leads to an issue which bothers attention in "Lajwanti" which is the idea of domestic violence. But can one really call it "domestic violence"? It was more a part of "tradition" for men to beat their wives. Lajo was so much accustomed to the beatings of Sundar Lal that she resisted the idea of him not beating her. "No

Rehman 3 he never said anything to me. He did not beat me, but I was terrified of him. You beat me, but I was never afraid of you"3 This statement taken from the story justifies the point. Was it a necessity for men to beat their wives? Was it a way of showing their love? Was it that women understood their "love" only this way? It was an uncomfortable situation Lajwanti was pushed into, when she was not beaten up by her husband. She was uncomfortable with the idea that she is no longer Sundar Lal's Lajo but simply Lajwanti. Domestic violence was a societal norm. Lajwanti resists silently and in a "woman- like" manner when on multiple occasions she says "If you beat me again, I will never speak to you." On the other hand she also says "I will not marry city lads, city lads wear boots and I have such a small bottom." She resisted Sundar Lal's beatings only to giggle away the pain very next moment. Perhaps she had no other choice. Lajwanti is unnerved by Sunder Lal's unsustainable, unknowable devotion to her, for she prefers the certainty of her husband's old violence.

Rehabilitation and Society: After forcefully entering new homes and new nations, when women started to adjust to their fate; they were again brought back to their own homes. Many women openly resisted this idea as they knew what was waiting for them. They knew they were coming back only to not be accepted by their families. Their fears were not unsubstantiated because many women had to stay in the refugee camps set up by the rehabilitation groups only because their families refused to accept them.4 This idea was noticed in "Lajwanti" too. People of the temple of Narain Bawa were openly protesting against Sundar Lal and his rehabilitation group. Under the name of tradition and religion they were resisting humanity by not accepting back these women whom they called

Rehman 4 "sluts. Left over by the Muslims." Hence, the resistance of families in accepting back the women of their own community reflects their insidious pride and ignorance and orthodoxy which curtails their rationality. On the other hand, was the other group of Sundar Lal, Neki Ram, Rasalu and others who were eager to continue their work of the rehabilitation group. Sundar Lal silently protests against and resists his own actions towards Lajo (Lajwanti), repents and wishes to give his relation another chance as soon as he finds Lajwanti. Sundar Lal's rehabilitation group gathered a lot of acceptance and understanding. But there were people who were unwilling to understand, some chose to be passive, including women and widows, and many resisted actively this zealous resistance by him. Sundar Lal however continued his work, questioning these people and questioning the society. He not only regrets his treatment towards Lajo but also pities the society for behaving with women the way it does and for not honoring women with the virtuous position they deserve. "That does not harm you. It only harms the society" he says.

Brutality with the Minds and Bodies: If we look at the plight of women, many of the women were settled in the new situation, some were happily married and some had forgotten their past. Sundar Lal too, saw that Lajo's complexion had become fresher and brighter, that she now looked healthier-she had almost become plump. He thought that she would have been reduced to mere skeleton but what he saw was the opposite. Does this imply that Lajo was happy in her new house? New nation? And with her new "husband"? This question has not been given even a single line in the story but as a

Rehman 5 reader one can conclude that maybe she was not the happiest, but she surely was not unhappy either. The bodies of women were marked in particular ways: we know of rape and abduction that happened on a mass scale, the cutting off of women's breasts and the tattooing of their bodies. This was not all. We are also aware, that women were killed by their families, in some, they took their own lives, and in some they were treated like animals. Similar was the case in "Lajwanti" where women were mere objects; "goods" as they are called. A statement from the story says- "couldn't they have killed themselves? Why didn't they take poison and preserve their virtue and honor? Why didn't they jump into a well? They are cowards, they clung to life. . ." Hence, the women are supposed to kill themselves for the sake of their "honor" and their family's honor. Going against this, one can say when a woman, since her birth, is considered to be worthless, why is she thought to be powerful enough to maintain something as prestigious as the family honor and kill herself in order to maintain that? How are these "worthless goods" given the power to preserve honor?

Resistance ?? The text also focuses on the intellectual failure in acknowledging suffering. Even though Sundar Lal resists and speaks against the society, he resists facing reality too because he confines his curiosity by not letting Lajwanti narrate her experience of abduction and rape even when she wished to. Maybe HE was now a Lajwanti, a touch-me-not like plant, an emotionally unstable and a confused husband who is still victimized by his patriarchal values.

Rehman 6 This leads to yet another aspect which the readers can question, which is, the resistance offered by the rehabilitation groups. Was this resistance resisting enough? When the many women were being transferred from India to Pakistan and vice-versa, the argument was "that the women they were handing over were old or middle aged.and of little use." This statement can make one think that the protests were only superficial. They were still looking at women as mere goods and wanted that which was the best in quality. The story ends with the line with which it began- "The leaves of Lajwanti wither with the touch of human hands." The melancholy was never over for Lajo or for other women. Her husband treats her like a Devi now which only indicates that he rehabilitates her but fails to accept her. From her perspective, the term "devi" symbolizes an emotionally alienated, impure womanhood. Paradoxically, the same humiliating experience that breaks up her relationship with her husband, also enables her to recognize its weakness. Bedi leaves his heroine at a torturing point from which she can and probably will realize her own lack of agency. This, perhaps by itself, marks the beginning of the process of empowerment. Sundar Lal overcomes revulsion maybe because he was an active part of a group which wanted him to be the way he superficially was. The ending shows how Sundar Lal, deep in his heart, gives in to the societal norms and the general idea following abducted women and only superficially resists it all. Maybe becoming active in the society was just an escape from his personal sorrow.

On the other hand, one can also say that this deep rooted psychology will take time to be uprooted and that he truly did repent and resist. By accepting her in front of the society and then going out yelling the slogans in favor of abducted women with equal zeal is an indication of trying to bring about a change not only in the society but in himself too. Where nation is resisting

Rehman 7 the horrific repercussions of the partition period, Bedi's characters are resisting their various inner turmoils. They are caught between the rudimentary patriarchal teachings of philanthropy and practical awakening.

Brief Glance at the Progressive Movement: In an interview with Leslie Flemming, Bedi comments: "I was very much struck with the earlier phase of the Progressive Movement. The reasons were very simple. First, it had an anti- imperialist slant. We wanted independence at that time, politically speaking. In addition, we wanted this same freedom in our writing. The earlier group called Angaare group wrote freely about sex, for instance; whereas we were doing all sorts of prudish things. The Progressive Movement got this liberty for us; we were able then to express ourselves." The radicalism of "Lajwanti" with respect to its critique of patriarchal attitudes towards women's chastity might be explained by the way the Progressives opened up a space to question social norms related to sexuality.

Resisting Language Barriers: Another way in which Bedi's story is unique is the way in which he resists the language barriers. He uses Hindu images and symbolism even though he writes in a language that had become a province for South Asian Muslims.5 In "Lajwanti" it is evidenced in the references to the story of Sita's rejection of Ram in Ramayana as well as to the references to the unhappy lot of the

Rehman 8 "widow living in house number 414"6, subject to the strictures of widowhood in an orthodox Hindu community.

Conclusion: To conclude, addressing a socially taboo subject from a hybrid cultural perspective at a time when identities were being reified along national and communal lines, Bedi's story represents a truly unique reflection of partition.

Rehman 9


"Abducted women" defined those women, who, due to forceful migration from one part of the country to another, were left by their own family members and could not even find shelter in the "other's" community. This category shows the subtle and the imperceptible impact that abduction and rape had on couples of the victimized community. This was the story of not just a few but as many as two lakh women. The women were important only as objects, bodies to be recovered and returned to their "owners" in the place where they "belonged," a belonging determined by the state and which advanced the state's claims both nationally (recovery of Hindu and Sikh women) and internationally (return of Muslim women.)

Sundar Lal's committee's name is Rehabilitation of Hearts Committee' which he leads precisely because nobody could understand the situation better than him as his own wife was among the abducted.

The first half of this statement deals with Lajwanti's Muslim husband who did not beat her. She was terrified of him because he resisted the traditional norm of wife-beating. Never taught to resist, she could not understand why.

Furthermore, the women who had children were even more difficult to accept. Sometimes they were forced to come back leaving their children behind. The women protested all this but to no avail.

This story was originally written in Urdu which is considered to be a "Muslim language" and Bedi

talks about the Hindu mythology Ramayana. He mentions how Narain Bawa narrates a story to his followers about Sita's abduction by Ravana after which Ram resisted Sita. It is a detailed scene where Sundar Lal speaks otherwise and says that it was no fault of Sita to have been abducted by the ten head "donkey" (as Sundar Lal calls him in the story).


Another reference of Hindu community in an Urdu text where Bedi talks of a widow living in house

number 414- an absolutely passive recipient of the happenings and the turmoils around. Needless to say, she had no voice as she was multipally marginalized.

Works Cited

Bedi, Veena. Bedi Samagra 2. New Delhi: Shakti Printing Press, 1995. Google book results. 5th March 2013.

Didur, Jill. Unsettling Partitiom: Literature, Gender, Memory. Delhi: University of Toronto Press, 2006. id=kp4p5zBpWYUC&pg=PA17&lpg=PA17&dq=feminism+in+rajinder+singh+bedi's+lajwanti&source=bl&ots=t9RJgbCs 1s&sig=UHcVcLNclLsGTXyRCmooDwyxzs&hl=en&sa=X&ei=69U2UfmbMMvLrQeo2IDADQ&ved=0CEoQ6AEwBQ#v=onepage&q=feminism %20in%20rajinder%20singh%20bedi's%20lajwanti&f=false. Google book results. 5th March 2013

Leonard-Mookerjia, Debali. "Quarantined: Women and the Partition." 33-46. Google Search. Web. 5th March 2013

Menon Ritu; Bhasin, Kamla. "Recovery, Rupture, Resistance: Indian State and Abduction of Women During Partition." Economic and Political Weekly 28.17 (1993): n.pag, JSTOR. Web. 6th March 2013.

Palakeel, Thomas. "Partition Stories: Epic Fragments and Revenge Tragedies." 329-344. Google Search. Web. 6th March 2013

Ranawat, Rajshree. "Women and Partition in Selected Short Stories." Shodh, Sameeksha aur Mulyankan 2.7 (2009): 127-128. Google Search. Web. 6th March 2013.

Ravikant, Tarun K Saint, eds. Translating Partition. New Delhi: Katha, 2001. Print.

Singh, Khushwant. Land of Five Rivers: Short Stories by the Best Known Writers of the Punjab. New Delhi: Orient Paperbacks. 2006. Print.