January 02, 2009


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


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.

15 comments to Silence

  • “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”

    yes, these lines are expelled((exposed) the status of women in india,
    proliterian class only get freedom including women rights.


  • This is a really cool blog, adding to favorites.

  • Absolutely wonderful, and so true.

  • I completely agree with your thoughts, but it didn’t ended with our grandmother’s it still continues where a girl child is considered burden and she is not even asked whether she likes decision of her family about her future, she is ordered with a punch line saying we hope you don’t have any objections.

    I am saying this because very recently my friend suffered similar oppression. I would like to ask one question here, Is it the women who needs to be empowered or Is it the society that needs reform or Is it us who have become more bold in supporting women who dare to go for empowerment ?


  • Thanks, everyone, for your thoughts. I do appreciate it. And thanks, Anindita, for resurrecting the poem after so many years!

    Vikram, I agree completely with you. In fact, the poem is meant to say exactly that: even when we claim that things have ‘changed’ from our grandmothers’ times – and certainly, some of us do lead lives of far greater empowerment than was possible in previous generations – not all girls and women lead improved lives, or even get a chance at life, in some cases. I think it’s a combination of self-empowerment – an appreciation of their own dignity and strength – for girls and women, along with larger attitudinal changes amongst us all, men and women, boys and girls. Please, do become ‘more bold’ in supporting women who speak for themselves – you will be much appreciated!

  • This is beautifully written!

  • Preeti

    At last, I found a fellow Indian middle-class woman not afraid to call herself a feminist. Its amazing that there are people in India who still think that Indian women do not need feminism anymore. Its understandable that feminism is suffering a backlash in the West after decades of unrivalled sucess, but India? When did India even have a women’s movement of the depth and power that the West did?
    I meet so many educated, middle-class women who are sucessful professionals but have the most unquestioning and submissive attitudes toward gender and power — female collegues who think it only natural that husbands have more power and privelege in marriage than the wife. Not a day passes by when I don’t wish I was a man in India. Our country offers so much to middle and upper-class men, but comparatively so little to women, regardless of class and education.
    Its even more disheartening to hear some Indian men shamelessly defending the status quo in the name of tradition, as if only women had some sacred duty to safegaurd tradition!

  • aruna srinivasan

    very beautifully written. and also abt preeti’s coments “I meet so many educated, middle-class…….than the wife”
    Oops. I wonder how she knew abt me. I am trying and trying to change – for the last 28 years

  • Swati

    A beautiful poem and a very true one at that. Women are supposed to behave meek and domicile,accept decisions made for them or rather on their behalf by their fathers first and husbands later since it is thought they are incapable of deciding for themselves or because they are just not supposed to think.They are supposed to obey and do so without a question.
    Most middle class girls in India would identify with this.Only problem is fight for your rights and you are called an ungracious person and having been brought up without values and culture.I wonder when things will change,when will patriarchy become extinct,if ever.

  • Hi All, amazed to read on this site hug enumber of people write and discuss feminism…..I think you all feminists should discuss with men who accept women with equal dignity and respect and see how together we can work out the better conditions for women especially in India…..common guys discussing here is one thing but going out there n making change is another. Join hands and I am sure we together can make difference….or can go through my blg at indraneelinbangalore.blogspot.com

    By the way if you all too feel strongly against what happened against women in Mangalore then please join hands in peace rally in Bangalore on Feb 3rd. We are all working in different companies. Look forward for your support……as I do not have your e-mail IDs kindly reach me at indraneelbm@yahoo.com or 9342210058.

  • Kate Beamer

    I am looking for a MLA reference for this poem. a page number in Clinton’s book perhaps, or another book it is cited in?

  • Well written article! I like browsing your blog because of the writers often post informative articles. Awesome Job once again. I in the process adding to favorites this website. I am planning to subscribe to this feed also. Until Next Time! ..

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