No Autonomy for India
Freedom is a word that sometimes has become vacuous in its use by rhetoricians. Throughout the ages humankind has fought battles through sweat, blood and tears for the sake of freedom. The cause of freedom is indeed noble, yet all too often this freedom has been the freedom to oppress or confuse others. Adolf Hitler, Winston Churchill and Thomas Jefferson all spoke of freedom yet the dullest person in a society would venture to say that their separate definitions did not match up. Still, to have a word be coherent it must have a universal meaning. Perhaps one of the most agreed upon meanings of freedom is true autonomy of the person and state. Without the ability to govern and dictate one's own actions one can not be said to be free. Writers throughout the centuries have penned commentaries, essays, and novels discussing this very issue. Secular thinkers writing on this subject helped the founders of the United States form their core values Serving the same function, we find Rabindranath Tagore writing in 1893 in India. He, like earlier authors, writes on the important idea of freedom and autonomy in his short story Punishment. Tagore uses plot to show how society may violate the freedom and autonomy of women. For society to violate a woman's freedom, she often must first expect that her rights are respected and upheld. The lighter the blow of discrimination, the less aware they are of the discrimination. Chandara's father thought, quite happily, that he had made the correct choice in marrying her away at a young age before he died (Tagore, 846). When Chandara felt her husband crossing the boundary of their relationship, she returned the favor in kind, ignoring him or talking about other men (843). Just like many other repressed minorities, Chandara is playing out her role which society has given her, seemingly unaware that society will condone acts of discrimination. In particular, other women among a society help enforce the chains which bind each other through sheer ignorance. Responding to Chandara's power struggle with Chidam, Radha yells at Chidam, “That girl runs before the storm... Who knows what ruin she will bring?” (844). This ironic outburst results in Chidam abusing her and locking her away (844). Chidam shows no regard for her autonomy or freedom as he does this. He is locked, as is Radha, in a society which has no regard for the autonomy of women, one in which might makes right. Worse still, this is a society which values the life of men far above women. Despite his later regret and panders to chance the verdict of the court, Chidam reveals a significant facet of a discriminatory society. Running up to the village chief Chidam asks, “... if I lose my wife I can get another, but if my brother is hanged how can I replace him?” (842). This dialogue with the Thakur shows how much more a man's life is valued. Chidam, despite his automatic reaction to to save his wife, values his brother even more, asking his wife to take the blame (843). Despite the moral implications of a person being blamed for a crime they did not commit, the society deems this permissible. However, even in a society rampant with sexism, there are alternative to simply accepting the discrimination. Chandara demonstrates this as she flees from the imprisonment Chidam attempted to force on her (844). While she couldn't directly stand up to him, she could flee the situation and achieve at least partial freedom and autonomy. The last option, of course, is total freedom and autonomy in an oppressive regime. She can die. Chandara, thinking to herself, “I shall give my youth to the gallows instead of you” (845). The absolute statement of self-governance in a society that disallows you the ability to make your own choices is to obey no one and die. Tagore, writing deliberately, makes sure the reader is able to appreciate the irony of the chain of event which unfold one after another. Particularly the irony of Chandara only finally realizing her freedom through death. While it is another ironic statement, given her fate, the literal translation of Chandara's last statement is poignant, “death to him” (846).

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A paper on Punishment by Rabindranath Tagore
A Word from the Writer
Funky formatting due to the structure of this site(or my current understanding)