ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

The prison called home. Re-visiting childhood traumas in Śaśi Pāl Samundarā’s autobiography Ik kuḍī dī gupt dāirī / The Secret Diary of a Young Girl.


Puri Maria - Independent scholar, New Delhi, India


21- Panel Title: Violence against women in South Asian countries


 A recent piece of life writing, Ik kuḍī dī gupt dāirī / The Secret Diary of a Young Girl (2019), which its author, the Punjabi diasporic writer, Śaśi Pāl Samundarā, calls “savai-jīvanī dā ṭoṭā” / “an autobiographical snippet”, covers three years in the life of a young girl in a Punjab village of the 1970’s. Though overtly revisiting adolescent traumas of its author, now in her sixties, it raised storm in the social media due to its lack of inhibition in tackling issues such as physical abuse of girls in family homes, prepuberty sexual abuse by the caregivers or the systemic control of girls’ bodies. Present paper takes Samundarā’s book as a starting point to look at the depiction of violence against girls in contemporary Punjabi literature, especially life writings authored by women (Dalip Kaur Tiwana, Paul Kaur, etc.). Of special interest are both the recurring themes such as the unwanted girl-child, control of female behavior in private and public spaces, forced marriages, role of female caregivers in perpetuating patriarchal controls, as well as the virtually untouched subjects such as incest. Though not concerned per se with narrative memory and identity (Brockmeier & Carbaugh 2001) or truth in first-person testimonies (Smith & Watson 2012), the paper builds on these concepts to forward the notion of the “historical value of the subjectivity recorded in ego-documents” (Eakin 2022), thus the role of Punjabi autobiographies in archiving social realities of the time.