In “Punishment,” Chandara, a powerless poor woman, refuses to take the alibi that Chidam, her husband, offers her by remaining silent, which ultimately leads to her death, but in the end, she becomes a hero, and Chidam receives the true punishment. Chandara chooses to be found guilty and dies for a crime she did not commit because she does not want to participate in the lies and injustice that is tolerated in the corrupt unjust system that surrounds her.
Chandara is powerless because she is both poor and a woman, which supports the theory that in her position, silence is her only power to do what she sees is right. In “Punishment,” the setting is such that women are not equal to men in their freedoms and natures. “Chidam felt that a wife as nimble and as sharp as Chandara could not be wholly trusted — ” (Tagore 1696). Chandara is a contradiction of the average woman because she is just as flexible and as intelligent as Chidam challenging him at every turn. Tagore writes that Chidam respects Chandara as she respects him though neither one of them win an argument (1696). Chandara is also powerless due to her poor socioeconomic status. Chandara lives with Chidam, Dukhiram, and Radha in one house, which is located in an area prone to flooding. “Weeds and scrub round the house had shot up after the rain: the heavy scent of damp vegetation from these and from waterlogged jute-fields, formed a solid wall all around” (Tagore 1693). As an obvious indication that Chandara lives in a poor household, Tagore writes that Chidam and Dukhiram were “not paid normal labourers’ wages” (1693). Chandara lives in a household so void of income that the occupants, she included, are starving. Tagore mentions that Chidam and Dukhiram go home hungry, but enter a house void of any food (1694). In all the circumstances surrounding Chandara, she is powerless to change any of it, but her powerless position in society is what leads up to her final choice to remain silent. Maybe as a poor woman, she is expected to be silent, but in the end, she chooses to do so, which speaks louder than anything she could have done or said.
Chidam offers Chandara an alibi, but she refuses it choosing silence over a reasonable answer to her own redemption. Chandara’s decision to keep silent is the only way she can stand up for herself and what she believes is right. Though Chandara is bold and challenges all perimeters of being a wife and a woman, she is always held down by the restrictions of the obligations of those perimeters. She has to answer to Chidam, who feels she is too wild. Tagore writes that after Chidam finds out Chandara has been hanging out at the ghat, he threatens her, but even after locking her in a room, she finds a way out and leaves (1696). Chandara continually tries to stand up for her own wants and desires, but silence in not using the alibi is the one thing he or no one else can keep her from doing. Chandara also refuses the alibi because it is just another lie and another way to further cover up the truth even more than it has been covered up by the initial lie, and she would rather die than participate in lying again to add to the cover up that the corrupt unjust justice system has aloud to exist. Lying and covering up the truth appears to be tolerated if it is beneficial to or in favor of Ramlochan Chakavarti, the pillar of the community. Ramlochan is eager to accept and support a false alibi from Chandara, but when Chandara refuses to take the alibi, he feels she must want to die and refuses to assist her any longer than he already has assisted her for fear of what trouble it might cause him to do so. “Ramlochan had previously prepared lots of stories that would save Chandara, but when he found that she herself was bending her neck to receive the noose, he decided, ‘ËœWhy take the risk of giving false evidence now? I’d better say what little I know'” (Tagore 1698). Chandara knows no other way to stand up against injustice than to keep her silence, but due to the corrupt nature of the justice system, she is found guilty based on a lie, and she is not willing to lie again even if it would save her life.
Ultimately, though Chandara is the one who dies for the crime, she is not the one who is truly punished. Chidam is the one who is truly punished, and Chandara, though it may not be the reason why she keeps her silence, does punish him by her actions. Chandara knows that she is going to die for a crime she did not commit, and she would rather do so than stay with Chidam. “In her thoughts, Chandara was saying to her husband, ‘ËœI shall give my youth to the gallows instead of you'” (Tagore 1697). Ironically, Tagore states that Chidam had wondered if his life would be better if she was dead (1696). However, it is Chidam who is tormented and punished by her condemnation and death. Chidam tries to continually say that Chandara is innocent. He also confesses to the crime. All his attempts to save his wife are in vain. ” — the judge concluded that the brothers had confessed to the crime in order to save the younger wife from the shame of the noose” (Tagore 1698-99). Right before Chandara dies, Chidam requests to see her, which Chandara replies, “‘ËœTo hell with him'” (Tagore 1699). Chandara is content with her decision, and Chidam takes the punishment. Ironically, Chidam is tormented by Chandara’s condemnation though he asks her to take the blame for the killing so obviously he knows she will die for the crime. Chandara is done with Chidam and prefers death over being with a man who would ask her to take the blame for such a hideous crime knowing the risk to her well-being.
Though faced with death, Chandara realizes that she can only stand up for herself and stand for her opposition to injustice by remaining silent. She refuses a reasonable alibi and remains silent at the cost of her own life, but in the end, she is only a hero for her actions. Chidam is more punished by her actions than she is punished by her actions. Chandara, a powerless poor woman, chooses to sacrifice her own life to stand up for herself and what is right by keeping silent and refusing to participate in a lie and injustice, which in turn, makes her a hero as Chidam receives the real punishment.
Tagore, Rabindranath. “Punishment.” The Norton Anthology of world Literature The Twentieth
Century Volume F. Ed. Sarah Lawall and Maynard Mack. New York: Norton, 2002. 1693-99.