‘Umrao Jaan’: Women, Stigma & Shame

Yeh Kya Jagein Hein Dosto

On International Women’s Day, I am finding myself drawn to a song that I first heard as a child. At the time, I recall being curious as I watched the video (in an Indian film). I wondered why this beautiful woman in bright colours, adorned with jewellery, sang with such sadness, danced halfheartedly whilst searching  around her to re-experience the innocence of her childhood.

Many years later, I still marvel at the lyrics of this song, Asha Bhosle’s voice and Rekha’s ability to capture the pain and longing of a woman who has been robbed of self-respect, dignity and social justice.

This song (‘Yeh Kya Jagein Hein Dostoh’) is from the film ‘Umrao Jaan’, a story about a young girl who is kidnapped from her rural village and forced into prostitution. Years later, she returns to her village. Here, she is rejected by her family and experiences the shame, stigma and ostracisation of a woman who is perceived to be tainted.

In this song, Umrao Jaan says: ‘What place is this friends? Wherever I turn I see clouds’. The clouds here may refer to the heaviness in her heart which compels her to see the world through colourless lenses. In addition, she describes this place where she feels intense pain yet is simultaneously unable to contain her joy (‘Na bas khushi hein yaha na gham pe ikhtiyar hein’). Here, she is referring not only to a physical location, but also an emotional place in her own mind, a place filled with longing for a mother’s love and a need to return to the innocence of her childhood.

This song highlights the pain of women who through poverty or violence are forced into the sex industry. It illustrates the social injustice, loneliness, stigma and discrimination of women who wish to rejoin their communities. Despite all the progress we have made for women’s rights, social disapproval and stigma towards these women discourages them from leaving the sex industry to reclaim their lives and live with self respect and dignity.

On International Women’s Day, I pay respect to girls and women around the world who are in these positions and hope for them one day to assert their own identity and be able to celebrate their resilience and strength.


Author: Dr. Sidrah Muntaha

I am a Consultant Clinical Psychologist with a special interest in the role of music to promote emotional well being and recovery from severe mental health difficulties. I am currently employed as Head of Psychology for Cygnet Healthcare, London and have previously worked in NHS psychiatric hospitals to implement psychological interventions including innovative approaches such as CBT-music and other music & arts based therapeutic interventions. For details contact muntaha.sidrah@gmail.com. ©Copyright www.sidrahsite.wordpress.com

7 thoughts on “‘Umrao Jaan’: Women, Stigma & Shame”

  1.  ( 2012.03.6 16:37 ) : I just con&7ul#821d;t depart your web site prior to suggesting that I really enjoyed the standard info a person provide for your visitors? Is gonna be back often in order to check up on new posts


  2. All of the songs from this film are beautiful and describe Umraojaan’s journey through life with great musical eloquence. It’s Asha Bhosle rather than Lata Mangeshkar singing though.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This song sums up the inner turmoil of such women in a beautiful and eloquent manner.We as a society are far too critical and judgmental. Women in such circumstances are ostracized and deemed beyond the fringe of society. We should encourage and help each other to heal rather than causing further wounds. Unfortunately, music has become a tool to objectify women, rather than becoming a platform to create a shift in attitude. I also pay respect to these girls for their strength and resilience. Music has the power of empathy and you highlight that very well (:

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Your blogs are redefining our perception and understanding of these songs.

    They are exhilarating and enlightening.

    More of the same please!

    Liked by 1 person

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