We belong to a country where Draupadi and Sita are idolized – not for their valour and strength of character rather for their questionless submission to the male phallocentric order. This is the same country where women are beaten, raped, represses, tortured, mutilated and killed everyday for – well, just being a pair of XX chromosome.
Groups of entitled men who were handed down the “power-knowledge”, probably some centuries ago have interpreted the religious scriptures and texts to serve their own crooked agenda. They have been the ones who have perpetuated a false but deeprooted sense of what defines a woman and what defines a man. And what a better way to instil false consciousness than to make the entire society believe that female figures whom we worship as goddesses are nothing more an epitome of selfless sacrifices? Really, is this image of women who have suffered relentlessly because of presumptuous, false masculinity an ideal image?
Let us take a moment and delve into the tales of two epic female characters that every child in India are made familiar with. First is Sita, an avatar of the Goddess Lakshmi and a dutiful wife of Lord Rama, who had to spend 14 years in exile just keep the word of her husband. She was then abducted by demon Ravana, until the time that she was saved by Rama. What followed this was a senseless and illogical set of events. She was asked to prove her unwavering virtue by undergoing the agnipariksha; even after that, she was banished to the forest while she was pregnant and eventually this is how she became a single mother to the twins Luv and Kush.
Her ordeals didn’t end here, when she met Rama, she was again asked to prove her innocence to which she prayed to Mother Earth, who swallowed her into her depths. This is an image of Sita that runs in the popular versions of Ramayana. She is no more than a helpless damsel who is forever in distress and always submits herself to the unjust and unfair demands of her “highly principled” husband and society.
This is how we define an ideal woman – a woman who dedicates all her happiness and life to the notions of her husband. This is the version of Sita that we all bear in our mind. Essentially, she is nothing more than a victim who always needs a hero to save her.
How many of us see the sheer strength and power in her character? Do we ever realize the fact that it requires determination to stand by your love despite knowing that there is lack of faith in the relation and bring up two young kids on one’s own? Is she not an inspiration for the empowered women who chose or not chose to do certain things? Very few of us actually see her side of the story in this light. In principle, we have conditioned ourselves to see her as women who suffered all her life and we worship her for that.
Now, let’s come to our second epitome of the tortured woman– Draupadi. Her life was also nothing short of a roller coaster ride. From being asked on whom to marry (Lord Krishna), to getting “equally-divided” among Pandavs, to being pawned in the game by her husbands, to being molested in a hall full of gatekeepers of dharma, to watching her children being mercilessly killed at the midnight – the list of her sufferings is endless.
And, it is in her ill-treatment and commodification, we are being told, her sacrifice, and hence, her greatness lies. It is the violence against her, both physical and emotional which is glorified; to avenge for her suffering, her husbands who “share her” like a piece of the pie, go to the battleground.
She does suffer, but she doesn’t suffer silently. She doesn’t hang her head in shame rather questions the double standards and dubious morality of the so-called elders who chose to keep their mouth shut when she was given the bestial treatment in front of their eyes. She stands for herself and raises her voice when clearly all the king’s men and all the king’s horses fail to do so. She is not the woman to be pitied rather she is the formidable force within the epic whom we all should draw inspiration. Yet, the bulk of the masses see her either as an enchantress or a victim, not as the fearless feminine that she was.
Our society has always promoted traditions and stories where female figures are idolized as powerless and weak. It’s high time we change the way we read our epics if we cannot stop reading them. It is the time that we re-imagine them not only in ‘expensive’ novels or scholarly articles but also for the masses. For as long as we bow our heads down to such women who are being idolized as the epitome of tortured women and continue to worship the sagas of violence against women, we are giving the perpetrators of crime an excuse to fall back upon and violate millions of Sitas and Draupadis that are born in Indian homes. There is no “Indian” masculine or feminine. There is only human.