The Ramayana dramatically begins with the poignant story of the Hunter who happened to kill the ‘Krauncha’ (heron) bird – and thus the sadness of Valmiki is brought out with spontaneity through a mighty holler, Ma Nishada, meaning ‘refrain, wild hunter!’ or ‘Don’t do that, wild hunter!’
From the Ramayana to the present times, the scene has just changed to this: in place of the bird is the woman and that of the wild hunter, the modern day man.
Today, everywhere she is targeted. She is branded. She is hounded. This doesn’t seem to be a new phenomenon for it has been so from time memorial. Look at our own scriptures – the ones I am familiar with - the Hindu scriptures. A recent reading of The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni which lends a poignant yet powerful voice for Draupadi, made me realize that she was truly a woman born into a man’s world. It must have been so difficult for her to be wife to five men! But who has drawn our attention to this aspect? She is in fact looked up as one super woman, one of the ‘panch kanyas’ (meaning five ideal wives) whose very remembrance is enough to wash off even the worst of sins, as per this sloka:
'Ahalya, Draupadi, Sita, Tara, Mandodari tatha,
Pancha kanya smare nityam maha papa vinasanam'
I chanced upon another eye opening article by Nilanjana S Roy (in the Business Standard) which relooked at five rapes/sexual assaults in our epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata: that of Sita’s abduction by Ravana; the disfiguration of Shoorpanaka; the disrobing of Dhraupadi in the royal court and the ‘sanctioned’ rapes of Amba and Ambalika. Yes, these made me look at our epics in a fresh perspective - that there are so many instances that smack of patriarchy and chauvinism.
Times now are no different. When I point out some cases here, it does not mean that there is nothing more than these. Oh, yes! There are ever so many Daminis. Anamikas. Nirbhayas. They all suffered. Few fought and won the battle like Sohaila Abdulali, who was raped in 1980. A born fighter, she writes, ‘I was wounded; my honour wasn’t.’ Some fought tooth and nail but lost the fight in the face of the powers of the establishment and male aggression. Some amongst them were hounded in police stations and courts, where they were forced to relive the horror and pain of the events, day after day. Many silently bore everything. Some weakly succumbed and found solace in a bottle of poison or a piece of rope.
Along with assault & rape comes pure vitriol. Look at how elected representatives and law upholders refer to rape victims with absolute impunity and insensitivity. With Jyoti Singh Pande’s incident we saw many who came out with ‘dented and painted’ remarks - which just revealed their dented and painted minds. With people like Dr. Ratish Kumar and Justice Basanth unleashing their venom on anti-girl tirades, I am proud that a chit of a girl like Arya stood up to protest, when a sea of women sat listening dispassionately to the speaker. Then came the saga of Amritha who was returning after ‘One Billion Rising” and was lewdly teased by some youngsters. When things reached a flash point, Amritha did not hesitate to bring out the tricks up her sleeve. A Kalaripayattu expert and a Karate Black Belt, she rattled her tormentor. “Right is right even if no one is doing it; wrong is wrong even if everyone is doing it", said Saint Augustine of Hippo. Atta girls!
One of our ministers, Vayalar Ravi, hurled sexist innuendos at a woman reporter of a media house and then in the face of rising rage and criticism from all quarters made a semblance of an apology. I saw the video wherein the Minister said that he told the girl “not to take it to heart.” Even then the word “sorry” was least forthcoming.
Each day new twists are breathed life by our drama-savvy politicians. After 17 years of unmitigated distress and harassment - physical, mental and emotional -and another politician, MP Sudhakaran, spewed venom today and says the Suryanelli girl had consensual sex and it is not rape!! Actually what the man, who is notorious for his antics, a loud mouth and who suffers from verbal diarrhoea did was mirroring the insecurities of the psyche of his ilk. Looking at reactions of many men to this and other similar incidents, i.e. the character assignation of the Suryanelli girl by Justice Basanth, the veiled innuendo of Vayalar Ravi against a lady reporter and comments in the social media in response to the bravado of Arya and Amritha make me wonder if the highly patriarchal men are losing their foothold and orchestrating support for their tribe!
They are worried that women's empowerment is gaining momentum.
They are apprehensive that their sense of security and supremacy is gradually eroding.
They dread that the economic freedom as well as power of choice that women enjoy will sabotage the upper hand that they have gained over women many many centuries ago.
If The Report of the Committee on Amendments to Criminal Law headed by Justice J.S. Verma and his colleagues are enacted in the parliament, they are vexed it will protect the right to dignity, autonomy and freedom of victims of sexual assault and rape – thus cramping the style of many who have money and power with them, to get away not only from these crimes but also cold, premeditated murder.
Come on women. Let us unite. May a billion of our kind rise all over the country! Let us voice our strong opinion against any kind of oppression. Yes, only the drum is to be beaten! That is the very need of the hour!!!
PS: And to patriarchal men: Ma Nishada!!Sources and reference:
1. The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
5. http://bit.ly/Z8kzbX (Dr. Rathish Kumar’s controversial talk)
6. http://bit.ly/Z8fkZJ (Interview with Amritha)