Did Rama doubt Sita? – The episode of Agni Pravesham (and not Pariksha)

I had written this post for my blog on Speaking Tree (published in December 2013. Sounds like long back. But the topic is not dated at all :-))

Ramayana had caught my fantasy even as a toddler. The anecdote that introduced me to the epic was about the infant Rama crying for the moon. When nothing else could appease or divert him, his doting step mother, Kaikeyi calmed him by showing him the image of the moon in a mirror. As a child of three or four, I could connect to the cuddly toddler Rama who cried for unattainable things.

As I grew up, I wondered about the importance of this anecdote especially when it had no tellable influence on the plot of Ramayana. In my teens, the narratives of Sri Rama failed to impress me. The episodes of Agni Pariksha and the subsequent abandonment of Sita had started to give me a feeling that we as a culture have only inherited a legacy that punished a chaste woman for no mistake of hers. The philosophical explanations did not help much either. All the anger aside, I used to wonder what kind of a hypocrisy could make us extol Sita as well as sing glories of the one who abandoned her for no sin of hers.

It was a later flash which struck me about the symbolism of  Rama yearning for the moon that is unattainable and hence had to be content with the image of moon. It was much like he had to be content with the statue of Sita during the Ashwamedha Yajna which as a climactic end, brings him closer to his sons.

It was then that I started to re-read the agni pariksha episode with more curiosity than anger. A couple of words chosen by Valmiki in the episode intrigued me even more. We all know that the Ramayana was narrated by Lava and Kusha in the court of Rama. In the first chapter, Ramayana is described as the great story of Sita and that of the destruction of Ravana. When Lava and Kusha get ready to narrate the story, Rama is seen as instructing his brothers to listen carefully as the work contains intriguing words.

The first intriguing word I encountered while reading the Agnipariksha episode was the one Rama uses to address Sita before declaring his detachment. ‘Bhadre‘. The meanings of the root word  Bhadra are many. Auspicious, fortunate, fair, beautiful, blessed, happy and similar meanings. If Rama had actually doubted her chastity and was planning to abandon her, the usage of this word with any of the above meanings would only highlight the irony of the context. One can wonder if the irony was intended. As I read further, another metaphor caught my attention.  Rama says to sita, “With a doubt arising on your character, you are as unaccepatable to me as lamp is to the one whose sight is defective.” The metaphor further highlighted the irony as it is clear that the short sight is the inability to appreciate the light from the lamp is of the eye sight and not of the lamp. Rama is seen as referring to himself as the short-sighted one and Sita as the lamp.

There is also the part where he says that the war was fought in a bid to reclaim Rama’s honour and not for Sita. If we read the earlier scenes, there is one (at the beginning of the war) where Rama describes to Lakshmana about how much he misses Sita (while she is in the captivity). He goes ahead to appeal to the wind to pass by Sita and come to him so that he could feel her presence. He agains says that he is content with touching the earth because he knows that his Sita lives on the very same earth. Would the same Rama who at a point of time seems like he lives for Sita be able to utter as harsh a sentence like “I have nothing to do with you”? If the intended irony of Valmiki is not observed, one can very well take Rama as a split personality. It also makes a laughable case when he says that no man with honour would accept a woman who is sullied by another’s company and hence Sita can be free of him and set her mind on Lakshmana, Bharata or Shatrughna or even Sugriva (like they don’t have any honour or he does not care for that?)

The study made me wonder if the conversation really took place. Or if it was scripted by Valmiki deliberately as he knew that it was going to be sung in the presence of the citizens of Ayodhya who had subsequently cast a doubt on Sita’s Chastity. Did Valmiki take an opportunity to portray the ‘short sightedness’ of Ayodhya citizens in being unable to recognize the lamp that was sita? (Even as he used Rama’s character to depict the same). The combination of words, the deviation from Rama’s usual character in this one episode convinces me of such a possibility. The experiences of hearing a slander on one’s chastity is a fire ordeal in itself, much more to a woman like Sita.

The consistency of Rama’s character can be seen when he installs Sita’s statue by his side for the Ashwamedha showing in his own subtle way to every one that it was not he who ever doubted her. One might argue if he loved Sita so much why did he not abdicate the throne and go with her. In my understanding, such an act would not only have disturbed the social balance in the city, but would also have condemned Rama’s children to the same slander. Instead of running away from the city, he stayed on to ultimately give his sons, their much deserved inheritence before giving up the throne to follow Sita. Yes, it now appeals to me that Rama is the true embodiment of Dharma not because he gave up his wife for a ‘larger good’ (else one can question the very truth of the larger good), but because he persisted to not let the slander affect Sita’s children and did not let them fade into obscurity.

Ab ki Baar QWERTY Sarkaar – A concerned citizen takes stock of Indian General elections 2029

I had written this inspired by a spur of witty conversation on Twitter. This was published by Swarajya in March 2015 http://swarajyamag.com/politics/ab-ki-baar-qwerty-sarkar/)

As the world’s largest democracy gears up for its general elections in 2029, the results of the race to power are fairly evident.  Much to the anguish of liberal India which is just a sad minority, QWERTY of Bharatiya Janata Party seems to be the favored leader according to the internet polls and the social media. I only weep in silence at the rash choice of young India for an industry fanatic like QWERTY over the pro-people contenders like Arvind Kejriwal of the Aam Aadmi Party and Rahul Gandhi of the Congress party. The younger generation sadly seems to be in the delusion that QWERTY represents a younger version of Narendra Modi and Atal Bihari Vajpayee of the yesteryears’ BJP.

Keeping political inclinations aside for a moment, one would be greatly insulting the development man of India, Narendra Modi, by comparing fascist and dictatorial QWERTY to him. I was an active detractor of Narendra Modi in the historic 2014 elections when he swept the nation leading the BJP to an unprecedented majority. But I, and all my compatriots admit without hesitation that Narendra Modi carried an air of commitment towards the country which QWERTY can only badly mimic in his rhetorical campaign speeches.

Narendra Modi, despite having his political origins in the Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh, a fascist Hindu organization, set himself apart from their ideology. The country cannot forget the pro-people commitment in his memorable statement “Pehle Shouchalay phir Devalay”. The regrettable statement of “Vyapar karo Naukri nahi” to the rural youth by QWERTY is sadly being pepped up as the slogan of the decade. One shudders to think about the consequences when a whole generation thinks of a salaried job as a burden and favours Vyapar!

Acknowledged as amongst the most powerful leaders in the world, Narendra Modi received a pittance for his pay, only higher than that of his Chinese counterpart. His assets would hover around a meager figure of Rs. 1 Crore, which is less than a decade’s earning for today’s corporate executives. QWERTY, on the other hand, flaunts his fashionable wardrobe as a ‘testimony’ to his entrepreneurial past. How can one equate him with Narendra Modi, who devotedly stuck to his simple kurta?

QWERTY’s anti-minority stance bared its horns when he roared in his Patna rally that gods should be restricted to homes and hearts. His unabashed hatred for religious minorities stares into our eyes as he said, “you are India’s sons first and devotees of your gods next”. Can’t the star-struck youth see the brazen patriarchal tyranny in the statement?

Our generation remembers mutely the Narendra Modi who graced Christian congregations and spoke about Swami Vivekananda, showing the diversity of thought in the India we remember. Crimes against minorities were pursued with increased agility in Modi’s regime. QWERTY’s assertion of equality in crime can only pale in front of Modi’s true secular credentials.

Gone are the days where the political leaders of BJP gave space to opposing views. The “candle holder”, as those on twitter call me, can only sigh in sympathy for the simple-minded, bespectacled, kurta clad man whose pro-women, pro-people, pro-country legacy is going to be usurped by a brazen businessman-turned-tyrant who will force a country of 1.4 billion into a dark, risky uncertain regime which he packages as ‘entrepreneurial’.

‘India’s Daughter’: The Problems I See With It

This was published in Swarajya in March 2015 (http://swarajyamag.com/culture/indias-daughter-the-problems-i-see-with-it/) and before that the first part was first published in Mirror to India (https://mirrortoindia.wordpress.com/2015/03/04/indias-daughter-the-problems-around-it-as-i-see/)

After a day of outrage (against the video), I started to ponder on the points that led me to oppose the much discussed video. My ponderings brought me a welcome relief by realizing that the end outcome wished by both the stances is the same – a safer world for women. The ones supporting the video (the saner ones) argue that we as a society need to stop living in denial about the atrocities happening amidst us and need to face the devil within. The other side including me has multiple points from different angles. Most of the saner arguments boil down to aspects below.

– Providing an undeserved platform to a perpetrator of a heinous crime that has shocked the country, a shock that nearly destroyed the faith in the society and system.

– Loose usage of terms like “Rape Culture”, “Majority of Indian men think like this”, “Showing the mirror” are thoughts of as more damaging to the cause than strengthening it.

– A criminal commits a crime only after convincing his own perverted conscience with some perverted sense of entitlement and legitimacy. There is no rocket science to it. A thief reiterates the one having more money does not deserve it, a murderer decides that the one he is going to kill has no right to live and rapist is sure to justify that the victim/survivor asked for it. All the criminals blatantly disrespect and belittle the law, constitution and the system. Many opine that this is exactly how a criminal thinks which is well known and is not an issue which needs a documentary to understand and analyze.

I agree with all the above reasons. My greatest pain has been in realizing the stereotypes the self proclaimed feminists have taken to the town in supporting the video. I hail from a middle class family settled in a town (now a city) in Andhra Pradesh. In my childhood, I have seen my parents struggle to provide me a take-off point in life which would give me more than what they got from their parents. As I finished my schooling, I could gauge an increasing social pressure to provide equal education to girls from same middle class peers. Apart from the academic pressures and career stereo types, I sense the developments as welcome changes.

Today when I visit back my native place, I see girls coming from the remote villages to work or study, braving the twilight travel twice a day through unlit roads. Though their struggle moves me, it gives me the satisfaction of the society going on a right track albeit barriers and obstacles. Fathers, brothers, colleagues, husbands do send their women to claim their rightful public places and that is the Indian male contributing to gender equity which makes me proud and secure.

So the brigade wanting to ‘show the mirror’ needs to contemplate who they want to show the mirror to.

To the Indian father who sends his daughter to far off places so that she studies/works to claim her rightful social share?

To the Indian male colleague who do their bit in making the work place even a tiny bit more friendly and secure to women employees?

To the Indian friend who supports his female friends in variety of free choices and growth?

To the Indian husband who participates in household chores and strives to see his wife succeeding in her career?

To those cab drivers who ferry women to the safety of their homes during late nights? (The bad ones make news and the hundreds of good ones don’t. Of course doing your duty is not something to make news)

To tea-stall vendors, Security boys and countless people on the roads who do their bit in making the world a safer place?

No, I am not glorifying the above men. Neither am I doing an emotional pitch for them. Each of the men mentioned above is contributing to gender equality doing his duty. I dare ask the feminist achievers if they came up in their lives with no male contributing to their success at all? I don’t mean to belittle the stereotypes that they fight, but are they creating new ones in order to fight the old ones thus defeating the very cause of equality?

What we strive for, the world safer for women is an evolutionary goal. Evolution needs each of us to build strong steps to climb upon and build the next steps. And this flight to evolution can be built upon strengths and not by blowing up weaknesses. If the documentary makers are indeed interested to contribute to the cause truly, they would be making inspiring videos of those day labourers whose daughters have made good headlines instead of promoting negative stereotyping about cultures that they hardly tapped into. They would be showing the resilient women and supportive men instead of claiming to show mirrors that are not. They would be appealing to reason and evolution of minds instead of publicizing terrorizing statements by sick minds.

If we are to broadly categorize the Indian men, there are many advancing towards the much awaited gender equal world. They hold dreams for their women and might have fears for them as well. Keep in mind, that rural father or elder brother who sends his daughter/sister to work and study but has a problem with her going to a cinema. Appeal to his vision to broaden even more and call him over to the side of your ideal world . Don’t threaten his roots and push him to the other side, for that would make the world tougher to women and defeat the very cause!

On a side note about those racist perverts who are trying to demonize “majority of Indian men” as rapists, I would dare to say they are unprofessional dishonest and unethical individuals who are capitalizing on the tragedy of a dead girl to sell their narrow minded self serving agendas which would harm the larger interests of not only this country but the world too. And I, a daughter of India along with my sisters, the increasing number of aspiring women workforce stand as a testimony disproving the crap they want to paint my country with!

“India’s Daughter” – How it failed the daughters of India

The British Broadcasting Corporation had to indeed choose the day of Holi to broadcast the documentary “India’s daughter”, despite the concerns expressed by the Govt of India.  Upon viewing the video, I could not help wondering if this was not at all a coincidence. Following the advice of some friends I struggled to keep my mind open to view the video. I am definitely going to fall short of words in describing what I actually felt after watching it. It was a feeling akin of being stabbed in the soul again. It was like getting all my wounds opened up again and being given no medication. I swallowed the details of painful ordeal, Jyoti Singh’s parents had to undergo. I took in the monstrous way in which she was assaulted and murdered from a totally remorseless criminal. Worst of all I had to listen to the self  sanctimonious sermon of those lawyers about some ‘best culture’ knowing that they knew and respected zilch about Indian culture.

The ending of the grueling video felt like a slap, like a mockery with an invisible voice taunting that they can come in and shoot and present the details to their selective satisfaction, open up our wounds and still take a moral high ground. The next day, I hear from news speculating about payments given to the criminal by the film makers for telling us about how his ‘courage’ deserved sexual submission by a free spirited girl! I still do not know how much dirtier the issue can get if an appropriate legal investigation is conducted.

Regardless of the procedures, as a woman, I severely felt let down by another woman. I realized it was not about India’s image outside. That is more determined by the behavior of Indian Diaspora out of India as my western friends assured me. It is not even about alleging all Indian men as someone needing this horrendous ‘mirror’ as I had feared before watching the video. I am prepared to even overlook the needless focus of the camera on the statue of Shiva-Parvati. (Someone is obviously desperate to challenge faith rather than raise relevant questions and someone needs to be charitable about it, fine!)  But it is the sheer casual attitude with which the discourse on rape was derailed which came as a shock. The video severely failed India’s daughters while flaunting the title by thrusting the accountability of a heinous crime on to something loosely (and wrongly) labeled as ‘culture and society’.

I strongly believe we live in the times where people make a system that protects them and abide by the code of the system. We call it constitution. Events like crimes of any nature reflect a failure of the system and as a breach of the code by some people. The video does NOT critique the speed of corrective action by judiciary. It does not even touch the periphery of law making regarding the issue. It raises no awareness about the civil initiatives against the crimes such as rape. There are scores of NGOs that fight against atrocities against women despite all odds and they don’t get a mention! Worst of all, it gives the perpetrators, a full platform to seek legitimacy of their action from their perverted understanding of culture and society.

The narrative in the video elaborates on poverty and troubled childhood of the perpetrators as if circumstances can take the blame. Do the film makers want us to believe that the crime does not exist among the rich, educated and socially suave?  If the fault lies in the ‘Indian Society’ as the film maker wants us to believe, then there have to be societies around the world that have overcome the crime. But a preliminary online research shows that rape is a global shame and no society has been really successful in eradicating it. So who is to take the responsibility for the atrocity according to Leslee Udwin?

A litmus test about the intent of the video would be to examine individual feelings just after viewing it. Is it a resolve to continue in the path to an atrocity-free world or a broken faith on the law and the people? I felt the latter. Yes, the makers of “India’s daughter” grossly failed the daughters of India.

PS : To the daughters/sisters of those monstrous lawyers who said women had no place in our culture. I, a daughter of India care for you, a daughter of India too. Please immediately do what another daughter of India did in our scriptures when she was stuck among atrocious kin. Her name is Devi Rukmini. She has a revered place in Bhagavatam (I am sure that lawyer knows nothing about it)