Recently Kailash Vijayvargiya, a BJP Minister from Madhya Pradesh, India, has said that if the women of India breach the lines of morality, they will be punished, just like Sita (http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2013-01-05/india/36161573_1_kailash-vijayvargiya-babulal-gaur-maryada). While the statement is highly regressive and offensive, what is important is that it did not quite stir a hornets’ nest, except for some condemnation in the social media and a few hours wasted on the visual media.
Does this reveal a passive acknowledgement of such mindset?
This leads me to the question – did Sita err?
In Ramayana, when Sita sends Lakshman to help Rama during their exile in the jungles, Lakshman is supposed to have drawn a line (of morality) asking Sita not to breach it under any circumstances. When Ravan is supposed to have come in the guise of an ascetic asking for alms, he provoked Sita to come out and give him the arms, as he was unable to cross the zone too. According to a poetic version of this episode from the Bengali poem “Meghnadbadh Kabya” (slaying of Meghnad) written by Michael Madhusudan Dutt, Ravan is supposed to have told Sita – “Give me alms, or say you will not, so that I may go elsewhere. Are you unwilling to serve a guest today, O daughter of Janak? Do you want to blacken the house of the Raghu’s with the scandal of this, Married into it though you are?...)*
If we go with the above or any version, Ravan, in the guise of an ascetic is supposed to have threatened Sita with dire consequences for denying alms to an ascetic. So what choice did Sita have?
If Sita declined to step out and give alms to the ascetic as was the norm of the day, she would insult her illustrious in-laws, the clan of the Raghu’s who were known for being the upholders of morals and principles. She would have further maligned the family of her father, King Janak for poor upbringing which had not taught its daughters to serve ascetics. Wasn’t Sita simply following the rules set by the patriarchal norms of the then society? Just how did she breach the moral limits (so regressively known as Lakshman rekha)? Was Sita left with any choice, but to do what seemed to be the need of the hour?
This was a peculiar predicament for Sita. If she agreed with the moral code of her in-laws, then she could have harmed the established norms of the society, and if she catered to the societal norms, then she would have broken the moral code of her in-laws. At the end of the day, Sita was in such a tragic state, because she decided to follow her husband, kidnapped by a King, because her brother-in-law severed the nose of a jungle woman, and later asked to prove her chastity, by her husband. In all the cases, she had to suffer the acts of men. In spite of her unflinching loyalty and dedication, she is misunderstood, punished and banished, without ever given a chance to explain.
Sita endured it, for she had no choice as the moral-brigade of the times had enforced their rules. In her case, it was just not the King who questioned her but even a lowly born mortal (read ‘man’) questioned her morality. She was punished time and again for this single act of hers in many ways than one. But can the same norms be seen as an acceptable code of conduct today? Can stepping out at 9.30pm with a male companion be seen as a breach of morality and thus be punished and that too in such a brutal manner? Should women of today, (and I am not referring just to the 10-20% of the educated city-bred working women) live by the norms of the Puranic times? Should the modern woman, suffer what is better known as the Sita Syndrome? Also, just who are these self-appointed upholders of the medieval morality and what is their authority?
This is not just a feminine issue; it is a matter of civilisation. We cannot have predators roaming around with naked lust, and hide our women from their bloodthirsty eyes. We need to eliminate the predators themselves and let our women roam around freely in this country. We also need to vehemently shut the mouths of all the incorrect utterances of the fossilised moral brigade (be they the politicians or religious heads) and ensure that they simply do not exist. It is they who need to be put on leash, not our women.
Friends and readers of this Blog raise your voice and object to the abject utterances!
*Translated in English by William Radice, Penguin Edition