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Retelling Ramayana through Sita, the Dalit women of Karnataka, finds courage and soliditary with Sita, who does not live as a story with them, but as beloved family member.
The story of Ramayana, engraved indelibly in our minds since childhood, involves Rama, the epitome of manhood, and Sita as the very apostle of silent devotion and unwavering virtue. Growing older, all of us at some point of time or the other, have contemplated the many Ramayanas, many Ramas and many Sitas- the ancient mythology acting as putty in the hands of story-tellers, historians and cultural commentators.
Re-viewing and resuscitating Sita, among a host of other marginal female characters in the Ramayana, has been a delicious pre-occupation for many a woman questioning the traditional memorialisation of the suffering Queen.
Adding to the constant attempts at empowering Sita in cultural memory, is Dalit activist Du Saraswati’s recent production staged in Bangalore, re-visiting Sita through the oral narratives of Dalit women in the villages of Karnataka.
The play opens with a domestic, yet opinionated, Dalit woman Sanntimmi (ironically meaning “little girl”), who narrates the story of Sita as remembered and re-told by women of her community. This is not the story centred around the dutiful Rama, but his exemplary wife Sita, whose voice and thoughts are given primacy, with the delicious flavour of the local and rural.
What is interesting here is not just the feminist perspective on Sita, but the Dalit feminist point of view. It is with Sita that the Dalit women feel most affinity with. Their sufferings are mirrored in her’s. The Dalits and Adivasis, with their close physical relationship with the earth- sowing, reaping, nurturing- feel one with Sita, the daughter of the Earth. Sita’s is a life marked with physical labour, emotional exploitation and hardly any gratitude. The parallel with the life of the Dalit woman, doubly-suppressed on the basis of caste and gender, is therefore unmistakable.
In Santimmi’s story of Sita, Ramayana is not a revered story of glorious kings, but the story of a woman, scorned and disrespected
In Santimmi’s story of Sita, Ramayana is not a revered story of glorious kings, but the story of a woman, scorned and disrespected. Ramayana, the sacrosanct text syndicated in the collective communal memory, mostly from the upper caste Hindu tradition, is now infused with deeper meaning by Santimmi, with her mischievous irreverence towards conventional patriarchs who waged war more for their manly pride than anything else. She alternates between poking fun at the kings, scolding them as if they were puerile schoolboys and hurling the choicest expletives at their shortcomings.
In the end, Santimmi signs off without killing Sita in the end. For the Dalit women in rural Karnataka, Sita is not just a household name, but almost like a beloved member of the household. She lives on as an example of dignified labour, and suffering sans histrionics, her story re-told with relish, with a sense of familial pride and recognition.
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Dabbling with many loves- literature and social development, quiet reading and loud activism, black coffee
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Sita’s Sister [Book Review]
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