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“Over centuries, Draupadi became wise. This time she did not go to her husbands. She went to her daughters. A million daughters. Because this time the daughters will fight for her and her only, and not for kingdoms or crowns.”
Draupadi lies on the raj darbar amidst a heap of clothes. 16, a princess, married to 5 of the greatest warriors of her time lies helpless. The darbar was silent. And so was Gaandhari. Dushashan looked exhausted.
In silence, a few centuries passed.
Until one night, Sanjaya rushed to meet Dhritarashtra. Sanjaya said, “My King, there is a battle, I can see as I close my eyes.”
“Battle?” asked Dhritarashtra worried.
“But Sir, I only see women, said Sanjaya.
“Women, on a battlefield. You are old now Sanjaya, you are hallucinating.”
“No, my King, I am not,” replied Sanjaya. Dhritarashtra’s mouth becomes dry. He muttered, “Is there anyone from the royal family?”
“No Sir, I only see Draupadi with her open hair and a million women huddling around her,” replied Sanjaya.
Dhritarashtra asks again, “Where are her husbands? Is Arjuna there with his Gandhiva?”
“No, my lord, I only see women. Not women of importance. Just ordinary women,” replied Sanjaya. Dhritarashtra in his centuries of ruling felt confused. Women, he thought to himself, are on a battlefield. He questions again, “What do they want? Some jewelry?” He almost laughed at it.
Sanjaya looked grim, his eyes still closed. Dhritarashtra knew that good news was not to follow. Sanjaya was wise. He put his hand on the palace walls. He could feel the quivers. He knew Dhritarashtra wouldn’t hear what he just did.
Sanjaya then recounted in a monotone of what he saw.
“A thousand women, I see, marching. Some have children clutched to their bosom. Some don’t. Some women I know to work with the medicine men. Some with the court jester. Some with the village Pandit, who wrote down the slokas for his male disciples to read. Some clean the raj darbar where men sat to decide their destinies. Some cook in our kitchen, where the first ladle of food is always served to men. My King, I see them coming. They don’t have weapons, but only each other.”
“Are they hungry or their children unfed?” Asked Dhritarashtra breaking into the conversation.
Sanjaya the wise, paused. He breathed in deeply. He continued, “No my King, they are neither hungry nor are the children. They are all muttering #MeToo and calling out men for sexual violence.”
Sanjaya continued, “The women who worked with one of the jesters say that he touched her inappropriately. She wants him to be removed. The court jester who always talked about respecting women is silent. The women who worked with the court messenger say that while they worked hard to bring the news from far off villages and forests, the court messenger wanted sexual favors. He made it clear that the one who gives it, only her news will travel to the Raj Darbar.”
“The court dancer says that the dance master and the actor molested her. The cook says she was groped. And my King, each day the numbers are rising.”
Dhritarashtra laughed, he said, “These women are liars. They are already fallen as they get out of home to work.”
The palace was closed. More guards sat vigil so that the women could not enter. The men in the raj darbar put out a notice that women could only get out for two hours a day. And should be covered from head to toe. If they venture out, a man should accompany them. Every girl should be married before puberty, lest they become impure. Widows must be burnt. And if any woman complains of sexual misconduct, she is asking for it.
Thus a thousand year passed by. Dhritarashtra stayed safe with his sons in the castle- until one day the flakes off the walls of the palace started to fall.
Dhritarashtra summoned Sanjaya once again and asked him to narrate why the well-guarded palace was rattling.
Sanjaya closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He looked terrified and said, “My lord, I see a throng of women. I don’t know how to count so many. Some wear tattered clothes. Some wear nothing. Others have veils. But they all have bloodthirsty eyes. They are raging. It seems like a sea bathed in blood marching. I can’t see anymore. They are marching. Uncountable women. Marching on and on towards the palace. I can’t see anymore.” Sanjaya voice trails off.
The palace shook, and in came a very old messenger. He spoke without losing breath, “My King, the palace guards have fallen.”
Suddenly everything fell silent. Dhritarashtra face was crestfallen.
The messenger continued, “My King, Something is wrong. No one knows how and why. But men who were always feared are apologizing, as they find their names struck to the walls of the fort. Everyone could read them. The actor, the jester, the cook, the minister, the dance master, everyone is issuing an unconditional apology. Also, the court jester stepped down and the actor’s plays are being canceled. The women have already broken the gates.”
Dhritarashtra suddenly exclaimed, “Can’t we just shame them, calling them attention seeking whores or anything else?”
Sanjaya gently said, “The women this time refuse to be shamed. They have had enough. There is nothing much we can do.”
“Who are these women? Why is Draupadi so fearless?” questioned Dhritarashtra.
Sanjaya once again spoke, “My King, remember that day when Draupadi was raging in the raj darbar and everyone was silent? That day her voice traveled through the centuries. Her rage built courage in the hearts of women yet to be named. From her anguish that day about what we all did to her, so many daughters were born. These daughters like Draupadi are born of fire. They are here to burn us down and not to apologize like their mothers.“
Sanjaya continued, “Over centuries, Draupadi became wise. This time she did not go to her husbands. She went to her daughters. A million daughters. Because this time the daughters will fight for her and her only, and not for kingdoms or crowns. This time no Krishna will go to negotiate for five villages.”
That night in many centuries Dhritarashtra was sleepless.
Next morning the palace messenger beat his drum hard and announced, “In the light of the accusation levied against the men of the palace, each man has been asked to step down until further probe, with immediate effect.”
Dhritarashtra’s hundred sons were the first to step down.
The Kingdom felt silent. The women still kept marching and raging.
A rumor hit the people that in a faraway kingdom a Queen called Sita refused to give the Agnipariksha.
And Draupadi’s daughters made sure that this time Draupadi did not go into exile. They just kept marching forward with rage, clutching Draupadi to their bosoms.
Image source: a still from the movie Gulaab Gang
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Proud Indian. Senior Writer at Women's Web. Columnist. Book Reviewer. Street Theatre - Aatish. Dreamer.
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