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Why Didn’t You Speak Up For Us Women, Sita?!

As a child, I asked, why didn't Rama stand by his wife when there were aspersions cast on her by his people? Why didn't Sita's father, King Janak take his daughter back home? Why didn't Sita protest about this injustice?

As a child, I asked, why didn’t Rama stand by his wife when there were aspersions cast on her by his people? Why didn’t Sita’s father, King Janak take his daughter back home? Why didn’t Sita protest about this injustice?

When the legendary epic Ramayan was being telecasted at the beginning of lockdown my family was thrilled of reliving the pleasant experience of watching the iconic show again. There used to be undivided silence in my home and the surrounding during the streaming of the show.

But while all were in hurry to reserve their place in front of the TV set I used to be engaged in the kitchen.

I was making preparations for the meal. My sister-in-law bustled into the kitchen to take her breakfast plate, but taken by surprise at my supposed presence in the kitchen by that time, she asked me — won’t you watch Ramayan? I said no I don’t like the epic, so instead I will cook the meal for you all. She pulled a face and went out telling me I was being silly.

I understood what she was thinking, but reacting is not my nature, so I calmly kept working.

My dislike for this time revered epic can be hard to understand by any fervent lover of our culture, even though I’m not an atheist and don’t disregard the venerated epic. I too admire the lessons of brotherhood, the aplomb in Lord Ram’s character, Laxman’s loyalty, Bharat’s indisputable love and respect for his elder brother, a law abiding and principled king Dasharatha, the earnest disciple Hanuman, and many characters that hold great virtues of life. The epic expounds on the idealistic way of leading life. If the teachings of the Ramayan are incorporated into life one will grow into a more humble being.

But, just as much as I have regard for the positives, I can’t accept the unprincipled part of the epic.

All those subservient women – why?

The reason behind my dislike is the overmodest Sita and her absolute dependency on her husband. Throughout the epic, Sita is a submissive woman and virtually has no role except standing by her husband, and complying with him.

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Be it Sita, Urmila, Ahalya, Mondadori or Sarama (Vibhishana’s wife) all the characters have been painted as passive and submissive. Other than shedding tears being subservient, no other dimension has been given to these female characters that could be a role model to boost the self-confidence of women of the future.

I don’t know whether it’s the male perspective of the greatest poet of that era that only sees women under protection, and fettered with an infinite code of conduct that ultimately makes them helpless. But as history has witnessed in this land, the burden of family’s respect and dignity is only women’s concern and men are quite liberal on many grounds.

There are a lot of possibilities in the poem where Valmiki could have poured some power into the female characters, except those who speak up and are portrayed as the villains. He could have presented them as warriors instead of a coy princess. Instead of essaying their roles with no say, the poet could have presented them as the epitome of women power.

Growing up with the Ramayan

My aversion to the Ramayan has developed and advanced long back, in my childhood. In those days we did not have a television. We used to have puppet shows in the community, and I used to watch them eagerly. And the climax when Sita sacrifices herself into the rift of earth, impacted my innocent mind so deeply that I used to sob, literally. Whenever I asked my grandmother about this, she pacified me by saying a woman has to sacrifice.

Probably I was between 7 to 8 years old then, but a lot of things like this rankled. I could never come to term with ‘Agni-Parikhya’ that Sita has to go through to prove herself innocent.

Besides that a lot of questions were bothering me. Like, why didn’t Rama stand by his wife when there were aspersions cast on her by his people? Why didn’t Sita’s father, King Janak take his daughter back home? Why didn’t Sita protest about this injustice?

My grandmother was my only source to whom I could talk about my opinions. Sometimes she honestly agreed with my logic with a faint smile, and sometimes she would be annoyed and tell me to invest my mind more in studies. Perhaps she had no answer to my questions.

On some occasions of my life, I couldn’t muster my courage to protest, and gave up on the prejudices of the world. I have been brought up in such a milieu that my mind has been conditioned to take the injustice silently like Sita. That is what I have seen around me while growing up.

What if Sita had protested?

I always feel the epic is written with a motive to incorporate the submissiveness and all ‘feminine virtues’ of Sita into every girl child, and how they are supposed to behave, both in parents and at their in-law’s house.

Way back If Sita would have dared to raise her voice, today the women may not be conditioned to be shy and unassertive. They may be upfront about their rights. As a princess, Sita could have used her status to protest all of this, and empower females.

Indian tradition regarded Sita as an exemplary daughter, a paragon of a law abided wife. Every Indian family wants an embodiment of Sita as their daughter-in-law, no matter whether their sons follow the positive attributes of Lord Rama or not.

My dislike for the epic was this entrenched in my childish mind then, and I could never get over it. The female’s role in the greatest work of history of ancient India has never been an inspiration for me, rather it stunts me. Thus I never watch this time revered epic that has been the reason for my low self-esteem.

Image source: a still from the TV series Ramayan

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