Disclaimer: This is a rant. If you do not like rants or are currently not in the mood for one, please feel free to leave.
The other day my family was watching a random episode of Mahabharat, as we all are, and I happened to pass by. It was one of the later episodes, in which all 100 Kauravas are killed and their mother, Gandhari is seen mourning their death. Kunti, the mother of the five Pandavas and Draupadi, their wife, come in to console her. Gandhari blames Draupadi for her sons’ death and curses her (like, a literal curse, not just calling her a bitch or something). She reasons that if Draupadi had forgiven them in the first place, this carnage would not have happened at all.
For those unfamiliar with the epic, Duryodhan, the eldest Kaurava and Dushaasan, the second-eldest, had publicly humiliated Draupadi in the famous Chausar session which ultimately led to the great war of the Mahabharata. Duryodhan had made lewd remarks about her Dushaasan had tried to unravel her sari and render her naked in the famous cheer-haran episode.
Now Lord Krishna had prevented her sari from ever unravelling, but that’s not the point. The point is that Gandhari, herself a woman, expected Draupadi to forgive her sons for this outrageous attack on her dignity. One might be able to forgive Gandhari for once- she’d just lost all her sons. But it’s not just Gandhari; most Indian people you talk to will agree that the Mahabharata happened because of Draupadi.
First of all, that is a gross oversimplification. If that was the case, the Mahabharata would not have been the longest epic in the entire world. A multitude of reasons led to the war, but we’ll not go into those right now. The point I’m trying to get at is, why blame Draupadi at all? Was it her fault that Kunti, without looking at “what” Arjun had got, asked her sons to distribute “it” amongst themselves? Was it her fault that those stupid men complied? Was it her fault that Yudhishthira, after losing all of their wealth in the Chausar game chose to bet himself, his brothers and even their wife? Was it her fault that Dushaasan and Duryodhan publicly humiliated her?
The answer is a big fat No. Just because Draupadi refused to take all the injustices traditionally done to a woman standing down, just because she spoke out, she was made the scapegoat. Just because she opened her mouth, she was a bitch. Just because she, through no fault of her own, had to have five husbands, she was a whore. In the entire history of the world, nobody called out kings for their sluttiness when they had multiple wives by choice.
Let’s look at the other epic, the more boring one, if I may say so: the Ramayana. Ravana was the one who kidnapped Sita, but when Lord Ram got her back, Sita was told to prove her chastity by walking through fire. Nobody asked Ram to prove his chastity, even though he’d been to many more places while Sita was bundled up in the Ashok Vatika. What’s more, people laud Ravana for ‘despite all his flaws, not even laying a finger on Sita’ while she was in his palace premises. As if he’d done a great deed by not raping a woman he’d kidnapped.
Even if you look at other cultures, this double standard persists. In the story of Izanagi and Izanami, the Adam and Eve of Japanese mythology, when Izanami invites Izanagi to make a baby, the baby turns out ugly and weak. But when Izanagi makes the first move, the baby turns out beautiful and strong. I could give a zillion other examples like this, but that would only bore you, so let’s move on.
Now some would say that all of these are examples for ancient myth and folklore- the situation’s changed now, and all I’m doing is being a whiny feminist. Nobody questions women’s chastity now, they’re not made scapegoats just because it’s convenient to lay the blame on them, they’re not expected to forgive attacks on their person, and they can say whatever they want to as much as any man.
Pause right there. Does all that sound right, even to you?
If you think it does, let’s fast forward to the 21st century and look at the cave paintings of this era- namely, Whatsapp forwards. Not just those, in fact; you could even try listening to the conversations of ordinary people. Men can joke all they want about how pretty the neighbour’s wife is, and everyone laughs it away or presents similar remarks about not being satisfied with their own wives. Have you ever heard a woman joke about this? If she did express such desires of wanting other men, even if they were in jest, her ‘character’ would immediately be brought into question. What an uncouth, shameless woman, people would say. You don’t even have to look as far as married people- a young guy flirting with a girl is a stud and a young girl flirting with a guy is a slut.
Nowadays, in the lockdown, because everyone’s maids are on leave, men are finally having to help women with the housework. A ton of Whatsapp forwards laments the condition of these ‘poor’ men who’re having to do the dishes, cook the meals and clean the house. Men are proudly posting pictures of themselves doing household chores as if they’ve got the Nobel prize. When a man cooks or cleans, he expects to be praised for it. And he can simply put his feet up on the table, turn on the TV and refuse to help out because ‘he doesn’t feel like doing it today’.
Women have been handling the housework in addition to their own careers since time immemorial, but nobody praises them for it. Even in the lockdown, men’s role is reduced to ‘helping out’- the major chunk of the work still falls in the woman’s hands. What’s more, a husband who simply helps out is praised for being a ‘good, progressive husband’. Even before the lockdown, innumerable jokes were shared on the lamentations of men after marriage. How they now have to listen to their wives in addition to their mothers and balance them out, how they’re forever tied to a single woman now, how they now have to do the housework as well. In reality, it is the woman who bears the brunt of the problem- she’s the one who’s ordered around, who’s tied down and now has to ask for permission for everything, who has to please everyone and maintain a smiling face on top of it all.
In cases of eve-teasing, molestation or rape, victim-blaming is rampant. Even the police officers to whom these cases are reported, ask such unnecessary questions as what was she doing out so late at night? What was she wearing? Why wasn’t she with her brother or father even if she had to go out late?
Does it matter what she was wearing or when she was out? Are public spaces only for men? Why do we still call the woman’s modesty into question instead of the man’s pervertedness? Parents prevent their daughters from going out because they fear for their safety. But if somebody has blood cancer, will you drain out all their blood or try to remove the cancer? These attacks can stop only if more and more women embrace public spaces so that men learn that women have as much right to be free and stop treating them as public property.
For all of this to change, the traditional image of the chaste, forgiving, modest woman who sacrifices everything needs to go. The image of women as just a support system (“behind every successful man there is a woman”) needs to go. The label of a ‘rebellious feminist’ applied to a woman who demands her basic rights needs to go. Who are these people who talk about ‘women empowerment’? Women are already empowered. What needs to change is how that strength is perceived.
Everyone likes these kinds of thoughts as long as they remain bound in speeches and articles, but when a woman actually acts on them, when she actually tries to bring a change, few stand with her. So if you feel any of what I said is correct, don’t just give this post a like- try to change things at your level or at least stand by a woman who’s trying to.