Let us (Un)Bind Sita

Since time immemorial, Sita has been the definitive ‘ideal Indian woman’ for our society. Sita’s pigeonholed image as a meek, weak and submissive woman has been ingrained in the Indian psyche for generations and has been entrenched time and again by the popular media and the patriarchal society at large. But is this the real Sita?

To find the real Sita, we will have to visit the Sanskrit epic of Valmiki, for there lies the other half of Ram. Sita as perceived by Valmiki is different from the Sita we know today – who is a creation of the medieval mindset. Things have changed but we have forgotten to change her image. The fact is that the Ramayana is shrouded in many myths and the problem arises from the umpteen versions of the epic, written right from the times of Valmiki to that of Rajaji. There perhaps existed an oral tradition of the Ramayan even before it was written down by Valmiki.

Sita literally means ‘furrow’. The comparison of Sita to a furrow and Ram to rain provides the idea of creation. In Valmiki’s Ramayan, Ram (an avowed monogamist) describes Sita as his co-pursuer in dharma. Here Sita is a mistress of enormous ability of acceptance as well as outrage. Her outburst is deadly; be it during the golden-deer episode where her fury falls on Lakshmana or during her conversations with Ravana, where she pouts fire with each word or in the controversial episode of the fire ordeal, where she flares-up and accuses Ram of ignobility. There are many instances in the epic where she passionately argues with her husband and proves her point. As a child, she playfully pushes away the divine bow of Shiva with her left hand, when the mighty emperors couldn’t even budge it. Being the daughter of nature, forest life was not a problem for her. Contrary to the popular view, her effortless rejection of court life and coming out unscathed from the worst of quagmire shows that she was a woman of unparalled strength.

This is all a stark contrast to the popular ‘helpless’ tag that has been forced upon Sita. As she walked into the medieval era, she was asked to keep mum like an obedient ‘Indian’ woman, so as to serve the male ego. She was no more the embodiment of strength and her weakness was dubbed as a cherished womanly quality. From the stature of the other-half, she was enshrined as the dutiful slave of her husband and was presented as a role-model to every woman. Her identity now sprung only from her husband. The writers even created the concept of a Lakshman-rekha (a metaphor for social dictums), which she could cross only at her own peril. This Lakshman-rekha continues to bother her even today, when a woman is invariably held responsible for inviting unwanted attention from men and is ordered to follow a litany of dos and don’ts to safeguard her modesty. Though this cardboard Sita- a victim of clichés- potrays the mess women find themselves in today, she is unable to inspire confidence. Moreover, Ramanand Sagar, whose Ramayan created television history, did little to change this tainted perception of Sita. His Sita (played by Deepika) carried the charnon ki daasi tag throughout the serial.

Exploring Ramayan through the lens of prejudice has done most of the harm. While continuous references have been made to Sita’s chastity, Ram’s devotion to his wife (ekapatnivrata vow) and his share of sufferings have seldom been highlighted. Many scholars opine that Sita’s humiliation in the Uttar-Kand is a contradiction to the post coronation period being referred to as Ram Rajya (ideal state) and they consider Uttar-Ramayana as an attempt by a sorrow-laden writer to depict the falling standards of women in the society. The fire ordeal of Sita in the Yuddha-Kanda might have been Valmiki’s attempt to dispose off the painful legend of her abandonment in the main epic itself, though such an ordeal sounds inconsistent with Ram’s character.

Ram and Sita have always served as a prototype of the ideal couple. But the truth is that Sita has been the easiest manipulative tool of control for the patriarchs down the ages. From the educated and liberated woman who always spoke her mind, she turned subservient and docile as the ages passed on.

But when will we unshackle Sita from the Lanka of patriarchy? The answer is difficult as it is always a man who brings out newer versions of the Ramayana. But Sita will find her lost glory when our women get liberated; for Sita has always been a mirror image of the Indian woman.

2 thoughts on “Let us (Un)Bind Sita

Add yours

  1. very nice arjun. i quite agree with the idea. This medival concept of idolising the inabilility of standing up and seeking up. this predetermined belief that a woman is virtous only if she is taking on the onus of self sacrifice always.It makes me remember dimly the sermons i had heard about the beauty of self immolation. i know nothing about the philosophy of ethics but : suddenly i come to realize not in the form of words -but in the form of a deep dark savage pain. That if this is virtue than i want nothing of it.

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  2. Self-sacrifice does have its own qualities. But submission to atrocities isn’t a virtue. Sacrifice for a good cause, sacrifice in love and in the larger good is a virtue. Sita’s sacrifice as depicted by Valmiki falls in the second category whereas the medieval writers have given her more of the former qualities. Thanks for your comments Gargy.

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