By Shreyasi Sharma
I could have chosen any godly, mythological or legendary female figure for this article, so why Draupadi? She is one character whose actions have always made people uneasy, and therefore their perceptions of this heroine keep changing. We as readers can’t imagine a historical character (especially a woman), being elated at the sight of destruction and chaos. The fact that she demanded vengeance, and had no qualms about it, still makes people shift in their chairs.
In the book, ‘Palace of Illusions’ written by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, during the cheer haran incident, Draupadi made a point in the text where she said that she had given no one the power to shame her. Many eyebrows were raised at this juncture. Why did she say this? People wanted Draupadi to suffer, and then go to her husband wailing and complaining. She chose not to play the victim card, instead making the perpetrators of the crime pay for the sin they had committed. This was no ‘helpless victim’ who was pleading for justice, shocking people. In my view, this was a very strong and effective move to erase stereotypes and expose hypocrisies of society.
We keep saying that “women voicing their opinions and standing up for what they believe in” is recent, so society needs time to get accustomed to it. Well, I would like to tell you that this statement in itself is a sham. I call this blasphemy. This is a form of deception people are trying to create, so that they can exempt themselves from reality. All that I had tried to tell you in my earlier article, and even in this one, is that women have stood up for themselves for times immemorial. And this was how it was handled – by taking extreme positions; either going soft, pleading, and being treated as subordinates, or becoming violent or furious, after which a witch-hunt begun.
Since Sita has always been shown as a calm and composed figure, we did not think of the repercussions, and which is why she is probably the most likeable female figure in mythology. The moment our grandparents begun to tell us tales of the legend of Mahabharata, with preconceived notions shrouding their judgment, we became victims of stories. As long as Draupadi was portrayed as calm and composed, a heroine who gladly accepted everything that fate had to offer her, as long as she sobbed and cried when everybody ridiculed her, as long as she was guilty and sorry for causing annihilation, as long as she accepted being married, and as long as she subdued her true self- it was alright. But the moment this picture was shattered, and there emerged an opinion where she could have chosen to marry five men – yes, she chose to marry all five of them because she did not want to suffer humiliation at the hands of society – nothing was okay.
This might appear as a typical statement coming from every woman of that time, in the fear of being rejected by society or humiliation, however, the underlying point is that Draupadi had a choice to leave- although Kunti made the decision for her sons (which was wrong, and it would take me another 200 words to describe, and mock, all the idiosyncrasies that happened in Mahabharata). With such an ideology where Draupadi chooses what she wants, as fate doesn’t offer you anything, everything changed.
The whole notion of a calm and composed woman became illogical then, which was shown when she started asking questions, and having her own point of view. She was shown as a furious woman, with her rage called a forest fire. With such an extreme portrayal of this character, the basic ground still stands- prevalence of extreme views i.e. you can either be a subdued subordinate figure, or so livid that all you are known for is your rage and flying tempers.
But I am glad that recently there has emerged a characterization which gives the benefit of doubt to every character in this epic novel. For example, in the book ‘Palace of Illusions’, apart from showing how a possible love story was derided by Krishna, so that the epic novel could play out, it showed how Karna is as much a villain as the hundred Kauravs were, and as much a hero as Krishna was, because he learnt values and did not just acquire them. There are many plays which have started giving the benefit of doubt to Karna. He is no more as nauseating a character as our old books made him. Bheeshma is no longer viewed with a soft corner, as he was a patriot, but also as someone with a hawk’s eye, who was stubborn on many occasions. The point is to let viewers and readers decide if they want to love somebody, or just ‘like’ somebody, or even be repelled. Previously, this task was being done by the makers of such characters themselves (like the directors or authors of CBSE text books). Now, it has been left to the fair assessment of the people.
Another cracker that has been diffused is the lack of human quality attached to the roles in this drama. Why can’t Draupadi (as one of the central characters), feel elated at the sight of the other side getting annihilated? Why can’t she be happy in that one moment when her tormentors were punished? I am sure humans do feel a moment of ecstasy when they win something, even if it comes at the cost of something, but for that very moment, we give up anything to get what we want. As a reader, as a viewer, I feel that the creators have always snatched her moments of elation and rapture away. The underlying element is that no story actually allows women to go about their lives guilt free. Women characters are always treated as victims, or as those who bring about dead ends. Everyone gets absolved of their felony, but they are judged for their actions.
We do not want you swearing on godly figures, or worshipping any feminine power, because I know for a fact that we have all drifted away from all this facade. Respect us for the lives we are, respect life forms for the life they represent. And to drive the point home, let me reaffirm that women are not victims if they have made their own choices. If they choose, it is their decision, not some random game of fate. They are in charge of their own actions, however wrong they might be. We too deserve to be absolved of any felony. And most importantly – we seek less judgmental glances from you learned masses.
Shreyasi Sharma is a first year economics student at Delhi College of Arts and Commerce. She is an avid reader who likes to read anything (not genre specific) and everything. She also practices debating and writes to cool her senses off. She wants to domesticate a tiger one day and her dream job is to be a writer and anchor WE THE PEOPLE. She likes listening and observing a lot and is fairly good at it. She like doing different things as she gets bored too easily. Her motto of life is to live and let live.