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Waiting for Draupadi | The Indian Express


Whether disruptions or discussions, most of the recently concluded Parliament session was about the Manipur violence, especially since it came in the wake of a horrific and widely circulated video of two women being paraded naked and assaulted. To make their point, leaders of all leanings quoted epics, mythology, poets and philosophers.

Incidentally, the most widely cited epic was the Mahabharata, especially the episode related to the disrobement of its central woman protagonist, Draupadi. The episode, with both literal and metaphorical implications, was used by both the Opposition to put the government on the mat and by MPs from the treasury benches to get back at their opponents.

Targeting Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his silence on the violence in Manipur, Opposition leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said, “The king (Dhritarashtra) should not be blind to what is happening against women — whether it is in Hastinapur or Manipur.”

A day before Chowdhury made his remarks, BJP MP Nishikant Dubey had equated the insult of PM Modi in Parliament to Draupadi’s cheerharan (disrobement). “All the debates today will do cheerharan of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s policies, just like the disrobing of Draupadi,” he said.

What makes Draupadi relevant to today’s times?

Unlike Ramayana’s Sita, who is always considered the paragon of chastity, Draupadi comes across as a flesh-and-blood character. In that sense, Draupadi is every woman’s heroine. Her husband may have given her away over a game of dice, but she retains her own voice. Unlike Sita, she will never be worshipped or celebrated, yet will always be cited.

Freedom Sale

With her, you can’t indulge in whataboutery. Even though in King Dhritarashtra’s court, everyone remained a mute spectator to her disrobement, no one could condone it. In that sense, she is also the paragon of feminism. Today, if a woman is wronged on the street, it can’t be blamed on what she wore or said, the onus is on the perpetrators.

Acknowledging the many references to Draupadi in the House debates this session, DMK MP Kanimozhi remarked, “A lot of people here [Lok Sabha] spoke about Draupadi. Anybody who has read Mahabharata properly will know that it was not only perpetrators who were punished but also silent onlookers. Those who were silent during Kathua, Unao rapes, about Bilkis Bano, the wrestlers’ protest and about Manipur will similarly be punished.”

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Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman was quick to tear into her by reminding her party of a similar episode in the state. Sitharaman recalled the 1989 incident of then leader of opposition J Jayalalitha’s sari being pulled in the Tamil Nadu Assembly, and said, “…I want to remind this House of one incident on March 25, 1989 in the Tamil Nadu assembly. The sari of leader of opposition J Jayalalitha was pulled and DMK members seated there laughed at her, made fun of her…”

Jayalalitha had then taken a vow that she would return to the House as Chief Minister. And she did so in two years. That was her Draupadi moment. Will the scores of other women — wronged, laughed at, paraded naked and raped — have theirs?

National Editor Shalini Langer curates the fortnightly ‘She Said’ column





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