The Rape of Our Epics: Part 2

Is Draupadi Rarely Referenced?

draupadiAfter failing to show how Sita’s abduction by Ravana and her abandonment by Rama qualify as “rape” and/or “sexual assault,” Nilanjana Roy turns to Draupadi whom she characterizes as follows:

Draupadi’s story is rarely referenced, though it is powerfully told in the Mahabharata. Draupadi’s reaction, after Krishna rescues her from Dushasana’s assault while her husbands and clan elders sit by in passive silence, is not meek gratitude. She berates the men for their complicity and their refusal to defend her; instead of the shame visited on women who have been sexually assaulted, she expresses a fierce, searing anger.

She will wear her hair loose, she says, as a reminder of the insult; she does not see herself and her body as the property of the clan, least of all as the property of the husband, Yudhisthira, who has gambled her away to the Kauravas. She demands justice and is prepared to call down a war that destroys the clan in order to receive her due. It is no wonder, perhaps, that those sections of conservative India who will cite Sita’s “transgression” – her crossing of the Lakshman rekha – as the reason for women’s rape will not speak of Draupadi. Panchali, with her five husbands, her proud sense of ownership over her own body and her quest for vengeance, represents everything about women that terrifies a certain kind of Indian, who prefer to be more selective about the myths they wish to follow.

A near-accurate characterization but one that’s nonetheless arrived at and interpreted by wearing feminism-tinted glasses. But before we examine that, let’s see how Nilanjana yet again makes assumptions on our behalf when she claims that “Draupadi’s story is rarely referenced.” Let’s begin with a famous verse:

Ahalya Draupadi Sita,Tara Mandodari tatha l
Pancha kanya smarenityam, maha pataka nashanam ll

Meditating upon the names of the five holiest women,
Ahalya, Draupadi, Sita, Tara and Mandodari
Verily destroys the greatest of sins

This celebrated verse is invoked everyday, even today in rituals like worship and marriage, and names these five women as ideals of womanhood. Notice that Draupadi’s name is also included in this list. From this verse up to hundreds of renderings of the Mahabharata, the story of Draupadi—in Nilanjana’s narrow sense of viewing just one character in a vast epic—continues to be told and retold. If only Nilanjana entered the hinterlands of India, she’d be treated to hundreds of folk tellings and discourses on “Draupadi’s story” every other day. Also, we wonder why Nilanjana forgot mentioning Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s atrocious The Palace of Illusions, which is a novel-length rendering of the Mahabharata “from the perspective of a woman living in a patriarchal world.” This novel was published in 2008 and continues to be highly acclaimed, shattering Nilanjana’s claims of Draupadi’s story being “rarely referenced.” More recently, Ashok Banker has published his own version of Mahabharata, a fact that again disproves the “rarely referenced” claim of Nilanjana.

First it was Nilanjana’s factual errors about Rajatarangini and Silappadikaram, and now her false claim about Draupadi’s story being hardly referenced. Really, Nilanjana should stop assuming that her readers aren’t well-informed.

Mahabharata’s Draupadi Mangled by Feminism

What is notable in Nilanjana’s passionate description of Draupadi is the stress she lays twice on Draupadi’s “proud sense of ownership over her own body,” an aspect that comes straight from a Feminism textbook. Laying extreme emphasis on the female body is one of the key points in feminist discourse. Of the several strands of feminist discourse that deal with the female body, one happens to read thus: Men seek to control the female body because they are basically intimidated by it. As elaboration, this strand exposits that the roots of this male fear of the female body lies in sexuality, in things like the clitoris, the capacity of women to have multiple orgasms, and the supposed male insecurity that his woman’s child might be born to a different seed, and therefore the need to control it using violence if required. Thus, one of the first steps by which a woman can liberate herself from this male control is to fight—aggressively if necessary—for the ownership of her own body.

And so when you apply this theory to Draupadi, you get the readymade feminist conclusion that Nilanjana Roy gives us: Panchali, with her five husbands, her proud sense of ownership over her own body and her quest for vengeance, represents everything about women that terrifies a certain kind of Indian, who prefer to be more selective about the myths they wish to follow.

This is the reason Draupadi is subjected to extreme heroine-worship in feminist circles. Her “story” renders itself malleable to feminist theories. Additionally, unlike Sita, feminists like Nilanjana don’t need to resort to falsifying and misinterpreting the Mahabharata. Yet, despite relatively sticking to the truth, they are compelled to force-fit the story to the Theory. Nothing in the Mahabharata—or “Draupadi’s story” if you will—gives you things like the ownership of body, and certain kinds of terrified men.

Now this creates a slight problem. That same Indian who is supposedly terrified by Draupadi also deeply believes in that aforementioned verse about Tara, Draupadi, Mandodari, et al. That same Indian also worships Durga and Kali who are a billion times more terrifying than Draupadi and who never called a figure like Krishna for help. Kali doesn’t merely exhibit a “proud sense of ownership over her own body” but goes a step further: she tramples over and places one foot over the chest of her own husband, Shiva. Does this terrify and prevent those certain men from worshipping Kali?

It’s also interesting how in her zest of heroine-worshipping Draupadi, Nilanjana Roy completely glosses over the role played by various men in protecting Draupadi’s honour. Indeed, because it’s impossible to ignore the fact, Nilanjana rewards Krishna with the word “rescues.” But not a word about Bhima’s terrible oath—which he redeemed—in that selfsame assembly where Draupadi was humiliated. Not a word about how Krishna throughout the epic consoles and assures Draupadi that he will help hasten her revenge against the Kauravas. Not a word also, about how Bhima and Arjuna humiliate Jayadratha who abducts her. Not a word again about Bhima who throws caution to the wind and pounds Keechaka to death because he coveted Draupadi.

Based on this, can we reasonably conclude that Nilanjana is also guilty of committing the same error she accuses a “certain kind of men" of committing?  Of preferring “to be more selective about the myths they wish to follow?”

Indeed, Nilanjana’s piece is like an interesting echo of what Salil Tripathi wrote in July 2012 in Mint, which I had subsequently dissected.

But that’s part of the tradition. From the time of the ritual disrobing of Draupadi in Mahabharata, many men have participated in such public stripping of a woman, forming a tight circle around her, as they have cheered, jeered and leered. Most men who should have stepped in to stop have turned their eyes away, expressing their inability to do anything, leaving Draupadi to the mercy of divine powers. And all that Krishna can do is to keep adding yards to her never-ending sari, prolonging the humiliation.

The same theme: episodes of rape in India. The same skullduggery employed to trace the root cause of incidents of rape in India: Indian men rape women because they get their lessons from their epics. Of course, the content of Salil and Nilanjana’s piece is different but that’s precisely the point: the conclusion has already been arrived at in both cases.

Continued in Part 3

33 comments for “The Rape of Our Epics: Part 2

  1. January 18, 2013 at 4:54 PM

    The chapter in Vana Parva containing the conversation between Draupadi and Satyabhama’s settles the matter on what kind of a gruhini Draupadi was. Remember that conversation happens after the dyootakreeda episode.

  2. January 18, 2013 at 7:37 AM

    It is amusing to read the communal, anti-Hindu N. Roy blame the Indian epics for rape. Rape occurs in every country, with or without epics. In blaming the epics, she lays bare her prejudices, her agenda and quite a few of her own insecurities. It would be equally stupid to blame the Bible for the sexual abuse of young boys in the Catholic church by clergy or to say the Koran sanctions female genital mutilation. At the end of the day, people like N. Roy are attention seekers who will not amount to much. They get their kicks out of baiting Hindus and perhaps make a living out of it. Sensible people can easily dismantle their vacuous arguments.

  3. January 17, 2013 at 1:23 PM

    “We could go on quibbling forever, but what I am fascinated by is your extreme discomfort with any kind of feminist critique of the great epics”


    Problem is not critique, but an unbalanced critique.

    Indian epics show both good and the bad. But they are very clear about what is good or bad. And the evil doers do not go unpunished. The story does not end at half-time.

    ““feminist” is merely the term for a woman who wants equal rights, along with men,”

    I do not know whether you realize it or not, but that is not the message which comes out.

    The message that comes out is that abuse of women, is an defining feature of Indian epics and it is the basis of the rise of crime against women.

    And above all, why are only Indian epics critically analyzed from a feminist point of view? What about non-Indic cultures? How do they treat women?

  4. MadMan
    January 17, 2013 at 10:35 AM

    I’m not the @menon who commented earlier. I use either my full name or my nickname always.

  5. Krishnadas
    January 17, 2013 at 6:56 AM

    Hare Krishna

    I have come to know from my friends in Hare Krishna about this brutal assault on this woman in a Delhi bus. This was given wide coverage all over the world. One thing one must remember that assault on women is increasing all over the world. There is South Africa and USA where there is assault on women. IN 2009 , google it , South Africa led the world in this area. Now these two countries have no epics to fall upon for a critique to be delivered on the lines written by the one which this web has criticised. We are supposed to be technologically advanced of which USA claims to be the leader. Then why it is happening in the US of A. One aspect which I fail to understand is that there is no critique coming about the low level films generated by Hollywood having influence on assault on women. I have yet to come across a critique by a feminist about this anywhere. If anybody has any material of feminist critique on how women are portrayed in films, please post it here.

    Is it money, fame and glamour of the film world holding their pen. In India , you have the film industry which has a firm grip on the masses. The posters when travelling through the country side or city streets says it all. I have not seen Indian films , but I have come across Indian men and women who deride Indian films for their degrading show of women.

    Why drag Sita from Treta Yuga and say Draupadi ( I have explained evolution in the previous post) was great in Dwapar Yug? Why don’t the feminists , true feminists, critique the influence of films of both the west and India having an influence on assault on women. These films are all being produced parallel to the lives of men and women in Kali Yuga. They are shoddy , pulp and stupid mini e-pics produced in an assembly line. Are they scared that money power of the film industry will jeopardise their academic or journalistic careers. The film industry both in India and west have been the main culprits of this increase in assault on women.

    Does not the Delhi incident in a bus look like a scene lifted from the kitch and dust of Hollywood and Indian cinema? I ask this question as I have been told ( I have not seen a film for almost 3 decades) that these type of scenes are shown in many Hollywood and Indian films.

    Hari Bol

  6. sunil
    January 17, 2013 at 12:10 AM

    Good analysis Shri. Sandeep. It was pleasure to read your articles. Also great comments from Shri Krishnadas and YD.

    Even if we accept that epics contain references to the humiliation of women at the hands of powerful men and depict the bias, I would add that I have never read or heard arguments in support of ‘disrobing Draupadi’ or other such incidences. Ms. Roy’s article gives an impression that in fact in our culture these actions are supported (not even ignored). On the contrary, these incidences are refereed exactly to teach the lesson that whatever be the situation, dignity of women or basic human dignity cannot be forgotten.

    On the twitter comments – I personally did not like your controversial twitter comments even though they fall in same category of comments such as “Hindu oriented people are termed as macho supremacist”. You have said that you would give an explanation however may be it is better to accept that they were inappropriate to the point that you were making.

  7. Krishnadas
    January 16, 2013 at 2:02 PM

    Hare Krishna
    Sita and Draupadi, different in approach are not from the same Yuga. The best way to look at this is to look at Rama and Krishna. Rama never claims he is God, while Krishna says He is God to Arjuna. A giant leap in evolution between the avatars of Vishnu between two Yugas. You may point to Surpanakha and say , look there is a character like her in Ramayana. The point is when one compares Sita with Draupadi , why drag Surapanakha. From a devoted housewife Sita to the fiery Draupadi explains the evolution of a womans empowerment. Evolution whether Darwinian or any other takes ages. What sages Valmiki and Vyasa have done is , is that they have shown a woman’s evolution from Sita to Draupadi. I pay great compliment to these great sages , who have written about this wonderfully, with Valmiki having not met Vyasa. The debate would have been different had Valmiki met Vyasa. One could have conjectured that as Valmiki met Vyasa , Vyasa was influenced by Valmiki to show Draupadi is different. No this did not happen. So it is evolution of woman empowerment shown as it is. I am very disappointed that Indians have not been able to grasp evolutionary processes yug by yug. I better not comment about Kali. You are experiencing it. Will there be a sage like Valmiki or Vyasa to write about this confused Kali yuga. Lets us see.
    Hari Bol.

  8. dilkhush singh
    January 16, 2013 at 12:56 PM


    The best tribute you can pay to your grandmother , befitting the Gandhian quote. “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” . is to change your name to Draupadi Roy or Nilanjana Draupadi Roy to be trial blazer. The ultipalties charge only 5 rupiah 12 anna for name change and it is the least corrupt dept in hamra desh.

  9. Amit
    January 16, 2013 at 7:45 AM

    So, no surprise which one pusillanimous feminists choose, while claiming to be fans of brave Draupadi.

  10. Amit
    January 16, 2013 at 7:44 AM

    “For a true feminist. epics of one particular religion should not matter.”

    A feminist will criticize Islam – or come to the aid of those women (Taslima Nasreen, Irshad Manji etc.) who have to live under death-threats for simply speaking the truth – when pigs will fly.

    I still have to come across any so-called feminist who openly speaks about the many ills of Islam which are abundantly evident all across the globe, and not just in India. Then again, it’s much, much, much easier and takes no courage at all to speak ill – real and invented – of Hindu epics, and earn one’s liberal/feminist cred. Whereas criticizing Islam results in eviction from the cool club and death-threats. So, no surprise which one pusillanimous feminists choose.

  11. Amit
    January 16, 2013 at 7:33 AM

    “My point is that she is not referenced in the mainstream debates; show me the number of daughters called Draupadi.”

    Huh?? Naming of daughters shows some kind of reference? What kind of crazy logic/parameter is that?

    If you feel so bad about the paucity of women named after Draupadi, why don’t you start with yourself and change your name to Draupadi? I’m assuming that you are over 18 or whatever age Indian judicial system has set as the minimum for citizens to petition for name change. You are not a lawyer or a doctor, are you?

    And, if you have kids, you can name them Draupadi too. As Gandhi said, you must be the change you want to see in the world. Seems to me that you want others to name their kids ‘Draupadi’ and that would make you happy.

  12. indiatruly
    January 15, 2013 at 11:37 PM

    This seems like another grand ‘game changing plan from the ‘Buddhu School of Politics that will ultimately go kaput.Here’s why.Women make 50% of the population,give or take a percent and by that token 50% of the electorate.If this ‘vote-bank could be convinced that its the Patriarchal society that is to blame for all problems women face in their families and society it will be check-mate Right-wing.So it becomes necessary to pin this male-dominance as somehow uniquely Hindu since ancient times and what better way than to attack the epics.

    Sadly for the think-tank they have got it all wrong again,not only is the right wingers cupboard full of ammunition on this topic but their own house is in serious disorder.Take the gang rapes of Journalists from American networks in Egypt or recent rape of a school girl in Ohio by young football stars(this is making big news in US now),these are symptomatic of the treatment that is meted out to women in a public place in one instance and at parties in a liberated country in the other.No sir,by the time these women well understand whom not to for.

    I cannot help but make another comment that this Draupadi/Sita episode demonstrates the confusion these liberals are finding themselves in.They expect secular educated and urban class men to be respectful of women who are from similar demographics but only find harassment/molestation of the worst but hidden kind,bollywood is one example;large corporates is another.Ignoring this they find great ‘pleasure,pun intended in leading a ‘free life but find themselves feeling guilty given the moral vacuums they have on their inside.

    On the bounce,in the name of feminism they just peddle their own personal promiscuous agendas.In my opinion they can deal with their guilts best by reading the epic they have scorned in their columns.

    I rest my case.

  13. YD
    January 15, 2013 at 10:55 PM

    Hi Nilanjana,

    Since you have closed comments on your blog post I am posting my comment here. Hopefully you will respond.

    As you mentioned in your blogpost there are two camps and I fall in to that camp who question your readings of the epics. Having said that I agree with you on about @SandeepWeb using foul language but since he has asked for time to comment on it I will wait.

    But the point of this comment is primarily your skewed argument that epics are the root cause of all violence. My question to you – Violence against women is worldwide phenomenon with staggering statistics. Rapes/ VAW in India and specifically rapes by Indian men who read these epics probably constitute a much lesser stat in comparison to the world stats and epics read by those men. A case in point the current on-going case in UK of men forcing young girls in to heinous prostitution.

    I cringe when I have to point it out to you that all men in that case are Muslims. There are numerous such cases happening in the UK, Iran, Iraq or India. Given these stats, why would you choose two epics which don’t even come close to the same heinousness as others to attempt to prove a point? The religion of the rapists matter only when you take up writing to such biased articles. For a true feminist. epics of one particular religion should not matter. For a prolific writer like you to stoop to being picky and choosy about it smacks of utter bias and dare I say a coward.

    Your action of closing the comments on your blog is shoot and scoot kind of action. Sure, it is your blog and you are have the right to do whatever it is you want but to specifically close comments on a controversial writing while being a public commentator seems odd. Atleast on Sandeeps’s blog I have the freedom of commenting on a 10 yr old blog post now and later too.

  14. Madhu
    January 15, 2013 at 8:40 PM

    This is an interesting piece.
    Was Draupadi Disrobed in the Dice Hall of Hastinapura?

  15. January 15, 2013 at 6:55 PM

    What have you been smoking, SandeepWeb? Clitoris and multiple orgasms? I think you meet the official criteria to be branded a crackpot.

  16. Raghunandan
    January 15, 2013 at 2:41 PM

    As usual well analyzed and written. Here is another interesting article related to the topic to share.

  17. January 15, 2013 at 2:28 PM

    Rants of Nilanjana Roy, and Salil Tripathi are not some isolated events. They are a deliberate exercise in obfuscating the issue at hand, i,e the failure of Delhi Administration to provide safety at 8:00 pm. And the complete corruption that allowed the bus to ply on the roads, which it had no license to and with the dark tinged glasses that they should have removed a while ago. The 6 bestial perpetrators knew very well that, they would not be stopped because they paid their hafta for the month. And tragically they were right. They were not even stopped once, even though they passed several police check posts committing their bestial crime. And eventually the bus was caught because of the entry in the Hafta diary.

    All the above are extremely damning for the Sonia-MMS admin, so what do the Durbari chelas do? Divert the attention from Dynasty and blame the epics. So, if these 6 cretin thought they would get away with their crimes, they were not wrong. Sheila D, let off Manoj Sharma, and Delhi HC released on parole Santosh Yadav after he raped and murdered Priyadarshini Matto. And Pratibha Patil pardoned several hardcore rapist murders. And of the 600+ gang rape cases in New Delhi only one case is being prosecuted.

    And the Durbari chamchas blame epics? They are neither feminists nor humanists. They just know which side of the bread is buttered.

  18. January 15, 2013 at 12:11 PM

    Nilanjana Roy seems to be completely disconnected from Indian culture. Karaga festival is something thats celebrated as a mark of respect for Draupadi by Veerakumaras

    Even Draupadi Amma is a famous gramadevata. This goes far into Sri Lanka as well.

    But then how can all this make any sense to a person who already concluded what she wants. For a mind like hers, story of Amba, Ambika and Ambalika constitutes rape, sanctioned at that. But to the same mind, stories like that of Chuli-Somada-Brahmadatta in Ramayana wouldnt be visible.

    Even while applying contemporary norms of “individualist discourse”, Nilanjana Roy types should keep in mind that “Rama, Sita, Lakshmana, Draupadi, Vyasa, Amba, Ambika, Ambalika, Satyvati all did what they did as individuals and nobody coerced them into doing what they did and therefore, Nilanjana Roy’s argument (or slander?) falls flat.

  19. RSM
    January 15, 2013 at 11:31 AM

    “And all that Krishna can do is to keep adding yards to her never-ending sari, prolonging the humiliation”

    So, according to Salil, Krishna shouldn’t have added those yards to her sari! This is essentially Salil’s grouse, the prolonging humiliation is just an excuse. And Nilanjana claims ‘Salil gets it’!

    “grandmother often talked, in Bengali, of Draupadi’s “proud ownership of her body””

    Did your grandmother also explain Draupadi’s disrobing as something extolled in our popular culture or was is seen as a despicable and disgraceful event. If the latter, then Salil is not only incapable of getting anything, he is plain dishonest.

  20. sat
    January 15, 2013 at 10:11 AM

    I urge all the biased writers that blame Indian (Hindu) culture for the rapes, to write about the following:
    Arab men’s fetish for little boys
    High number of rape cases and wome abuses that happen in countries that has muslim majority
    Love Jihad
    Vulgar lyrics and vulgar dialogues in indian movies

    The point is Ramayana is a great lesson on how a knowlegeable man in destroyed by his lust for another man’s wife. The premise holds good even to this day. If we learnt anything from the morals of these epics, there would be less crime. Not the other way around.
    BTW – there are several temples for Draupadi Amman

  21. Siva Bhaskaran
    January 15, 2013 at 4:20 AM


    Would you care to elaborate what is juvenile about this blog?

  22. mats
    January 15, 2013 at 2:36 AM

    I am surprised writers like Nilanjana Roy take the juvenilia put out in this blog rather seriously… Do these adolescent literary efforts (no better word to describe these outbursts) deserve such long replies?

  23. CC
    January 15, 2013 at 2:04 AM

    stupid stupid stupid stupid Nilanjana. If only you knew more about these epics than only just what you remember hearing from your dear grandmother. Classic example of empty vessles making more noise.
    Rama and Sita are Vishnu’s and Lakshmi’s incarnations. So you see them both worshipped in temples. And if you admire and revere Draupadi, go ahead and worship her. Who’s stopping you? Your family?

    I for one am glad that Sandeep takes on pseudo-feminists like you. Enjoy your typing Nilanjana Roy.

    – Chitra

  24. Sandeep
    January 14, 2013 at 11:52 PM

    Hello @menon, or should I say Madhu Menon? Thanks for commenting. You’re entitled to your views including calling me crude, vulgar, that I need to be boycotted etc. I haven’t justified my views or myself ever and I don’t intend to. :)

  25. menon
    January 14, 2013 at 11:47 PM


    You try to position yourself as this angry patriot who’s passionate about all things Indian and especially Hindu. I read your articles, frequently disagreeing but never doubting your honesty or your patriotism.

    Unfortunately, the moment I saw that insult on twitter, I knew your weren’t any different from the rest. The fact that you try to justify it by saying you “purposely put out those tweets”, and that there was a reason behind it, is something that you’re doing post the event to address the minor outrage it caused on twitter. How is this any different from the scores of people you’ve scorned for not standing by what they say, or for being crude or vulgar ?

    Sorry, you’re as bad as the rest and your blog and you need to be boycotted henceforth.

  26. January 14, 2013 at 8:00 PM

    N.Roy: “My point is that she is not referenced in the mainstream debates; show me the number of daughters called Draupadi,”

    “rarely referenced” -> “”not referenced in (mainstream) debates” -> “not enuf daughters named ..”

    multiple relocations of goalposts to try salvage a lost argument.

    “.. the hoards of them who match the Sitas, and demonstrate to me that Draupadi is as revered, and as often cited, as Sita in popular culture.”

    Rather than pit the women of the epics against each other, as you’re doing,… ”


  27. mamdhata
    January 14, 2013 at 6:57 PM

    I would like to comment on this particularly sentence:
    “….. and the supposed male insecurity that his woman’s child might be born to a different seed, and therefore the need to control it using violence if required……”

    I do not know if Nilajana or other feminist do think that sexual freedom is complete; but the basic principle observed in the world is mate guarding behaviour. Women (and men) who get enranged their partners dalliance with other people do so in order to make sure resources available for their offspring and that there is no squandaring of resources. If someone thinks that men will guard someone else’s seed (or women will tolerate men spending their resources on someone other women’s seed) are simply fighting against the biological instincts.

  28. Sandeep
    January 14, 2013 at 6:49 PM

    I should have known better. You put out your opinion and when challenged, get on a high horse, pontificate and run away.

    “Enjoy your typing” eh? That’s Salil’s line. Originality apparently is not your forte.

  29. Nilanjana Roy
    January 14, 2013 at 6:44 PM

    Thanks, but I’m all done here, and won’t be back. Enjoy your typing.

  30. Sandeep
    January 14, 2013 at 6:35 PM

    And I’m likewise glad that you chose to comment here. Hmmm…okay first off, I’m not yet done with critiquing your piece so if you do really want a response to your comment here, I suggest you wait. If you are unwilling to do that, then, well, shrug.

    And yes, I need to address that insult bit that you raised. I purposely put out those tweets; the purpose, I will reveal in the concluding post in this series. That purpose is also the reason I deleted it later. It has nothing to do with courage or anything. I shall repeat them only if you insist. And no, they weren’t arguments as you seem to think they are. Also, yes they were rude, and they were rude again, with a purpose.

    At this time, my only response like i said: please wait.

  31. Nilanjana Roy
    January 14, 2013 at 6:15 PM

    I’m glad that you finally chose to offer an argument, instead of the insults you had previously offered on Twitter–let’s repeat those insults for the benefit of your audience, shall we? You had said that I was airing my “lesbian fantasies” of Surpanakha; you asked questions about my marriage and my husband. I see you haven’t had the courage to repeat these insults here, in this piece, but let this record reflect that you were rude enough to make them, and that they were your first arguments.

    Unfortunately, nor have you read my piece: it was about the woman alone in the forest and about some perceptions of women in the epics. It talked of rape and sexual assault, but you appear to have missed the fact that it also spoke about women’s freedoms, and gestures of resistance. Sita’s story came up in that context; but to know this, you would have had to read the piece, rather than jumping to conclusions. As you do with the phrase “ownership of the body”–the question of who owns Draupadi comes up explicitly in the game of dice. (Btw, that particular phrase was not borrowed, as you seem to think, from feminist texts, though I’d have been proud if they had: my grandmother often talked, in Bengali, of Draupadi’s “proud ownership of her body”. I know you will not understand this, but many Indian women, across the generations, seem to think they own their own bodies and lives.)

    I wouldn’t reference CBD’s book, but I would like to refer you to Pratibha Ray’s Yajnaseni, a fiery rendering of the Draupadi story in Oriya, told from her own point of view–also to a few temples where Draupadi is worshipped.

    My point is that she is not referenced in the mainstream debates; show me the number of daughters called Draupadi, the hoards of them who match the Sitas, and demonstrate to me that Draupadi is as revered, and as often cited, as Sita in popular culture.

    Rather than pit the women of the epics against each other, as you’re doing, my perspective is to look at all of them as individuals, and to try to recover what they have to tell us–which is a lot more than just the story of one woman who should stay behind a Lakshman Rekha in order to stay safe.

    Sita and Rama really do love each other; it is that love that makes her final withdrawal from him so poignant. Surpanakha, in some versions of the epic, really believes that she is free to express her desire, and is confused by Rama and Lakshmana’s raillery; and her wounds are horrific, though I notice you’re happy to skip over those. Draupadi’s address to the assembly as they hang their heads in shame is a powerful, rousing challenge to the men there. Some do respond–but none of them, bar Krishna, come to her aid, or had that little detail escaped you? Btw, that honour you speak of, that needed protecting? Call it what it was: a near-rape and an actual assault committed in front of a large, public and most crucially, largely silent assembly. I am hardly surprised that you would criticise Salil Tripathi–unlike you, he gets it, and he is unafraid by feminist or other critiques of the epics that we all know and love so well.

    We could go on quibbling forever, but what I am fascinated by is your extreme discomfort with any kind of feminist critique of the great epics. You started our exchange by using the word “lesbian” as though it was an insult; may I end it by suggesting that “feminist” is merely the term for a woman who wants equal rights, along with men, and not, as you seem to think, a term of abuse?

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