India rape tragedy reminds women to follow the example of Queen Draupadi

Queen Draupadi provides an example of strength and independence for women.  
Photo: Draupadi as humiliated in Virata's durbar by Kichaka (left)

NEW DELHI, January 15, 2012 - I live in New Delhi, capital of India, a country that is world famous for its ancient culture and traditions; for giving the divine knowledge of the Vedas to the world; and for teaching concepts of science, medicine and astronomy since time immemorial. Unfortunately, in contemporary times, my country has also become infamous for corruption, poverty, hunger, illiteracy, and worst of all, for a loss of respect for its women.

A country that worships female goddesses and boasts thousands of temples where millions of devotees pay their respect to goddesses, now possesses a shameful record in female foeticide, sexual abuse, molestation and rapes. My city, which was once the crowning glory of India, has been reduced to the title of “rape capital.” A recent gang rape of a 23-year old medical student in Delhi has brought people out on the streets protesting against a weak legal system and demanding justice not just for this victim, but a dignified life for India’s entire female population.

Tragically, this isn’t the first time such an atrocity has been committed here, and unfortunately, it likely won’t be the last. Threatened as we are and as we continue to be, what should we women do? Simply maintain a stoic silence? Restrict our way of life in the name of safety? Endure these ongoing atrocities without raising a complaint? Continue accepting and succumbing to male domination? Give in to feeling ashamed for being a woman? No. Such solutions only pave the way for more crimes and encourage criminal minds.

Dear women, we need to be the Draupadi of 21st century. And this holds true not just for Indian women, but for women from all over the world.

Draupadi was the wife of five Pandava brothers in the era of Lord Krishna. She has consistently been one of the most controversial characters in Hindu mythology and religious history. She is held singularly responsible by many for the epic battle of Mahabharata which witnessed perhaps the greatest bloodshed of human history.

Those who question Draupadi’s credentials also joke about her moral character: after all, she was married to five brothers. However, Draupadi is perhaps one of the strongest women we have seen in the long and uneven march of human history. She chose to live a life of strength, independence and dignity with her five husbands. She wasn’t ashamed. It is clear that she was a proud queen, a proud mother and a proud wife.

The turning point in her life came when her five husbands lost their kingdom, their own independence and hers as well, to their warring cousin brothers by gambling in a game of chausar–an antecedent to the contemporary Western game of Parcheesi. As the winning cousins dragged Draupadi into the King’s room where the game was being played–in the presence of the King himself and several other stalwarts of the era–she continued to defend her dignity with anger, strength and a devotion to Lord Krishna, even as it was ordered that her clothes be removed before all in attendance.

As she continued screaming for help, no one but Krishna came to her rescue. After her humiliating ordeal was over, she cursed each and every person sitting there who watched as silent spectators as she was brutally robbed of her dignity. Then, she ordered her husbands to kill those who were responsible for this act. In demanding justice, she laid the foundation of what would later become the battle of Mahabharta.

I am not saying that we need to bring justice for women each time by waging war. I am not saying we demand bloodshed for every heinous act. I am also not sure if an ordinary human like me has the power to seek divine intervention each time I find myself in trouble. Rather, I am siply demanding dignity for myself and for my fellow women everywhere.

But if this demand ultimately requires the aggression and will of Draupadi, then so be it. If we need a Draupadi-like pledge to obtain justice at whatever cost, then so be it. The world needs all of us, as well as the kind of men who fought for Draupadi and helped her win justice, to bring an end at last to the barbaric treatment of women wherever it may occur.

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Manu Arya

If I knew the answer to ‘who am I’ I would not have had the need to write this bio. But until I do, I can just say that for me, everything in life hangs by a thread of faith and destiny. Add a pinch of hard work to that, and you’ll have your choice of life served on a platter to you!

It’s magic to be born and brought up in India of today. A society that offers a blend of traditional with the modern, mystic with logic, religion with secularism, and science with faith; India is the place to be! For several years, people from across the world have knocked at India’s doors whenever they needed a bit of soul-searching. But today’s soul-searching comes with a twist! While India is no more just a land of snake-charmers and elephants, it continues to offer its vibrant culture, traditions and history to the world in a modernized, re-packaged manner.  I welcome you to join me in my journey of soul-searching in the current times. I can guarantee you that even if we get lost, we’ll get somewhere!


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