I’ve just finished reading ‘Lost Love’ by Arshia Sattar. The book made me change my opinion of Sita who was asked to prove her chastity not once but twice by her husband. Earlier, I would feel sorry for her plight and wonder how she could agree to publicly prove her loyalty to her husband? I mean, do these things have to be proved? Aren’t they understood? Sita, however, was married to the King of Ayodhya and her situation was perhaps different to mine and yours. But Arshia Sattar analyzes her action from a different perspective. The first time she is asked to prove her chastity, having lived in Ravana’s palace for a reasonably long period, she is perhaps too shocked to react and goes through the ritual of entering the burning flames without giving too much thought to the humiliation that she had been subjected to. According to mythology, the Gods including the fire god Agni declare her chaste and her husband takes their testimony to be authentic and accepts her.
Rama abandons her a second time on hearing his subjects gossip about her chastity and questioning the paternity of her unborn child since she is now pregnant. She gives birth to twins in the hermitage of Valmiki Rishi who offers her a home and shelter. Her sons are trained to sing the story of their valiant father. Rama, on hearing them sing and on the basis of Valmiki’s assertion that Sita was indeed chaste, relents and agrees to take her back provided she proves her chastity in the presence of his subjects.
This time however, Sita has spent a long time speculating over the treatment meted out to her and when she is thus humiliated a second time, she invokes Mother Earth to create a chasm and take her in as proof of her chastity. She is happy to see her sons united to the father but has no interest in joining him as his queen. For all we know there may be several more reasons and occasions for Rama to keep asking her to prove her chastity time and again. This is an insult that she could do without. It is her turn to abandon her husband who has to live with guilt for the rest of his life. This aspect of her personality is what women need to uphold in their lives. They ought to be accountable to their own selves for their actions and none other.
The plight of Sita in the epic raises a lot of questions in my mind. Are womenfolk any better today? Are not women considered as property that needs to be transferred from one proprietor to another from childhood to old age? The girl has to just turn 18 and her parents start worrying. She needs to be safeguarded till her husband takes over. The husband does not even have to be eligible. He just has to be a man. If her marriage fails it is usually her fault. She did not try hard enough. Her husband fell for his colleague/neighbor/any one in the whole world and abandoned her because she could not be the ideal wife that he merited. Never mind that he was less than perfect himself. Even if she was herself was above blame she had to put up with his wayward behavior because she would not receive any support from her maternal home. When I see women subjected to all kinds of humiliation by society I feel Sita was better off. She led a peaceful life in the forest raising her sons instead of having to listen to her chastity being questioned by every male in town.
Are financially empowered women any better? They have the freedom to leave home and spend a few hours in their work place. I wouldn’t know how it is today. When I was growing up, I had a cousin employed in a nationalized bank and one of the conditions laid down by her in laws was that she should hand over her entire salary to her mother in law and accept a pocket allowance that the MIL thought was appropriate. I do not know if the arrangement continues these days. I was lucky that my mother in law was assertive herself and encouraged me to stand up for myself. She would advise me not to let my husband micro-manage my life. Those were days when I was not working and my husband would give my MIL spending money. Once the money came into her hands she would let me handle it but would never let my husband question the running of the household.
“That much freedom is yours by right” she would say. “Don’t give it up ever.”
Today is her 33rd death anniversary. I spent just 5 years with her and for the last one and a half years she was bed ridden. But the impact she made lasts till now. I wonder how many are that lucky. My advice to young women is to be in charge of their lives. Men may resent it initially but once they realize that you are equally capable of running the house and deciding things, they will gladly acknowledge your role as an equal partner. After all who does not want a supporting hand?