Does a society learn from its past? Past mistakes to be precise? Has our nation learnt from the gut-wrenching incident of a Nirbhaya on a fateful night of December 2012? Have rapes and murders of women stopped? Have the changes in law brought any respite to a woman? Is she more secure today?
At the cost of repetition, does a society learn from its mistakes? No, it seldom does.
All of us are well aware of the episode of Draupadi’s vastraharan or disrobing after she was lost in the dice game, by her husband, Yudhishtir. Many say that it was this that led to Kurukshetra, while some say, it was Draupadi’s laughter at Duryodhana at Indraprastha. Irrespective of it, the society blames Draupadi for the war. But going back the episode of the disrobing; an effort is made to disrobe Draupadi and her husband/s say nothing. They remain mute observers, as they were supposed to be following the dharma of a slave! Allowing ones wife to be stripped in public and not stand by her, could never be part of any dharma, was forgotten by none other than Dharma-raj himself.
One would think that such an experience would be enough to last a lifetime for a person like Yudhishtir, right? Wrong!
Let me relate another incident that happens after sometime and Yudhishtir behaves in the same way, as he did earlier and thus my concern – does society ever learn?
After the Pandavs lost everything in the dice game, in spite of Draupadi winning everything back with her arguments and invoking humanity, in the court of Hastinapur, the Pandavs are sent to exile for twelve years and an additional year incognito, i.e. in disguise. If they were found out in the thirteenth year, then they would have to go for another thirteen years in exile.
During the thirteenth year, the Pandavs and Draupadi decided to take refuge at the court of Virata, all in disguise. Yudhistir becomes the advisor to the King and Draupadi becomes one of maids of the Queen Sudeshna of Virata. However, Draupadi’s beauty attracts the evil gaze of the Queen’s bother Keechaka, who is also the powerful army chief. Draupadi tries to stall his advances, but is unable to do much when the Queen herself insists that she give in to her advances. Queen Sudeshna once forced Draupadi to take wine for Keechaka in his chambers. Once there, Keechaka tries to molest her and Draupadi to avoid his advances runs away from his chambers and lands up in the court seeking protection from the king and her husband, Yudhishtir, who was present in the court.
Keechaka follows her to the court, and seizing her by her hair throws her down on the earth, kicked her in the very presence of the King, and of course her husband Yudhishtir. Draupadi urges the King to intervene and save her from the mighty Keechaka who has been casting evil eye on her, a married woman, all this while hoping Yudhishtir would intervene. While the King didn’t know how to react, as Keechaka was his brother-in-law and a general, the courtiers applauded Draupadi’s stance of seeking justice in an open court against the wrong-doings of Keechaka, which were well known. To Draupadi’s horror, Yudhishtir speaks and scolds her for disturbing the proceedings of the court and bringing such complaints in front of everybody. He further tells her not to put up an act and go back to the inner chambers of the Queen and not come back with such lamentations to the court, especially when a dice game is on!
Draupadi in Virata's palace, by Raja Ravi Varma
While many say, that Yudhishtir said this as he did not want to risk being recognized in the crucial thirteenth year, the fact remains, that once again Draupadi was insulted and once again her husband did not come to her help. I repeat, does the society learn from its past mistakes? While Yudhishtir could have managed to save Draupadi with some of his advise and that too in a court which was averse to Keechaka, Yudhistir decided to reprimand Draupadi for ‘wasting the time of the court’.
Misplaced sense of duty or selfish agenda, or both?
On this Women’s day, I urge people to stand up for women, irrespective of one’s political and ideological affiliations. A woman’s dignity is of prime significance and no crime on her part can justify, lynching, molestation and public humiliation and in modern times, social media trolling. The society has no right to breach codes of morality both written and unwritten. This society has enough Keechaka’s and Sudeshna’s, but it is the responsibility of every citizen to stand by a woman, irrespective of her ‘crime’. It’s time to pull down curtains on the age-old lip-service that a woman is a mother and goddess and she needs to be worshipped. A woman doesn’t need to be worshipped; she needs to be respected for who she is – an individual. While today’s woman can take care of herself, if a man stands by her, it would only act as a fillip.
And finally, men, don’t be Yudhishtirs, be a Bhima. Just to conclude the story, Draupadi goes to Bhima and relates everything. Next night Bhima kills Keechaka. Bhima stands by his wife.
If a woman is safe, everyday will be a woman’s day; if she is not, what's the big deal in celebrating it even for one day?