I finished my morning jog around the local track and rushed back home. I grinned at the sight of the man clad in white. He had his ancient bicycle with him, stacked with hundreds of papers. I affectionately called him "Newspaper wale bhaiya." I saw him every morning. He had been delivering newspapers to the house from years before I was born. I spoke to the old man every day about the gossip of the town. Be it the rumors about the "bhoot" of the estranged queen, Salabat Khan, lurking in the streets at night or discovery of the new best street vendor in town, this man knew it all. I picked up and hid the copy of my favorite newspaper before anyone in my family could get their hands on it.
Growing up in the small town of Ahmednagar, I never really had much to do. It lacked the glamour of the metro-politician cities: - the malls, the restaurants or the millions of unknown faces. I studied in the local Army Public School and as soon as I began to make close friends, their fathers would get posted somewhere else. Therefore, I grew up playing cricket with the people working at my house on the street in front and loved listening to my grandma's fascinating stories about the rich Hindu Mythology to pass my time. I was particularly fond of the Mahabharata and Ramayana, the two great epics of the Hindu mythology. I often urged my grandma to delve deeper into these vast complex stories.
As usual, I sat down in the garden and opened my copy of the newspaper. I flipped the newspaper backward and started reading. A big fan of sports, I always read the sports section first. I kept turning the pages and was horrified by the news that I was reading. The paper was full of incidents such as rape, racism, and homicide. Some incidents were such that they made my stomach uneasy. However, what bothered me the most was not the horrifying nature of the incidents but how some were normalized and blamed on the victim. The entire culture encompassing events such as rape and racism majorly was flawed.
This pervasive culture included: sexual objectification, trivializing horrifying incidents and most of all victim blaming. There were instances where policemen commented on the choice of a victim's clothes which "attracted" sexual assault and somewhere the sufferer was condemned by her family members for bringing dishonor and shame to their family and community. Moreover, marital rape was constantly termed as consensual and a "right." There were instances where the police refused to register complaints of racism due to its 'trivial nature' and were at times, racist themselves.
However, this culture didn't seem very unfamiliar. I had heard about this before and commented on its unjust nature. The difference was, I had heard about this culture from the vast stories my grandma narrated to me throughout my childhood. The stories of the great mythological gods which humans fondly worship and live by.
My first thought swayed towards the noble god of the epic Ramayana, Ram. After rescuing his beloved wife Sita from the demon king Ravana, there were many rumors about her "purity" as she had been abducted and forced to live in Ravana's palace for so long. Due to this, Lord Ram was under the influence that he had lost his honor in front of his subjects. Therefore, he made Sita undergo the "Agni Pariksha" in public to prove her purity. It is said that Ram had always known that Sita was pure and merely wanted to win back his honor. But, the fact that he had convinced himself about her being pure is a clear indication that he believed in the so-called facade of "purity" even though Sita was abducted without any consent.
Moreover, after the rumors did not stop, Ram banished Sita to the forest with a heavy heart. Is that how much he cared about the woman who abandoned everything to accompany him on his Vanavas for fourteen years? This culture of victim blaming was prevalent then and continues today as our country is still deeply rooted in its past. How do we expect victim blaming to stop if humans continue to live by these scriptures and teach the same to their children?
My second thought was of Draupadi, the most powerful queen in India at that time. She was wagered by Yudshistra, the eldest brother of the Pandavas and her husband in a gambling bet that he lost. She was treated as a mere object by her own husband. Furthermore, the laws at that time stated that "A woman is the property of her husband, no less or no more than a simple cow". After hearing a great deal about the Pandavas, men like Yuddhistra and Arjun are many children's heroes. What does the fact that they were happy objectifying women as possessions send across to these children? Does it imply that it is completely normal to treat women like objects?
My last thought was of Lord Krishna. Krishna was always regarded as a just and witty man. He is worshipped all over India. However, it was Krishna who instigated Draupadi and Dhrisdayamuna (Draupadi's brother) against Karna by using his parental status. It was he who convinced Draupadi to reject Karna due to him being a "Suta Putra." He did this, keeping in mind a bigger picture of the world and did not actually have a problem with Karna's background.
However, nothing makes such marginalization which shamed a great warrior reducing him to tears excusable. He was as responsible as Draupadi in turning the youthful Karna into a bitter man. This is what continues in the world today. The constant marginalization of minorities creates hatred in their minds leading to violent or verbal outbursts which do not benefit anyone.
When I formed this connection in my mind, it changed my whole perspective on this topic. I realized what is occurring today has been happening for thousands of years. Our gods themselves got parts of it wrong. However, instead of continuing to follow such customs it is our responsibility to recognize their follies and correct them to form a just environment where every man, woman and child can breathe freely without communal suffocation in the name of honor.