Innocent Sita !

Why did Rama abandon her ?? 

 

That crucial question has bugged me for years. 
Yes, I have heard of all the plausible arguments in favour of democracy and public opinion and how Rama really loved Sita but had to do it for the love of Duty etc.
  None of this made sense.  Indeed, which part of Dharma Shastra would allow him, as a caring King and a loving husband to abandon a pregnant woman ?

This is particularly galling when you consider that this is the same Rama that helped rehabilitate the sagely Ahalyaji.  In Ahalya’s case, here we have a woman who has been raped under the guise of Indra pretending to be her husband.  She is than duly abandoned by Rishi Gautam and cursed in the bargain !   How unfair is this ?  To be raped and cursed for being raped !  To punish a victim for crimes committed against them is unfair and unreasonable in any society.  Yes, Rishi Gautam felt hurt and betrayed, but there was no reason to take it out on his innocent wife !  He even protested that she must have known the difference between her husband and someone pretending to be the same – so surely, she is guilty !!

Ahalyaji was raped in the darkest part of the night – just before pre-dawn, at a time when her husband was out and about to take the morning bath in the river.  There is no way she could have known in that light if it was Rishi Gautam or not.  Only the rishi's macho-manliness required him to punish the culprits and in his rage, he cursed the innocent aswell as the guilty.  

Condemned by her husband, Ahalya lived unacknowledged, unwelcome, in an ashram full of people that should have been compassionate to her.  She lived so ignored by the community, that she might as well as have been a stone !  Hence the reference to Ahalya as shalya – stone.

Rama felt the injustice of the sentenced passed by society on an innocent woman.  Woman condemned by her aggressor and her peers.  A woman who had no way to redress the system that had wronged her so badly, had someone who was at the pinnacle of the system to stand up for her.  Rama stood by her.  That scion of Raghuvansha, descendant of Suraya, prince of the clan of Bhagirath.   He came to stand beside the woman no one wanted to know.  Once he stood by her, everyone was bound to re-examine their own stance. 

In our modern age, Princess Diana used the same thing to bring AIDs victims out of the cold and into the full glare of the media, into the warmth of human rights.  Her touching and talking to AIDs victims without gloves and masks made everyone feel it was OK for them to do the same. 

The great and good of the world can make a huge difference by whom they choose to associate themselves with.  The causes they support, suddenly become talk of the town.  Society always looks up to its leaders to set an example for them.   Krushna says as much to Arjun in the Bhagvad Gita – The acts of the great are seen as guides by the masses, hence the great have a great responsibility to behave in a manner that inspires the society to better itself.

Rama was a great prince.  His association with Ahalyaji would propel her cause, the cause of all wronged women, into the lime light.  It would set an example of how compassion and kindness should replace coldness of social ostracization.

Rama helped rehabilitate Ahalyaji.   He brought her out of social exile and had her reunited with her family.
This was an act of great compassion for a young prince, not even married yet !

 

Even during his exile, Rama continued his task of helping to rehabilitate those whom the society considered too uncouth to communicate with.  He spoke to Guha, the leader of the fisher folk.  He also ate with Shabri, the aboriginal.  No one would sit and eat, let alone have any social relationships with the tribal people living in the deepest, darkest jungles of India.  Rama did.  He not only sought them out, he made them feel at ease with him – the mighty prince of Kaushal !  Rama’s association with Shabri helped establish her as a sagely woman of great wisdom.  Once accepted by the great student of great Vashishtha and Vishvamitra, Rama, everyone began to seek her out !

 

Rama went further and made crucial alliance of friendship between himself and the Vanar prince Sugriv.  It was a friendship, a relationship between equals – not between a prince and a tribal, but prince and a prince !!  This is the special relationship between Rama’s progress through the Southern lands and friendships he fostered between different communities he found there.

Let us not forget, he fought the high caste brahmin’s court, that of Ravan, and not the non-Aryan communities in-between.   The Rakshashas are the step brothers of the Devas, and Rama fought them.  He made the vanars – people whom the Aryans considered to be little more evolved than monkeys, his blood brothers and brought them into the main stream of the society.

 

Rama helped yet another woman regain her social standing – Tara – queen of Kishkindha during the rule of Vali and Sugrive.  Though initially wedded to Sugrive, she was later commandeered by Vali and later returned to Sugrive.  She had a son – Angada - during her time with Vali and Rama promised to make sure he would not suffer politically or socially in the new era.   Rama made sure Angad was made the crown-prince and Tara restored to the position of queen and future queen-mother.  The laws and rules of the Vanar community were respected – Tara’s forced change of marital partner was the way tribal communities ruled and some still do.  Rama, by supporting Angada, introduced progressive elements in to the society and encouraged ideas of compassion.  Under normal circumstances, it seems, Angada would have died as the off-spring of the old enemy and Tara would have had to swallow that pain in the name of social order.  No more.  Rama showed that Tara had no choice in her situation and the society should treat her with compassion and understanding.

 

After the defeat of Ravan, the mortal enemy of Rama, Mandodari, his chief queen, comes out to grieve over her unfaithful husband.  This was a man who had a roving eye and kidnapped many women to satisfy his lust.  Mandodari, as his first wife, was secure in her position, but, powerless to restrain him.  Her security came from being the first to wed him, and the first to give him valient sons as heirs, but her powerlessness came from knowing her husband was a lustful man who knew no restraint.  Being the super power of his time, he knew no one would stand up to him.  He took what he wanted, when he wanted, from where he wanted.  If the gods could not restrain him, how could Mandodari ? 

Rama recognised this.  Why should she be punished for his avarice ?  He called her a Sati, and honoured her as a paragon of the virtue of patience.  He gave her the honours due to the widow of the fallen warrior.  Rama made sure Mandodari was not vilified for the sins of her husband and sons.

 

So, first we have Ahalya, a woman punished for being the victim of someone’s lust.
We than have a woman, Shabri, punished for being born in the “wrong cast”.
Another, Tara, was the victim of political and social powers beyond her.
Yet another, Mandodari, feared being ostracised for being the wife of a villan.

Rama stood by all of these women.  
Not only that, he supported them and helped them being rehabilitated into the society.
So this is the biography of Rama.

Why would such a kind, compassionate, inclusive, progressive person punish his own innocent wife with exile ? 

 

Rama battled with bigotry of others all his life.  If you look at the list of the greatest Pati-Vrata-Naries – ladies who are considered to be the most devoted to their husbands – four are from Rama’s time.  Ahalya, Tara, Mandodari and Sita !

So, why would Sita suffer what others had been spared ?

Sita was not raped, Ahalya was.
Sita was born into the royal family, yet lived like the tribal – Shabri - for the best part of her life.
Sita’s sons were legitimate, unlike Tara’s, and yet, their birthright was snatched from them even before their birth.
Sita’s husband was the paragon of Dharma, yet, she suffered insults even Mandodari was spared !!

Why ?

Rama knew, for sure, that Sita was unmolested by Ravan.  Yet, why did he not stand by her as he stood by Ahalya ?  If Rama forced the society to change its views of Ahalya, why did he not do the same for Sita ?

Rama gave Angada the rights reserved for a crown prince, why did he not protect the rights of his own sons ?  He was able to change centuries of social norm for Tara, so why not for Sita ?

Rama guarded the rights and honours of a woman who was the wife of a veritable monster.  Why did he not guard even the basic rights of his own wife ?

 

No, this article is not a feminist attack on Rama.  I have set out the scene of Rama’s previous social activities so that we can explore the reasons why Rama abandoned Sitaji.

Rama was a leader.  Like all leaders, he lived his life in the full glare of the public.  Everyone knew his life, inside out.  There was nothing he could hide in his life.  To please people around himself, he did everything necessary to make them happy.  He even abandoned his mother and kingdom to prove what a law abiding (Dharma Dhurandhar), wonderful son he was.  His reward - exile and adulation. 

Sadly, the exile was oh-so-long and the adulation was so, so short !

Society, any society, is fickle.   They raise you to the pinnacle one minute, and dash you in to the dust the very next minute, without a second thought.  You cannot please all the people all the time.  People are cruel and will remember bad parts more so than the good ones.

The very people who welcomed Rama and Sita as their "life and soul", later smirked and gossiped about them behind their back.  Surely, others of greater intelligence and eloquence must have muted the ideas before the washer man spoke them aloud !  The washer man was but the most out-spoken proponent of these gossips. 

Gossip is one thing people love the most.  Gossip is the killer of any utopia.  Rama-Rajya, the utopia of Hindu scriptures, was seriously flawed because just as the people enjoyed the “perfect rule”, its “perfect ruler” led a hollow life.  Without the love of his life, Rama was incomplete and unhappy.

Rama found that once doubt found a foothold in the mind of his subjects, it was impossible to dislodge it.  No amount of Agni-sanas could remove this doubt, as doubt, by its very nature, is founded on feelings and not on facts.  No amounts of proofs, given by the very Gods, could remove the doubts.  Doubt fractures the very foundation of faith and once faith is gone, all the rest is useless. 

Rama knew this. 

As an idealistic young man, he could fight for Ahalya, Shabri and even Tara.  He could challenge the social norms and moralities with the zeal of a rebellious youth, believing that he can do anything he puts his mind to.  How many young people, even today, believe they can do what generations before them have not been able to ?

But, as a mature ruler, Rama found life to be very different.  Out of power, he could do no wrong.  People adored him no matter what he did, as he was worse off than they (the people) were.  If they lived in modest houses, Rama lived in a mud hut, in the middle of the jungle.  How could they not love him ?

But now, living in a palace, he was in a better place than them.  He could now be criticized.  Rama knew this too.   He had to lead an unblemished life.  Be whiter than white and give no reason for anyone to find any flaws in the façade of his perfect life.

But, even his most strenuous efforts could not stop the fire of doubt spreading across his capital.  Once tainted by gossip, there was little he could do to shake it off.   Those who pointed fingers at Rama and Sita, lead less than perfect lives themselves.  But, they expected Rama and Sita to lead an exemplary life, well beyond the capability of anyone.

“Let he who is innocent, cast the first stone.” said Christ.
Sadly, there are no innocents around.
Even more sadly, the more guilty they are, the harder they stone you.

They ruthlessly stoned Sita’s reputation. 

Without proof, without reason, without remorse, they punished Sita for a crime she did not commit. 
Rama could do nothing to protect her.  If he did, he would be accused of favouritism.  For sake of political correctness, he had to step back and let the cruel drama unfold.  He could intervene, but not without leaving everything he had worked for behind him and leaving with his wife to the unanimous life somewhere else, far from Kaushal.  He could not do that.  To abandon his perfect plan of a perfect society was too much for him. 

He took the only option open to him – the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one.
He abandoned any chance of happiness in his life for the happiness of his people.
He abandoned Sitaji and sent her back to the forests she loved so much !
He sought the help of sage Valmiki in this matter, as he was one of the most progressive of sages at the time.

But, he still loved Sitaji.  More than ever !

 

When his people demanded he remarry for the Ashvamedha Yagna, Rama had enough.  He placed a golden statue of Sita in place of his wife and challenged his kingdom to disprove him.  He could have made the statue out of anything, stone, wood, silver, but why gold ?  Just as gold never tarnishes, Sita in his view could never have a tarnished character.  Sita was his wife, even in abstentia.  Marriage was a personal matter and no amount of public opinion could shake him from it.  He had enough of running his life being guided by public opinion.   No more !  He could abandon a queen for peace amongst his people, but he would never abandon his wife !  Tough talk – if only he had done it a few years earlier ! 

You cannot run your life on public opinion.  If anything, that is the flaw in RamaRajya.

Democracy, or public consensus, are great ideas, but often lead to the common denominator – and that is usually the lowest common denominator.  There is little to gain from going for the common denominator.

Rama and Sita could not live life with so many responsibilities and so little reward for it !  Sitaji kept fighting off suspicious rumours about her and her sons.  Eventually, she stood up to them – not like Rama with his allegorical golden Sita, but a concrete affirmation of who and what she was.  Sitaji said, in no uncertain way, "Accept me as I am.  If you don’t, the loss is yours, not mine.

There is an old poem by Kalapi that says - "Dayahin thayo raja, raasahin thai dhara".  When the king become merciless, the very Earth of that kingdom losses its essence.   Just as the Earth cracks when it is totally dry, without any moisture, without any life, without any "raasa" (joy in life), eventually Rama and Sita both cracked.  Sitaji preferred to be away from such an unforgiving society.  It was our loss.

 

Stand up and be counted.  
Be in charge of your life ! 
Don't let others rule your life for you !!
Anytime we do not stand up against the cruel dictats of our family / work-place / school / community / society / country - we are condeming one more Sita. 

 

My analysis of Ramayan –

Why did sage Valmiki write the story of Rama and Sita
What does the Ramayan say about the society of the time.
How has Ramayan impacted lives of Indians through the centuries.
How does Ramayan continue to impact us today.
Sita, the gentle face of the goddess
Rama, why did he abandon Sita ?
Sita, why did she stay so silent though she was abandoned ?
Some of the reasons why we still adore Rama.
Rama Rajya, can it ever come back ?
Characters of Ramayan 

 

© Bhagwat    Bhagwat_s@Yahoo.com

 

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