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Abstract when women in the movement use

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Abstract

            In
1976, Casey Miller
and Kate Swift
wrote in Words & Women,- when women in the movement use herstory,
their purpose is to emphasize that women’s lives, deeds, and participation in
human affairs have been neglected or undervalued in standard histories. In
fact, women have always been spoken about or rather spoken for and histories
are replete with frozen images of stereotypical women mythologised either as
ideals of perfection or demons of transgression. The real selves and identity
of women as humans have been stifled out of existence. Among the most popular
mythical images of women, ‘Sita’ has been cast as an icon of self-effacing,
pure Indian woman, who has had a captivating effect on the psyche of Indians
over the centuries. Though her desertion by Rama, the Purushottama has been
condemned by many, sympathizing the victimized Sita, not many have tried in
earnest to crawl into her mind and voice her silences, as her silence is made
her valued virtue. However, Feminist writers like Iravati Karve, Vaidehi,
Volga, Shashi Deshpande are a few of those who have re-visioned these myths
about Sita from a women-centric perspective, where Sita’s inner mindscape gets
revealed overcoming the passivity in which she is subsumed. In this paper the
manifestation of Sita as a thinking, feeling individual in Shashi Deshpande’s
‘The Day of the Golden Deer’ and Volga’s ‘Union’ (Samagama) has been attempted,
so as to formulate herstory for Sita, releasing her from the web of archetypal
formulations.

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Keywords:
Stereotype, Mythical, Archetype, Re-vision, herstory.

 

Introduction

“Women have no virile Myths in which their projects are
reflected, they still dream through the dreams of men. Gods made by males are
the gods they worship.”

                                                                                                            
– -Simone de
Beauvoir

          With the onset of the second-wave feminism 
in the 1970s and 80s, women thinkers deciphered that the study of
history and mythology has all along been a male-dominated intellectual
enterprise. They felt that women’s voices remained muted and their experiences,
opinions and perspectives lay stifled amidst the hegemonic dominance of male
world view.  This obliteration of the
authentic identities of one half of human population had probably led to a
partial understanding of the universe, leading to the fractured and incomplete conceptualisation
of knowledge. The lop-sided formulations and projections of humanity have
erased women’s existence out of history. Hence many women writers who came to
maturity in the 70’s and 80’s  made attempts
to correct this imbalance and  tried to
present ‘herstory’ as a means of compensation for the erasure faced by women
all the bygone centuries. The famed historical and mythological narratives are
rewritten by many women writers, bringing the marginalized women characters to
the center. As the American feminist writer Adrienne Rich says in her essay ‘When We Dead Awaken: Writing as
Re-Vision,’ this act of re-visioning would help women to analyze and to act on
“how we live, how we have been living, how we have been led to imagine
ourselves, how our language has trapped as well as liberated us, how the very
act of naming has been till now a male prerogative, how we can begin to see and
name – and therefore live – afresh”. These re-visionings would create ‘Herstories’,
which would finally rupture the hegemonic gender relations misconstrued in
society.

            Among
the many idealized conceptions of perfect women in India, the character of
‘Sita’ has been widely accepted in the psyche of the multitude as the noblest
and exemplary for other women. Sita stands as a perfect match to the eponymous
hero of the famed epic ‘Ramayana.’
Rama, the purushottama (The Best among Men) must have for his wife, a woman
with the best qualities of head and heart. Her matchless beauty, her devoted
duties towards her husband, her submissive demeanor, self-effacing and
sacrificial nature and above all her silent suffering and forbearance of unjust
treatment meted out to her makes her an amalgamation of the feminine virtues
that is worthy of an ideal Indian woman. But for many feminists Sita’s silence
and composure when deserted by Rama, the husband who was her whole and soul,
has remained an enigma. They find it unpalatable that she could take in the
injustice meted out to her with such equanimity. They find it rather illogical
that the script of Ramayana does not record her anger, resentment and feelings
of being slighted, and feel that her bitterness has been probably muted. Hence
many women writers have made attempts to re-inscribe her bitterness through
their writings. Among them Shashi Deshpande’s ‘The Day of the Golden Deer’
successfully captures Sita’s shock and her innermost conflicts when Laxmana
acting upon the orders of his brother reveals to Sita, Rama’s orders of her
exile. Her introspective remarks lay bare the underlying patriarchal hypocrisies
and gender politics; and Volga’s ‘Samagama’ (Union) originally written in Telugu
pictures Sita in her later years, as a doting mother of her twin sons-Lava and
Kusha. She emerges as an image of maturity and humanity which oozes love and
kindness to all. The unthinkable meeting between Sita and Shurpanaka is the
plot of the story which dethrones unquestioned assumptions of patriarchal
politics that has always scored by setting women against women. Manifestation
of Sita in these two stories forms the crux of this paper.

 

 

The
Day of the Golden Deer               

            As against Sita’s image in the
popular imagination that of a passive victim of male egos of Ravana and Rama
that has drawn the sympathies of people across cultural boundaries, Deshpande in
the present story has painted Sita in the hues of a wronged woman, whose awakened
feminist consciousness questions the Patriarchal values that victimise women.
The story begins with Laxmana hesitantly revealing to the pregnant Sita, Rama’s
orders for her exile into the forest. On the verge of such a crisis, Sita
introspectively recollects the day of her arrival as a bride to Ayodhya with
her husband. She remembers how the people had adoringly looked on Rama and
cheered him admiringly and its effects on him.  He had turned to her then with glowing eyes and
a radiant smile on his face which was saying to her –”Do you see how they love
me? Do you hear them?” (67) Then she was too young and foolish to realize that
the expression meant – “a man can get drunk with the wine of too much love and
admiration.” (67) She now understands that “it can become a passion too, this
desire to be loved and admired” (67) and led to abandoning “his wife to please
his people” (66) in order to keep their eulogy of him as being most dutiful and
righteous king, intact. She blows apart the falsity and hypocrisy of arguments
of Rama’s duty as a King and her fate as being responsible for her exile,
which are mere patriarchal defenses for Rama’s inhuman and atrocious treatment
of his wife, which in reality was  his
self-love.  Her memory of how Rama had killed
Wali, an unsuspecting man, for her sake further validates that he can sacrifice
anything for his selfish passions. Further, if he was so dutiful, he could have
done his duty as a king and given justice to Sita considering her not as his
wife, but as a citizen of his country, but probably Rama was more than willing
to sacrifice the interests of meek Sita to establish his dispassionate
judgement among his people.   

        Deshpande also deconstructs the simplistic ploy of juxtaposing
Rama’s heroic deeds with the villainy of Ravana enunciated in the Epic. Sita’s
comparison between them negates the opposition between them, in turn humanizes
them, concluding that Ravana’s passion was simple while Rama’s “passion, to be
always in the right, never to do any wrong, is worse” (67) making it dangerous.
It was the same passion sheltered by the word ‘duty’ that had asked her to
prove her purity. He had said, “I would have failed in my duty if I had let my
love for you stop me from doing it.” And it had hurt her then that he had shown
her, not his grief at having to be cruel to her, but “his pride in having done
his duty.”(68) Even now, Sita wishes that instead of sending Laxmana, if he
himself had come to her, if he had told her why he was abandoning, if he had
revealed his grief for doing this thing. But then again feels what difference
would it have made? But one thing she knows is: “when one human suffers for
another, there is a strange link between them.”(69) She realized this, the day
when the end of the war was near, when Ravana who had ruined her life had come
to her and wept, showing her, his grief, his anger, his weakness. He conquered
his tears, advanced his hands to squeeze life out of her but finally became
helpless. It was then that she realized his tragedy. She was never afraid of
him. As people speak of “there never was any blade of grass” (70) between them.
“There was just my will. And this feeling of his for me that would not let him
force his will on me.”(70) After he had gone, she too had wept for him. She
neither blames fate nor believes in it: “It is not fate that shapes our lives,
but our wills, our actions.” (70)

            Further, Deshpande’s impartial
analysis does not put the entire onus of Sita’s desertion on Rama alone, but
makes Sita realize her own weaknesses. Sita acknowledges that it was not fate
that left her unprotected on the day of her abduction but it was the result of
her weakness, of her excessive love for her husband. In fact she makes her
desire for the golden deer as a metaphor of her own craving for perfection, “it
is nothing but a mirage, a delusion.” which was to reap disastrous results. She
wants to send the message to the king: “I was wrong in thinking that I had
surrendered the golden deer. I have not, not entirely. Now, it is time for me
to do so, to give up the idea of perfection in any man, in any human.” (73) But
she regrets “he is still chasing it, the golden deer of perfection.”(72)

            As she gets ready to enter the
forest once again with a will to fight: “the demons of fear, hate, self-pity
and bitterness, yes, and anger too”, her words of her assertion- “I am no Queen
if the King casts me off. I am nothing . . . I go back to being what I was. The
daughter of King Janaka. No, not even that. I am just Sita (65) significantly
presents a strong Sita who with a new awareness of herself walks into the
forest, to face the terrible years that are waiting for her. Her message to
Rama through Lakshmana: “Tell my husband that he could have done something worse.
He could have forgiven me” (73) and “I will forgive him, not because I am a
virtuous and devoted wife, but because I pity him” validates her complete
transformation as a mature woman with the capacity to take life head on.

Samagama (Union)

            Volga, a radical feminist writer in
Telugu is known for her revolutionary ideas for emancipation of women. Her
short stories and novels are replete with her attempts to find out the roots of
women’s oppression and thereby suggest practical solutions for women to
overcome them. In the story ‘Samagama’, she imaginatively recreates Sita’s life
and thoughts during her exile in the forest with her children. In this story she
appears to be living her resolutions that she had made in Deshpande’s story
discussed earlier, almost as though this story is a sequel to ‘The Day of the
Golden Deer.’

            Sita in this story is seen as a
resolved woman, who is living a life of a contented mother in the laps of
nature. The serenity of the surroundings, the calm and poise, free from human
vices of scheming, jealousy, competition lends an appropriate setting for the
calm and peaceful life and the productive thoughts of the characters. The scene
opens when Sita is surprised to see the most beautiful and fragrant flowers
brought by her sons Lava and Kusha from the forest for the evening worship.
Upon enquiry she realizes that they are from a special garden which is nurtured
by a most ugly woman, whose description, Sita realizes is that of ‘Shurpanaki’
Ravana’s sister. She remembers the beautiful Shurpanaki who enamoured by Rama’s
beauty had proposed her love to him, only to meet the mutilation of her nose
and ears by Rama-Laxmana rendering her ugly for the rest of her life. The
decision of Sita to meet Shurpanaki shows Sita as a woman in control of
herself, willing to know and understand the pains and pleasures of another
woman.

            Volga uses this encounter between
the two women who loved Rama, and both in a way abandoned by him to unveil the
patriarchal structures which puts women against one another. She expresses the
feministic desire to establish ‘sisterhood,’ to defeat the politics of divide
and rule. Simon de Beauvoir in her introduction to The Second Sex analyses the lack of united efforts to overcome
oppression of men, states- “The reason for this is that women lack concrete
means for organising themselves into a unit which can stand face to face with
the correlative unit. They have no past, no history, no religion of their own;
and they have no such solidarity of work and interest as that of the
proletariat. They are not even promiscuously herded together in the way that
creates community feeling among the American Negroes, the ghetto Jews, the
workers of Saint-Denis, or the factory hands of Renault. They live dispersed
among the males, attached through residence, housework, economic condition, and
social standing to certain men – fathers or husbands – more firmly than they
are to other women. If they belong to the bourgeoisie, they feel solidarity
with men of that class, not with proletarian women; if they are white, their
allegiance is to white men, not to Negro women”. Volga definitely wishes women
to overcome this feminine mystique and therefore the meeting between the two
women, commonly pictured as adversaries, turns contrary to the expected
outcome. Sita is able to now understand Shurpanaki’s pain and appreciate her
efforts of having fought her tarnished prospects and now stands as the creator
of beauteous garden herself, and has learnt to love life selflessly. In turn
Shurpanaki also laments over the condition of Sita, the Queen of Ayodhya now
leading a hermit’s life of austerity. She is even able to gauge Sita’s future,
when she will have to suffer separation from the future Princes, her sons. She
asks Sita with concern -“What will you do when your sons will have to leave the
forest and return to their princely duties of protecting the citizens in the
city? Will you live alone in Valmiki Ashrama?” (Trans. mine)  To which Sita answers “No, shurpanaki, I will
take refuge in my mother Earth”. (Trans. mine)  It is then we realize the magnanimity of
Shurpanaki who turning towards the beautiful garden tended by her and says
“Your mother is everywhere, but I feel that your mother’s beauteous form is
nowhere as resplendent as it is here” (Trans. mine) thereby inviting Sita into
the folds of her affection. Perceiving this loving gesture, Sita’s heart is
filled with sisterly love for Shurpanaki, and she assures Shurpanaki by saying-
“Without fail Shurpanaki, I will resume to be Earth’s daughter, once my sons
depart from me. Under these cool boughs, resuscitating myself, I will explore
new meanings of life.”(Trans. mine) This ending of the story of two wounded
women finding peaceful comfort and reinforcement with each other marks the hope
of women’s solidarity and Sisterhood which can be the most effective step
towards women empowerment in its truest sense.

 

 

Conclusion:

         

        Thus a re-examination of the mythological and historical
representation of women to understand their marginalized, muted existences and
re-cast them from the point of view of women writers is quite essential, for
herstories to be recovered and reinstated from oblivion. As Nayantara Sahagal
says  “Through such re-writing . . . new
Sitas and Savitris will arise, stripped of false sanctity and crowned with the
human virtue of courage. Then at last we will know why they did, what they
did.”

 

References

 

·        
Beauvoir,
Simone de. “Introduction” The Second Sex.
New York: Vintage Books 1989, c1952. Print.

·        
Deshpande,
Shashi. “The Day of the Golden Deer” Collected
Stories. Vol. 2. New Delhi: Penguin Books 2004. Print.

·        
Rich, Adrienne.  “When We
Dead Awaken: Writing as Re-Vision,” Ways
of Reading 4th ed. Boston: Bedford Books 1996. Print.

·        
Sahgal,
Nayantara. Point of View. New Delhi: Prestige.
1997

·        
Veerabhadragouda,
G. “Samagama” Vimukta. Trans.
Volga. Bangalore: Abhinava, 2017, Print.

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