The chief judicial magistrate in Sitamarhi in north Bihar was not amused by the petition of Thakur Chandan Singh. A practising advocate, Chandan Singh filed a plea demanding that Lord Ram be put on trial for the atrocity of banishing Sita to the forests. Lakshman, the younger brother of Ram, was made a co-accused for his complicity in the cruelty. The petition left the court confounded, which dismissed it this month while saying that the issue is “beyond logic and facts”.
The same court did, however, see the logic of three petitions that accused Chandan Singh of “defaming the Almighty” and admitted them. Meanwhile, Chandan Singh says he has been receiving threatening calls from Hindutva groups since he filed his petition against Ram.
Those outraged by Chandan Singh argue that you can’t treat a God-like Ram as a human being. He isn’t bound by the rules of the mortal world. How can you subject Him to the laws that govern the cycle of birth and death? But the counterargument to this could be that Lord Ram did take earthly birth as a son of a king, and we have records of his life and adventures in written and oral forms in several languages. Besides, hasn’t the reference to Ayodhya as his earthly birth in Ram Kathas been used to sustain a fight to get back his janmabhoomi from “illegal occupants”? Also, didn’t the learned judges of the Allahabad High Court think it alright to give a third of the disputed land in Ayodhya to Ram Lalla?
If we can accept the method adopted by courts to adjudicate on the dispute regarding his birthplace, then surely it should only be natural to accept Chandan Singh’s aggrievement at Sita’s ill treatment at the hands of her husband and her in-laws. Chandan Singh’s town Sitamarhi is also considered Sita’s birthplace. It is a part of Mithila, which her father Janak ruled, and that is why Sita is also known as Maithili and Janaki.
The chief judicial magistrate in Sitamarhi might not have found merit in Chandan Singh’s petition. But in the court of the people, particularly women, Ram has long stood condemned.
Since Ram is omnipotent, people express their rejection of him by quietly declaring as inauspicious everything that is associated with the marriage of Ram and Sita. The people of Mithila, especially those from high castes, don’t generally name their daughters Sita out of fear that it would bring the women the same misfortune Ram’s wife had to endure. Maithils also don’t marry their daughters into homes that lie in the direction of Ayodhya. The day when Sita was married to Ram is avoided for weddings. Two lines from a popular folksong summarise their thoughts:
The life of Sita got wasted in loneliness, only sorrow was her fate.
The anguish the people of Mithila feel for Sita is shared by mothers and sisters in lands far away. Nabaneeta Dev Sen, a writer and academic, discovered “lamentations of sisters in sorrow” when she collected songs that women of Bengal, Maharashtra, Jharkhand and Andhra Pradesh have been chanting for centuries. In Telugu, Marathi, Bangla and Adivasi languages, the suffering of Sita finds expression. In her essay Lady Sings the Blues: When Women retell the Ramayana, Sen writes:
“In the women’s retellings, the Brahminical Rama myth is blasted automatically though, probably, unwittingly. Here, Rama comes through as a harsh, uncaring and weak-willed husband, a far cry from the ideal man. The women do not mind calling him names such as pashanda or papisthi or directly attacking him by saying, ‘Rama, you’ve lost your mind’ (‘Ram, tomar buddhi hoilo nash’). This is possible because the women’s songs are outside the canon. Women’s Sita myth where Sita is a woman, flourishes only on the periphery. The male Sita myth, where she is a devi (deity), continues in the mainstream. In the women’s retelling, Sita is no rebel; she is still the yielding, suffering wife, but she speaks of her sufferings, of injustice, of loneliness and sorrow.”
American-born Indian scholar Gail Omvedt too notes that Marathi women, in their stories, find Ram unworthy of Sita:
“RAM say Ram, there’s no way to compare: Sita a priceless jewel, only faint-hearted Ram is there.”
In stories narrated by women, Ram is a petty and jealous husband who throws out his wife suspecting her of infidelity. Maithili, Avadhi and Marathi songs, meanwhile, describe an anecdote where Ram is shown a portrait of Ravan drawn by Sita and he is outraged. It is, in fact, not the complaint of a washerman which forces Ram to part with his beloved in order to fulfil his Raj Dharma – it is his suspicion that Sita still remembers Ravan which makes him banish her to the forests. In one of the songs, he is much more cruel. He orders her killed.
If the courts are looking for evidence of Ram’s cruelty, Omvedt could tell them of the hills of Kuradzai, a small village in Maharashtra’s Satara district, which has a Sita temple. She writes:
“The original temple is old; but in recent decades village women have been coming there in small groups of pilgrims, and a gaudy new temple has been built, with a bright new image inside. The place is believed to be the origin of the Man and Ban rivers, and the story told is that when Laxman brought Sita to the forest, he placed a lota of water each near her head and feet. When Sita woke, she stretched – and spilled the water, creating the two rivers.”
Sita’s exile to the jungles is indeed the final chapter in the long suffering-filled life of a woman who is presented as the ideal Indian women. A Marathi song describes the torture she suffered from her in-laws:
“Sita was tortured by one and all.
They fed her only bitter neem leaves for twelve years
They didn’t let her wear Kumkum for twelve years.
Her hair is all tangled up
For twelve years they didn’t let her wash it.”
There is more of the same callousness.
“Sita has been in exile
right inside her bedroom.
Rama didn’t share her bed
For twelve years.
She was locked up behind seven doors.
Rama is absorbed in his own business.
Poor Sita’s youth is wasted away.”
While citing these lines, Sen writes “It is a clear picture of domestic abuse, both physical and mental. She is not allowed to eat, nor to groom herself. She is not allowed sexual pleasure either.”
The women of Mithila feel her agony as a pregnant woman who is jettisoned by her pitiless husband.
“Sita leaves the palace, opening the golden gates.
Sita walks to her forest exile
Girls, exile is written for Sita.
Sita goes one mile, she goes two miles, girls,
In the third mile the pain arises.
Now life wishes to be born, girls,
Call the midwife, quick!
The tree came out of the forest.
So, you are my friend, my well-wisher?
You take my golden bangle then,
And cut the cord of the baby...
Alas! if only Rama would understand!”
Ram does not understand, though – and this is not the first time. As a Marathi song says:
“Sita says ‘I have lived a life of rejection.’
All her life she has been neglected by Rama,
Yes, all her life.”
Sita’s life is shadowed by harassment and loneliness. No wonder then, Tulsi Das, the great chronicler of Ram, omitted all of this. He edited out the exile of Sita and the killing of Shambuk, the Dalit scholar, at the hands of Ram. But the women have recorded all of this in their songs and their stories. In their eyes, Ram stands indicted.