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Diwali is Sita-Wali: So India Can Atone Its Crimes Against Women

November 13, 2012
Diwali - the festival of lights in India

photo by Akash Banerjee

by Rita Banerji

Diwali, India’s glorious festival of lamps, carries not just festive joy into the hearts of people gorging on sweets and bursting fire-crackers, but also cultural sexism in the form of a popular myth associated with this festival, that gets unquestioningly retrenched into people’s mind-sets.

The Diwali story goes as such.  Ram, who incidentally was both god and King, had his beautiful wife, Sita, abducted by the Sri Lankan king, Ravana.  Interestingly Ravana, who usually is portrayed as an ogre in Indian myths, turns out to be the King and the hero-God who rescued Sita from an unhappy and love-less marriage when this same story is narrated in Sri Lanka!  However, in the Indian version, Ram collected an army, crossed the strait to Sri Lanka and battled Ravana, defeating and killing him, and thus rescued his wife.  When he returned to India with Sita, the Indians celebrated his victory by lighting thousands of oil lamps.  The lamps symbolized the victory of light over dark, i.e. the power of ‘good’ over ‘evil,’ and so continue to be lit during the Diwali festival every year.

diwali, pushkar 3

photo by Cord Reheren

Ram’s victory and goodness are not just celebrated during Diwali.  Ram is held as the undying role-model for what women in India want in their husbands.  Unmarried Indian women are often told in blessing, “May you get a good husband like Ram.”  After all wasn’t this the man who went to war for his wife? Doesn’t that make him ideal husband material for any woman? 

Sometime back an Indian politician—incidentally also with the first name Ram—Ram Jethmalani, took exception to this notion and said, “Ram was a bad husband.”  His remark caused an uproar in the right-wing, conservative circles in India (to which Jethmalani actually belongs!), that for long have nurtured a vision of India’s future as one that would resemble Ram’s kingdom – the Ram rajya.

Jethmalani’s contempt concerns what Ram did after he returned home with Sita.  Reportedly Ram overheard a washerman’s conversation where doubt was caste on Sita’s sexual “purity.”  During her captivity surely Sita was raped, which in the washerman’s , as indeed probably much of the public’s perception, rendered Sita “impure.”   How could a King who resided with an “impure wife” be honored by his people? Eager to restore his exalted status in the public’s eye, Ram decided to banish Sita to the woods, even though she was pregnant at the time.

Sita’s years in exile are paradoxically reflective of the lives of thousands of women in India’s slums and villages today, who are often abandoned by their husbands, and like Sita they live like outcastes, in poverty, struggling to singly raise their children.

Ram’s attempt to have Sita prove her “purity” by stepping into fire (from which she apparently emerged unsinged!) is also evocative of the fate of thousands of young women, in the 21st century India, who are burnt to death for dowry by their husbands and in-laws, the so-called “bride burnings.”

Little Prayers

photo by Sudhanshu Goyal

Sita’s life has embedded in it one other tragic element of what it means to be female in India.  And that’s female infanticide.  Sita was found by her adoptive father, buried alive in a pot beneath the ground, a method still used sometimes for killing female infants.  Every year, thousands of girls, within the first year of their birth, continue to be murdered in various ways in India, just because of their gender.

So it turns out that – the myths, the gods, the history, and the traditions, we continue to eulogize and celebrate in India, contain in them the seeds of violence on women and girls.

Lady With The Lamp...

photo by Amitrajit Banerjee

Does India have the ability to reflect and the social conscience to say – Sorry Ram! But you are no role model for men in India? What you did to Sita is unacceptable!  It is cowardly! It is unethical!

I think for starters, we need a major re-haul in the concept of Diwali as it stands.   I propose we re-name it “Sita-wali,” and observe it as a day of confession and atonement for the wrongs done by society towards Sita and the women and girls of India.

Unless India learns to do that, it remains a spiritually hypocritical nation, stuck in the lies of misogynistic myths and traditions.

© The 50 Million Missing Campaign. All Rights Reserved. To cite, please see our copyright guidelines.


Rita Banerji is an author and gender activist, and the founder of The 50 Million Missing Campaign to end India’s female genocide.  Her book ‘Sex and Power: Defining History Shaping Societies, is a historical and social look at how the relationship between gender and power in India has led to the ongoing female gendercide.  Her website is She blogs at Revolutions in my Space and tweets at @Rita_Banerji

ABOUT THE PHOTOGRAPHERS: The photographers whose pictures appear here are supporting members of The 50 Million Missing Campaign’s Photographers Group on Flickr  which is supported by more than 2400 photographers from around the world.   To see more of each of their works, please click on the pictures.

66 Comments leave one →
  1. Pooja permalink
    November 13, 2012 12:53 am

    In 2001 film,’Lajja’ Madhuri Dixit plays Sita who denies to give Agni Pariksha!

  2. November 13, 2012 12:58 am

    Very thought provoking. As a pardesi I often don’t understand the myths and lore of Indian holidays. You bring about many great points in this post. Things I hadn’t thought of about things the pardesi community tries the stand strong against. I’ll be sharing this with my networks to promote a better future for all the women in India.

  3. November 13, 2012 1:17 am

    Reblogged this on REVOLUTIONS IN MY SPACE: A BLOG BY RITA BANERJI and commented:
    Today is the festival of Diwali in India celebrated with lots of lights and fire crackers. Last year President Obama celebrated it in the White House. But do we fully understand the implications of these traditions? Of the misogyny and permissiveness for violence against women contained in the myths that harbor these traditions? I talk about it here

  4. Sanjay Rai permalink
    November 13, 2012 5:57 am

    Dear Rita,
    Today, we don’t follow Ram at all irrespective of his goodness or badness(washerman episode) as per ur observation. Do we follow Ram as he followed and gave respect to our parent, brother, society, his kingdom? No, not at all. Then why you pointing only on one bad point not on other better virtue of Ram.
    Can you dare to say same about Allah or Jesus? Can you dare to say that Allah is not a role model or Jusus is irrelevent? I doubt a bounty on you. You can try.

    • November 18, 2012 10:19 pm

      You are right. And Dear Rita I don’t think you don’t have any idea about “Rajput Dharma” Keeping People first over Family. In your sense I will add Dushratha was a bad father who had send his son to exile for 14 years. But as they were the Kings (rajputs) they have to keep the people first and being raghuvanshi (Raghukul neeti sadhev chali aai pran jaye par vachan na jaye) they take pride in doing what they promised. Rama did what was justified being a king but may not be as a husband. As being king he kept people first. Simple as that. Thank You.

  5. peculiarblend permalink
    November 13, 2012 8:02 am

    Well done. I never knew many of these details.

  6. shatruajaat permalink
    November 13, 2012 8:58 am

    I recently raised this issue somewhere but since didn’t know much about it couldn’t put it so convincingly as you have done. I wanted to say the same thing as you said, that every year when people celebrate Diwali observe a minute or two of silence for doing what we did to Sita. And its just not about Sita, Draupadi is another example how we try to brain wash our women year after year in this country using religion and mythological figures. She was reduced to a commodity to be had by each brother turn wise only to be gambled away by the eldest one in a game of chaupad. The character of Yudhistra never comes under the scanner, its all about their manliness, their valor, the war between Pandva’s and Kaurava’s. Never about Draupadi. You got anything to say about women worshiping Shiva Lingam?

    • November 14, 2012 10:49 am

      @shatruajaat — Yes, I talk about India worshipping the lingam-yoni in my book ‘Sex and Power’ (Penguin Books) — in fact that’s the leitmotif for the book. It’s interesting that we refer to it ordinarily as lingam (penis), but not in combination with yoni (vagina), because that did have a significance that stems from the Tantric period, and recognizes the male and female as absolute equals.

  7. Emily Dietrich permalink
    November 13, 2012 10:54 am

    This is powerful and convincing and brings to light upsetting realities that reach across most religions.

  8. November 13, 2012 1:12 pm

    Agni Pariksha of Sita becomes meaningful and represents the intense commitment of Mata Sita and Shri Ram to provide level playing field to females as well. Shri Ram accepting the Maryada(finest or the noblest tradition of that time) of that time asks Sita to undergo Agni Pariksha, but when as King, HE is asked to adjudicate on this issue, HE rejects Agni Pariksha, and RULED that such matters can be decided on the basis of physical evidence. Shri Ram established Agni Pariksha as an Adharm and showed by example that females deserve equal status. He did not marry a second time, and even during Ashwamedh Yagna, he preferred to go with a golden statue of Sita, rather than marry second time.

    • November 14, 2012 10:58 am

      You are saying: Getting your wife to step into fire to prove she was not raped during captivity is a move towards gender equality? In that case the women’s movement in India has done a very poor job of addressing the fundamental issue of gender equality in India! We are trying to fix that — bear with us 🙂

  9. November 13, 2012 1:18 pm

    there is a good msg in all incident like adoptive father of sita adopt a female child but nowdays people kill there own girl child

    • November 14, 2012 10:54 am

      Sita’s adoptive father happened to come across Sita which saved her. But the intention of her real father was to kill her by burying her alive. If there is a message there it should be that India collectively needs to see these girl babies whose lives are at risk as their own and protect them like Sita’s adoptive father did.

  10. November 13, 2012 1:32 pm

    If Lord Ram had sent the washer man questioning the purity of Mata Sita to prison, he would be performing the duty of a husband. But will he be performing the duty of a King? Lord Ram could have beheaded the washer man on the spot. But will he be able behead all those people that questions the purity of Mata Sita. Lord Ram would have become a dictator! Would we worship such a Lord Ram today?

    • November 14, 2012 10:54 am

      You think those are the options: either behead the washerman and hence shut his mouth or send Sita to the woods to live in poverty?

  11. November 13, 2012 4:49 pm

    Have a Happy Sita-wali.May the light guide you.

  12. PalomaSharma permalink
    November 13, 2012 6:20 pm

    Reblogged this on Going Bananas and commented:
    As you read this, I eagerly await hate mail challenging me to say the same about Allah or Jesus or whoever else it is that you hate. But guess what? I’m atheist – a nastik – so go ahead, knock yourself out.

  13. emery permalink
    November 14, 2012 4:57 am

    to me Diwali is no different than the Nazi party rallies in Munich Germany during world war 2. that is to say they both justify and glorify war crimes and war criminals.

    • November 18, 2012 2:49 pm

      That’s a parallel I have drawn. Genocides don’t happen out of thin air. There is a permissibility (a mind set) that builds up in communities towards the targeted group that is sustained through popular myth, literature and religion. When I first read the Brothers Grimms Fairy Tales in the original version I realized where the anti-antisemitism in German society was embedded. The original version of these children’s stories are extremely violently bigoted. I’ve found the same connection in my research for my book Sex and Power, where I establish that India’s female genocide has historical roots in its religion, culture and history.

  14. Ram permalink
    November 14, 2012 9:50 am

    Narakasura was killed and we all celebrate diwali . . . then why Rama , Sita . . .etc

  15. muura permalink
    November 14, 2012 1:05 pm

    This is unneeded propaganda. You’re putting a blame where it isn’t supposed to be.

    The story of rama is a tale of moral dilemma. He is not only a husband but also a king. He has to share his duties with these two. When the author(valmika) pits him with a dilemma to choose one from the two, he chooses his kingdom and abandons his wife. The women who read the ramayana will probably not like this at all. But that’s why it is called ram’s dilemma. He knew he would be criticized no matter which option he chose, so he did what he thought was right. Ramayana is brilliant piece work and rama is a true king of the people.

    The whole moral thing reminds me of a tale:

    A father, his son and a donkey are traveling. The Son thinks that it is not right that his elderly father has to walk such a long distance so he puts him on the donkey.

    After a while, the people start saying, “look, the father lets the poor boy walk while he rides with ease”. The father overhears the conversation and gets uncomfortable. He puts the son on the donkey while he starts walking on foot.

    Similar thing happens when with the son so they both get on top and ride the donkey. Now the people start talking about the donkey. “look at that poor animal carrying that heavy weight”, they say. Both son and father get down. Next the son lifts the donkey from its two front legs while the father lifts it from its two back legs and they start moving. Now the people start ridiculing their foolishness.

    Basically, there’s always room to criticize.

    • November 16, 2012 11:58 am

      The story of Rama is about how individual’s make choices that affect the lives of others. Sita’s life may have been hell because of Ravana abducting her, but what her husband did made her life double hell. And there is no excuse, not for Ram or for any mortal man big or small, for the violence and abuse they inflict on their wives.

    • Pria permalink
      July 13, 2013 12:09 am

      Yes yes he indeed is a very brave king……it is easier to fight one woman rather thousands of men in his kingdom…he was neither a king nor a husband nor a father…..I wonder if there is anything I would like to learn from him…..

  16. November 14, 2012 2:07 pm

    I cannot reconcile the image of man who was anguished enough to travel far and wide to get his wife back and then willingly banishes her just because some outsider questioned her ‘purity’. I just cannot. And for that, I cannot call him the perfect husband.

    • Pria permalink
      July 13, 2013 12:15 am

      Did it ever occur to anyone…probably he went to war because its the only way he can protect himself from becoming a laughter to many….how ideal is a man to be a king when he cannot protect his own wife….and had actually his woman to another man….it’s a SLAP on his face….isn’t it…I wish I had not been taught what I was taught….the truth is so bitter….

  17. marie harris permalink
    November 15, 2012 5:52 am

    Thank u for the education dear Rita

  18. Raghavendra permalink
    November 15, 2012 5:59 pm

    I pity your ignorance. Your cause fighting against female infanticide in India is nevertheless praise worthy but not your intentions to twist the facts from scriptures like Ramayana thus misleading the people and meeting no purpose than making others loathe Indian culture. While Lord Rama is an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, Sita is also an incarnation of Lakshmi (vishnu’s consort too) and we all know they incarnated in a bid to kill Ravan (after Gods had prayed him to descend to restore religious order) on earth and so every event that happened, happened for a reason. There was no Original father for Sita. When Ravan tries to abduch vedavatai, she immolates herself by praying to God Agni, Ravan collects those ashes brings it home to notice that There is na child in the box insread of ashes which is when His Guru warns him of something bad If he rises that child and so he keeps her in a golden box and buries her. and this box was made available to Janaka by Earth (Bhudevi) intentionally which is why scriptures describe her as Mother of Sita too. and It again happened for a reason as Janaka Maharaj possess the Mighty Bow of Shiva and he had in his mind to betroth his daughter to only the one who can wear that bow which was possible for only Lord Rama after many have tried and failed.

    While Rama spent 14 years in exile and saved his wife Sita after destroying the mighty Ravana, he ordered her agni pariksha only to prove her chastity to the world (don’t we know that she is a an incarnation of goddess too and Its agni who earlier saved her). and Sita Voluntarily accepted it, entered (as she knows she is clean, chaste and pure) and that fire will not destroy her which is when God agni appears and asserts her purity and chastity to Rama and to the world. The main purpose of the incarnation is to destroy the Mighty Demon Ravana and Unlike the present Kali Yuga, the age Ramayana happened Tretayuga where people are not the same as of now, they have more direct connection to God (didn’t you know [if u read] Ramayana that Narada used to Visit King’s Durbars and Courts (even Ravan’s) and there was such direct communication.

    If many of these facts seem silly to believe or take for granted, deny Ramayana in entirety than making lame correlations from treytayuga to present world, twisting the facts and misleading the people who might be non-indians and don’t know one bit about Ramayana but after reading this piece might misunderstand the whole epic. This is clearly not a Good trend in your campain for a noble cause. If yor intention is not to awaken the dead consciences of people and promote awareress about gendericide but something else and this is just a pretext, I leave it here. and I right away unsubscribed to all kinds of communication from your cause, like many did.

    Its not surprising to know Its you who had written this piece becase you aren’t actually aware of the exact legend behind the celebratio of Diwali which is the destruction of demon Narakasura by Sri Krishna and Satya Bhama in Dwaparayuga. I bet you daren’t write a piece of article now with “Satyabhama is the most annoyting, arrogant and bad life for she hit Krishna in chest with her legs and even tried selling him in auction i.e., “Sri Krishna Tulabharam”.. Also many other legends are associated with five day Diwali celebration. The first day is clebrated as “Govatsa Dwadasi” in respect of cows and domesticated animals as Its believed that its actually on this day kamadhenu emerged from churning of milk ocean, second day as “Dhana Trayodasi” – the day Dhanvantarui emerged from milk ocean and the day people worship Lakshmi – the goddess of wealth and prosperity. Third day is worshiped as “Naraka Chaturdasi” on which Demon Naraka was destroyed. Fourth day is celebrated as “Diwali” to commemorate the destruction of evil and Lakshmi pujs is performed as its believed that its actually on this day Goddess lakshmi emerged from churning of milk ocean. also since this day marks the completion of harvest season, They worship lakshmi – the goddess of wealth and prosperity for her blessings and more productivity in next seasons. The following two days of Diwali – 1st day is celebrated as “Bali Padyami/ Varsha Pratipada – coronation of King vikramaditya and start of Vikrama samvatsara / Govardhana Puja – Krisna’s lifting of Lhillock Govardhana to save Gokula from Indra’s wrath” and 2nd day as “Bhai dooj” – re union of families especially sisters and brothers..

    while this magnitude of significance and reference to epics and mythology is associated with Diwali celebration and while u can’t draw any assertion from Tretayuga with respect to the presentday world ( as I said How different are these), Its difficult for me to yet comprehend your real motives in this cause. Perhaps either you hate the entire male race or desperately trying to malign something which you don’t know one bit about, in pretext of a noble cause.

    I hope you will challelize your expertise and your intentions for more productivity on your cause of stopping gendericides than in your bids to deliberately malign things you are clearly misinformed about and ignorant of.

    • November 16, 2012 12:00 pm

      That’s exactly what we are doing — to stop the female genocide we need to understand where this mentality is coming from. But the thing is even if people don’t understand or don’t want to (like it appears from your response), there still is no excuse for the mass violence on and extermination of women in India. So we suppose, ultimately — we are on the same plane right?

    • November 16, 2012 4:07 pm

      Wow. You’re clearly well informed. A question then, please? With no judgement, just out of curiosity, why did Ram abandon his wife just because a common man who had no family ties to him, questioned Sita’s character. Why did he let an outsider dictate his wife’s fate?

    • Raghavendra permalink
      November 18, 2012 1:33 pm

      @Mahima. One more thing. Ages back one washerman commented on Ram’s bringing back the Sita from Lanka. Did Ram suspect the Sita’s purity/chastity whilst 1 yr stay at lanka. never. He fought the great war by constructing the great sethu which bridge is still there intact even after 175000 years. yes Ram left pregnant Sita in the woods at valmiki muni ashram because he is the king and he has to be stood as a role model to clean administration and with stain less image as he could not bear with a criticism of an ordinary washerman. Ram the maryada purushottam. One who really knows/read the Ramayana never comment like this.

    • November 18, 2012 5:04 pm

      What are you saying? Dumping your wife into solitude, poverty, makes you are “role model” for the men of the country? Well, it certainly does, and we now need to change that idea of role model in India — urgently!

    • November 18, 2012 5:08 pm

      thanks for your sermon on Hinduism! That’s your interpretation and there are plenty of other interpretations. So lets leave it at that. Our focus is on the systematic annihilation of women as a blatant human rights violation. What ever the cause — that’s what we have to address today. So we’ll happy to post your remarks on that.

    • November 18, 2012 5:18 pm

      @Raghavendra. So, to uphold his apparent “ideal man” image he left his pregnant wife to her own fate. Good man.

  19. muura permalink
    November 16, 2012 3:36 pm

    The arguments for and against rama have been made since time immemorial. I know you are making the popular “Ram honge koi bade admi par Sita ne kya sukh paya?” (Ram may have been a great man, but what good did it do to Sita?) argument.

    Many women like to argue that rama should have prioritized his duty to sita first and his kingdom should have been the second priority. But this is a flaw.

    If you read ramayana from the beginning, it is made clear that the creation of rama was to rule ayodhya. To establish ram-rajya(a moral world). When the region is troubled by demons, a few wise men run to the gods asking for a solution. Rama is sent as this solution. Rama’s only priority in life is to rule ayodhya. That is his only purpose in life. So when rama’s prime purpose is challenged(through sita), he has to make the ultimate decision.

    Remember, sita also stays true to her husband. She performs her end of the duty. In the end, she commits suicide. Her suicide is actually meant as a rejection of an ungrateful husband.

    Yes, rama is a bad husband for not prioritizing his wife. But please don’t make incomplete statements because rama is also a worthy king for ayodhya. In the end, he did what was expected of him from the gods.

    Female infanticide in india has more to do with gender roles than ramayana. Traditionally, women in india have been limited inside the kitchen room. Women won’t become valuable until and unless they step out of the kitchen and become providers.

    • November 16, 2012 8:16 pm

      @muura — We are gob-smacked! You are defending Rama’s abandonment of his wife, Sita’s abusive life, and her suicide based on what the scriptures ordain!! The Hindu scriptures also say women and the sudras were created from the lowest and dirtiest part of the body, and that’s where there place in society should be. You are obviously a literate, computer savvy individual. If this is your train of thought — what hope is there for India’s illiterate masses?

  20. November 16, 2012 8:24 pm

    thank you for constructing a deeper understanding, Rita!

  21. muura permalink
    November 17, 2012 1:39 pm

    You are defending Rama’s abandonment of his wife, Sita’s abusive life, and her suicide
    I didn’t defend sitas abandonment. I acknowledged it. I also acknowledged rama for making a wise decision(by choosing ayodhya over sita). He made a decision based on the greater good instead of making an emotional decision. For this, I admire rama.

    The Hindu scriptures also say women and the sudras were created from the lowest and dirtiest part of the body
    So we arguing about hinduism now?

    Anyone who seldom rises above high school level understanding of hinduism will tell you that there is no such thing as hinduism. The british simply clubbed together a few practices(casteism, sati, child marriage etc) from here and there and called it hinduism.

    There is a lack of commonality among hindus(contrast to muslims and christians) because they are intrinsically different. Hinduism is a religion whereas islam and christianity are dogmas. Big BIG difference. That’s why you won’t see the hindus pointing to the scriptures as muslims/christians point to the qoran/bible. More than 4/5th of indias population hardly own any kind of hinduism related books. Simply said, Hinduism hardly influences an indians way of thought.

    If this is your train of thought — what hope is there for India’s illiterate masses
    The problem with many indians is that they lack commonsense or any kind of assessment experience. That’s why you see a lot of them making a wrong assessment and putting the blame on the wrong person or things. An average indians assessment is similar to the observatory experiment carried out by these so called scientists below:

    Few scholars were doing research. They caught a frog and placed it on table near a loudspeaker and shouted in mike… Jump! Jump! poor frog leaped due to vibration. Their research concluded ”FROG UNDERSTANDS HUMAN VOICE IF AMPLIFIED“. Next, they cut legs of frog and place it again at same place and repeated the experiment. Obviously legless frog could not even move… so they concluded “IF YOU CUT LEGS OF FROG IT LOOSES ITS HEARING POWER.

    I would summarize the anti-female infanticide squad of india as similar to the above scholars. They have actually diverted the discussion into some kind of a trial of hinduism. These women owe an apology to every female child that has been aborted or continue to be aborted. Shame of these women.

    • November 18, 2012 2:58 pm

      Point taken! First of all, the earliest Indian census do establish that female infanticide was practiced only in Hindu and Sikh communities. And that remained true till about the 1970s. However, in my research I find now that over the last 20 years, the practice of female feticide, female infanticide, and dowry murders, have spread to every community in India — including also the Muslims, Christians, even Jains! — tribal communities, states like Kerala and the NE that had matrilineal systems historically and didn’t practice infanticide. The underlying cause today is just plain GREED! Everyone wants a son — and no daughters — because that’s the easiest way to get rich! And the in process there are no scruples. Interestingly also I find, contrary to what most people think, it is not the poorest and most illiterate who are responsible, but the more money and education there is in a social strata, the worse they are !! The worst gender ratio is in the top most 20% We need to look in mirror and say to each other and ourselves — this far and no more. Each of us must take responsibility.

    • swati permalink
      November 25, 2012 10:43 pm

      @Murrah I would summarize the anti-female infanticide squad of india as similar to the above scholars. They have actually diverted the discussion into some kind of a trial of hinduism. These women owe an apology to every female child that has been aborted or continue to be aborted. Shame of these women.

      If this is so then why are working women being forced into abortion(in case of female foetus).I saw an episode on female foeticide on Satyamev Jayate. A doctor’s in-laws who themselves came from a very wealthy and educated background wanted to kill the female foetus in her womb.When she gave birth to twin girls her mother-in-law almost killed them by kicking them off the staircase.That mother-in-law , who retired as a principal from a college.
      Now where is the concept of gender roles.

      Every day, working women are being harrased for dowry.We hear lots of cases of domestic violence deaths in educated families where the victim was a working woman.Where is the empowerment which education and wealth are said to promise?

      Indian Woman can never be truly emancipiated unless she is ready to fight her own culture that holds her down.Fighting the traditions have been the reason for the liberation of women in the west.They challenged the culture,the religion ,the patriarchial laws.So far,I have never heard of any Indian woman doing this.They will instead defend their culture which holds them down.That is the reason why this mass annihilation of women could never come to halt even when the country progressed.Even the sex ration as come down(thanks to the new technologies that give female foeticide as an option)

  22. Mariahgirl permalink
    November 17, 2012 4:07 pm

    Wow! This should be called “How to take possibly THE best cause I’ve ever seen online and turn it into a debate about the story of Rama” . Remind me again why 21st century perpetrators of violence against females ( who couldn’t possibly ALL have been created to rule kingdoms) think Ram is some kind of role model / excuse for their current day behaviour… People are dying while you carry on a debate about nothing!!!! Please, put aside your difference of opinion about Ram and use your energy to spread the word about this cause

  23. November 17, 2012 4:29 pm

    Ram was a terrible husband , who tried to burn his wife first , which was unsuccessful because she had some super flame retardant body, then he exiled her , finally after snatching her sons he got her buried alive if what I know about Ramayana is correct.
    Ravana was a much better guy i feel. He did kidnap a woman from a hut inside a jungle.But how could he have guessed that this was the wife of some silly prince whose father was a womanizer with hardly a sense of right and wrong, rather than an actual tribal who would have been happier in his palace than in a jungle hut. He did not forcibly have sex with her .Imagine that in a time where the supposedly most righteous tries to ascertain their wives trustworthiness with the flame retardence of their flesh .He brought her to his palace and offered her a place there. Khapis of haryana would call him a rather weak king.

  24. November 18, 2012 8:00 am

    Ive always maintained that ram was far from ideal husband or person. In comparison even ravana seems better. He could have had sita but he wanted her consent! the fact that he kidnapped her though can’t be overlooked. I agree wholeheartedly with you that we need to do something very drastic as a nation if we are to change women’s situation in our country. and i mean their actual situation not the one that we have in books and texts of women as ‘devis’ . Great writing1

    • swati permalink
      November 25, 2012 10:11 pm

      Even I agree with you at this point.Ravan seemed far better than Rama in terms of giving respect to Sita.I think his main motive of kidnapping Sita was an act of vengenance against Rama and Laxman(for Shurpnakha’s case).I don’t think he had any lustful ambitions at first.

  25. muura permalink
    November 18, 2012 11:25 pm

    @Rita Banerji

    In my opinion, the solution could be achieved through culture; it has to be altered to the benefit of women-kind. You can’t just push aside the hindu orgs, priests etc aside for being pro-patriarchal and have your way. You have to take them aboard and include them in the reform process. Since hindu customs differ from region to region, it means that they are not rigid(a clue!). Most of the problems I find in our culture have to do with women becoming a part of her husbands family post-marriage.

    The problem is historical, cultural, economical and many other others things all rolled into one. The problem is so complex that I cringe at the thought that my daughter might marry an indian man someday; I’m sorry but my image of an indian man is biased.

    Usually, men are rebellious by nature. They look at their parents as an example on what to do AS WELL AS what not to do. So maybe a change is not as difficult as we imagine. I guess we should actually encourage our kids to be a rebel.

  26. Stephanie permalink
    November 23, 2012 7:02 am

    What about outlawing dowries?

    • November 23, 2012 4:13 pm

      Dowry has been illegal in India for over 30 years. The law, like most other laws, is simply not implemented. So we must ask, if a law is not implemented, does the law exist? Take any country and dismantle the police and courts. What do you suppose would happen to the rate of crime? And who would be most vulnerable?

  27. November 24, 2012 9:42 pm

    I’m surprised by how many people are busy defending Lord Ram’s actions quoting ‘his dharma’ to his land etc etc. The point is ‘Was he a good HUSBAND’
    And the clear answer is : No.
    He did not ‘have to’ send his wife away just because he heard a random stranger talking about her. He could have easily upheld his image by standing by her. And for the sake of argument, if Ravan had his way with Sita, is that the fault of Sita ?
    She was kidnapped, isolated and defenseless. Pick up a paper and see how many girls ( ages 2 months – 65 years sadly ) still suffer that fate today – it is not their fault, is it ?

    There is definitely a lot of valuable lessons to be learned from the Ramayana and Ram’s character, but this aspect of his is definitely not one of them.
    I am not here to start religious wars with anyone, This is just seeing things for what they are.

  28. November 24, 2012 9:56 pm

    Your entire premise is based on a chapter that is recognized as a latter add-on. A closer scrutiny of the Ramayana will easily uncover a lot of discrepancies in our current (mis)understanding of it. This has happened due to flights of fantasy, mistranslations, various crosscurrents and mixing of multiple narratives. Half-baked knowledge has been responsible for the twisting of the Ramayana and the mutilation of our ancient history.

    • November 25, 2012 11:20 am

      That’s is not the issue under scrutiny here. What is being discussed is taking this particular version of the Ramayana that is most popular — ie. Ram rescues Sita and then banishes her, what do you think of India’s response to this story as it were? In fact what is your response to this version of the story as it were? Do you think Ram or put any man in his place did right by his wife and children? It’s still the behavior of a lot of men in rural India today who migrate, and leave behind women and children to fend for themselves.

  29. November 27, 2012 8:46 pm

    Well, life is complicated as it is without getting gender into daily life. The unfortunate truth is that nothing has changed over the years – a fact brought out by our myths and legends. Plus ca change plus ca change pas!

  30. April 22, 2013 9:02 pm

    I am not defending Lord Ram.He is Lord of Universe.He needs no defense.
    I am defending the institution of marriage.In any religion, marriage vows are sacred.Nobody can cross the Lakshman Rekha.
    Sita involuntarily crossed it inspite of warning by Lakshman.
    She did not physically defend herself, by teeth or nails, when the intruder came.
    So, evidence was against her.
    Was she not to claw her abductor?
    Why does she bundle her jewels and throw?For what?How does she know, her husband will come exactly at that spot?
    If she thought her husband was so clever and able,why did she not trust his ability to protect himself against Mareecha?
    Will any woman think of jewels when her virtue is in peril?
    Lord Rama sent her to forest so that she will learn to be strong.Women have to do hard work.They have to first defend themselves and then cry out for help.

    • swati permalink
      May 1, 2013 9:08 pm

      People will always cook up some or the other interpretation of religious texts and will present it as suitable to their whims and fancies.If Sita had to give agnee pareeksha then Ram should also have given.As he stayed apart from Sita for a long time,he could be subjected to a similar loyalty test as well.

      I am only concerned with the Ramayan as valmiki wrote and in that Ram appears to be a husband though loyal is spineless and cannot stand up to the society for his innocent wife.More precisely he cannot stand up for truth.And the same ‘Lord of the Universe’ reincarnated as Krishna in his next birth to tell the whole world that you should always stand up for truth no matter what the circumstances are and no matter whoever stands in front of you.May be ‘women’ in India were never counted as someone whose dignity and honour are worth fighting for.

    • May 3, 2013 1:07 pm

      Every human being under the Constitution of India is entitled to a life of safety and dignity. Thankfully we don’t have to depend on our religions for that, regardless of what they say or don’t say!!

  31. May 1, 2013 3:51 am

    Shri Ram did not abandon Sita, nor subjected her to any ritual to ‘prove her chastity’. Neither has Valmiki seen the happenings of the Ramayana first-hand. He has simply documented the events and happenings by gathering info from various sources. Hence, the Ramayana is not as well-written or detailed as the Mahabharata.

    Later people have added their thoughts and views to Valmiki’s writings, in an effort to flesh-out the narrative. One reading of the Valmiki Ramayan is enough to figure out the numerous discrepancies. Plus: there have been ‘contemporisation’ + numerous tweaking of the narrative + clear mischief – in order to bring down the position of women in society as well as to bring about a number of social ills and negative customs. [Since our ancient texts served as ‘reference points’, later-day vested interests have made merry.]

    There are hundreds of versions of the Ramayana, and what we know today is bits and pieces of various versions.

    [The Ramcharitmanas is Tulsidas’ version. The ‘Lakshman Rekha’ figures in that, it is a figment of Tuldidas’ imagination.

    Neither Jatayu nor Sampati were birds. Hence, the entire episode involving them is whose imagination? As for Sita she was Mandodari’s daughter.]

    Shri Ram is not ‘Maryadapurush’ – meaning: one who upholds or abides by the accepted norms of society referred to as ‘maryada’.

    Shri Ram is ‘Maryadapurushottam’ – meaning: one who overcomes various constraints in order to dismantle negativities (perceptions, customs, rituals, etc) – even though these may have been ‘accepted societal norms’ or ‘maryada’, in order to being about a just society. [“Ram-Rajya” means just society.]

    Our entire understanding of the Ramayana is very wrong. Kaikeyi and Manthara (or for that matter Ravana) were not villainous figures, they were unlike how they are depicted in the current and popular versions. Kaikeyi and Manthara assisted Ram, Sita and Lakshman in their mission to change negative perceptions and dismantle obnoxious customs. Ram, especially with an ailing Dasarath, could not have absented himself for long periods from his kingdom – if he ascended the throne (something that Dasarath was very keen on). Also: he would have been bound by various rules and regulations (Raaj Dharma) – if he ascended the throne, and would not have been able to bring about the necessary changes in society. A routine succession would not have given him any moral authority or gravitas. [We must understand: it was a different era, and unlike us duties or dharma was paramount, especially for kings.]

    Hence, the only way was to seek Kaikeyi’s help. She had two pending ‘boons’ from Dasarath (meaning: she could ask for any two things and Dasarath was duty-bound to give them to her).

    And what do you think she asked for?

    [Her son, Bharat, was younger to Ram, but older to Lakshman and Shartrughna, and therefore, acceptable as an alternative to Ram.]

    Kaikeyi was known to have loved Bharat and Ram equally, hence she could not have asked Ram to be sent into ‘exile’ all of a sudden. A background had to be created, and therefore, Manthara – a very trusted attendant – came into the picture.

    The position of women was terrible, and there were various other negativities prevailing in society – before Ram’s ascension to the throne. And all of these negativities were accepted as societal norms (maryada). Shri Ram along with Sita and Lakshman dismantled these negativities and did away with obnoxious customs.

    • May 1, 2013 12:20 pm

      This is a good example of why as a campaign don’t like to further the religion and culture angle! Because of blind faith! This is why we just stick to laws and the Constitution, and human rights.

  32. Madhav permalink
    May 5, 2013 1:38 am

    Rama- the so called Maryada Purushottam is a contradiction and a lie. He failed miserably as a husband and a king. He maybe the reason for the existence of bride burning in India. I wonder how the so called Lord of the Universe could even allow Sita to undergo the trial by fire. Why the heck would a god like him care about the society and its opinions? If he truly loved his wife, he should have just shut people up and moved on with Sita. Banishing her during pregnancy is in a different league altogether. Rama, you are no role model for anyone, especially for a committed couple.

    As someone else said, Rama should also have given the agni pariksha as a test of his purity. I wonder why people did not doubt his chastity? Oh yes, men could do anything they wished and the women were stripped off their rights!! What a sad world we lived in. Unfortunately, the current situation is still the same. As long as people don’t move out of their religious books and scriptures, we’ll never progress.

    • May 7, 2013 11:13 am

      True Madhav. There is a tendency towards blind hero worship in religion. The danger is when religion becomes a justification for how society behaves.

  33. Lucile permalink
    July 7, 2013 1:19 pm

    Your means of explaining everything about the culture and tradition in this article all make me be able to simply understand it, Thanks a lot.

  34. Pria permalink
    July 13, 2013 1:00 am

    It’s a pity that so many lives were spent reading these great epics……and nobody realises they actually speak virtues of women. Maybe it’s not about Rama….and all about Sita….sometimes I wonder sage valmiki had written this story so as to enlighten people to choose what is right n wrong……but somewhere it has been misinterpreted…..there is no way in any sense can the actions of Rama be justifiable….NO MATTER WHAT….he could be a king, a man of honor or even a god……its just not FAIR……u can read the entire Ramayana and Mahabharata….any number of times….you have to face it…it was not fair….and it will never be if you teach your children the same we all have been taught….it’s respectful to learn them as legends and as history…..but it’s entirely not something we can be proud of….it has it’s pros n cons…great men like Rama can do mistakes…accept it and try not do them…..

    • July 14, 2013 2:38 pm

      In the enactment of Ramayana in some other countries, like in Indonesia for e.g. where there historically there was a big Hindu influence of religion and mythology, during a festival when the Ramayana is enacted the villagers in the end actually put Rama on trial and ask if he did his wife wrong. And the answer is yes, he did! Why doesn’t that happen in India?

  35. anonymous permalink
    August 27, 2013 1:26 am

    madam your writing burn the hell out of my soul & if doesn’t then i’m not called a human for .MY SINCERE APOLOGIES FOR USING SUCH VULGAR LANGUAGE! THE NATION SHOULD ACT UPON YOUR THEORY.I don’t hate the diwali idea but then there she is right about FEMALE CONCERNS.So think ’bout this guys.


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