The Woman behind Sita

I had an interview today with a local author. She has written 2 books, with the third one on its way and all of them are based on the Indian epics – Ramayana and Mahabharata.

Her latest book was what caught my interest. It is the Ramayana told from Sita’s perspective. I had not read the book, but the conversation sparked enough interest to find a quick look at the first two chapters of her next book – Searching for Sita.

It reminded me of several questions I had as a child about Sita. I always found it ridiculous that Ram would give up Sita after all that they had gone through. I thought both of them should leave… I mean Ram and his brother were the reason that Sita was arrested in the first place. But it was explained to me that Ram had bigger duties and responsibilities. Therefore, off went Sita alone to raise two kids in the forest.

But I never was convinced. Where was Sita’s perspective? Her voice in this entire epic novel? She was like a really crucial character but had no voice. Like an object. A line from another book I read seems to fit – yet another voiceless victim.

Sita was shunted from her mother’s house into her adoptive father’s house without a choice. Okay, she was a baby. Then she is married to the guy who can shoot really a well. Again, not really given a choice. Her good luck – the guy seems to be quite good. Too good sometimes.

The only choice she seems to make is to follow her husband into exile. Perhaps it was born out of a sense of duty but she does and that makes a difference. They go where he chooses, eats what he hunts.

Then she makes yet another choice, again out of a sense of duty and this time, majorly screws up by stepping out of the line, literally. And so people use this incident to state that women should not really be trusted yadda yadda yadda.

But why isn’t there a single chapter from Sita’s perspective? If Ravana had not been the hermit in disguise, would Ram have come back and yelled at her for not really stepping out to give him food? He’d have probably said she valued herself more than the hermit. Maybe all she was doing was trying to please him.

I’m not trying a feminist’s perspective here. I’m just curious about the woman who has been held as “the standard” for all of us. How can she be a standard if we really do not know anything about her?

I always wondered why she did not turn around and ask Ram also to step into the holy fire with her. Of course, when a movie dared ask that question, it was nearly burnt to death and banned. Why did not Urmila ask that question of Lakshmana? Where is the other perspective?

The author I spoke to today mentioned that in rural areas, many of the folk songs are from Sita’s voice. They talk about their troubles, worries and victories, which are linked to their partners.

“Sita still has a voice here,” the author said. It is just in mainstream, everyday settings that she is forgotten. That she is just a footnote, as they say.

Considering how big an impact Ramayana has on Indian culture, there has to be the other voice – the other person who was the cause of this all!

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