Posted by Soumya Mishra
“Humari apne parents ke saamne zubaan nahi chalti thi. Tum log apne maa-baap se zubaan ladate ho, respect nahi karte unki.”
“We didn’t dare open our mouths in front of our parents. You guys argue with your parents; you don’t respect us.”
I am sure most of us desi kids have heard these specific lines in our lives at some point in time. But what does it say about our culture? Indian culture demands that we respect our parents and elders — no matter what they do or say. Needless to say, such an arrangement becomes toxic and leads to the emergence of unhealthy relationships in our familial spheres. When conversations are termed as ‘talking back’ to the elders, the gap between parents and children widens even more because there is a lack of communication. And this is not new, such arrangements have been prevalent since time immemorial, and we can see this clearly in one of the oldest Indian epics, that is, the Ramayana. And, what is the root cause behind such an unhealthy arrangement, you might ask? The answer is, yes, you guessed it right: Patriarchy.
As we all know, in the Ramayana, Ram leaves his kingdom and crown behind and goes into exile for 14 years when King Dashrath asks him to, as per Kaikeyi’s wishes. Ram does not even question Dashrath’s decision and what’s more, Ram’s wife — Sita, as well as his younger brother — Laxman, who had married Sita’s younger sister — Urmila, both of them follow Ram into exile. We need to stop here and ask some very important questions:
- Does Ram only have responsibilities towards his father? What about his wife — Doesn’t Ram have any accountability towards his wife? Why isn’t Ram criticized for disregarding his responsibilities towards Sita and not deliberating over the decision with her?
- Why is Ram celebrated for sacrificing his kingdom and crown, and obeying his father’s orders without a question when his experiences during the exile put him through a lot of mental stress?
- Why is it considered okay and normalised for women, in this case, Sita, to follow their husbands’ footsteps blindly without stopping to think twice about their mental well-being? Why are women who sacrifice their wishes for their families celebrated in our society?
- Does Laxman only have responsibilities towards his elder brother? What about his wife Urmila? Why is Laxman celebrated as the greatest brother in Hindu mythology and not criticised enough for not fulfiling his duties as a husband towards Urmila?
The answer to all these aforementioned questions boils down to one word — patriarchy, or ‘purush pradhan samaj’ — meaning male-dominated society in the Ramayana. But the problem doesn’t end here. As we saw, such an arrangement in the Ramayana put numerous people in trauma — starting from Dashrath and his first wife Kausalya — who was the mother of Ram, to his children — Ram and Laxman, and their respective wives: Sita and Urmila. I cannot help but wonder: Could it all have been avoided had Ram talked to Dashrath, instead of blindly following his orders? Ram could also have given up the crown and the kingdom of his own accord because he was, after all, the most benevolent of all, without him having to go into exile for 14 years. And even if Ram had to, why was it considered the most natural thing for Sita to follow her husband’s footsteps? If only Ram had talked things through with his father, discussed and deliberated with him — like how it should be in every family, he could have avoided the misery of so many people. But no, discussing things through would be considered as ‘talking back’ to elders, and Ram as Ramayana projects, is after all, ‘maryada purushottam’ — ‘the man who is supreme in honour.’
Also read: The Nameless Curious Queen Of Ramayana
This is not even the beginning of the end of the problems in Ramayana. As we see in Ramayana, after Ram and Sita’s experiences in exile and their encounter with King Ravan of Lanka, Sita is put through an ‘agni pariksha’ — meaning ‘trial by fire’ to prove her chastity. But even that does not satisfy the people of Ayodhya and following their conspiracy theories, Ram decides to follow his ‘rajdharma’ — that is the ‘duty of ruler’ and Sita is finally sent to the woods and she stays there in a hermitage with the sages. It is then in Ramayana, that Sita gives birth to her two sons—Luv and Kush, who lead a life in the woods, with their mother bereft of their father. Do you see it now? Patriarchy is instrumental in perpetuating transgenerational trauma everywhere, just like it does in Ramayana. Not just one or two, three generations are subjected to trauma in Ramayana — all because of patriarchy and toxic masculinity.
To drive the point home, one look at the song ‘Hum van ke vaasi’ is all you need. In this song from Ramayana, we see young Luv and Kush singing on the streets of Ayodhya with tear-filled eyes and asking the residents of Ayodhya to restore the honour of their mother Sita.
“Hum van ke vaasi nagar jagane aaye
Sita ko uska khoya, mata ko uska khoya
Samman dilaane aaye.”
Why is it the prerogative of Ram or the residents of Ayodhya to reinstate Sita’s honorific status? This alone is problematic on so many different levels.
Even after all the collective humiliation, pain, trauma and stress that Sita and later, her kids went through in Ramayana, Sita’s life ends on an even tragic note. Towards the end of Ramayana, Luv and Kush lose their mother Sita, who decides to return to the womb of Mother Earth to free herself from this cruel world, that is, in short, she kills herself. So first, Luv and Kush grew up without a father and now, when finally meet him, they lost their mother.
This is additional evidence from Ramayana of how trauma transcends generations especially when enabled, nay, nurtured by patriarchy and toxic masculinity. It is high time that we realise trauma is a historical operative, and say ‘ENOUGH’ to patriarchy. For starters, to avoid the accumulation of transgenerational trauma, we could normalise saying “baap ko sikha” instead of saying “baap ko mat sikha.”
Author note: The Ramayana that is referred here is the Ramanand Sagar’s TV series.
Featured Image Source: BBC
Soumya is a postgraduate in English Studies from The University of Sydney. She loves the written word and considers herself an avid reader. Soumya has published a few of her short stories in different online literary journals like Daily Science Fiction and Non Binary Review, and she also bagged the first prize for her short story Freedom at the Bhubaneswar Literary Meet 2017. Apart from creative writing, Soumya’s areas of interest also include postcolonial theory, genre theory, culture and criticism, gender and sexuality studies, and contemporaneity.Twitter: https://twitter.com/triggerednari