You need to look no further than mythology to understand the true colours of the society and the nature of its structure and norms. It’s interesting how even after facing endless suffering and being disrespected at every stage of life, Indian mythology still holds some women as symbols of morality and strength. These are women whose lives were treated according to the whims and fancies of men and they never had the opportunity to protest or oppose them. The only recourse which was available to them was to express their anger in the form of renunciation of the world.
Blessed with the ability to bear only male children who would become conquerors in future, the boon to stay virgin even after child-birth, but, little did she know that this boon was a devil in disguise in her life, for this is not a story of a great woman and her children who become powerful conquerors, but it is the story of a woman who was used as an object of trade between men. Maharishi Vishwamitra once asked his student for 800 white horses with back ears as guru Dakshina and this set forth a series of unfortunate events. His student Galava approached a Kind, the father of Madhavi to give him 800 horses, but instead, the King game him his daughter in exchange and told him to trade her for the horses as he did not possess 800 horses of such stature. Imagine a father giving away his own daughter in trade due to lack of horses and using her as an object to his whims and fancies without even her consent. But the trade doesn’t end here. Galava trades Madhavi to three different Kings for 200 Horses each and then finally delivers her with 600 horses to Maharishi Vishwamitra to fill up the lacuna.
A woman being treated as a property, a source to give birth to male children who would become conquerors. Is the value of a female womb equivalent to 200 horses and what was her fault that she had to face the atrocities of men throughout her life, starting from her very father? And yet, Madhavi is portrayed as a powerful and strong woman because she ends up in renunciation of the world and becomes a sanyasi. Is this the definition of a strong woman that our mythology provides us with is questionable.
This is the story of yet another woman who was treated as a mere medium to achieve a goal, by none other than Lord Vishnu himself. Married to the Asura King Jalandhar, the man born out of the fire blazing out of Lord Shiva’s Third eye. Even though her husband had pure hatred towards the gods, she was devoted to Lord Vishnu, and this blind devotion led her straight to death bed. Due to her pure and chaste nature, she was blessed that her husband would be invincible, which created a commotion among the other gods.
Lord Vishnu one morning, taking the form of her husband visited her with the intention of destroying her chastity. By the time, Vrinda realised that the man was not her husband, but Vishnu himself, it was too late. Imagine the situation of a woman whose entire life is destroyed by the same man to whom she had utmost devotion. Completely devastated from the actions of Lord Vishnu, she ends up taking her own life as she is no longer pure for her husband and has lost her chastity. What is outrageous here is that Vishnu himself used a woman, his own devotee, and destroyed her life for no fault of hers. Here, the god himself has advocated using women as a mere source to satisfy his requirements and has not put an ounce of thought into the feelings of the woman, her consent, her purity or her devotion. Is this an example of treating women that have been set forth to us by our Great Gods?
The mistreatment of women by the gods is not limited to Lord Vishnu. One of the most beautiful women on Earth, one believed to be even more beautiful than the Apsaras in Indra’s Palace was Ahilya and this beauty led her to be punished for a crime that she did not commit and suffer a fate that she was not destined for. Lord Indra, took the form of her husband with the intention of having sexual intercourse with her while her husband, Rishi Gautam was away for his morning bath. When he returned, he caught Indra with his wife red-handed. Ahilya though was startled by this, as she was looking at two people who looked exactly like her husband, but her husband recognised Indra. After this, he cursed his own wife for a crime that she wasn’t even aware of and turned her into a stone. Imagine a woman who had just been raped and then she was being punished for being raped. Is this what we call justice or morality? Are the reigns of the life of a woman always in the hands of men, passing from father to husband to sometimes the Gods themselves?
Let it be the story of Sita who had to prove her chastity by walking through fire, even though she was abducted by another man and she never had been with him or let it be Draupadi who was disrobed and disrespected in front of her own husbands by her own brother-in-law and also was repeatedly insulted for having more than one husband. Each of these stories shows how patriarchy has dominated the character of women and how she has been time and again used as a means of satisfaction and pleasure by men. These practices are what led us into this modern society wherein women still lack respect and are still fighting for their rights.
Gandhiji once said, “When a woman walks in the streets at the midnight, then only it means that we achieved full independence to our country.”
If a woman wants to go out at night, if she wants to go out and buy a cigarette or go for a walk on the road, that too during the day time, is this a crime being committed by her? How many more Nirbhaya’s will get raped and how many more will be the victims of acid attacks? Why does a woman alone at any time of the day live with the notion of fear? What we should realise is that freedom without fear is what we need to protect, guard, and respect. The need of the hour is to change our own mindset, to take a stand. So arise, vocalize, protest, and be the change you want to see the world to be.