So, Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s film has run into hot water with all sorts of people. Although it is easily anticipated that the threats of violence will only lead to better collections for the film at the box office by giving it publicity, such threats are obviously to be condemned in all forms and thankfully, the UP government is taking action. The goon who threatened to kill Bhansali and Deepika, who plays the role of Queen Padmavati, has been booked for issuing threats. But this article is not about that.
The imminent release of the movie Padmavati has led to a second lively debate about the question of honor, patriarchy and death. With the story of Rani Padmavati burning herself to death to escape dishonor at the hands of Khilji, this was bound to happen. Here are just a couple of representative examples.
Obviously, both sides of this debate have a point. On the one side, patriarchy does indeed condition woman towards seeing themselves as some form of property, with their worth reduced to their “honor”. On the other hand, we have first hand testimony from Yazidi women for example, of the kind of life that “kafir” women can expect to have as sex slaves under radical Islamist rule. First hand testimony wishing that ISIS would kill them and thus end the daily torture.
Devdutt Pattanaik went into a nervous breakdown on Twitter discussing this very issue. While he resorted to name calling and asking everyone whether they ‘enjoyed burning their daughter,’ I wonder if Devdutt really thought his stance through. Devdutt ended up taking a hardline stand that ‘surviving the monstrosity of rape was always better’.
While in principle, his stand sounds honourable, it is tragic that Devdutt doesn’t really differentiate between surviving rape, and choosing to live as a sex slave in an Islamic invaders harem. For someone considered a part of the elite intelligentsia, his stand lacked nuance, not to mention the abusive behaviour. He completely ignored a woman’s flight or fight instinct when faced with such a situation, and devalued the importance of honour that a woman might hold dear.
While glancing through his nervous breakdown, I came across a rather old tweet of Pattanaik where he lamented how people admire Gandhi, but never really read or understand him.
So many people admire Gandhi. Few read, understand or follow him, but many attack those who critique him. That’s called totemisation.
— Devdutt Pattanaik (@devduttmyth) January 30, 2014
Without necessarily choosing a side, I thought it would make sense to get a perspective (and inform others) about what Mahatma Gandhi, the revered father of our nation, has said about such situations.
It turns out that the Mahatma was asked a direct question :
“How is one to protect the honor of women?”
To which, the Father of our Nation replied thus, writing in Harijan, the publication which occupies a special place in our history. He decided to break down this question under two different headings (exact quote from the Mahatma below):
“The question may be discussed under two heads:
(1) how is a woman to protect her own honour? and
(2) how are her male relatives to protect it?”
Here is the exact answer of the Mahatma with regards to question (1):
“where there is a nonviolent atmosphere, where there is the constant teaching of Ahimsa, woman will not regard herself as dependent, weak or helpless. She is not really helpless when she is really pure. Her purity makes her conscious of her strength. I have always held that it is physically impossible to violate a woman against her will. The outrage takes place only when she gives way to fear or does not realize her moral strength. If she cannot meet the assailant’s physical might, her purity will give her the strength to die before he succeeds in violating her. Take the case of Sita. Physically she was a weakling before Ravana, but her purity was more than a match even for his giant might. He tried to win her with all kinds of allurements but could not carnally touch her without her consent. On the other hand, if a woman depends on her own physical strength or upon a weapon she possesses, she is sure to be discomfited whenever her strength is exhausted.”
Now, it is not for me to comment on the Mahatma. All I can do is express my bewilderment and leave it to the brilliant minds of this country, like Mr. Pattanaik who admire Mahatma, to widely publicize and discuss whether it is really “physically impossible to violate a woman against her will.”
I will make a similar expression of bewilderment regarding the Mahatma’s view that rape can only happen when a woman “gives way to fear or does not realize her moral strength.” And what about the his view that a woman’s “purity will give her the strength to die before he succeeds in violating her“?
Would the ones who seem to admire Mahatma Gandhi, agree with these radical views too? I know I couldn’t.
Now for the second question, regarding protection of a woman’s honor by her male relatives, the Mahatma explains thus:
“The brother or father or friend will stand between his protegee and her assailant. He will then either dissuade the assailant from his wicked purpose or allow himself to be killed by him in preventing him. In so laying down his life he will not only have done his duty, but given a new accession of strength to his protegee who will now know how to protect her honour.”
Now, how exactly is the Mahatma prescribing that women take their lives? Luckily, the Father of our nation decided to explain further with illustrative example.
While I would not like to comment on the merits of the arguments made, I do hope that the brilliant minds of our country will have something to say. I also hope, that Mr. Devdutt Pattnaik finds some time from his incredibly busy schedule of abusing random folks on twitter, and comments on Mahatma Gandhi’s words. I, for one, can’t take a position on this. I can only say, history can’t be viewed without context and nuance, and Devdutt Pattanaik, certainly seems to lack both.
While I don’t agree with Gandhi’s views, I write this article because Mr. Pattanaik has taken it upon himself to call everyone who disagrees with his stated stand, a “Right wing troll”. He has also resorted to asking people if they enjoy burning their daughters. All of this, because some people tried to discuss why Rani Padmini might have done what she did, and that his hardline stand doesn’t hold when it comes to sex slavery at the hands of Islamic invaders.
While Mr. Pattanaik abuses people with utmost impunity, I write this wondering, what would he say to Gandhi? What names, if any, would he like to heap on the Mahatma, considering his views on the issue are far more hardline that the average people who tried to reason with him? Considering, most of his views on the subject would be unpalatable to people on either side of the spectrum? What would Mr. Pattanaik say now?
Abhishek Banerjee is a math lover who may or not be an Assistant Professor at IISc Bangalore.