She was the pioneer of feminism in India. The trailblazer to question the prevailing rules of a patriarchal society. She was married to five men, yet loved by none. She was the quintessential tragedy queen who was held responsible for the devastating war that consumed an entire kingdom. However, this story is more than 2000 years old and I have no intention of retelling it. Instead, I will highlight a few aspects of her life that are ironically similar to what the women of modern India still go through. Sadly, the trials and tribulations that Mahabharata’s Draupadi had to undergo some two millenniums ago, exist even today.
Let’s start with her birth. She was born out of a sacrificial religious fire ‘yagna’, organized by her father (king Drupad) with the sole purpose of begetting a son, who could avenge him by slaying his sworn enemy, Dronacharya. Hence, when she emerged out of the fire after her twin brother (Dhrishtadyumna), she was seen as an unwanted child, much like the unwelcomed female infants in our country who are being abandoned, killed or looked at with disgust or pity for being born a girl. Not much has changed since then, really.
Fast forward to her ‘swayamvara’ (wedding); right after she was offered as a winning prize at the archery contest to Arjuna, she was unwillingly thrust into polyandry. And unfortunately, also became the victim of polygamous relationships as all her husbands took other wives. No wonder in many families even today, the fate of a girl/woman is decided by her father, husband or in-laws. She is still considered as a trophy or property (more the merrier) by men.
As if being married to five men and tending to their inflated egos was not enough for this fire-born princess. To add to her woes, sage Vyasa blessed her with a boon (read curse). As per the supposed ‘boon’, her virginity was restored each time she went to live with a husband. Now we know the reason behind Indian’s obsession with a woman’s intact hymen. So much for a man’s ego and what trivial means with which a woman’s purity is confirmed.
Now jump to the most fateful day of her life- the day she was humiliated and dishonored publicly. After Yudhishthira pawned and lost her in the game of dice (like the way one stakes his money/property in gambling), Dushashana dragged her by her hair to the court and surprisingly no one present objected to the treatment meted out to her. None of the decorated warriors, elders and noblemen in the court could muster the courage to stop the humiliation. Quite a familiar scenario that is, almost dejavu; quite similar to the ones women witness, read about or face almost everyday. How many people actually raise their voice when a woman is being groped or molested in a crowded bus, train or even in the middle of the road ? Instead, they stand there as passive bystanders and turn a blind eye to her cry for help. And as usual the perpetrators go unpunished.
However, there is one thing that separates Mahabharata’s Draupadi from today’s women. Unlike the feisty, dark-skin princess of Panchala, the contemporary Indian women do not have a loyal and chivalrous sakha (friend) like Krishna who will come to her rescue in the nick of time; who will protect, save and restore her dignity and honour. But these women, the new age Draupadi(s), know it already and are preparing themselves to fight their own battles. They have no other option but to become their own Krishna(s).