(Published in the Business Standard, 8th January 2013)
In times of trouble, turning to the great epics is always useful: their ancient bloodstained lines are reminders that we do not have a premium on violence, rape and corpses.
Over the centuries, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata have become India’s default epics, eclipsing the Rajatarangini, the Cilapatikkaram and other equally powerful legends in the mainstream imagination. While this is a loss, both epics offer an insight into the way rape works in India.
Five stories of rape and sexual assault from the epics are particularly useful. The Ramayana has the abduction of Sita by Ravana, and running parallel to it, the disfiguring of Surpanakha by Rama and Lakshmana—two atrocities, not one, that trigger a war. The Mahabharata has the public assault on Draupadi at its heart, the abduction and revenge of Amba, and and the sanctioned rapes of Ambika and…
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