I am late on this, but it has been a very busy couple of weeks.
Anyhow, so the Bombay High Court, while hearing a divorce case, recently observed that married (Indian?) women should take a cue from the goddess Sita (pronounced Seetah, to rhyme with Cheetah) from the epic The Ramayana.
The context? The husband was/is seeking divorce because the wife refused to follow him to Port Blair where he was transferred, and presumably chose to lead her own life in Mumbai(and complete a computer training course, media reports say.)
Sita, the human goddess (unsure if that is a legit term) followed her husband Ram into exile for 14 years, giving up her queen's life for the hostilities of the wilderness.
That, among other things, makes her the ideal wife, as it does Lakshman, who followed brother and sister-in-law.
It is another thing that Ram, in the end, returns her favour by asking her to undertake the fire test or "agnipariksha", where she literally had to walk on fire and not get charred to prove her innocence and purity.
Her fault? The mega king of Lanka, Ravan, kidnapped her and kept her a prisoner for some days before the mighty Ram and Lakshman and Hanuman (monkey god) beat him and rescued her. So the Doubting Thomases of that age whispered about her chastity, and this was Ram's way of proving Sita's loyalty to them.
The more I try to simplify this, the more I realise how ridiculous it sounds. So here's an aside for people unfamiliar with the epic. Like all epics, The Ramayana has its own share of extraordinary characters who do extraordinary things. And like all epics, it is a great piece of work not for that, but for what these characters represent and for the plot that is a deep philosophical reflection on mankind.
Plus, one has to remember that for all of Ram's shortcomings, he was a great man with many virtues that cannot be recounted in one measly blog. The fire test too is much more complex than the one graph I wrote above.
According to some versions, Ram (who had superhuman powers) had ensured Sita be under the protection of the lord of fires and made sure she would not be harmed. Once Sita passed the test, he explained to her that he did it put malicious toungues to rest.)
He had a kingdom to rule, you see. And it would be increasingly difficult for him to build that utopian kingdom he did eventually build if his people kept casting doubts and making sly innuendoes about his wife. Image mattered even back then I guess. That however, does not alter the fact that he did give in to peer pressure to hurt his nearest and dearest.
From what I read in Indian media reports, the husband has some kind of "ship duty" that includes transfers and travels and the woman, refused to join him in Anadaman's Port Blair, which is cut off from mainland India by the Indian Ocean and Bay of Bengal.
I do not know what her reasons are, and I will not comment on whether she is right or wrong-- I've seen and heard of enough similar real life examples across the world to know that there are no set rights and wrongs in these cases. My consternation is in the judges' "observation."
That highly educated men in today's day and age can make such childish and irresponsible official statements is also extremely amusing, to say the least.
One could argue that the judges, of advanced years, were making a fatherly suggestion in trying to make peace and keep a marriage from crumbling. But if the couple needed that sort of advice, they wouldn't have spent a ton of money and gone to the HC -- they would actually go to their fathers and get it for free.
And why invoke Sita, of all people? Even if one is at a point where one doesn't doubt her existence, she was a god, married to another. How is it a fair comparison?
Think about it -- Sita was faced with two choices. Either follow the handsome and largely fair man who won her hand and with whom she was already in love, or to stay behind in a strange land by herself and deal with an extremely scheming mother in law. I don't know about you, but it doesn't feel like a very difficult choice to me. Especially since there were no careers or computer classes to factor in.
What is interesting is that Valmiki made a big deal of her move. In the rural, or even urban (as the divorce case tells us) India I know, women giving up their careers and lives and ecosystems to move with the men they marry is considered the most natural thing in the world.
Note-- it does not go the other way. Exceptions always prove the rule, but even as I count in my head, I can think of at least seven families where educated and working women gave up their jobs and lives and moved cities or countries with their men. I can't think of a single instance where the man moved. Maybe one.
I am not judging, and I understand the need for a compromise in every relationship. But it also begs the question of why is it so difficult to find a man who moved for his woman? And we can't even really blame our history for it.
That Valmiki (the rehabbed dacoit who turned saint and penned the epic) gave Sita special mention tells us that society back then was more respectful of individuality that it is now.
Even a 100 years ago, circa when Tagore lived, we were a mature, grown-up, respectful society, if his novels are anything to go by. Basics like you do not read other people's mails even if the other person is married to you, you ask your family if they agree to your world view and do not just assume they will, you give free-will a chance, are quite often the refrain of his works.
How did we then come to this place where we type away at our iPhones and simultaneously say things like women should "take a cue from Sita" and get away with it?