I support the strength of Indian women, not the constant negative portrayal of the bechari… who is the constant victim of society. And usually the central, recurring theme invoked is the image of Sita as the woman who was treated unjustly by Ram. The agni parikshay, in today's Indian psyche, is magnified out of proportion. The message is, if only the story was different, if only Sita did not have to prove herself, then the cultural acceptance and role of Indian women would be different. If only the story of Ramayan was more acceptable to our 21st century understanding, processed through our 'colonized' mind, (where few have read the original Ramayan in its entirety)…

The growing trend in Bollywood is to use Sita as a role model for the suffering Indian woman and blame her for not actively resisting the injustice as we perceive it through the lenses of today's sensibilities.  I ask another question. Why are we trying to fix the story of Ramayan? A story which makes complete sense when understood from the cultural context of its own time and which stands on its own merit? Why are we taking certain pieces of the story to demonize the whole culture? \Why do we want Sita to become Draupadi? Sita and Draupadi reflect different qualities in women. Sita is a strong woman in her own rights, but without the anger and the desire for the Draupadi style of justice. It was Draupadi who, when mistreated, wanted blood. Why are we not invoking Draupadi's image as a woman who stood for her rights? Why change Sita? She too needs to live. 

If Draupadi reflects those qualities that are needed to change our social customs, should we not promote her image? Yes, women's role in Indian culture is being redefined, but should we not try to understand Sita as she is portrayed? And, should we not question whether Sita is the relevant model for today's Indian women? Should there be only one role model? Our own female trinity portrays three different aspects of a woman's character --Saraswati (creator), Laxmi (sustainer) and Durga (destroyer). Should we not ask ourselves what Sita's character teaches us in a world where the role of women is still being redefined? And what Draupadi's character teaches us?

 As I reflect, I see that Sita, more than any other character, is an integral part of the Indian woman's psyche. At every stage of an Indian woman's life, her name is invoked. I find it amazing that one great epic written by a poet thousands of years ago has shaped and continues to shape and reshape the thinking of an entire culture. And, how certain aspects of a character have been emphasized more than others to suit the political and societal norms of the day. They have been understood or misunderstood to manage relationships through control and power. Most have focused on the negative interpretations rather than the positive. The power of external conditioning! 

Like many others in my generation, growing up, I pretty much ignored the Indian gods and goddesses. I did not see their relevance in modern life. Yet, unconsciously, they were so much a part of me. When I became an immigrant mother I realized I needed a cultural connection with my daughter. I also realized as a minority it was important for her to know her heritage and be proud of it. My search for Truth and my identity as an Indian woman led me to the Vedas and now the Puranas. It helped me understand some of the historical context in which many of these stories were written. I see them as important steps in the various stages of human development. 

The world is at America's doorstep as never before. Yes! Sita is in the United States

Sita, as originally portrayed, is still with us and is raising a new generation, both in India and abroad. Sita will never go away. She has survived for thousands of years. Why negate her and make her acceptance difficult for the educated, urban Sitas of tomorrow. So, how do the characters of Ramayan come into play in our lives today? Do we understand Ramayan as Ram Charitramanas, a character study of humans and emotions? I have often wondered what the impact of Ramayan would have been if we had not canonized these characters and focused primarily on the Sita agni parikshay. What if we had understood them as the flesh and blood characters that Valmiki was attempting to bring to life in his great poem!

This reflection of Sita has taken me further along in my own quest of understanding Indian womanhood. In many respects I have come full circle. I was ambivalent towards Sita, then I rejected her, and now I have come to accept her as a role model and use her in my activism. We can learn a lot from her character… Here I share my understanding of Sita...