The pious trinity

Published February 8, 2024
The writer is an author.
The writer is an author.

HISTORY tells us more about Sita (the misjudged consort of Lord Rama) and about Shrimata Kasturbai (the suffering spouse of Mahatma Gandhi) than we know about Smt Jashodaben (the invisible wife of Prime Minister Narendra Modi).

These three form a pious trinity whose loyalty to their often unfeeling husbands personifies courage, the quality John F. Kennedy defined as “grace under pressure”.

Sita’s fidelity to her husband Rama remained intact throughout the 14 years she spent in exile with him, the last as a prisoner of the demon king Ravana in Lanka. Even after her return to Ayodhya and despite her protestations of purity, Rama sent her into a second exile. She spent 15 more years in the hermitage of the sage Valmiki who taught her twin sons Lava and Kusa (deemed founders of Laho­­re and Kasur) the Ramayana he composed.

Persuaded to rejoin her husband in Ayo­dhya, Sita found herself under suspicion yet again. She appealed to Mother Earth which then obligingly swallowed her.

The cacophony that greeted the original return of Rama and Sita to Ayodhya reverberated on Jan 22 this year. Ramabhakts expect a restoration of Rama Rajya — a halcyon age “marked by peace, prosperity, and harmony”. Some though felt that Sita should also have been venerated for her uncomplaining devotion to Lord Rama.

Gandhi, like his idol Rama, was a less than perfect husband.

When I visited Ayodhya and the ruins of the Babri Masjid in 2005, I stayed in the guest house of a temple dedicated to Sita. It was built by a matriarch of the Orchha royal family and is serviced with food and fresh bathwater every day, as if Sita and Rama still lived there. Its other occupants were an uncontrollable troop of monkeys, given free rein for being descendants of Rama’s monkey ally Hanuman.

Another Sita of sorts was Kasturbai Gandhi, M.K. Gandhi’s loyal wife. She endured endless humiliation at his hands, estrangement from her children, and even accepted his unilateral decision to become a brahmacharya. Shamed by him into forgoing salt and pulses, she died, swallowed by his insatiable ideals.

Gandhi, like his idol Rama, was a less than perfect husband. He wrote of Kasturbai that he “expected obedience from her”. In his memoirs, he admitted: “She was very obstinate. In spite of all my pressure she would do as she wished. This led to short or long periods of estrangement between us. But as my public life expanded, my wife bloomed forth and deliberately lost herself in my work.”

The poetess Sarojini Naidu described Kasturbai as “the living symbol of Indian womanhood. Never once did her feet falter or her heart quail on the steep path of perpetual sacrifice, which was her portion in the wake of the great man [she] followed with such surpassing courage, faith and devotion”.

Kasturbai and Gandhi spent 62 testing years together. Indian PM Narendra Modi and his wife Jashodaben have spent “a total of about three months” out a three-year period of cohabitation, after which he abandoned her for a political career with the RSS.

A reticent person, she revealed in a rare interview that “when he told me he would be moving around the country as he wished, I told him I would like to join him [.] He used to spend a lot of time in RSS shakhas”.

Spurned but not divorced, she has lived a frugal life, surviving on a teacher’s salary and now on a modest pension. She knows Narendra Modi almost as well as his enemies: “I will not say anything against my husband. He is very powerful [.] I am afraid of the consequences.”

All three — Sita, Kasturbai and Jashodaben — symbolise the role selfless wives are forced to play in misogynist societies. They have yet to be acknowledged as private martyrs, eclipsed by publicly glorified heroes.

Legend has it that Rama (sans Sita) ruled over Ayodhya for 10,000 years. Since then, his devotees believe that mere recitation of the Ramayana “brings prosperous families, wealth and grain in abundance, lovely wives, supreme felicity, and complete success in all undertakings”.

The Ramayana recounts how the monkey king Sugriva accompanied Rama on his return to Ayodhya, taking with him 9,000 elephants carrying monkeys “in the form of men”.

On Jan 22, 2024, no monkeys were visible during the pran prathistha of the new Rama temple. Apparently, they have no place in the second Rama Rajya. Nor have Indian Muslims who are faced with a trinity of cruel ‘choices’: expulsion to wherever, conversion without integration, or forced sterilisation?

The Congress party dare not object. It still has Sanjay Gandhi’s “gruesome campaign” of compulsory sterilisation (mainly of Muslims) in 1975 to answer for.

The writer is an author.
www.fsaijazuddin.pk

Published in Dawn, February 8th, 2024

Opinion

Editorial

China’s concerns
23 Jun, 2024

China’s concerns

Pakistan has no option but to neutralise militant threat to Chinese projects, as well as address its business and political stability concerns.
War drums
23 Jun, 2024

War drums

If it is foolish enough to launch another war in Lebanon, Tel Aviv will be solely responsible for setting the Middle East on fire.
Balochistan budget
23 Jun, 2024

Balochistan budget

BALOCHISTAN’S Rs955.6bn budget for the fiscal year 2024-25 makes many pledges to the poor citizens of Pakistan’s...
Another lynching
Updated 22 Jun, 2024

Another lynching

The chilling alternative to not doing anything — which appears to be the state’s preferred option — is the advent of mob rule.
Tax & representation
22 Jun, 2024

Tax & representation

THE taxation measures outlined in the budget for the incoming fiscal year have triggered a lot of concern among ...
Life of the party?
22 Jun, 2024

Life of the party?

THE launch of Awaam Pakistan, a party led by former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and former finance minister...