Mahisasur, the son of Rambh and Mahishi, had obtained a boon from Brahma that he could not be killed by any man. Empowered by immortality, Mahisasur laid waste on humans who worshipped gods. The gods united to find a way to end evil. Thus formed Durga with all their powers combined. The gods - Brahma, Vishnu, Shiv and others, armed this female deity to slay Mahisasur. Chandi, the form in which Durga/Parvati slays Mahisasur, fused into her body promising to return when the need to destroy evil arose.
The concept of Shakti, the absolute creative energy of the feminine form, dates back to the Vedic ages. A whole chapter in the tenth mandal of the Rigveda deals with the devotional sadhanas of Shakti. Krishna prayed to Durga to ascertain victory to the Pandavas, Ram prayed to her before he took his vanarsena to Lanka.
The mother deity of most religions is revered as the ultimate, immaculate form. The belief and the treatment of the feminine as worship-worthy and earthly from of Shakti supposedly trickled down the annals of religious history and rested in the form of Durga Puja and the Navratras. While the former celebrates Durga’s victory over Mahisasur - the symbolic battle of good and evil; Navratras is about the celebration of the nine forms of Durga - Shailputri (daughter of Mountain), Brahmacharini, Chandraghanta, Kushmanda, Skanda Mata, Katyayini, Kaalratri, Mahagauri and Siddhidatri.
It is Navami (the ninth day of Durga Puja celebrations) and perhaps a good time to look back at what has come to pass.
The story hit the papers on 1 October, four days before the madness of Navratras descended on the Capital. A minor (most reports say she is 15) who worked as a domestic help to two ladies (a 50-year-old MNC employee and her 80-year-old mother) was rescued from their posh flat in Vasant Kunj after neighbours complained about cries and shrieks coming from the house. The complaint was lodged once those noises became unbearable for the up-market residents.
As newspaper reports go - ‘The girl’s face and body bore deep gashes and several injuries. Her ears were swollen and there were injuries on the head too’. The employers claimed that she had injured herself when she fell in the bathroom and they were getting her treated by a doctor. Reports also say that the maid had complained of being attacked by a ‘sharp knife-like object’.
It took an NGO called Shakti Vahini and Delhi Commission for Women four hours to enter the house and rescue the girl. The employer (Vandana Dhir) and the placement agency owner were arrested and Dhir has since been denied bail. Investigations are being carried on extensively into the placement agency, how much the girl was bought for, sold for and paid in houses she has worked in. That, however, is not the bone of contention.
16 December and Nirbhaya is not out of our minds yet, nor are the innumerable incidents of molestation, rape, torture that have taken up media mind space with a vengeance. Perhaps it is a trend that will die out soon or perhaps it is paranoia. Maybe a good few years earlier, one could have witnessed the fervour of this festive season with a sense of gaiety, hope, happiness - pick your emotion. Religion is an effective balm for the country. But now as incidents, where grievous harm is inflicted on women, keeps growing - the worship of the divine feminine seems farcical.
Perhaps it is wrong to label the Capital city as unsafe for women, other metros are gradually inching towards that label as we wait for something worse than the Nirbhaya case to happen. The plague seems to be spreading when ironically, education and history should have worked in tandem to make this country of Durga worshippers safer for women. I recall innumerable debates around me when women have been asked to ‘cover up’, ‘dress appropriately’ and ‘take precautions’ - the better-safe-than-sorry logic meted out with a lot of concern by men around us. Take a few steps outside the Capital and face the wrath of the Khaps, who don’t believe in such cautious advice, but in ‘putting the woman in her place’. These are the same people made infamous for their honour killings and chowmein comments. And also the ‘women should not wear jeans’ and ‘not have cell phones’.
‘This is wholly illegal and has to be ruthlessly stamped out. There is nothing honourable in honour killing or other atrocities and, in fact, it is nothing but barbaric and shameful murder. Other atrocities in respect of the personal lives of people committed by brutal, feudal-minded persons deserve harsh punishment. Only this way can we stamp out such acts of barbarism and feudal mentality. Moreover, these acts take the law into their own hands, and amount to kangaroo courts, which are wholly illegal,’ a bench of justices Markandey Katju and Gyan Sudha Misra said in 2011.
19 September, 2013, a father lynched his daughter in public, cremated her, broke the boy’s limbs, beheaded him and threw his body in front of his house. The father said that he felt no remorse for this act. Clearly, two years wasn’t enough to drive a verdict home.
Connecting these disparate events, the moot point seems to be that of a collective apathy towards women, their place in society and their plight. While a country celebrates Shakti with much aplomb, Khaps are trying to reign in the feminine forces in the name of ‘good’ Hindusim. Will matters change if women steer clear of jeans and never touch a cell phone? My guess is as good as yours. The fact that women are mistreated in a country that worships the likes of Durga, Kali, Lakshmi and Saraswati was best played up by a print campaign that ironically (again) drew a lot of flack. Launched by ‘Save the Children India’ the ‘Save our Sisters’ campaign showed Lakshmi, Durga and Saraswati in their iconic postures but with injuries similar to ones suffered by domestic violence victims.
‘Pray that we never see this day. Today, more than 68% of women in India are victims of domestic violence. Tomorrow, it seems like no woman shall be spared. Not even the ones we pray to,’ it read. The campaign went viral and the protests grew louder - the campaign allegedly hurt religious sentiments. The bigots didn’t quite get the message.
While the country still goes into the throes of religious raptures with ‘Zor se bolo - Jai Mata Di!’ or the ‘Jai Ma Durga ki Jai!’ - women still keep suffering in their own private hells. Age, caste, social standing no bar - she could be a tortured domestic help (who was tortured by her female employers - who ever could have imagined that) or a college girl on her way home after a movie or a middle-aged house wife. ‘It’s my fault!’ says the flat, dead pan, exceedingly sarcastic video on rape starring Kalki Koechlin and Juhi Pandey. Perhaps it is!
The concept of ‘Devi’ lies abandoned in scriptures as violence mounts, the celebrated divine feminine is worthy of worship in the inanimate idol form and that’s all. As the bikers with their red and gold bandanas and ‘Jai Mata Di’ shouts zoom past, the woman knows that the city and the country is not safe. I have decided to keep my ‘Why can’t men behave?’ argument away till the time women will no longer need to be ‘put in place’.