RESEARCH SCHOLAR (PH.D)
**DR. PAYEL DUTTA CHOWDHURY
PROFESSOR & DIRECTOR
SCHOOL OF ARTS & HUMANITIES
A woman’s heart-rending cry!
How much must she have cursed us for that act!
That curse has still not left us it seems.
No man will ever love her.
The man who loved me abandoned me.
Have the two stories become one and the same finally?
(pg 6, The Liberation of Sita)
Aptly summarized in these lines is the life story of two strong women who defined the Ramayana as an epic to be read and re-read in the generations that have gone by and the generations to come. The strong focus and the gender bias that is prevalent in the Inidan society prevents any importance being given to the role of Sita who gives up her all to protect the honour of her maryada purush Ram and is chronicled in the sacred texts as epitome of all that goes to define the virtues of the Indian woman. The same Indian epic underplays the role of another woman, Surpanankha who is forced to abandon her identity of a Meenakshi and evolves to be a Surpanakha in the hands of her dreadful family, as a victim in the hands of patriarchal dominance and a gender-biased society. She is the victim in the hands of her mother, her brother and her family and circumstances force her to suspect her family and their approach towards her as a girl child in the family. Hers is a story of the bad woman who avenges the insults hurled at her, protects herself against the very gendering that is apparent in the world of the Asuras. The world of the Asuras is defined by the evils of society, all that is bad and negative and in this world a woman goes through the double-infliction of suffering not very different from the world of the Devas or the Human society. As revisionist literature flourished, some of these stories like the retelling of the story of Surpanakha or the hidden story of so pious and strong a woman like Mandordari would have otherwise been lost. Good or bad, evil or otherwise, these women are forced to live in the life of a male-dominated society, their stories seldom narrated for fear of social ostracism, patriarchal perspective and the fear that these perspectives may destroy the structural inequalites that is created in the order of the world of Devas and Asuras. Writers like Kavita Kane have given voice to the unheard voices of the like of Uruvi, Urmila and Surpanakha through their novels Karna’s Wife: the Outcast’s Queen, Sita’s Sister and Lanka’s Princess. Other writers like Devdutt Pattanaik and Volga have attempted to present some of these characters in a very different perpective, thus taking us away from the stereotypical presentation of the commonly perceived views of these women. Surpanakha which means the woman ‘as hard as nails’ faces the turmoils of her life alone, away from the powers of her brothers and with with her scheming, succesful thinking which results in the destruction of the Asuras. Their worlds are different, their values and virtues are different, yet they are victims of patriarchal hegemony and have their battles to fight in different ways. Where resilience is the strength of a Sita, violence and seduction is what Surpanakha resorts to. This paper is an attempt to study the life of the otherwise imagined ugly, untamed, brazen Surpanakha with a feminist perspective while studying the struggles of Surpanakha in the Asura world, the causes for her anger and sorrow and of how she operates as a woman from a relatively powerless position in comparison with Sita and Mandodari.
Keywords: feminism, patriarchy, gender, birth, marriage, abduction, revenge, anticipation,