By Arré Bench Dec. 15, 2020
In a story that sounds too horrifying to be true, a Bihar man wagered his wife as part of a gambling bet and lost, giving her to his accomplices who gang-raped her. Then, he poured acid on her for “purification”.
The “Draupadi Vastraharan” story is one of the most memorable myths from the epic Mahabharata. Yudhishtra, leader of the Pandavas, plays a ruinous game of gambling with Duryodhana and ends up giving away even his wife Draupadi as a prize. When Duryodhana’s brother Dushasana attempts to disrobe Draupadi before the court, Lord Krishna performs a miracle, extending her garments infinitely to protect her dignity. Unfortunately, in a ghoulish echo of the myth, a tragic incident occurred in Bihar where a man wagered his wife as part of a gambling bet and lost, according to news reports. There was no divine intervention here, and the man gave his wife over to his gambling accomplices who gang-raped her. And to make matters even worse, the man poured acid on his wife afterward, allegedly to “purify” her after the ordeal.
The story sounds too horrifying to be true, but sadly it is. According to reports, the accused husband was arrested on Sunday, but the 30-year-old woman survivor had already had to endure abuse and burn injuries by that point. If there was ever a case that exemplified how Indian women are viewed as possessions rather than persons by men, this is it. Being sexually assaulted as part of somebody else’s game and then burned with acid for “purification” is the very definition of dehumanisation.
Indian men have a disgusting sense of entitlement when it comes to women’s bodies. A headline breaking in parallel to the story from Bihar was of an Indian Army colonel booked for sexually assaulting his friend’s wife, whom he had known for some time. The incident, which occurred in Kanpur, saw the colonel invite the couple to his house before giving them spiked drinks, and taking advantage of the wife after the husband lost consciousness. What causes this shamelessly predatory behaviour?
Indian men have a disgusting sense of entitlement when it comes to women’s bodies.
According to reports, the woman is married to the accused’s childhood friend. While a case has been filed under relevant sections of the Indian Penal Code, police are yet to arrest the colonel. Though he is currently absconding, the audacity of the act itself reveals that the colonel believed he would get away with sexual assault. And that is where society failed Indian women, even before the attack took place.
Even as lawmakers enact more stringent penalties for rapists and sex offenders, as the government pushes its “Beti Bachao” slogan, and the public grows increasingly vocal about the need to end sexual violence, the perpetrators continue to commit their crimes with reckless abandon. A large part of the problem is the patriarchal belief that women are valuables to be protected, rather than individuals with their own agency. Because what is being protected, can also be defiled. This mode of thinking is what leads to men believing that they are entitled to women’s bodies, to the shocking extent that women are actually being offered up as chips in a gambling game.
In the Mahabharata, all those responsible for the attack on Draupadi’s dignity had to eventually answer for their sins. In modern India, as gender violence continues to be reported daily, can women count on the same?