KBS Ramchandra has written a piece on why possibly Rama abducted Sita.
[If as a nation we had spent half as much the time on evaluating our leaders (current and dead) than what we spend on evaluating behavior of our legends; we could have been a far better country today. I am unmistakably hinting at Nehru-Gandhi dynasty]
Ramayana says that when Ram discovered that his countrymen still doubt Sita’s purity he decided to abandon her. Ram hears a washer man abusing his wife and questions Ram’s integrity as a King.
Rama abandoned Sita without consenting anyone, not even Sita. He asked Laxman to leave her in jungle without giving her slightest idea that she is being abandoned.
In a modern day context Ram’s this decision is criticized and his perception as an ideal man (“Purushottam”) is questioned. This example is often sited by critics of Hinduism as how Hinduism treats women badly.
We must understand that Ramayana is a thousands of years old story. It has transcended to us through an oral tradition. It is likely that several parts of this story evolved along with the society of those times. In one sense it does reflect the mindset of our people during various times. We have continued to believe that Ram is incarnation of Vishnu and he is the Maryada-Purushottam. How can he be wrong?
I think this very idea that we can question the scripture is the essence of Hinduism. KBS Ramchandra makes an attempt to redefine and evaluate merits of Ram’s decision and tries to rationalize it by putting it in the perspective of modern values. This is in stark contrast to other mono-atheist religions where this story would have probably meant a dogmatic belief that whenever you doubt your wife abandon her without intimating her. Then justify this behaviour by citing the scripture.
I think Ramayana or Mahabharata are just stories. These stories are not merely a piece of ordinary poetry but an attempt to demystify human mind, virtues , duties, vices and vulnerabilities.
When we talk of Ram, the maryada purushottam, it is not necessary to validate his behavior against the modern day values. Also it will be equally wrong to view him with a modern day prejudice. The prejudice is that women were always treated inferiorly during ancient times. It because of this prejudice I feel we look at Ram’s decision as something anti-feminist. Also when we look at this injustice we essentially take into consideration Sita as individual and her rights as individual.
The reason why I feel we are prejudiced can be exemplified using following example. Ram left Ayodhya for the sake of his step-mother’s wish. She was a woman. We never view this as how much importance the society of that time gave to women, we only look at Sita’s example. Further, the entire episode of Ramayana took place because Sita insisted that Ram should catch a golden deer. She further forced Laxman to go after his brother despite his refusal. She crossed the Laxman rekha even after being told not to do so. Can this be viewed as natural female stupidity ? Whatever may be the answer, Ram crossed an ocean with a newly built army of monkeys and fought a war, only for her. Doesnt it exemplify importance given to a female? When we look at Ram life we don’t really look it in feminist perspective but when it comes to her abandonment we start viewing it as anti-feminist.
In Ramayana, there is an instance where Ram fights with hanuman, the man who stood besides him in all situations. We don’t really try to analyse this instance as much as Sita’s abandonment because hanuman is a man.
My point here is that Ram did many things which were apparently unjust. Sita’s abandonment was one such episode but it had nothing to do with she being a female. It was just a decision he made taking into consideration his duties towards his subjects.
Secondly, does that indicate that Indian society of that time gave undue importance to purity of women and a mere doubt on the same qualified her to be abandoned?
I think there one strong reformist concept that Ramayana keeps before its readers through this episode. The epic clearly indicates that Ram himself had no doubt about her purity, or even if he had he had not hesitation in accepting her. Isn’t it amazing that before two thousand years when barbaric religions were not even founded, we had a king who treated his wife like this ? Isn’t it true love?
But when we feel sorry for Sita, we essentially look at the issue in an individualistic perspective. Ram himself sacrificed so much for her, isn’t it her duty to sacrifice more for him to be a better king? Wasn’t assisting her husband in doing his duty was her foremost duty ?
Ram probably even did some injustice to her but then why should it really be an issue when Ram was actually serving a larger goal ?
I think true leaders are those who can make tough decisions like Ram did. In my opinion Ram is not to be faulted for his actions. We feel sorry for Sita and we should, Ram himself did but then sometimes bitter decisions are unavoidable.
Again, Ramayana is just a story, we should not interpret it based on our wishful thinking. It is an open ended epic.