Draupadi by Mahasweta Devi | Summary, Title, Context, Text

Draupadi by Mahasweta Devi | Summary, Title, Context, Text

Draupadi by Mahasweta Devi

About  Mahasweta Devi

Mahasweta Devi (14 January 1926 – 28 July 2016) was a famous women social activist, writer and journalist from India who worked hard for the growth of the tribal people. Indeed, she was fondly called, ‘The Mother of the Sabar’ because of her extensive work in support of the Sabar tribe.

Mahasweta was born in Dhaka, Bangladesh in 14th January 1926 but later after the partition of India, their family moved to West Bengal. Mahasweta was born in a literate family. Both her parents were well-known writers. Mahasweta also received good education. She acquired a Bachelors and Masters degree in English. Basically interested in writing, Mahasweta Devi wrote more than 100 novels and over 20 collections of short stories.

The Indian government honoured Mahasweta with various literary awards such as the Sahitya Akademi Award, Jnanpith Award, Ramon Magsaysay Award and also the civilian awards Padma Shri and Padma Vibhushan.

The legendary and glorious mother of Bengal passed away on Jul 28, 2016 due to multiple organ failure.

An Introduction to Draupadi

Draupadi is a short story of around 20 pages originally written in Bengali by Mahasweta Devi. It was anthologized in the collection, Breast Stories, translated to English by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak herself gives an introduction to her translation in the following words:

“Draupadi” first appeared in Agnigarbha (“Womb of Fire”), a collection of loosely connected, short political narratives. As Mahasweta points out in her introduction to the collection, “Life is not mathematics and the human being is not made for the sake of politics. I want a change in the present social system and do not believe in mere party politics.”

Historical Context of Draupadi

In 1970, the implicit hostility between East and West Pakistan flamed into armed struggle. In 1971, at a crucial moment in the struggle, the armed forces of the government of India were deployed, seemingly because there were alliances between the Naxalites of West Bengal and the freedom fighters of East Bengal (now Bangladesh). “If a guerrilla-style insurgency had persisted, these forces would undoubtedly have come to dominate the politics of the movement. It was this trend that the Indian authorities were determined to pre-empt by intervention. “Taking advantage of the general atmosphere of jubilation at defeat of West Pakistan, India’s principal national rival in South Asia”, the Indian prime minister was able to crack down with exceptional severity on the Naxalites, destroying the rebellious sections of the rural population, most significantly the tribals, as well. This is the setting of “Draupadi.”

Draupadi Title Analysis

Draupadi is the name of the central character. She is introduced to the reader between two uniforms and between two versions of her name: Dopdi and Draupadi. It is either that as a tribal she cannot pronounce her own Sanskrit name (Draupadi), or the tribalized form, Dopdi, is the proper name of the ancient Draupadi. She is on a list of wanted persons, yet her name is not on the list of appropriate names for the tribal women.

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The story is stripped away from the Mahabharata‘s grand narrative and royal attributes and situated in Champabhumi, a village in West Bengal The ‘cheelharan’ of Draupadi is reconstructed in Devi’s story, subverting the narrative where Draupadi is rescued by a man, Lord Krishna. Instead, in Devi’s narrative, Dopdi is not rescued, yet she continues to exercise her agency by refusing to be a victim, leaving the armed men “terribly afraid”.

Draupadi by Mahasweta DeviSummary

The story of Draupadi is set among the tribal’s in Bengal. Draupadi or Dopdi as her name appears in dialect, is a Santhals tribe girl, who is vulnerable to injustice but resist the burnt of social oppression and violence with strong will and courage and even try to deconstruct the age old structures of racial and gender discrimination.

The most interesting part of the story is that Dopdi Mejhen is portrayed as an illiterate, uneducated tribal woman. Yet she leads the politicized life amongst all because she is engaged in an armed struggle for the rights and freedom of the tribal people.

Draupadi, or Dopdi as her name appears in dialect, is a rebel, hunted down by the government in their attempt to overcome these groups.

“Name Dopdi Mejhen, age twenty-seven, husband Dula Majlni (deceased), domicile Cherakhan, Bankrajharli, information whether dead or alive and/or assistance in arrest, one hundred rupees…”

The government uses all forces available to them, including kidnapping murder, and rape, and any tribal deaths in custody are invariably ‘accidents’

Draupadi and her husband Dulna are on the ‘most wanted’ list in West Bengal. They murder wealthy landlords to claim wells and tube-wells which are their main sources of water in the village. They fight for their right to basic means of nourishment.

Dulna is eventually gunned down by policemen; however Draupadi manages to escape and begins to operate helping fugitives who have murdered corrupt property owners and landlords, escape. She tactfully misleads the cops who are on her trail, so that the fugitives’ campsite remains a secret.

However, she is finally caught and kept in police custody. This is where the story actually begins.

Over the course of a few days, Draupadi is repeatedly raped, deprived of food and water and tortured by multiple officers who state that their orders to “make her” have come from their Bade Sahib, officer Senanayak, in charge of her case.

The Senanayak, an officer appointed by the Government to capture Draupadi and stop her activities. The Senanayak the military official, is a senseless, cruel officer for whom murders, assaults, counter-assaults and sadistic tortures on the tribal activists reaches a point where if anyone is captured, their eyeballs, intestines, stomachs, hearts, genitals and so on become the food of fox, vulture, hyena, wild cat, ant and worm.

After days, the policemen take her back to the tent and tell her to clothe herself, because it is time for her to meet Senanayak. As the guard pushes a bucket of water forward, for her to wash herself, she laughs, throws the water down and tears the piece of cloth on her body. She proceeds to walk out of her tent, towards Senanayak, naked and with her head held high.

Senanayak is taken aback and quickly turn away his eyes from her body. She walks right up to him, hands on her hips and says

“the object of your search, Dopdi Mehjen. You asked them to make me. Don’t you want to see how they made me?”

When Senanayak asks where her clothes are, she replies angrily, that clothes were useless because once she was stripped, she could not be clothed again. She spits on Senanayak with disgust and says

“How can you clothe me? Are you a man? There isn’t a man here, that I should be ashamed.”

She pushes Senanayak with her exposed breasts and for the first time, he is afraid to counter an unarmed woman.

In that moment, though Draupadi has no weapons, she uses her body as her greatest weapon. The body which was abused, tortured and seen as the cause of her downfall becomes the very weapon with which she stands up for herself.

She refuses to let them take advantage of her emotions, even though she has been physically assaulted. Draupadi realizes that raping women does not make the male species ‘masculine’.

In fact, it neutralizes the very purpose. Here Mahasweta Devi presents Draupadi as a strong female character, transgressing sexual orientation and social standards. The story ends with a magnificent final scene in which she faces her abusers, naked and bloody, but fiercely strong.

Mahasweta Devi Draupadi Text PDF

Download the translation of the short story Draupadi as translated by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak:

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9 thoughts on “Draupadi by Mahasweta Devi | Summary, Title, Context, Text”

  1. Well explanation. But you should be more careful using preposition. I find a preposition mistake in the Introduction part of the writer and it should be as “Mahasweta Devi was a famous woman” not women 👍


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