Significance of the Title Draupadi by Mahasweta Devi
Vyasa and Mahasweta Devi view their protagonists in an unusual circumstance and show how they surface their Power within in the most crucial moment, and establish their feminine identities. In the epic, the stubborn Draupadi is a bonus to King Drupad, when the issueless King performs a yajna to have an heir to take revenge on his childhood friend, Drona. Along with his son, Dhrishtadyumna, the full grown Draupadi springs from the fire. The granite-willed Draupadi rejects Karna during svayamvara and becomes the wife of Pandavas. In spirit she is in no way less than Bhima and Arjuna. Duryodhana, the eldest of the Kauravas and the Pandavas cousin considers them as rivals to the throne and schemes to win the wealth as well as Pandavas kingdom. By an unfair dice game, Duryodhana wins everything including the Pandavas and their wife, Draupadi.
The head strong Duryodhana sends a door-keeper to bring Draupadi to the Sabha, since she is a slave to them. Unmindful of the consequences, the door-keeper orders the Queen Draupadi to come to the court hall, as she is won by the King Duryodhana. Now, Draupadi directs her Power to authority and interrogates the man whether his master is mad and further she demands to know who the Prince loses first, either her or him.
She is not answered but she is dragged to the court by the inhuman Duhsasana. In the hall she never hesitates to question the elders the legality of the right of Yudhistira. The power structure Power over is exhibited on the part of Draupadi. Now she comprehends the position of her spouses and her wretched condition. She hardly waits for others to stretch a helping hand to her. As a queen she dominates the scene usurping the power of her husbands. Her brilliant mind boldly enquires the Kuru elders about dharma:
“Tell me, members of this sabha, answer me: / what do you think- / have I been won or not won- / tell me, O lords of the earth?” (11:67:42).
Karna, instructs Duhsasana to strip Draupadi naked, because a slave should at have the upper garment. When the wicked Duhsasana starts pulling her single dress, the forlorn Draupadi prays to Lord Krishna to protect her:
“Govindal/I am losing my senses in the clutches of the Kauravas! / O save me!” (11:68:47).
The mutual understanding between Krishna, the nephew of Kunti, and Draupadi supports her, that is Power with saves her from the disgrace. During exile the stubborn Panjali follows her husbands to the forest, leaving her sons in the custody of Subhadra. When Yudhistira opts for peace, it is she who persuades him to take arms against the perpetrators and thus takes revenge for her humiliation in the open sabha. Draupadi employs Power over, Power to and Power with to save herself from the dishonour.
Vyasa’s Draupadi is saved by the Lord whereas in Mahasweta Devis story the main character Dopdi is stripped naked by the officials. No god comes to save her honor. The power composition Power over makes her question Senanayak, who alone directs his police to humiliate the tribal woman. It is not an ordinary humiliation; it is a gang-rape ordered and performed by the leader himself. This heinous act of disrobing and making her naked, empowers the lady. Millers quotes from Srilatha Batliwala, defines the features of empowerment.
“When a woman/man experience the oppression, she/he swings into action to free herself / himself from the oppression. The change is possible because of her/his power that is empowerment.”
The term empowerment refers to a range of activities from individual self-assertion to collective resistance, protest and mobilization that challenge basic power relation. For individuals and groups where class, caste, ethnicity and gender determine their access to resource and power, their empowerment begins when they recognize the systematic forces that oppress them, but act to change existing power relationships. Empowerment, therefore, is a process aimed at changing the nature and direction of systematic forces that marginalize women and other disadvantaged sectors in a given context.
Dopdi, a twenty-seven year old tribal woman, is named by her mistress and she is in the list of wanted persons who had killed the mistress husband, Surja Sahu a land owning money lender, because he refuses to share water with untouchables. A reward of two hundred rupees is announced for her head. Dopdi herself seen that notice at the Panchayat office. Mr. Senanayak, an official, moves with the tribal as their friend and successfully corners Dopdi in the evening. She is kept at the canvas-camp till the dinner time. Senanayak permits the officials to do whatever they like. Her hands and legs are tied to four posts. She becomes unconscious. In the morning she is brought to the tent. On seeing the General the dishonoured Dopdi walks towards him to exhibit what has happened to her.
Her empowerment freezes the General. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak ( the translator and critic writes that the illiterate and low-born woman teaches we male officials a shocking lesson. They are unable to face the “Unarmed target”:
It is when she crosses the sexual differential into the field of what could only happen to a woman that she emerges as the most powerful subject who, still using the language of sexual “honor,” can derisively call herself “the object of your search,” whom the author can describe as a terrifying super object- “an unarmed target.” (Gayatri Spivak).
The strong-willed lady indirectly questions their power. Her “Power over structure makes her dominate the scene. They can rape her, but they cannot stop her from remaining naked after the rape. Further the critic voices:
The men easily succeed in stripping Dopdi-in the narrative it is the culmination of her political punishment by the representatives of the law. She remains publicly naked at her own insistence. Rather than save her modesty through the implicit intervention of a benign and divine (in this case it would have been godlike) comrade, the story insists that this is the place where male leadership stops.
Empowerment makes the two ladies, Draupadi and Dopdi, question the members of the society of their roles that pulls up the unmitigated hidden power in them that simply jolts the patriarchal authority. The questioning certainly causes discomfort to the family or to the community but it is a definite therapy to effect healing operations to the long-drawn infections of the society.
Indrani Singh Rai forwards an apt concluding critique:
“Once Dopdi enters, in the final section of the story, the postscript area of lunar flux and sexual difference, she is in a place where she will finally act for herself in not acting, in challenging the man to (en) counter her as unrecorded or misrecorded objective historical monument. The army officer is shown as unable to ask the authoritative ontological question, “What is this?” (Breast Stories 36) (6) In fact, in the sentence describing Dopdis final summons to the sahibs tent, the agent is missing. An allegory of the womans struggle within the revolution in a shifting historical moment can be seen.”
Earlier in the same article Indrani Singh Rai presents the political setting that had provoked the writer to script her story about the colonial arrogance displayed in dealing with the cracking down the rebellion in the Naxalbari area in the northern part of the West Bengal. She observes:
“The story is a moment caught between two deconstructive formulas: on the one hand, a law that is fabricated with a view to its own transgression, on the other, the undoing of the binary opposition between the intellectual and the rural struggles. In order to grasp the minutiae of their relationship and involvement, one must enter a historical micrology that no foreword can provide. Draupadi the name takes us in long back in a hall, where the enemy chief begins to pull at her sari. Draupadi silently prays to the incarnate Krishna. The idea of sustaining law (dharma) materializes itself as clothing and as the king pulls at her sari, there seems to be more and more of it. She is infinitely clothed and cannot be publicly stripped. It is one of Krishnas miracles. But Mahasweta Devis Draupadi, gang raped by police, refuses to be clothed by men again. In Draupadi, what is represented is an erotic object transformed into an object of torture and revenge where the line between (hetero) sexuality and gender violence begins to blur.”
The critic well-explicates the meaning of disrobing – while the Draupadi of the epic gets her robe miraculously, the modern day defiant Dopti Mehjen refuses to be clothed thus making all those assembled there puerile and naked. Both the Draupadis are symbols of retaliation and stand as monumental role-models.