Monday, September 21, 2009

The Rape of Sita - Lindsey Collen

'Once upon a time, there was a woman called Sita'
'So why did you say "Once upon a time" then?'
First and foremost, this is a feminist novel. Not that it stand against it. The book had caused a controversy and was banned within three days of publication for insulting religious sentiments in Mauritius. Sita is the central character in the Hindu epic, "Ramayana" and a divine goddess to many. Using Sita as a metaphor for the universal struggle of womankind, Lindsay Collen has brought out a brilliant book. Sita, in the epic was abducted while she was in exile, by Ravana , and was rescued by Rama in an epic war. Sita has to suffer the humiliation and have to come clean through 'baptism by fire" at the end of the victory, to prove herself.

While this novel has no direct reference to Sita of the epic, some of the characters have names resembling to the epic. Sita's husband in the novel is Dharma ( for Rama) , his brother is Lutchman ( for Lakshman) and the villain of the story ( the accused, is Rowan - for Ravan) and Dharma's father is 'Dasharatha' as in the case of Ramayana. To me, this novel is as appealing without these references to the Ramayana.

Sita, in this tale is tormented by an incident that occurred 9 years ago. She had buried the memories for all the years after deliberating over it for a while. But, all of a sudden, there are sprouts at the buried land. She recounts the time and events that leads to the eventful day and her internal reaction to the same during and after that incident. Though she was able to bury the bad feelings and been able to continue her life, it come back strongly after all these years. Sita is no common woman. She is a political activist (along with her husband), and the leader of the Women's Movement of Mauritius. So has the moral responsibility to be the spokeperson of all the women in Mauritius , in Africa and for the world. As she construct the article, pertaining to rape and humiliation of women, going through case by case, she looks at the philosophical and psychological and social aspects of rape.
Very interestingly, the narrator here, is a man ( Iqbal, the umpire - Iqbal was a man who thought he was a woman) who re-tell the story for Sita. Towards the end, Iqbal himself, is asking the question..
And I once again, intervene. How did they come to this decision, this group of ordinary men and boys? And how did they perform? Did they stand in a queue beforehand? And what did they do afterwards? These are the questions we all have to answer, dear reader, for what if we were one of those men? Would we be among them? Would we be like them? Would we be them? Are we, by any chance, them?

This book brings the novel of Virginie Despentes to mind ( which was published in 1999, 6 years later). Virginie Despentes book is a porno-fiction to me with no substance. Rape of Sita, on the other hand deal the issue at a higher intellectual level. Though at times, these discussions tends to be monotonous and superficial, which is one of the short coming of the novel.
The initial part of the novel before it gets serious on the aspect of rape, is extremely well written. The tales and legends of the people of Mauritius, the various characters of the novel, the history of their ancestors, the freedom struggle and the story of the narrator himself provides a good build up.

A very well 'constructed' book, with some interesting take from the feminist angle.
The Rape of Sita
Lindsey Collen
The Feminist Press @ the City University of New York
232 Pages
Here is an interview with the author discussing the book :

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