Draupadi by Mahasweta Devi Questions and Answers Marks 10
[BROAD TYPE QUESTIONS: 10/15 MARKS]
[Q. What is the central theme of the story ‘Draupadi .
Or, Q. How does the story portray the resurrection of Subaltern? Discuss.]
Mahasweta Devi’s story ‘Draupadi’ was first published in 1978 in Bengali in her collection, Agnigarbha. The English translation- by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak- came out in the Critical Inquiry journal in 1981 and later in her collection Breast Stories in 1997. The backdrop to the story is the Naxalbari movement of West Bengal which started off as an armed revolt of landless peasantry and tribal people against landlords and moneylenders. Besides exploring the dialectical tension between the exploited tribals and the Nation-state represented by the figure of Senanayak, the narrative also throws up significant issues of gender oppression, marginality, masculinity, female subjectivity, language, and identity. Set against the politically charged atmosphere of West Bengal in 1971, the story is centred around a young adivasi woman Dopdi Mejhen and her husband Dulna Majhi who support the Naxalite rebels referred to as “gentlemen revolutionaries” as informer-activists. Dopdi and Dulna are wanted in connection with the killing of Surja Sahu, the upper caste landlord of Bankuli village for his atrocities against the tribals. Dulna is hunted down in the forest under ‘Operation Forest Jharkhani’, and Dopdi, who carries a prize money on her head is eventually apprehended. Torture and rape follow when she refuses to disclose the names of her accomplices to Senanayak, the army chief and ‘a specialist in combat and extreme left politics. The next day she is brought before Senanayak bloodied in body but indomitable in spirit. She laughs at Senanayak refusing to clothe herself and challenges male authority and power. Thus, she emerges as an agent through a dramatic rearticulation of her identity.
For the first time, Senanayak with all his theoretical knowledge of the tribals, even about information storage in their brain cells, fails to comprehend her moves and is “afraid to stand before an unarmed target, terribly afraid (402). In other words, by refusing to be the object of a male narrative, Dopdi asserts herself as ‘subject’ and emphasizes on the truth of her own presence- she constructs a meaning which Senanayak simply cannot understand. Rajeswari Sunder Rajan(1999) points that Dopdi does not let her nakedness shame her, her torture intimidate her, or her rape diminish her (352). Her act of defiance, she states, is a deliberate refusal of a shared sign-system (the meanings assigned to nakedness and rape: shame, fear, loss) and an ironic use of the same semiotics to create disconcerting counter-effects of shame, confusion and terror in the enemy (352-3). Thus, by refusing to share the sign system, she also becomes unpredictable. According to Gayatri C Spivak, “Dopdi is what the Draupadi who is written into the and authoritative sacred text assertion in her essay “Can the of male power could not be”, although he patriarchal a Subaltern speak?” is that the subaltern cannot speak which denies the gendered subaltern the ability to represent herself and achieve voice agency. However, contrary to the voicelessness of Spivak’s subaltern, Dopdi creates a counter-narrative by using her body and sexuality as the locus of resistance.
Mahasweta Devi is probably the most widely translated Indian writer while working in an indigenous language today. She is the foremost living writer in Bengali. She has taken up the case of writing. She has spent over thirty years w the case of the tribal people of India through political activism and writing. working with and for the tribal people of West Bengal and the southeast of Bihar as a political anthropologist. She was born in 1926 to an urban, middle-class, professional writer. Mahasweta has written hundred books to her credit, including novels, plays and collection of stories. Devi becomes more and more involved with the lives and struggles of the unprivileged tribal woman and the atrocities inflicted on them. Unlike other Bengali authors, Mahasweta Devi’s works have been translated into many languages. She has received many awards, including Sahitya Academy (1979), Jnanpith (1996), Ramon Magsaysay (1996), and her work among tribals, the Padmashree in 1986. Devi used the imaginary space of fiction to begin a conversation about and a conversation with the very real people on the ground that had been neglected all this while. Her work hints at a particular kind of change in the discourse of sexuality where it no longer oppresses the marginalized women but becomes the very ground of political liberation.
In her famous work short story “Draupadi”, about the rape and mutilation of a ylist tribal woman called Dopdi, the protagonist threatens the masculinities of her oppressors by refusing to be ashamed of her mutilated body forcing them to survey her nakedness with a defiance that exhibits her power and autonomy. Her work profusely on the issues of mainstream development and critiqued the trickle-down theory. Her work is important to understand subaltern politics and their struggles too visiblized their invisiblized exploitation. She is comfortable leading the processions of the people fighting for the rights of bounded laborers as she is behind her desk writing about these struggles. Devi, the activist, has been constantly involved in varied struggles and was a part of several associations in spite of the demands of her increasing age. Spivak, in her essay has created a critical discourse around Mahasweta Devi from the postcolonial subaltern perspective. Spivak’s critique emerges as a means of both understanding and combating the oppression of such indigenous people to whom she refers to as the “subaltern” and the “forth world”. Spivak theorizes the characters of the tribal men and women in Mahasweta’s text as “subaltern”.
The term ‘subaltern’ owes its origins to Antonio Gramsci’s writings and underlines a subordinate position in terms of class, s, caste, race, and cul and culture. It was popularized by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak’s essay titled, the subaltern speak?”(1985). ‘Subaltern’ and ‘Feminist’ histories, among others, constitute some of the dominant 100 EUR histriographical positions that deconstruct the mainstream to decentre it and reinvest the historical space with the voices of the marginal’s. Draupadi is translated by Gayatri Spivak. It opens with an ironic counter pointing to different modes of official discourse through which the central character, a tribal woman called Dopdi Mejhen. Devi’s Draupadi is a unique reaction of the Draupadi of the Mahabharata. One of the purana has the following verse: “In the Kritar Yug Renuka was Kritya, In the satya Yuga Sita was Kritya, In the satya Dwaparyuga Draupadi di was k Kritya And in Kalyugas there are Krityas in every house”.
Draupadi is at once a palimpsest and a contradiction. The character Dopdi is a recreation of Draupadi of the epic and unlike a ‘Kritya’ Here through Dopdi, Mahasweta Devi has tried to raise certain question of responsibility, as she herself demands certain political responses from us and she also want to und to understand something about the revolution that Dopdi is fighting for us. Dopdi 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. Being a tribal means that she is not considered as a part of mainstream Indian society. She portrayed woman-power through analyzing the situations and imperative to know the different structures of power. None is powerless. All living organisms exercise power to enjoy a meaningful and comfortable life; however, the degree of usage may be different. In Devi’s story it is not male leadership but Draupadi’s strength and courage to challenge the patriarchy that brings resolution to the story. Devi understood the essence of rape culture, long before the term became famous in feminist jargon. na Draupadi is represented before us, between two versions of the name Dopdi (tribal name) and Draupadi (classical ancient name). The tribalized form Dopdi is the proper name of the ancient Draupadi. At the close of the story, she becomes the object of her feelings, instead of simply being viewed as the ‘other’ portrayed as the object of male desires and fears. Dopdi, in her story “Draupadi” is a revised and demythicised incarnation of the epical Draupadi who belongs to the Santhal tribe. In her reincarnation, she is placed within contemporary historical contexts where ancestry is treated to Champabhumi of Bengal and her present status is describe to that of an activist the naxalite movement of the seventies, in the area of the northern part of West Bengal, a fugitive on the run from the police. Dopdi as a woman belonging to the lowest of the low economic class, she is subjected to double subalternization. Mahasweta Devi, once again, inverts and revises the legacy of cultural nationalism by reinterpreting the story of the most powerful female character er of Mahabharata, Draupadi, in her story “Draupadi”. She displaces Draupadi from her place in the royal kingdom to put her into the forest area of the Jharkhani belt as a tribal woman. Dopdi gets disrobed in the dark, dreaded, wild world of a forest where no no divine male power comes to her rescue. She is in a place and situation where she must act for herself. Force, physical violence, verbal abuse and other forms of aggressions have always been used to control women’s bodies and gain their obedience. It is always ‘the female body ‘which is both the object of desire and the subject of control.
“Draupadi” is set in the villages and forests of West Bengal and follows the lives of a group of rebels, landless laborers poor s and exploited workers who are being pursued by the police and Special Forces. The latter have few scruples in using any and all means of intimidating these rebels and they are subjected to various forms of torture and eventually, inevitably, killed in ‘encounters’ and ‘accidents’. Draupadi, the central figure in the tale is and strong and in spite of repeated rape, abuse, starvation and acute thirst she faces down her tormentors, her bloody, mutilated body naked but unbowed. The narrative voice in the story shifts to take up various viewpoints: that of the rebels, of Draupadi specifically of Sennayak and so on. Draupadi and her husband, Dulna, first turned to violence, their activities subsequent to that and the death of Dulna. “
Unlike her mythological namesake, Dopdi doesn’t seek any divine intervention. The place of Dopdi’s defiance is not the court of a ‘Maharaja’; it is the wild space of a forest. Dopdi gets no divine male rescuer. The custodians of low offer a piece of cloth to hide ide her shame after subjecting her to multiple-rape throughout the night. Dopdi pours down the water, tears the cloth to pieces and refuses to cover herself up with the male of shame? and female modesty?. Covering herself up ware defined notions o up would have been a reaffirming and a fortification of the morality preserved and sanctified by the patriarchal ideologies constructs of female se man made honor? and breach of woman’s modesty and her subject hood?. According to Spivak, Dopdi “acts in ,,not acting?”
Unlike the mythological Draupadi, she resists guilt, fear, shame or servility that are typically associated ed with the the discourse of her “making”(in shame and servility), Dopdi challenges the b brutalizer to alizer to “kounter” her and instead of lamenting at the loss of the supposed “respectability”, she goes forward to question the masculinity of her “maker”: “Draupadi?s black body comes even closer. Draupadi shakes with an indomitable laughter that Senanayak simply cannot understand. Her ravaged lips bleed as she begins laughing. Draupadi wipes the blood on her palm and says in a voice that is as terrifying, sky splitting, and sharp as her ululation, what’s the use of clothes? You can strip me but how can you clothe me again? Are you a man? She looks around and chooses the front to spit a bloody gab at and says, there isn’t a man here that I should be ashamed. I will not let you put my cloth on me. What more can you do?
In a stunning transformation the powerless tribal woman challenges the entire power of a ruthless postcolonial state embodied in figure of Senanayak. Draupadi confronts Senanayak, denigrates his false masculinist pride and challenges him to ,,Kounter? her Draupadi looks like a victim but acts like an agent. Indeed, the binary ary of victim and agent falls apa apart as Draupadi effectively separates violation from victimhood. As she stands insistently naked before her violators, Dopdi manages to wield her wounded body as a weapon to terrify them. By refusing the disciplining power of shame scripted into the act of rape, Draupadi becomes, in the words of Mahasweta Devi?s translator Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, a “terrifying super object”.
The tribal woman is marginalized ginalized in more than one way as she one way as she lives in a constant fear of victimization. The re-presentation of Dopdi proves two undeniable facts: the subaltern woman can be represented in imaginative writing and she can be represented as an “agent”. “agent”. In this scene Mahasweta Devi’s short story effectively dismantles Spivak’s contention in her essay “can th the subaltern speak?” that “subaltern as female cannot be heard or read” (1994:104). In Dopdi we have a subaltern woman who speaks loudly and highlights the strength that walked shoulder to shoulder in these insurgencies.
The story is stripped away from the Mahabharata’s grand nd 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. Insteac, 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”. Dopdi is a woman of strong mind and will as she defied the shame associated with rape and sexual abuse, which is extremely relevant to India today.
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