Draupadi Summary by Mahasweta Devi
An Introductory Note :
Draupadi is a short story of around 20 pages originally written in Bengali by Mahasweta Devi. It was anthologised in the collection, Breast Stories, translated to English by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. It was published in the collection called Breast/ Stories in 2010. 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.
Draupadi is a story about Dopdi Mehjen, a woman who belongs to the Santhal tribe of West Bengal. She is a Robin Hood-like figure who with her husband, Dhulna, murders wealthy landlords and usurps their wells, which is the primary source of water for the village. The government attempts to subjugate these tribal rebel groups through many means: kidnapping, murder, rape. Dopdi is captured by Officer Senanayak who instructs the army officers to rape her to extract information about the rebel uprising.
Ironically, the same officers who violated her body, insist that she covers up once she is ‘done with’. Intransigently, Dopdi rips off her clothes and walks towards officer Senanayak, “…naked. Thigh and pubic hair matted with dry blood. Two breasts. Two wounds”. Senanayak is shocked by her defiance as she stands before him “with her hand on her hip” as “the object of [his] search” and exclaims, “There isn’t a man here that I should be ashamed of.”
An Analytical Summary :
An Analytical Summary :
I. Draupadi is probably one of Mahasweta Devi’s most famous stories, and has been reprinted and translated in several collections. “Draupadi” by Mahasweta Devi Translated with a Foreword by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak.
Mahasweta becomes more and more involved with the lives and struggles of the unprivileged tribal women and the atrocities inflicted on them. Mahasweta Devi’s prime concern is with the underprivileged castes and tribes of West Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand and Orissa. The Kheria Sabars, Santhals, Ganjus and Mundas, the low castes people living in the above regions are the most marginalized.
II. Despite the Indian Constitution’s claims of India as a democratic and egalitarian state, social inequalities are a grim reality today. Even after sixty-six years of independence, Indian society is faced with structural inequality. 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.
III. Draupadi, or Dopdi as her name appears in dialect, is a rebel, hunted down by the government in their attempt to overcome these groups. 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.
IV. Dulna is eventually gunned down by policemen; however Draupadi manages to escape and begins to operate helping fugitives who have murdered corrupt propertyowners 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.
V. 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 turns 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?”
VI. 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 Senanayake 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.
VII. 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.
The title of the story is essential as Draupadi is the name of the central character. It is essential as it has a mythical reference to Mahabharata. Draupadi in the epic is one of the most celebrated heroines. In the epic Drapaudi was married to five husbands. When Draupadi is lost out by her eldest husband in a game of dice, the enemy chief tries to publicly strip her by pulling out her sari. But Draupadi was infinitely clothed by one of the miracles of Krishna.
It is demonstrated as the male glory. Draupadi is introduced to the readers between two versions of her name; Dopdi and Draupadi. This is because ‘as a tribal she cannot pronounce her own Sanskrit name Draupadi, or the tribalized form, Dopdi, is the proper name of the ancient Draupadi.’ (10:1997) The name Draupadi was given to her by the landlady where she worked out of affections. It is actually an unusual name to be associated with a tribal woman. Mahasweta has special reasons to name her Draupadi.
Devi situates her story against the Naxalite movement (1967-71), the Bangladesh society. Liberation War (1971) of West Bengal and the ancient Hindu epic of Mahabharata, engaging with the complex politics of Bengali identity and Indian nationhood. The tribal uprising against wealthy landlords brought upon the fury of the government which led to Operation Bakuli that sought to kill the so-called tribal rebels.
Mahasweta Devi is one of India’s foremost literary figures, a prolific and best-selling author in Bengali of short fiction and novels, and a deeply political social activist who has been working in marginalized communities for decades. Breast Stories is a collection of short fiction that focuses on the breast as more than a symbol of beauty, eroticism, or motherhood.
Instead, it is seen as a harsh indictment of an exploitative social system and a weapon of resistance. At a time when violence towards women in India has escalated exponentially, Devi’s acerbic writing exposes the inherently vicious systems in Indian society.
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