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Sujoy Ghosh’s Ahalya: An attempt at deconstructing the power structure

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Picture credit: andhrapulse.com

By Sreyashi Mazumdar

Reviving the vestiges of Hindu mythology, Sujoy Ghosh’s attempt at recreating the titillation and a subversive idea of patriarchy has kicked off a furor across the board.

Picture credit: indiatoday.in

Ranging from applauds to criticism, literary ostracization to video leaks, the 14 minutes saga, Ahalya, has left people stupefied at the maverick’s masterpiece. If mulled over considerably, Ghosh’s new take at the forlorn mythological character has rendered a new method of presenting myth with a post-modernistic approach.

The original story kicked off with Brahma’s daughter Ahalya marrying Gautama. Being irked at the duo’s union, Indra donned Gautama’s look and bewitched the charismatic and coveted Ahalya. Gautama on running into Ahalya and Indra’s conjugal moves punished both of them. Ahalya was turned into a stone whereas Indra was cursed with a thousand female genitals hanging from his body.

 

Ghosh’s masterwork despite being a revamped version brings forth a modernized take on the same. The story kicks off with inspector Indra knocking at the door. The tale in its very first scene unravels the mythological characters, with a tinge of stealth and spookiness encapsulating it. Ahalya, in the mythological version, was portrayed as coy and overmodest; however, Ghosh’s Ahalya was charismatic and bold feigning to be demure.

Contrary to the original version, it was the stealthy lass who entices Indra, while Gautam Sadhu (Gautama)- Ahalya’s grey-haired husband- witnesses the furtive advances of her unbridled spouse and Inspector Indra’s lechery gradually creeping in. However, cracking upon the stereotype Ghosh’s Ahalya gets salvaged despite her adultery and Indra gets fixated and reduced to a doll.

From Ramayan to Mahabharat, every Indian mythological cock-a-hoop had a tinge of patriarchy engraved in it. Be it Sita being asked not to transgress the Lakshman rekha or Draupadi being at receiving end, begging and wailing for help, while Pandavas stood helplessly at the behest of their adversaries’ advances.

Picture credit: missmalini.com
Picture credit: missmalini.com

Every Indian mythological tell-tale sets forth a tone of a strong patriarchal order where in the woman is nothing less than a medium to corroborate the strength and virility of the male characters. Lord Rama wouldn’t have been charismatic and enchanting enough had not Sita’s vehement cries for help, after being abducted by Ravana, juddered Rama and forced him to put his prowess at work.

Similarly, despite Ahalya being the prime character of the mythological tale, was reduced to a mere tool, a bait with Gautama’s and Indra’s prowess nibbling on it. Indra in a bid to get back at Gautama used Ahalya as a pawn. Despite, Ahalya’s unadulterated intentions and being beguiled in a trap, she was censured and chastised.

Ghosh’s version of Ahalya has touched upon issues like- deconstructed patriarchy, chauvinistic normativity, female virility and sexuality respectively. The furtive advances of Ahalya ravel out a new era wherein female adultery isn’t ostracized and castigated.

Further, his attempt at deconstructing the generalized power order, has set forth a stage to present mythological narratives with a post-modernistic flavour; for instance, may be a refurbished Ramayan might roll out a plot wherein Rama has to give an Agnipariksha for accusing Sita of adultery, or where Pandavas’ virility get tested to which Draupadi stands helplessly.

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Manjari Lights an Issue of Patriarchy in Tribal Areas of Himachal Pradesh

The literacy rate in the district is 80.77 per cent - 88.37 for males and 71.34 for females - for a population of 84,298

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tribal areas, patriarchy
This is a Kinnaur District of Himachal Pradesh. Wikimedia

The fair sex is not getting a fair deal in tribal areas of Himachal Pradesh – but Rattan Manjari will have none of this.

She is the chairperson of the Mahila Kalyan Parishad, a rights group based in Kinnaur district, that campaigns on educating women about their right to ancestral property.

The rights group, in association of “mahila mandals” or women’s groups, has also carried out campaigns demanding the amendment of the customary laws.

“With the passage of time, if people in tribal areas can leave behind other customs and became modernised, then why can’t they leave this male-centric tradition (on ancestral property) that is largely responsible for their wallowing in misery with nobody to look after them,” asked the 66-year-old Manjari, who is also an apple grower in Ribba village, some 250 km from state capital of Shimla.

“We want to give a dignified life to the women, particularly spinsters and widows, in our society. For this, we are again moving the high court to get relief from this patriarchal law,” she said of her nearly three-decade struggle to get women a share in ancestry property.

Tribal areas, patriarchy
The rights group, in association of “mahila mandals” or women’s groups, has also carried out campaigns demanding the amendment of the customary laws. Wikimedia

Women in Kinnaur, Lahaul-Spiti and Chamba districts are bound by a century-old patriarchal law that allows only men to inherit ancestral property, if not bequeathed.

The still-prevalent Wajib Ul Urj customary law, which came into existence in 1926, bars even widows from inheriting their husband’s property, which is transferred to the sons.

According to 2011 Census figures, the gender ratio in Kinnaur has gone down from 857 in 2001 to 818 in 2011. It is ranked the lowest in the state.

The literacy rate in the district is 80.77 per cent – 88.37 for males and 71.34 for females – for a population of 84,298.

With the help of hundreds of activists in over 170 women groups in the district, Manjari has been organising panchayat meetings and signature campaigns to get the law overturned.

In June 2015, a Himachal Pradesh High Court ruling gave land inheritance rights to the tribal women. This was challenged and the matter is pending in the Supreme Court.

“The daughters in the tribal areas shall inherit property in accordance with the Hindu Succession Act of 1956 and not as per customs. This is in order to prevent women from facing social injustice and all forms of exploitation,” Justice Rajiv Sharma of the high court had said.

tribes, patriarchy
Women in Kinnaur, Lahaul-Spiti and Chamba districts are bound by a century-old patriarchal law that allows only men to inherit ancestral property, if not bequeathed. Wikimedia

He had upheld an order passed by the district judge of Chamba in 2002 to grant legal property rights to women.

Old-timers believe the origin of the custom-made tradition is the scarcity of fertile land. Giving inheritance rights to women would give an opportunity to outsiders to become owners of the land if they married outside the community, it was believed.

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“After taking legal opinion, we filed a PIL (public interest litigation) last month in the high court pertaining to the right to inherit the property by daughters under the Hindu Succession Act, 1956,” she said.

Manjari added: “The number of widows and orphaned unmarried women is increasing. It’s high time this patriarchal practice is brought to an end.” (IANS)