Draupadi’s ‘Encounter’: Seditious Students and Teachers of Haryana

Mahasweta Devi se darta hai kaun?

4 min read
Hindi Female

The Department of English and Foreign Languages at the Central University of Haryana, Mahendragarh produced a dramatic adaptation of Mahasweta Devi’s short story Draupadi on 21 September. The play was part of a day-long programme commemorating the author who passed away recently.

Soon after, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), along with some ex servicemen and locals staged a protest at the University, stating that the play portrayed army men in poor light and hence is anti-national. Police complaints have also been filed against students and teachers involved in the production, asking they be booked under sedition charges.

Draupadi is the story of Dopdi Mejhen, a 27 year old Santhal woman. An insurgent in the eyes of the state. The survivor of several custodial rapes. In the climax of the story, Dopdi faces Senanayak, the perpetrator of her fate. She walks towards him with her raped, mangled body, in all its stark nakedness, ripping apart the power equation that held him above her till then. One word, rather a mispronounced word, marks her retaliations. “[...] counter me,” she says, referring to the many ‘encounters’ she had lived through.

She looks around and chooses the front of Senanayak’s white bush shirt to spit a bloody gob 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? Come on, counter me – come on, counter me – ? Draupadi pushes Senanayak with her two mangled breasts, and for the first time Senanayak is afraid to stand before an unarmed target, terribly afraid. (Translated by Gayatri Spivak)

Uchya Shikshya or Tuchya Shikshya? The Year of Our Discontent

In January this year, a young student at the Hyderabad Central University named Rohith Vemula, ended his life. In what has been claimed to be a case of abetment to suicide, Rohith ended his life after a frustrating ordeal involving serious charges of being ‘anti-national’ pressed upon him. Involved with the anti-caste movement, Rohith, along with his comrades had organised a screening of the documentary Muzaffarnagar Baqi Hai and also organised a programme involving the hanging of Yakub Memon.

Mahasweta Devi se darta hai kaun?
The play ‘Draupadi’ (right) and the ensuing protests at Central University of Haryana at Mahendragarh, Haryana (left). (Photo altered by The Quint)

Soon after, in February, the then President of the Jawaharlal Nehru University Students’ Union Kanhaiya Kumar was arrested, along with others, on charges of raising anti-national slogans, and sedition at an event held around Afzal Guru.

In the past few days, headlines have emerged entailing the excessive policing of students at the Benares Hindu University (BHU). You can read on The Quint how gendering in the campus and introducing draconian rules have led to a massive student unrest.

Is this part of a larger malaise? Never before has so many incidents flooded higher education campuses in India. “Why only universities?” you may ask. Well, universities campuses are spaces where societal divides are supposed to be breached in making a level playing field – facilitating free exchange of ideas.


Why Can't We Be Patriotic and Still Question Army Atrocities?

To claim that there are no custodial rapes, or rapes committed by army men while deployed, or extra judicial killings, or any other atrocities the army may commit in India would constitute a fallacy. Several cases have been registered and prosecuted in the country’s courts. But to say that these atrocities can never be questioned is simply dictatorial. Why will one become less patriotic if one points out something is simply unfair?

During what the media started referring to as the JNU sedition row, some ex servicemen expressed their hurt by stating such anti-national sentiments demean the roles played by soldiers. Soon after, Atul Bharadwaj, a former naval officer, spoke on the campus. The former officer shattered all jingoistic rhetoric and stated how important the public scrutiny of every governmental institution is.

He also pointed out how most of the times, questions relating to the benefit of well-being of soldiers are oft ignored by the establishment, spiralling a rather difficult chain of predicaments.

Former Navy Chief Admiral Ramdas spoke at length on the need of demilitarising nationalism and the immediate necessity of accommodating anti-war perspectives on patriotism.


Notes From a Seditious Land

In the year 2000, celebrated Manipuri thespian Kanhaiya Lal staged a production of Mahasweta Devi’s Draupadi. In the production, Padmashree Sabitri Heisnam, also a veteran thespian and Lal’s wife, played Dopdi. At the end of the play, just like the story, Dopdi faces Senanayak, Heisnam comes on to stage, removing her clothes one by one, until her naked body becomes the metaphor of a sordid, ghastly history.

Mahasweta Devi se darta hai kaun?
Sabitri Heisnam in performance. (Photo Courtesy: NE Live)

Outrage broke out in Manipur. Heisnam was even termed a ‘whore’. A few productions in Delhi and Kolkata were organised. It also gathered overwhelming positive response from audiences. Four years later, 12 Imas (mothers) of Manipur stripped naked in front of the Indian Army Headquarters. They were protesting the brutal killing and rape of one Thangjam Manorama who was allegedly picked up by the army on suspicions of being an insurgent.

When Mahasweta Devi passed away, the BJP top brass including Narendra Modi, Amit Shah, Sushma Swaraj, and Arun Jaitley expressed profound condolences. There is nothing Devi wrote which does not narrate the stories of disenfranchised groups in a positivist historical way. Hence, none of them could have been selectively fond of her works. Be it Dheebar, Hajar Churashir Ma or Stanadayini. Why isn’t the BJP sharing its new-found cultural pluralism with its big brother the Sangh then?

Perhaps it’s time to know, Mahasweta Devi se darta hain kaun?

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Topics:  ABVP   Mahasweta Devi   Draupadi 

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