When I was a child in my 100% Hindu village one could openly condemn Rama for Sita’s agnipariksha and later vanavasa even after passing her through fire. I remember people (mainly youngsters) discussing these things without ever bothering about repercussions or anyone getting angry. The only rejoinder which came from some youth was “you do not understand the Ramayana and have no bhakti in your heat. That is why talking like fools”. Which was fine, by the discussing group, they just laughed.
When I was in college and university questioning Sita’s fidelity to Rama was no taboo among some groups and they did not hide their conversations from any one. I am sure, though have no references at the moment, that there must be plenty of books and article where killing of Shambuk, shooting arrow at Bali from behind a tree, agbipariksha and vanavasa of Sita are seen as acts which do not behoove a Maryada-purushottam, and make Rama’s moral code rather suspect in the eyes of a modern reader.
Therefore, the news item in The Hindu of 24th June 2016 which says that Professor B.P. Mahesh Chandra Guru of the University of Mysore is arrested, and as a consequence of arrest suspended, for derogatory remarks against Rama made me wonder. Looking into several news items one could ascertain that on 3rd January 2015 Professor Guru while speaking on human rights remarked that “Ram of Ramayana had violated human rights. He suspected Sita’s fidelity and victimised her. I see this as a violation of human rights.” (Catchnews, 22nd June 2016)
From this single line of his speech one cannot really say what was his purpose or argument. If he wanted to make a point similar to, say, that the morality of religious mythology may not be compatible with today’s human rights and, therefore, can no more be treated as an ideal, then it makes perfect sense. However, imposing human rights on Rama as such is somewhat silly. In either case it is no crime to be arrested and victimised for. Actually he is perfectly within his rights in comparing Rama’s conduct with human rights; whether Rama bhaktas like it or not.
Actually Sita herself says something much harsher on the occasion of agniparikaha. When Rama shamelessly tells her that he conquered Lanka and killed Ravana to salvage his own honour and not for any love for Sita, and that now she is free to go anywhere, with Lakshamana, Vibhishana or anyone else, Sita gives a fitting reply.
One of the many nasty barbs Rama addresses to Sita is “Assuredly Ravana, beholding thy ravishing and celestial beauty, will not have respected thy person during the time that thou didst dwell in his abode.” (The Valmiki Ramayana, Translated by Hari Prasad Shastri. Published by Santi Sadan, London, 1952. Yuddh-kanda Uttararadha, Page 336.)
Sita brings to his notice the situation she was in, and says “If my limbs came in contact with another’s, it was against my will, O Lord, and not through any inclination on my part; it was brought about by fate. That which is under my control, my heart, has ever remained faithful to thee; my body was at the mercy of another; not being mistress of the situation, what could I do? If despite the proofs of love that I gave thee whilst I lived with thee, I am still a stranger to thee, O Proud Prince, my loss is irrevocable!” I find it interesting that Sita does not hint at the modern Bambaiya film dialogue “main Ganga ki tarah pavitra hun”. She makes an argument that pavitrata is an issue of the heart, and not of body. Then she tells Rama the Maryada-purushottam “But thou, O lion among Men, by giving way to wrath and by thus passing premature judgement on a woman, hast acted like a worthless man.” (ibid, page 337. Emphasis added)
Calling Rama a “worthless man”, by his own wife is harsher than pointing out that he violated human rights. And that is right there is the Valmiki Ramayana itself. So what kind of derogatory comments did Professor Guru make against the supposed to be Maryada-purushottam?
We are forgetting that Ramayana is quite open in discussing its characters’ conduct and often without mincing words. Valmiki seems to respect freedom of ideas and speech more than we do today, at least at places if not throughout the text.
This has been a tradition in Islam that one cannot question Muhammad, cannot say anything against him in public without severe retribution. In recent times Lokamat issue where they only published a cartoon with words in Arabic on a piggybank picture with the meaning “Muhammad is his prophet” is an example. The offices of the paper were vandalised, and the paper had to apologise. Kamalesh Tiwari for calling Muhammad a homosexual is languishing in jail. One can site dozens of examples. The tradition is very old. And is very robust even today.
It seems Rama is losing his cool and learning very fast from Muhammad in the recent times. Between two of them (and of course Bharat Mata, Gaumata and all that) perils of thinking people in India seem to be set to increase. Keep your fingers crossed—and safe—ladies and gentlemen with a mind.