Tag Archives: women’s rights

The Undressing of Draupadi

Text:

Draupadi wanted to marry one of the 5 main brothers from the Mahabharatha, but another man, Duryodhana wants her to marry him instead. He proposes to her, but is refused. Upon this refusal, one of his brothers begins trying to rip Draupadi’s clothes off. Krishna sees this, and decides to save Draupadi by maker her clothing infinite. No matter how much cloth Duryodhana’s brother rips off of her, there is always more that she is still wearing. 

Context: 

This story is from the Mahabharatha, and is a plot point in the main storyline. An extremely simplified synopsis of the Mahabharatha is that it’s about the war between 5 brothers and 100 of their other brothers (Note that brother and cousin are essentially synonymous in this context). The “good guys” are the 5 brothers, and they eventually end up winning the war. 

This story is a simple lesson that one should respect women, and that to undress them is not okay.

Analysis:

In Indian culture, arranged marriages are a common practice, and the final decision on whether a marriage happens is given to the family as a whole, not the woman getting married. This story encourages respecting a woman’s desires for her marriage, even if the cultural norm or law doesn’t fully require it, and backs that up with a god taking the side of Draupadi. This makes even more sense to me that this story is found somewhat in opposition of the cultural norm when I remember that many tales come from being told by women as they do busywork. They used what ways they could to better how they were treated, and instilling good habits and respect in their children is a very powerful way to do so.

Gendered Dining Customs In India

Informant’s Background:

My informant, SV, is a recent graduate with a Master’s from the University of Southern California. He is 25, was born in Hyderabad, Telangana, India, and moved to the United States to attend a graduate program at USC. Post-graduation he remains in Los Angeles hunting for a job.

Context:

My informant, SV, is my roommate and a close friend of mine. I asked him if he could share some Indian traditions, customs, or folklore with me.

Performance:

SV: “So… There’s an Indian tradition where during uh festival or if like, if you’re inviting guests over, like at a gathering the… women are expected to, uhm, when people are having to eat, the women are expected to be the ones to serve, and the men and children are expected to eat first. The women are not allowed to eat until the men and children finish eating. Only once the men and children finish eating, they usually eat, and sometimes they may not even eat at like, the table, they may just eat in like the kitchen. So… this is kind of like, mmm, sort of a general kind of important sort of hierarchy and level of importance that’s sort of present that even when you’re like visiting a house, or like you’re invited to a person’s place as a guest you’re sort of expected to greet people based on their age, that’s one of the criteria, like the older they are the more important they’re are as people and you’re to prioritize them. And also the men are more important than the women, so it’s like you greet the oldest man first and then go down to the youngest man, and then you go down to the women if you’re greeting someone.”

Informant’s Thoughts:

SV: “That’s uhm, kind of a very… I guess sexist way of thinking. Which… was quite prevalent like in older times, where I think more urban and more modern a setting this is less and less common. And for the younger generations, it’s getting close to being more and more equal for men and women, and there’s no kind of like, oh women have to serve and the men just have to chill and wait to get served. Like my grandad, cause he’s quite old, and he follows these traditions a little more like strictly, like even though me and my sis would both be in the room, he kind of rather expected like my sister to be the one to serve and I didn’t have to do anything, and I used to find that odd. I was like “what’s the difference?” Like they’re our guests, and we can both like, serve if we have to serve them. So that’s my kind of-my personal experience with that. “

Thoughts:

Separation of women and men is common in many cultures, especially historically, but the ways in which these gender groups are divided are changing as we move into the modern world. The rate at which these changes occur of course differs from culture to culture, in this case this is a tradition that would most likely be seen as near appalling by Western audiences, yet in India it is still being gradually phased out more recently, but was still by the sounds of it surprisingly common up until not that long ago. The health consequences should also be considered alongside the social ones in this case, as this tradition has to do with the consumption of food. Waiting until after the men are finished eating could easily lead to the women only ending up with scraps of the original dinner, leading to malnutrition, both in themselves and potentially in any babies that they might give birth to. So not only is this tradition without a doubt considered sexist by today’s standards, as SV noted in the interview, but it also could easily lead to negative health effects as well.

Auntie Cockroach and Mr. Mouse

Once upon a time under the beautiful blue sky there lived a cockroach named Khale Suske. She had become tired of being alone and thought it would be nice to come out of her nest and see the world. She got up and made a pair of red shoes for herself out of garlic skin. She put on clothes made of onion skin. With a glance and a wink she left her nest. She walked and walked and walked until she arrived at the grocer’s shop. The grocer was sitting behind his scale. As soon he saw Khale Suske he asked,
“Khale Suske, where are you going?”
Khale suske replied, “What is Khale Suske? I am better than a flower.”
“Who is Khale Suske? I have such delicate wings.”
Surprised the grocer said,
“Then what should I say?”
Khale Suske said, “Say something nice. Say, ‘Khale Suske: Red Shoes, Onion Clothes.
Where are you going?’”
So the grocer said, “Khale Suske Red Shoes, Onion Clothes. Where are you going?”
Khale Suske said, “I am going to Hamedan, I want to find a husband for Ramezan
I should eat wheat bread and not be a bother to anyone.”
The grocer said, “Khale Suske, Red Shoes. Will you become my wife? Will you become my beautiful bride?”
Khale Suske said, “If I become your wife, If I become your companion. When we argue, what will you hit me with?”
The grocer said, “With this stone weight from my scale!”
Khale Suske said, “No no no! I will not become the grocer’s wife If I do, I will be killed!”
She said this, tightened her scarf and continued on her journey. She walked and walked and walked until she arrived at the door of the quiltmaker. The quiltmaker was stirring cotton with a long wooden stick to bring out dirt and sand from the cotton, and with the clean, soft cotton he would make beautiful quilts. As soon as he saw Khale Suske he said, “Khale Suske, where are you going?”
Khale suske replied,
“What is Khale Suske? I am better than a flower.”
“Who is Khale Suske? I have such delicate wings.”
The quiltmaker said, “Then what should I say?”
Khale Suske said, “Say something nice. Say, ‘Khale Suske Red Shoes, Onion Clothes
Where are you going?’”
So the quiltmaker said, “Khale Suske Red Shoes, Onion Clothes Where are you going?”
Khale Suske said, “I am going to Hamedan, I want to find a husband for Ramezan I should eat wheat bread and not be a bother to anyone.”
The quiltmaker said, “Khale Suske Red Shoes. Will you become my wife? Will you become my beautiful bride?”
Khale Suske said, “If I become your wife, if I become your companion, when we argue, what will you hit me with?”
The quiltmaker said, “with my cotton stirring stick!”
Khale Suske said, “no no no! I will not become the quiltmaker’s wife! If I do, I will be killed!” She said this, tightened her scarf and quickly hurried on her way. She walked and walked and walked until she arrived at the palace where Mr. Mouse lived. He was a clean and tidy mouse that had a small but beautiful nest in the prince’s kitchen. Mr. Mouse’s little ears were white. His tiny eyes sparkled, and he was wagging his soft, little tail. Mr. Mouse was in the middle of taking wheat to his nest so that he would be comfortable during the cold winter. As soon as he saw
Khale Suske he politely moved closer, greeted her and said,
“My my my!
Red Shoes, Onion Clothes
Where are you going?”
Khale Suske was very pleased by the polite and sweet words of Mr. Mouse. She said coyly,
“I am going to Hamedan,
I want to find a husband for Ramezan
I should eat wheat bread and not be a bother to anyone.”
Mr. Mouse said,
“Khale Qeizi
Miss Red Shoes
Will you become my wife?
Will you become my beautiful bride?”
Khale Suske said,
“Why shouldn’t I?
However, If I become your wife,
If I become your companion
When we argue, what will you hit me with?”
Mr. Mouse said,
“But no! Why should we argue?
If you become my wife,
If you become my companion,
I will caress you with my soft little tail!”
Khale Suske, who was very impressed by the little mouse, smiled and said,
“Yes yes yes!
I will become your wife
I will become your companion
I will become the mother of your children
I will become your loyal spouse!”
Khale Suske and Mr. Mouse threw a grand wedding party. They invited all the Cockroaches and Mice of the prince’s castle. Late at night, they all went to the kitchen. All brought delicious food and the mice found several walnut and pistachio shells to use as drums. It was a splendid celebration! The mice played their instruments and the roaches opened their wings and danced. The party went on until sunrise. Afterwards, Mr. Mouse took Khale Suske to his nest and they started their lives together. In the morning, when the cooks came to the kitchen, none of them knew what had gone on the night before. During the day, Mr. Mouse would go to the kitchen and pick-up the rice, beans, chick-peas, and other things that the cooks would drop, and he would bring them back to their nest with his teeth. Khale Suske would clean house, and prepare breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and they would always eat together. One day, Khale Suske went to a riverbank near the palace so she could wash her clothes. Suddenly she
slipped and fell into the water. She screamed and began to splash about so she wouldn’t drown. At the same time, one of the prince’s horsemen was passing by and stopped to give his horse water. As soon as Khale Suske’s eyes fell upon him she yelled,
“Ahoy horseman! Horseman!
Because you are going to the castle
Tell Mr. Mouse,
Khale Suske is in the water
Red Shoes is in the water
If you arrive late she will die!
Your heart will become sad!”
The horseman looked up, he didn’t see anyone. He looked down, he
didn’t see anyone. He listened again and he heard a tiny and quiet
voice say,
“Ahoy horseman!
Horseman!
Because you are going to the castle
Tell Mr. Mouse,
Khale Suske is in the water
Red Shoes is in the water
If you arrive late she will die!
Your heart will become sad!”
The rider quickly mounted his horse and rode away. He arrived out of breath at the kitchen and told the story to the others. Everyone laughed at him. Mr. Mouse was in a corner of the room and heard everything. He turned pale and dropped everything he had in his hands. His little tail was shaking like a willow tree. He threw his hands to his head and cried,
“Ay Vay! The water is taking away my Khale Suske!”
Upset, he ran and ran. He ran fast like the wind! He ran and ran and ran until he arrived next to the stream. As soon as he saw Khale Suske his body shook even more. Very upset he said,
“Give your hand to me!
Come up out of the muck!”

Khale Suske replied,
“No no no!
My delicate crystal hand will break!”
Mr. Mouse said,
“Give your foot to me!
Come up out of the muck!”
Khale Suske replied,
“No no no!
My delicate crystal foot will break!”
Mr. Mouse said,
“Then what should I do?
What can I do?
It’s not possible for me to save you!”
Khale Suske told Mr. Mouse,
“Go to the green grocer. Get a carrot.
Nibble it to make stairs. Then
bring it here and put it in the water so
that, step by step, I can up out
of danger!”
Mr. Mouse ran to the green grocer and said,
“My Khale Suske is in the water!
My little Red Shoes is in the water!
If I arrive late, she will die!
My heart will become sad!”
He then asked for a large carrot so that he could make a ladder. The green grocer was very distressed by Mr. Mouse’s story and right away he separated a long and straight carrot and gave it to the little mouse. Mr. Mouse ran as fast as he could back towards the stream. He ran and ran and ran until he arrived next to the water. He quickly nibbled the carrot to make stairs. He then placed it in the water. Khale Suske struggled and very slowly she walked up the carrot ladder and then fell on the ground. Poor Khale Suske was soaking wet. She was coughing non-stop and shivering. Mr. Mouse dried the water on Khale Suske’s body with his soft tail. Then he took her to his nest and placed her in a warm and
soft bed. He covered her face and said,
“Now that you are not
feeling well, I will
prepare you a hot soup!”
As soon as Khale Suske fell asleep, Mr. Mouse left the nest. He ran and ran and ran until he arrived at the door of the grocer. Mr. Mouse told him what had happened and explained that he wanted to prepare hot soup for Khale Suske. The grocer gave him a spinach leaf, a leek stalk, and a bunch of parsley, a small spoon of olive oil, a spoonful of rice, four lentils, some peas, and a pinch of salt. Mr. Mouse thanked him and returned home. He poured everything into a small pot. He then placed two rocks together to make an oven. He picked up a small, dry branch that had fallen on the ground and with his small, sharp teeth, chopped it and placed it between the rocks. He lit the wood and placed the pot of soup on the oven. A short time had passed and he said to himself, “Now I must stir the
pot”. He picked up a small branch to stir it, but as soon he put his head over the pot, he slipped and fell into the soup. Khale Suske realized a long time
had passed since she had heard from Mr. Mouse. With a trembling voice she said,
“Mr. Mouse, my dear
Come sit next to me”
Mr. Mouse didn’t reply. Again she said,
“Mr. Mouse, my dear
Come sit next to me”
Again there was nothing. She became worried. She got up and slowly walked to the soup. When Khale Suske saw Mr. Mouse splashing about she threw her hands to her head and cried,
“Vay! Look at my Mr. Mouse!
One head, two little ears! Look!
Don’t let him die!
My heart would become sad!”
Then, she quickly poured a small dish of water that was next to the oven on the soup to cool it. Next, she went to the neighbor mice and cockroaches nests for help. The mice and cockroaches came and lifted the pot from the
stove. Then, they pulled Mr. Mouse out of the soup. The neighbors then ran and brought whatever food and remedies they had, and for several days they took care of Khale Suske and Mr. Mouse until they both were well. Mr. Mouse and Khale Suske knew what kind of great friends they had and they lived happily ever after.

This story, like the kids version that Arya heard during his bedtime, exalts the virtues of generosity and compassion, especially in the end when the neighbors (mice and cockroaches) band together to help Mr. Mouse. The grocer also gives Mr. Mouse a carrot and vegetables to make the broth with. However, this version which can be found online as a PDF at http://www.lohrasb.com/images/Khale_Suske.pdf, also brings up the issue of women’s rights and issues. At the beginning, Khale Suske goes around to each suitor and asks them what they will beat her with during arguments, for her, a beating is to be expected from her husband and the only thing she can do to improve her living situation is to choose the husband who would beat her with the least harmful item.

Khale Suske is mentioned in the Oral Literature of Iranian Languages: Kurdish, Pashto, Balochi, Ossetic; Persian and Tajik: Companion Volume II: History of Persian Literature A, Vol XVIII.