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Akhandadhi Das – 12/10/2017

Thought for the Day

Good morning. As Hindus prepare for the Diwali festivities next week, I suspect many may have noted the odd parallel between the reports of Harvey Weinstein accused of sexual predation and the character and behaviour of Ravana, the anti-hero of the Diwali story.

Ravana was powerful, intelligent, charming and charismatic. Though he was used to winning over any woman he fancied, he did understood he’d be destroyed if he forced himself on a woman against her will. However, he was ruthless in gaining such compliance. He utilised what Hindu texts call the tools of persuasion of the rich and powerful: dana and danda. Dana are generous gifts – and Ravana bestowed them liberally upon the objects of his desire as well as to his lackeys and sycophants. And, if that failed, he turned to danda - threats to punish anyone who rejected him or who raised dissent.

Initially, Ravana had his ‘people’ encourage the beautiful Sita to submit to their leader with presents and promises. But, when Ravana directly approached Sita, she threw straw on the ground in front of him. This ‘casting of straw’ had several meanings. It was a gesture of etiquette and a reminder of social formality between them. It also suggested that Ravana and his wealth were no more to her than dried-up chaff. And, it contained a plea for Ravana not to treat her with contempt and disregard; like straw in the street.

Ravana reacted to her rejection by threatening that if she didn’t acquiesce to sharing his bed within one month he would kill her mercilessly. It was then in Sita’s darkest moments, a friend came to encourage her to be strong in her suffering and resolve. Help was on hand.

But, it wasn’t until someone closest to Ravana turned on him that the balance swung away from the tyrant. His brother, Vibhishan, finally challenged him: “I have supported you as our leader; I love you as a brother, but to my shame I’ve tolerated your heinous activities. Now, I must offer myself to those who will bring you to justice.”

Clearly, not all of Ravana’s story may be applicable to Mr Weinstein. But, I think it has broader relevance to how we, as a society, try to deal with the issues of sexual harassment that may occur and be overlooked wherever there is disparity of power, wealth and influence. How can vulnerable women feel more confident to ‘cast straw’ in front of predators? What support can we offer that delivers actual protection? And how do we encourage those in the know to speak up sooner rather than later.

As Ravana’s widow commented on the inevitable downfall of her husband: “May the tears of innocent women never fall on the ground in vain.”

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