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The Rape of Women in Draupadi, by Mahasweta Devi, and Open It,”by Saadat Hasan Manto

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The Rape of Women in “Draupadi,” by Mahasweta Devi, and “Open It,” by Saadat Hasan Manto


Where there is war, there is the rape and abuse of women. From the Trojan War to the Middle East conflict, rape has been a tactic of war. Rape is commonly viewed by society as a symbol of female degradation, female submission, and the stripping of honor and humanity. In the stories “Draupadi,” by Mahasweta Devi, and “Open It,” by Saadat Hasan Manto, the rape of women is a common theme. In Manto’s “Open It,” a young girl, Sakina, is raped by young men of her community, while in Devi’s “Draupadi,” a tribal rebel is raped by authorities of the state. While the storylines of these pieces are rather similar, the portrayal of the rape and the reactions of the young women are exceedingly different. Both authors use the disrobing of garments to create a dramatic climax. However, the respective climaxes convey contrasting ideas about the rape and degradation of women. In “Draupadi,” the unveiling of garments reveals immense female power. In “Open It,” the disrobing of garments reveals helpless female submission. Despite these differences, however, both acts of disrobing result in a striking male reaction and symbolize the remarkable survival of these battered and abused women.

The circumstances of the rape and the personalities of the rape victims are very different in “Open It” and “Draupadi.” In Manto’s story, a father is desperately looking for his daughter, Sakina, in the midst of the chaos and disorder of Partition. He asks self appointed social workers of the community to help him find Sakina. When Sakina is approached by these men, her initial reaction is one of fright: “The moment she heard the truck, she began to run” (Manto 360). She agrees to go along with the men, only after being repeatedly reassured and treated kindly by them. Despite her reluctant compliance she still feels uncomfortable for “she tried to cover her breasts again and again with her hands” (Manto 361). In this context, Sakina sees her bareness as a weakness and a symbol of her submissiveness. The author’s initial presentation of Sakina as a terrified, hesitant young girl trying to cover herself in front of intimidating men is dramatically contrasted with her behavior at the end of the story.

In the last scene of “Open It,” Manto presents an extremely powerful and climactic conclusion. Sakina, only half conscious and barely alive, responds to the doctor’s command (referring to the opening of a window), “open it” by unveiling herself: “The girl on the stretcher stirred a little. She moved her hand painfully towards the cord holding up her salwar” (Manto 362). The youthful innocence and conservative, hesitant mannerisms that Sakina expressed in the initial scene of the story is replaced by a shocking submissiveness. The horror and abuse that Sakina experienced stripped her of her humanity and honor. The author implies that the violent rape and abuse that she endured, transformed this once naive girl into a robot expecting to be raped and ready to strip on command. Sakina’s reaction to her rape confirms the common conception that rape degrades women and strips them of their honor and humanity.

In Devi’s “Draupadi,” the main character Dopdi is presented from the beginning of the story as a woman of strong mind and will. When she realizes that she has been caught by the authorities her reaction is bold and daring: “Now Dopdi spreads her arms, raises her face to the sky, turns toward the forest, and ululates with the force of her entire being. Once, twice, three times” (Devi 195). This extremely loud and desperate reaction to her impending situation is very different from Sakina’s shy and hesitant behavior when she is approached by the men. In the also dramatic and climactic conclusion of Devi’s story, Dopdi’s character, unlike Sakina’s, is strengthened rather than weakened: “Draupadi stands up. She pours the water down on the ground. Tears her piece of cloth with her teeth…..Senanayak walks out surprised and sees Draupadi, naked, walking toward him in the bright sunshine with her head high” (Devi 196). When the astonished general questions Dopdi’s unusual behavior, the empowered woman answers, “You asked them to make me up, don’t you want to see how they made me?” (Devi 196) Unlike Sakina, Dopdi uses her feminine nakedness as a weapon against her enemy. She unveils herself to turn the violence that she endured, upon the man responsible for the violence against her. Dopdi’s reaction to her rape is completely contradictory to that of Sakina’s and to society’s view of rape. Instead of letting this abhorrent act strip her of her humanity and honor, she is empowered by the rape.

In both stories the disrobing of garments stimulates powerful male reactions. In “Open It,” “The doctor broke into a cold sweat” (Manto 362). The meaning of this reaction is debatable. Many interpret the doctor’s sweat as a reaction to Sirajuddin’s ignorance of and naiveté to the violence and rape that his daughter experienced. However, the doctor’s cold sweat could be a reaction to Sakina’s horrifying submissiveness, symbolized by her opening her garments. Unlike Sakina, who unintentionally instigates a reaction from the doctor, Dopdi forces a reaction out of Senanayak by using her body as a weapon: “Draupadi pushes Senanayak with her two mangled breasts and for the first time Senanayak is afraid to stand before an unarmed target, terribly afraid” (Devi 196). Both men have dramatic reactions when the unmistakable brutality of rape is directly in their faces. Neither man is able to regard rape as a political war tactic anymore. The doctor, realizing the gravity of the situation, breaks into a cold sweat while the supposedly fearless general is terrified when faced with the reality of rape. Their respective reactions demonstrate the intense horror and actuality of a woman being raped.

Although Dopdi and Sakina react to their rapes in very different ways, both women survive. The disrobing of their garments is most importantly a symbol of their remarkable survival. Although society will always have preconceptions of rape and how a woman should and will react to being raped, it is apparent through “Draupadi” and “Open It” that being raped is a very personal experience. It is an experience unique to women that can yield very different reactions. Rape can make a woman, like it did Dopdi, or it can break a woman like it did Sakina. Because being raped is such a personal experience, a woman’s reaction to such a trauma should not and can not be judged. Whether a woman is strengthened or weakened through rape, it does not matter. What matters is that she survives.

Works Cited

Devi, Mahasweta. “Draupadi.” In Other Worlds. Ed. Chakravorty Spriak. New York and London: Routledge, 1987.

Manto Hasan, Saadat. “Open It.” Stories about the Partition of India. Ed. Alok Bhalla. New Delhi: Harper Collins, 1999.

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