Dr Satyapal Singh stirred up an old hornet’s nest yesterday when he endorsed Raavan as a model of masculine etiquette, who set the benchmark for chivalry when he abstained from touching Sita -- after abducting her, of course.
The city’s police commissioner, who recently ordered his subordinates to take strong action in the growing cases of sexual harassment, raised eyebrows when he asked his audience to learn from, and emulate the behaviour of Ramayan’s chief antagonist.
Singh made the controversial statement in course of a panel discussion at NCPA, following a play dealing with women’s rights. The play, aptly named Untitled, gives expression to voiceless women across the globe. Directed by Arvind Gaur and enacted by Lushin Dubey, it explores the attempts made by women to re-negotiate boundaries set by men.
The enactment was followed by a panel discussion that was graced by Singh.
When questions were thrown open to the audience, a viewer seized the chance and asked the top cop what measures he has put in place to curb the menace of sexual crimes aimed at women in the city. Attempting a response, the commissioner conveniently went off on a tangent, waxing eloquent about the merits of the great Indian culture, where even the demon king stopped short of sullying the honour of the woman he had snatched from her hearth.
‘Great Indian culture’
Espousing Raavan as the standard of male conduct, he said, “Ramayan mein Raavan jab Sita ko utha kar Lanka le gaye, tab bhi unhone Sita ko haath tak nahi lagaya. That is the greatness of Indian culture, this is what we should learn from Raavan.”
Any notion of Sita’s great good fortune at having Raavan for a captor was immediately put in perspective by veteran theatre actress Dolly Thakore, who responded, “But still Sita was abandoned by her husband Ram, and the woman had to suffer.” The statement set off a discussion that continued for several minutes.
Sociologist Nandini Sardesai appeared disgruntled by the cop’s statement, saying, “The commissioner has a habit of putting his foot in his mouth. He brought Indian tradition into the conversation, which was out of context. He even praised Raavan and put him on a pedestal, which was not needed. What was he trying to prove by talking about Raavan?”
Thakore also spoke out against the cop’s ill-thought-out comments, saying, “I immediately asked the commissioner that if Raavan not touching Sita illustrates the great Indian tradition, then at the same time, Ram abandoning Sita shows that a woman has to suffer at the end.”
Actor Kabir Bedi, who was present at the show, claims that while he doesn’t completely agree with Singh, the cop’s statement should be taken in relative context.
Arguably the most put off by the remark was Arvind Gaur, the director of the play. Gaur even attempted to interrupt Singh and refute his comments. This irked Singh, who told Gaur to watch his manners.
Speaking later, Gaur said, “After watching the play, the commissioner should have been more sensitive towards the issue of women’s rights, rather than giving lessons on Indian tradition and manners to the director of the play.”
Top cop speaks
While many in the audience were miffed by Singh’s myopic remarks, the top cop insisted that he had the audience’s support.
When contacted by MiD DAY, he clarified, “Raavan, even being the demon king, didn’t touch Sita. They had high moral grounds then, but what’s happening today? The declining social morals are creating so many problems. And we all are responsible for it, from parents to the education system to the legal-judicial system. Everyone must strive to improve it.”
Ever the apologist for the epic’s male hero, Singh leapt to the defence of Ram, insisting that he never abandoned his beleaguered wife: “Ram never left Sita; that is totally a concocted story and people are not aware about the truth; hence they keep on saying such things.”
Asked if his comments may have been taken out of context, he took a potshot at Gaur, saying, “Everyone appreciated me after the discussion was over. Except for Gaur, the director of the play, no one took my statement out of context. If someone doesn’t have basic understanding I cannot help it.”
Meanwhile, Raell Padamsee of Ace Productions -- the theatre company behind the play that also invited Singh – said, “I think a mountain is being made out of a molehill. Quite simply, Satyapal Singh was asked a question to which he was responding; where he mentioned that people today should take a cue from Raavan who didn’t lay a finger on Sita, despite keeping her in captivity.
That was quite simply the point he was trying to make, at which point Gaur interrupted him to make his point regarding the present, here and now. Satyapal Singh said, ‘Please let me finish’, to which Gaur responded again, and the commissioner said, ‘Please have some manners, please let me complete my sentence, as I have been asked the question’. The commissioner went on to explain to us the positive side of the women cells they have started, which are manned by women. And the evening went on to focus on such important and positive ideas. This is the sum total of what transpired. Some people are trying to sensationalise this issue to the detriment of the success of the evening.”
Nandini Sardesai, noted sociologist
The commissioner has a habit of putting his foot in his mouth. He brought Indian tradition in the conversation which was out of context. He even praised Raavan and put him on a pedestal, which was not needed. What was he trying to prove, by talking about Raavan?
Dolly Thakore, theatre artist
I asked the commissioner that if Raavan not touching Sita is about great Indian tradition, then at the same time, Ram abandoning Sita also shows that a woman has to suffer at the end
Raell Padamsee, theatre personality
I think a mountain is being made out of a molehill. Quite simply Satyapal Singh was asked a question to which he was responding; where he mentioned that people today should take a cue from Raavan who didn’t lay a finger on Sita, despite keeping her in captivity