Cue laugh track

The Chandigarh government has apparently decided to monitor the length of skirts worn by women in discotheques.

What elevates garden variety moral policing into the realm of inspired whatthefuck-ery is this bit:

The committee has decided that they may refuse permission to bar owners to run in case of “exhibition or advertisement of scantily dressed women” and “indecency” or if it is “seditious and likely to excite political discontent.”

However, no one knows what is the definition of “scantily dressed women” or “indecency” or “seditious” mean.

How do you even manage to bring “sedition” and “political discontent” into this?

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Voyeurism as police perk

File this under “I don’t even…”

The Maharashtra government today defended its decision to have dance bar shows beamed live to police control rooms through CCTV cameras, saying the idea was to prevent young girls from being exploited.

The government, which filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court, also asserted that the fundamental right to privacy didn’t extend to public places.

On February 24, the court had slammed the plan as “absurd” and said it would impinge upon an individual’s fundamental right to privacy and also a bar dancer’s right to eke out a living.

Seriously? You want to sit in police control rooms and watch girls dancing?

Update: The Supreme Court says no to CCTV cameras and live dance feeds.

 

Phones for women = bad

Spreading in Gujarat now, this:

“Girls don’t study properly if they have mobile phones, and they can get into all sorts of bad situations,” Thakor told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a telephone interview. “Let them study, get married, then they can get their own phones. Until then, they can use their fathers’ phones at home, if necessary.”

In the Mehsana district, unmarried women found using mobile phone would be fined Rs 2,100, while informants would be rewarded Rs 200, as per the new diktat.

I wonder, in passing, if any serious attention is being paid to the effects of cellphones on boys below the age of 18?

Bollywood’s women: A Reading List

Continuing the theme guest-blogger Diptakirti riffed on in his previous post, here is a compilation of interesting takes on Bollywood, women, misogyny, gender violence, and much else:

Rituparna Chatterjee, movie editor of IBNLive.com, speaks here to her belief that Bollywood is equally culpable in perpetuating the misogyny that is so much a part of Indian culture

And here, Diptakirti Choudhuri speaks of the essential difference (which Bollywood seems unwilling or unable to get, for the most part) between wooing and stalking

And while on that, Anna Vetticad (who with exemplary courage spent a year watching every movie being released in Bollywood before writing about it — here is Jai Arjun Singh’s review) speaks of stalking extensively, in her review of Ranjhanaa

Staying with Anna (and selecting from an exhaustive collection on her blog), here is her review of Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, incorporating thoughts of gender equations in the movies

Anna’s review of Houseful 2 deals exhaustively with The Great Bollywood Rape Joke

Bollywood’s women

A guest-post for @genderlogindia by DIPTAKIRTI CHOUDHURI:

Bollywood is usually the go-to guy for bashing. Anything evil in this country is, by and large, attributed to Bollywood’s zestful propagation of the same. Smoking – check. Dumbing down – check. Eve teasing – double check.

The meme goes that Bollywood has made stalking into an art form and otherwise respectable composers- choreographers-costumers have participated wholeheartedly to make this activity into a grand and enduring success.

The ‘stalking song’ is what stars and directors are most reviled for, but I am inclined to overlook it because it is never an end. If the villain does it, there is swift dispensation of justice by the hero. If the hero does it, he either reforms soon after or does something completely monumental (like strangling his Mafia don father’s pet anaconda to marry the girl) that underlines his true love.

My logic is simple: If a molester claims that he got his idea from Akshay Kumar, he should immediately be made to fight thirteen sword-wielding goons to save a girl. Because that’s what Akshay did – right after he teased the girl.

However, this is not to say Bollywood can hold its head high when gender is being discussed. What Bollywood kills us with are the stereotypes it silently perpetuates through stock characters or situations, either for convenience or through not wanting to take a risk. This is – in my opinion – far more damning than a raucous song. Because it is a subtle and, more critically, ongoing message that certain things are ‘wrong’.

Here is my quick list of six stereotypes Bollywood perpetrates. (Please feel free to add more. ):

Heroines don’t do regular work. Unless they are prostitutes or police officers:

Heroines don’t go to offices. (Yes, I know you will jump up and name five movies where they do but that’s exactly my point – those are exceptions.) They study. They are nice people, but they don’t ‘do’ anything.

In the two biggest hits of this year – Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani and Chennai Express – we are not sure what the heroine does. In the former, Deepika Padukone is shown preparing to become a doctor in the flashback but in the present day, she is quite happy looking gorgeous, and no mention of her medical practice is ever made. Ditto for Chennai Express.

In the Top 10 grossers in Bollywood history (all of which are from the last few years), only one heroine – Kareena Kapoor of 3 Idiots – uses her profession to make a contribution to the story. The rest just dance spectacularly.

And this has been a standard template in Bollywood. For example, Madhuri Dixit was supposed to be a ‘student of computers’ in Hum Aapke Hain Koun but she never goes even close to one in the film. In Maine Pyar Kiya, heroine Bhagyashree had excellent marks in ‘inter’ but she chose to be deposited in a family friend’s home instead of a working woman’s hostel.

Take the biggest hits (and the not so big ones, as well) and you will see the same trend. The only working girl I can think of in a major hit is Sholay’s Basanti. And she abandoned her promising career to get married.

Working mothers are bad. Actually, mothers are bad whenever they are not doing the act of ‘mothering’:

Basanti’s abandoned career brings us to the subtle messaging about mothers who work. In Taare Zameen Par, the working mother gave up her career to make her sons into class-toppers. In Akele Hum Akele Tum, the career-focussed mother (who left her son for a promising singing career) almost became the vamp till she decided to return to domesticity.

Whenever a child is shown to be in physical danger (road accident, kidnapping etc), the mother is usually doing something frivolous (like shopping) and is meted out some hard-hitting advice (“Tum kaisi maa ho?”) by a bystander – advice that leads to terrible remorse.

 

Pre-marital sex is punishable by death or imprisonment (though, by and large, not both):

If rain, crackling fire, skimpy clothing and sensuous songs cause you to slip (‘behek jaana’) and taste the forbidden fruit before marriage, you will die. Because sex is done by bad girls.

Sometimes the man dies (Aradhana), leaving the woman to a lifetime of struggle (including some jail time).

Sometimes, the woman dies (Trishul), thus getting a version of ‘capital punishment’.

Even in a totally realistic film like Masoom, the woman dies leaving her son in the care of her married lover.

In recent times, the moment of passion is dealt a little less severely — but the non-virgin never gets the hero (Deepika Padukone in Cocktail, for example).

Only prostitutes initiate sex:

As per Bollywood logic, all sexually aggressive women are prostitutes (or similar), though all prostitutes are not sexually aggressive (if she is the heroine).

Traditionally, characters artistes like Helen and Aruna Irani have performed – with great aplomb – the cabaret that caused the hero to sway slightly off the straight and narrow path before he progressed on his way towards the virginal heroine. In recent times, the purpose of the ‘item number’ has been to introduce a guest star who can do the Fevicol-Zandu inspired gyrations while the heroine can dutifully avert her face when the hero zeroes in for a kiss.

[NB: The heroes can sow a few wild oats here and there. If you take the last five films of current heartthrob Ranbir Kapoor, he has been polygamous in three of them unlike his heroines who, without exception,  were steadfastly monogamous.]

Even in an explicit movie like Murder, it is the man who initiates the adulterous relationship. The heroine initially turns away and is about to leave,  when there is an excuse for her to come back (she left her purse behind, you see) and get sucked into the affair. (Maybe an adulterous relationship is not the right example to make a point about women in Bollywood not having a say in sexual activity, though).

Women are allowed to kill villains but only with help from new lover:

There was a time when all of Bollywood was gainfully employed in remaking the Julia Roberts hit Sleeping With The Enemy. Agnisakshi, Daraar and Yaraana faithfully replicated every detail from the original and differed from their source code on only one major front – the hero rushed in to kill the obsessive husband. While the fragile Julia Roberts pulled the trigger herself in Hollywood, a chubby Rishi Kapoor (whose heroines were much fitter than him) and a hungover Jackie Shroff ambled into the last scene to perform the heroic honors in Bollywood.

At one point of time, when Rekha was acting in a series of films as a female vigilante, it was always the hero who rushed in to assist her in the climax. The most famous example is probably Khoon Bhari Maang where she was doing a mean job of chopping Kabir Bedi up till Shatrughan Sinha was made to intervene.

In a love triangle, only the men get to chose the ‘winner’:

A Bollywood woman is, at the risk of over-simplification, property. She doesn’t really have a say in matters of the heart.

From Sangam to Saajan, from Dostana to Dobara OUATIM, the woman is just a method of sacrificing for the sake of a friend (or proving one’s masculinity for the sake of the world).

The friends decide – depending on who saw the girl first, whose relative debts are higher, whose box office clout is bigger – who gets the girl. This often leads to death or the honorable exit of one participant while the surviving one, usually the docile girl, goes with the guy. Simple, no?

And when you see a rather cavalier tyaag by Ranbir Kapoor in favor of his elder brother in Raajneeti, you realize this is a tradition as old as the Mahabharat itself!

Often one wonders about the wasted charisma of Bollywood’s leading ladies, and if the system will ever change to portray them as true role models. Right now, there are lakhs of young girls copying Priyanka Chopra’s tattoo. What impact she would make if she is shown actually working hard to become – say – a boxer!

A Mary Kom biopic – starring Priyanka Chopra – is currently in production. So yes, there is hope.

Diptakirti Choudhuri, everyone’s go-to guy for movie trivia, is a salesman  by day and writes by night. He lives in Gurgaon with his wife, son and daughter. His nocturnal activities result in this blog; this column for Yahoo; and a couple of books (Kitnay Aadmi The, the Bollywood one, is a total hoot), not to mention random musings on Twitter

 

The casual cruelties of everyday life

A little over a couple of weeks ago, I was chatting with someone I know. I asked for her opinion about a story I had read. “Why do you want to know?” she shot back.
It was uncharacteristic of the thoughtful, intelligent, fun woman I know (or thought I knew). I asked why, she parried, and then a little later, as if she couldn’t hold it in any longer, she told me this:
She was at a dinner party shortly prior to our chat, with her husband and four other couples. The wine flowed, so did the conversation. It’s an eclectic group, ours, so the topics tend to be wide-ranging at times, she explained. And so they were heatedly discussing something, and one of the company turned to my friend and asked her what she thought.
Oh, her husband laughed, don’t bother asking her, unless it is about whether Ranbir and Katrina should get married.
“I was stunned, shamed,” my friend said. “My husband and I have endless, often heated, discussions about all sorts of things — it is not as if he thinks I only do Bollywood. But that was not it, really — he was ‘being jolly’, ‘just joking’. ‘You know I think highly of you,’ he told me later. And that is what hurt — I get ‘jokes’, but did he really not see how wounding that off-hand ‘joke’ was? How gratuitously insulting? How unspeakably demeaning?”
WE FOCUS on rape, on sexual abuse — but this friend, my wife, and others I’ve spoken to have all pointed in their own ways to the many unnoticed, casual cruelties women are routinely subjected to — at the workplace, in the home, in transit, at play. These are not “offenses” as the law would define them, but they are offensive; they wound deeply, and they leave lasting scars.
It is, Natasha Bhadwar (@natashabhadwar on Twitter) said when I chatted offline with her, about respect. Or the lack thereof.
 
She pointed me to some blog posts she had done on related themes. Like here, where she gets angry about the casual, neglectful manner in which arranged marriages are fixed. Why, she asks, this hurry to get the young daughter of the house stamped with the word MARRIED?
Here, Natasha shares abortion and miscarriage stories. What’s they big deal about abortion, they ask. “The right to life. Goddamn life,” Natasha says.
Here, a mother is  caught unawares as she celebrates a moment with her daughter, only to be reminded that it would be better if she had a SON in her arms.

 

And here, a mother’s extremely composed and articulate comeback as she takes on a stranger who suggests that she must have WANTED SONS each time she bore a daughter. (This from Mint Lounge, where others share their remembered slights in comments).

 

Read, also, this eloquent take on domestic violence (of the more overt kind) by Nisha Susan (@chasingiamb on Twitter)

 

Thoughts? Stories? Links? Share — on @genderlogindia where I am curating this week.

What’s the point?!

Long ago, I read something that stuck in my mind. The quote might be inexact, and its provenance is lost in the mists of memory, but the argument went like this:

When Christ was crucified at Calvary, the enduring image of that one man dying for our sins gave birth to a religion that swept the world; when millions of Jews were massacred during the Third Reich, it left us intellectually disturbed but largely emotionally unmoved, because who in the hell can identify with millions?

That line came back to me last night while reading some mails people sent in after reading yesterday’s post. Some at least argued on these lines: Yes, the Delhi rape is horrific, it is tragic, but why did it take this incident to wake people up? Is it because it happened in Delhi, and hit too close to those who, by virtue of making their home in the national capital, conferred on themselves a special, protected status?

The argument is analogous to what we heard in the immediate aftermath of 26/11, when a section argued that the only reason the terrorist attack had captured national attention was because the targets were the Taj and the Oberoi, those playgrounds of the rich and the pampered. That argument dishonored those killed at VT station and at Chabad House; the argument above about the Delhi ‘elite’ taking to the streets forgets that Delhi leads the country in crimes against women, so it is not as if this incident came out of the blue to shake them out of their complacency.

The reason is far simpler — this is, after all, that single straw that breaks the camel’s back. This happened to be it.

Far more pervasive, in the mails I received and in some comments on my timeline, was the word ‘futile’.

This is how the argument played out in my mailbox: What’s the point of marching in the streets and driving up the stock prices of candle-makers when we all know nothing will come of it? It might temporarily salve our collective conscience, one particular mail argued, but we have the New Year parties to “paint and dent” for, and our lives to lead, so we are all going to move on anyway and it is business as usual, no? What would we have achieved? What is the end game here? What counts as a “win” for us? (I wanted to reproduce this angst-ridden mail in full but the writer, a girl who has been attending every protest march and candle-light vigil she hears of, refused permission.)

So what is the end game?

At some point in every major upheaval, this question has been asked. The Occupy Wall Street-ers — what did they think the outcome was going to be, reform? Did those who thronged Tahrir Square see a ‘heaven of freedom’ at the end of their protests? Tiananmen Square — gosh, how’s that experiment in bringing democracy to China working out? And so on, through the annals of public protests.

Park the question for a moment.

Read, from recent annals, two stories. One, of the father who had to make repeated visits to a police station just to get the officials to register the fact that his daughter was brutally raped. The other, of the young girl who was raped; who begged repeatedly for help, for justice; who was then ‘raped’ again, emotionally, by police who would summon her to the station house late in the evening and treated her like some kind of live sex-line for their prurient amusement. After more than a month of this, the girl committed suicide yesterday.

The commonality between the two stories should be instantly obvious: The police failed the victims; they victimized the victim. And that should not surprise us, for such incidents have been distressingly common down the years and across the country. ‘So you got fucked, big deal, go home and get over it’ is more the norm than the exception; the norm is to see rape as a bunch of guys having a bit of harmless fun and not worth all the trouble of filing cases and carrying out investigations.

Now go back to those two stories and note what else is common: the police in both instances got punished. Now ask yourself this: If Delhi hadn’t happened, if the incident hadn’t triggered the anger it did, if it hadn’t provoked the public to take to the streets, would these other incidents have registered in the minds of our “rulers”? Would they have resulted in any action against the errant cops? Do you, for instance, remember any questions being asked of the cops who delayed taking cognizance of this rape, also in Delhi, also in December? Or to take another example, a PIL was filed last week against elected representatives who have crimes against women in their curriculum vitae. Ask yourself: why now? Could it be that the public anger following the Delhi rape has made people more aware of the need for zero tolerance for the abusers among us?

I’d argued yesterday that rapes have tended to become more gruesome, more prolific, in recent times because the rapists have a sense that there are no consequences to their actions; I’d argued, too, that this sense of entitlement stems from the fact that a misogynist law enforcement machinery is more often on the side of the perpetrator than the victim. (While on official misogyny, read Nilanjana Roy. Also read this account from one of the protestors:

I couldn’t see anything; I just heard the two cracks of a SPLIT BAMBOO STICK on my back, butt and thighs. Then I heard the police screaming, HARAMZADIYON, RANDIYON, and then I saw a boot kicking my knees and shin.)

The rapists rape at will because they have been led to believe that the police will do nothing. And the police do nothing because there is no consequence to their inaction. That needs to change. The police need to realize that not acting is not in their own interests; that their inaction could rebound on them (as it has in Patiala, where senior police officials have lost their jobs).

Is that it? No — but it is a start that has already been made. What the ongoing protests have already accomplished is to line the dominoes up. The politician learns that there is a very public, very visible, consequence to his apathy. He now has to act, and be seen to act. That in turn impacts on the police, who know inaction could rebound on them. So they have to act. And that impacts on the potential rapist, who gets the signal that he may be made to pay for his “fun”.

So have we ushered in a brave new world for our women? No, but it is now a work in progress — and that is more than we could say two weeks ago. So to those who asked what the end game is, I’d respond: to get to a desired end, you first have to begin some place. And this is a beginning.

Also in my mail, I found this argument: When Anna Hazare did his thing, you argued that a Lok Pal will not solve the issue. How come you now support those hotheads who demand that Parliament immediately pass laws making castration and/or death the punishment for rape?

The short answer is, I don’t. (Nilanjana Roy in her thoughtful fashion makes the argument against). Thing though is, those demands are being made at the extreme fringes of this movement — and any movement will have an extreme fringe. In the amphitheater of anger, in the adrenalin-rush of rage, there is little room for nuance. (After all, we are a nation that, after losing a Test series to England, demanded that the entire team be sacked and replaced with eleven others, no?)

Ignore the fringe for a moment, and focus on the middle ground. What are they — the majority — asking for? Not public torture followed by public hanging, as this Monisha Sethi piece suggests (More on this later). Minister Shashi Tharoor posted these on Twitter yesterday: 1, 2 and 3

What are they asking for, again — castration? Not. They are out there, braving the 3000 cops deployed against them, to ask for: (1) More cops on the street and more focus on doing what they are supposed to be doing; (2) Less cops on VIP duty (currently, according to reports, 60 per cent of the police force in Delhi are engaged in “protecting” VIPs or, more accurately, beefing up the VIP’s sense of self-worth and status.

To me, those seem like logical, acceptable goals to fight for, for now — how about you?

Reading Matter:

1. A piece by Manisha Sethi asks the same question as above: What are we fighting for? And argues thus:

Ideally, a movement’s energy forces the opening of uncomfortable questions, challenging commonsense understanding and expanding our ideas of justice. One sees that the mass protests at Raisina Hill and India Gate are flattening out complexities: reducing sexual violence to rape alone, and the need for legal reform to simply an inclusion of capital punishment, castration and immediate punishment for rapists.

A whole range of sexualised violence such as molestation, parading, stalking, stripping, are not recognised as serious violations by our legal system. While stalking and molestation are laughed off as ‘eve teasing’ (indeed trespassing is deemed a more serious crime), stripping and parading women naked are often tools of punishment by the powerful. Remember Khairlanji where Priyanka and Surekha Bhootmange were paraded naked before being murdered by the politically dominant caste? Or the young Laxmi Orang, stripped by a group of hooligans, not very different from the stone pelters of India Gate, when she was marching on the streets of Guwahati seeking ‘ST’ status for the tea tribes ofAssam?

True. Rape is not the only assault on a woman’s dignity — every day, women around the country suffer from physical and emotional abuses often lumped together under the benign rubric of ‘eve-teasing’. Attention needs to be focussed on those, too; redress needs to be sought. In that sense, the ‘flattening out of complexities’ and the singular focus on rape might be counter-productive — or maybe not. Maybe the anti-rape protests now on serve — or can/should serve — as tentpole; as the fire that keeps the political kitchen hot, while more informed minds such as Manisha, or Anita Krishnan who led the march yesterday, and such others who have a wider grasp of the issues at stake take light-handed charge of all this energy and direct it where it will do most good.

To say that the protests focus on only one aspect of the problem and hence should be dismissed, however, seems to me a case of chucking baby and bathwater out in one swoop.

2. Jai Arjun Singh has a round up of some of the more compelling writing that has surfaced in the aftermath of the Delhi rape. The value of the post is further enhanced by Jai’s own thoughts on these contemporaneous subjects. Do read.

3. From The Atlantic, a vivid photo-feature on the Delhi protests

4. In the National, a piece on India’s national shame:

The main cause is men.

I have never lived in a country where women are completely free of the fear of harassment or sexual assault, but I have also never lived in any other country where there is such a permissive attitude towards harassment and sexual assault. It is almost casual.

At its most benign, the harassment is merely annoying: the odd Bollywood love song sung under the breath of a passer-by to a woman or a girl on the street, a wolf whistle, or a request to “make friendship” – a local euphemism for an illicit dalliance. At other times, a man will make his interest felt with an outburst of frustrated sadism, such as throwing an elbow to a woman’s breast.

There is little shame in these acts. Society rarely punishes these men. Many if not most women in India are belittled, abused and cast aside from cradle to grave.

I will never forget the sight of a small black plastic bag in the middle of a Delhi highway. The bag had been smashed by a car, revealing the mangled corpse of a newborn baby. I did not stop to check, the police were there already, but I am sure that the infant was female. Female infanticide and foeticide is rampant within certain communities.

5. Farhan Akhtar in conversation with a fan about Abhijit Mukherjee et al — well done, FA.

6. On TheHoot, Kalpana Sharma questions the media role in coverage of the Delhi gang rape and suggests the coverage added to the trauma, not lessened it:

And fourth, let us look at why some newspapers and TV channels felt they had to give the woman a fictitious name, as if respecting her anonymity was too daunting a challenge for journalists to respect.  Hence, while Times of India has decided to call her Nirbhaya, and patted itself on the back for having picked what it deems is an appropriate name given her courage, other are variously calling her Damini, Amanat etc.  But her brother, who has to hear these names, told the Indian Express,  “It’s hard to digest that this is my sister they are talking about.”  He says the first time he saw one of these names flashing on TV, he thought the channel had got his sister’s name wrong.  He says he was furious but then someone explained to him that “it is a phenomenon known as personification.  I don’t like it, but they say she is the face of a movement.”

Is it really that difficult to follow this story without dramatizing it further, giving the survivor a fictitious name – as if by doing that the horrific aspects of this story will become more believable.  It is astounding that responsible media persons can endorse such a decision from within these media organisations.

The survivor’s brother also told the Indian Express about the pressure put on his father to issue an appeal once violence broke out during the demonstrations at India Gate.  After this experience, his father does not want to speak to anyone in the media. “My father is scared that a wrong message has gone out.  It seems like we don’t want the protests. We are suffering so much, why should we be against the movement?  Now he has decided against speaking to the media.  There were more requests from the police, but we told them we don’t want to risk it again”, he told IE.

7. TMC MP Kakoli Ghosh Dastidar on the Park Street rape suggests that there was no rape at all; the “victim” was a sex worker, she suggests, and the “rape” was an outcome of a disagreement between her and the client.

“If you ask me about the Park Street case, I have to tell you that it was not rape. It was a deal. Which turned into a misunderstanding between the clients and the lady,” she said, implying that the woman involved was a commercial sex worker.

When the Park Street rape case occurred early this year, another minister of the TMC cabinet, Madan Mitra too had raised questions about the woman’s character. “What was a divorced, mother of two doing alone in a bar after midnight?” he had asked.

The problem? Without suggesting that the victim in this case was a prostitute, the fact is that even prostitutes can NOT be raped; their “no” is just as much “no” as any other woman’s. And divorced mothers of two or more have as much right to a social life as anyone else — the fact that she was in a bar is not ipso facto a license to rape.