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Rapes Won’t Stop This Way

Playing moral police through a crackdown on music and cinema won’t stop rapes. Cracking down on rapists, will.

Honey-Singh

There’s no business like morality show business. The most visible and voluble outcome of the countrywide reaction to the horror of the December 16, 2012 rape in Delhi has been the outpouring of moral anger and outrage not only from the self-appointed sentinels of all things moral – the media, but from “ordinary people” themselves. The brutal nature of the crime that resulted in the victim’s long-drawn and painful death has made head-shaking and fist-clenching move from the dinner tables out into the streets. This venting has been totally understandable, especially since the law and order machinery initially failed to gauge the scale of how the Delhi rape has left the people of this country traumatised.

But since the media started its coverage of the Delhi rape case – with its accompanying “campaign coverage” of sexual violence in India and the wave of apathy that has greeted the subject from both citizenry and the establishment – there has been a noticeable bend in the river. Along with the Pavlovian thrashing about to the specific tragedy and to rape and sexual violence against women, there is a growing noise against depictions of women, against how women are viewed through the lens of popular culture. In other words, there is a militant concern about the morals of men.

The initial form of this righteousness appeared in the form of the kind of “pledge” that schoolchildren down the decades (including myself) would be familiar with. The “Pledge” in the beginning of the New Radiant Reader textbooks used in many English-medium schools – based on the old series The Radiant Reader, The Radiant Way and Radiant Reading school-goers of my generation 30 years ago were familiar with – reads:

“India is my country, all Indians are my brothers and sisters. I love my country, and I am proud of its rich and varied heritage. I shall always strive to be worthy of it. I shall give my parents, teachers and all elders respect and treat everyone with courtesy. To my country and my people, I pledge my devotion. In their well-being and prosperity alone lies my happiness.”

Now take the “pledge” The Times of India printed on its front page on December 29, 2012 alongside its page 1 news coverage of the Delhi rape case. In the prelude to the “pledge”, the paper tells the reader that “the real reason behind her agony [is] the lack of respect for women in our patriarchal society. Instead of venting out anger in mindless violence, let us seize the moment to make a collective pledge to treat all women with respect and to demand the same from others.”

Then comes the “Radiant Reader”-style pledge itself: “Let us swear that we will fight discrimination against them at home and the workplace. Let us resolve to intervene when we see a woman being harassed by word or deed and to ensure that complaints are lodged and acted upon…”

An updated version of the “Times campaign: Honor Nirbhaya by making this pledge” on the internet adds two other bullet points to the earlier pledge:

“We will personally treat all women at home and elsewhere with respect and demand the same from others…

…We will not vote for politicians who treat women with disrespect.”

The school textbook and the newspaper bear the same tone of solemn demand based on a faith in “goodness” and the need to treat elders/women with respect. Nothing is wrong with both demands and going by the “votes” on the ToI website (36,571 of them), Facebook shares (57,000) and tweets (339), many clearly agree with what is being said with one’s hand on one’s heart.

If sharing such a sentiment means also showcasing that you are righteous and good, far removed from the likes of those horrible, backward-looking misogynists who hint at the fact that sexual violence is something that women bring about, or at least, fail to discourage, by their own behaviour and action (“going out at night”, “wearing ‘revealing’ clothes” drinking etc), then that can’t be bad, can it? If being “good” is cool, then being moral and being lawful will merge in one happy ball, leaving only the immoral criminal out in the open to be picked up and locked away.

When Haryana Labour Minister, Shivcharan Sharma retracted a statement about Geetika Sharma, the former employee of MDLR Airlines owned by his ministerial colleague and prime accused in Geetika’s suicide case, Gopal Kanda, he was desperate to be seen as a “good, woman-respecting man” too. “I respect women. I realise that women have divine powers – be it Mata Lakshmiji, Mata Durgaji or Mata Saraswati.” Swirling in all that respect for all those “Matas”, Sharma showed that he can’t possibly be a misogynist, the same way home minister Sushil Shinde couldn’t be a misogynist after he reminded everyone that he is the “father of three daughters”.

But competitive morality went up a notch in the second phase of the national demand for total respect for women. This was about not only respecting women, but also about stopping anything remotely considered to be insulting towards women. And in such a heightened “we will protect our sisters” atmosphere, ripe targets are always the soft ones.

Furrowed brows are already talking about women being constantly, ubiquitously “objectified as sexual objects” in advertisements and movies. The offensive lyrics of rapper Yo Yo Honey Singh already elicited a successful campaign which stopped him from performing at a New Year’s Eve gig, making the performer, known for his misogynist prattle about rape and women’s body parts, taboo.

The correlation between pop cultural anti-women references and violence against women – and how the former whether in movies, ads or songs affect the mind of those “enjoying” them in the real world – has been a subject of much gnashed-teeth debate in the West, most notably in the 1980s when Tipper Gore, wife of Al Gore, took on the American pop-rock industry and its content full of “smut” and “lyrics degrading women”. With the sudden onslaught of morality triggered by the Delhi rape case here in India, I won’t be surprised if the mob (read: popular demand) bays for a crackdown.

This, to my mind, could lead everyone – the media, law enforcement authorities etc – to a giant operation of missing the wood for the trees. The fact of the matter is that the war should not be against pornography, adult entertainment and other perceived “causes” for sexual violence. Not only because these simply will thrive underground thereby adding another layer of repression to the whole state of childish repression that covers the Indian psyche. But because the real and only issue at stake here is protecting women from sexual violence and the law acting and being seen acting on offenders.

To go down the slippery slope of cracking down on movie item numbers, offensive songs, titillating media images, will make the argument of women staying at home at night, not drinking or wearing clothes of their choice, refraining from making their own sexual decisions, stand up against the real argument: that it’s not women or the depiction of women that leads to sexual violence or rape against them. But criminal-minded torturers who will find reason to do whatever they seek to do simply because there are women.

For this, the crackdown, the anger, the anguish – moral, social and legal – should be targeted with a laser-like focus on people who believe there’s nothing wrong in abusing women in the real world and believe that they can get away with it. People must know – like so many already do – that watching Priyanka Chopra prance around with very little on or listening to Prodigy’s “Smack My Bitch Up” or DJ Fadu’s “Kash Koi Mil Jaye” is in no imaginable way a sanction to humiliate or hurt women. If that was so, watching every screen hero killing a bad guy would have made vigilantes out of all of us and made bad guys turn into perfectly decent humans after being morally forced to by watching movies.

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More from Indrajit Hazra


  • http://twitter.com/ajhay9 Ajhay U Waghmare

    A THOUGHT AGAINST THE STRIDE!!!

    these days every body is talking about low conviction rate in rape & molestation cases, I wonder how the low conviction rates should be a logic for tougher laws? since every case is supposed to be judged by its own merit, OR are we hinting at giving conviction rates as a performance target to judges? as if it were a salesman’s target of selling groceries!

    yesterday a Mumbai court found guilty a nexus of an struggling female model & an Asst inspector, the lady accused two businessmen of rape, both senior citizens, then she with help of the cop demanded them for a flat & a car for a “settlement” of the false rape charge.

    only passing tougher Laws is more harmful unless we’ve right people to implement them, simply drafting a document & passing it as LAW will only make “Rape” & “molestation” as a tool of extortion by unscrupulous elements including their female accomplices.

    such so called pro-women laws ultimately harm women too being the mother/sister of the falsely accused man.

    any such law should have a rider that if the accusation is found false then the so called “victim” should be given the same punishment as a rapist, since she rapes a man off his social & mental stability

    the age old thinking that “women wont lie” must be dumped since today’s women are as equally capable, intelligent, ambitious as men so they are equally evil to succumb to greed, revenge either individually OR under duress of someones instigation under pressure OR as a member of a blackmailing racket.

    such criminals might use the called “tougher laws” as a shortcut to settle personal scores &/OR even as shortcut to settle disputes related to property that otherwise take decades in courts, one rape/molestation charge & the opposite party is put in lock-up without evidence (guilty unless proven innocent) by the time the guy proves his innocence he looses his social goodwill, business relationships & of-course a lot of money whereas the accuser has nothing to loose. the only recourse remains to file a defamation suit which we all know is the last priority in the judicial process & does not help to get back the reputation.

    This is not about chauvinism OR feminism, its just about humanism!

    we don’t need too many laws with even more interpretations, we need effective policing with a police staff that would be there for passion & career not just ‘Sarkaari naukri’

    • Gautam

      I agree with you , the certainty of punishment will be more deterrent than severity of the punishment.

  • Ruchi S

    let’s understand one thing – if Vishwamitra could be lured by Meneka, we cant expect the uneducated, underprivileged, high on drugs & alcohol men to be decent. the British left but they left the corrupt bureaucratic & political system for us. dont expect justice when women roam around in half clothes in busy market places, pubs – arouse men and then label themselves as ‘Devis’. The society we live in will take it’s time to cure and for that we women also need to play a part – don’t provoke the men and expect them to be non wild! Dont copy the West – there they are satiated on most areas. Let’s begin with ourselves while we ask for brutal punishment for rapists – which we should!

    • Hrishi

      Not every one who rapes a women is drunk and not every person who dresses in skirts are called half clothes. These same men and women watch bond movies where the bond girl is in skimpy clothes spending hundreds of rupees. Policing the way women dress is not the solution. And if that is the proposed solution, then i think you dont understand the problem good enough.

    • Shaman

      Ruchi, you should try reading the article again. You’re clearly making a case for “women staying at home at night, not drinking or wearing clothes of their
      choice, refraining from making their own sexual decisions.” Which dilutes the point of all these protests. And please let’s not blame the Brits once again. When will my fellow Indians stop blaming foreigners/others and tackle the problem head on? You write, “The society we live in will take it’s time to cure…” But how will this change come about if we don’t make an effort to change mindsets starting now? Punishment is only one part of the solution. Despite the most rigorous punishments, murder is still a problem. The issue is one of law enforcement and the general Indian attitude towards the weak and defenseless, women included. And your opening statement, “if Vishwamitra could be lured by Meneka, we cant expect the uneducated,
      underprivileged, high on drugs & alcohol men to be decent” reeks of cowardice. That is a terrible excuse for lacking self-control. They must be told in no uncertain terms that there are to be no transgressions whatsoever, inebriated or not, educated or not. Again goes back to law enforcement.

  • Harry

    Honey Singh’s lyrics are sexual harassment. The objection is not that people will listen to him and commit rape. I think people are angry that he actually has a song in his ‘back catalogue’ titled ‘balatkaari’ that glorifies rape. But he is not selling his music as adult entertainment or porn. It is friggin wedding music! Which has always been mind-numbing for me….atleast people now know what they are gyrating to.

  • http://twitter.com/myths123 Mythili P

    Hi Indrajit,

    Your article reflects your mindset of a person who does not not live in the real world. I will ask you for your views when someone plays that offensive song in a bus in front of any of your female relatives and leers at them. I’m sure your high falutin’ values of free speech will go out of the window. As a woman who lived in Delhi and does not anymore, I support any and all action that brings down crimes against women, including crackdown on offensive media content, tougher laws and better enforcement.

    Mindset change etc. will only come when people are afraid of the law and will teach their boys to not rape.

    Thanks,
    Mythili

  • Alpana.

    Just as we don’t tolerate derogatory remarks about people from different communities, we should also not tolerate texts that are derogatory towards women. Honey Singh’s lyrics are about sexual harrassment. The Pakistani group Zeest carries proudly the song ”Main Balatkari” on its website. On Pakistani TV serials, pejorative remarks about Hindus are made routinely. But we need to completely prohibit such comments and lyrics.

  • http://www.facebook.com/vijendra.bhat.9 Vijendra Bhat

    If the so called modern clothes are checked one thing will be certain, the amount of skin it covers for man and women will be different. More covering for man and less covering for women. Women are suggested to flaunt their curves in many a fashion articles. Everyone is trying their bit to look more beautiful. If beauty is only external, then the mindset will also be the same. What thinking takes inside the mind is not revealed to others and is kept secret.

    The brain of male and female species are wired in different ways. The male can be sexually stimulated by visual things alone but it is the not the case in general with the females. Otherwise who want to look desirable by their lovers need not try hard to impress visually. We have seen umpteen number of ads where a girl is accepted after becoming more beautiful by using certain products. The efforts are always by the women to be accepted, but inorder to get more business male beauty products are also launched to attract women.

    In the end, all the ads which are powerful communicators tell that the purpose is to attract the opposite sex. Then what after attraction is partially shown in our movies and what happens behind closed doors are in some manner are highlighted in movies. More detailed information is shown in pornographic movies. The effect of pornograpic movies is tremendous and many people believe it to be reality. The acts performed by porn stars are not possible by regular people, because the people in the porn industry are payed and its their job to perform. The people in the porn industry also lead a normal life with all the problems and sex is just their job.

    A uninformed person watching porn will come to a conclusion that all women like to have sex and the variations of porn being unlimited, the mind thinks every women to be craving for sex and can be easily obtained. But people with some information know reality can hold themselves from going on raping others. But the question that remains unanswered is whether the pornography, movies, ads are the reasons for rape. The answer is still not known. All these industries are multi billion dollar worth and holding them to a set of rules is not possible for neither a citizen or the governments of respective countries.

    The values instilled at a young age only can guide a person from becoming a rapist or any other kind of criminal. A saying in telugu tells “If a plant is not bent early on, it is not possible to bend it after it matures into a tree with a huge trunk.” The preteen life of a person is critical because the basic character of the person forms and if no proper guidance is provided then we can hope for more of criminals amongst us.

    If at all anyone has to be corrected then it is the responsibility of the soceity for having deviated from its principles has resulted in the sort of lives we live in, and blame at the weakest points. How to take on collective responsibility in a country like India where people in general like authority and not responsibility? If answer to this question is found, then golden age of India can be seen, and we can be a super power. Till then more of rape, corruption and other seasons will come and go.