The horrific incident of a Malayalam actress being molested inside her car made me hang my head in shame – first as a male, and then as a Malayali. I always prided myself of the fact that my ancestral origins are from the state of Kerala (where the Nair community follows a matrilineal tradition), but not anymore. Also Kerala still remains one of the most literate states of the country, but is obviously happy to be in the same statistically repulsive comparative chart as the badlands of Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, when it comes to safety of women!
But this is the case with not just a few states of our country. Even the ostensibly benign concrete jungles of Mumbai have now turned into a happy hunting grounds for bestial monsters, who walk around in the guise of virile men! For the hundreds of cases that do get registered every day, there are thousand others which do not get reported, mainly due to the attached stigma and inconvenience it causes the victim, and in many cases due to lethargic policemen refusing to register a case. Personally, I hold even eve-teasing on par with molestation – after all the double-entendre laced verbal diarrhea, unleashed on an unsuspecting female by the molester is just another manifestation of vocal and virtual violation! To a large extent I would lay the blame for this on the way boys are brought up in our country. Apotheosis of sons by traditional Indian mothers, who willingly forgive and overlook all transgressions by their male progeny is saddening. Sons are free to have innumerable affairs, only to eventually dump their girlfriends, so as to marry a girl of his mother’s choice. Daughters are taught to remain and operate “within boundaries” (set by fathers and brothers), but no such confines exist for sons. Sons involved in eve-teasing (or even more odious crimes) are given a gentle slap on the wrist, while the female victim is commanded to dress “appropriately”, to avoid such incidents. A random look at the statements made by some of our male politicians after any such incident is ample proof of degeneracy. One minister from the ruling party in Kerala brushed aside the unfortunate case involving the actress, describing it as an “one-off case”, conveniently overlooking the nauseating fact that a rape takes place in Kerala every six hours!
The blame also lies in the portrayal of women in our movies and TV serials. At best, our movies have passed off women as arm-candy, while glorifying stalking and eve-teasing as some kind of a harmless “fun” activity that all men indulge in. Things are a bit (only a bit) better in the movies made by the current lot of young directors, but strong women-oriented themes are few and far between in our movies. Television, which could have been a harbinger and path-breaker in this respect, has taken women’s empowerment a few centuries back, with their hackneyed plotlines that relegate women to being schmaltzy homemakers. Or in rare cases, a soppy and weak professional who always needs the hero’s strong arms (I have never figured out why all TV serial heroes need to be buffed up, with six-pack abs being an absolute necessity) to rescue her from unimaginatively clichéd domestic situations. Three currently running serials come to mind – one (written by a well-known male author of racy romances) has a total mamma’s boy as the hero, who distrusts the woman who he loves and later marries, to eventually dump her for his mother. He blatantly continues to stalk the heroine to confirm if she has a new man in her life, and the other characters (except the heroine’s father) are perfectly fine with it! In another (which stars a family friend of ours), the heroine is regularly insulted and constantly berated by her in-laws and other relatives, but silently bears it all. And her husband (the hero, also buffed up) remains a tacit and tongue-tied partner to this lambasting of his wife. In another upcoming serial, the hero equates housewives to working women, saying that both are exactly the same. But what about the financial independence and individuality that a working woman has, usually missing in a housewife’s mundane existence? Also, most of our advertisements objectify women to such an extent that fairness is promulgated as a benchmark for any girl to get married! These advertisements are surely being “unfair” to women.
And guess what – all these serials are popular and mostly consumed by homemakers who then, knowingly or unknowingly, pass on these misogynist views to their sons! Maybe not all mothers are like this (mine definitely was not), and maybe not all wives take things lying down (mine definitely does not), but it is more a rule than an exception. Bacha Khan’s view in this matter rings so true – If you want to know how civilized a culture is, look at how they treat its women. Unfortunately, there is no app for the thing called “respect” – it has to come from within us men. After all, it is a woman who gave birth to you!