A couple of years ago, I was stunned to read that a judge in Australia, let a serial stalker off without a conviction after the offender maintained that his “cultural background” led to his disgusting behaviour toward women. He was being tried for stalking, threatening and intimidating women. The judge agreed with his defence that years of watching Bollywood movies where the “hero” stalks women, threatens self harm if she does not immediately fall in love with him had warped his sense of appropriateness!
On surface it seems like this guy had a hell of a lawyer, who spun a convincing argument and got his client a great deal. But, there is an element of truth in the tale- movies are a great cultural barometer- reflecting attitudes & behaviours, influencing thought & action and often giving fodder to our wishful thoughts. Maybe in a country, where a large part of the population live in poverty, these celluloid fantasies are an escape from drudgery. And for the young, an aspirational guide- and if this is true, it is bloody scary!
Think of the role models they are getting and in a society where normal friendships with the opposite sex is frowned upon for a large percentage, perhaps films are their only avenue of getting to know 50% of the population.
A whole 3 or 4 generations of Indian film heroes have wooed women by stalking them, terrorising them or threatening them. Some of the most popular song sequences are set around the stalk scenes and to top it all, the “girl” is most frequently portrayed as faking her anger while being secretly happy- A song that comes to mind is Dev Anand’s “pal bhar ke liye koi hamey pyar kar le….” where he creepily peeks into several windows while Hema Malini is trying to change and as she goes around shutting the 5 million windows and doors she giggles and even starts humming the song!
One particularly disgusting stalk-love tale is a ghastly 80’s movie, Maqsad, where the super rich suitor Rajesh Khanna, stalks poor but gorgeous Sridevi relentlessly, to the extent of turning up in a car of the same color as the sari she wears. In the cult classic Tezaab, the protagonist dupes a girl into falling in love with him and then when she is heartbroken, he turns remorseful and threatens self harm “forcing” her to fall in love. These are a tiny, tiny sample of warped plotlines- there are literally hundreds more along the same vein.
While they give men the wrong game plan to woo women, they give women an even more warped sense of behaviour that is acceptable. Women have been shown to accept and even welcome terrible behaviour, waiting patiently for their man to reform. Rich, beautiful and successful women fall inexplicably in love with hoodlums, unemployed rowdy types- this was typical in all 80’s & 90’s movies. Women with “modern” ideas and behaviours learnt the error in their ways. In more recent movies, successful and strong women have suddenly lost their independence when they fall in love. Inexplicably many strong female roles turn mushy to ensure the “hero” can come and rescue them from all evil in the end…
And to add to this mix, a whole generation of young girls see the super successful actresses gyrate to ugly “item” songs and do not even recognise that women are demeaned even further with disgusting lyrics calling on men to bite her like a chicken leg, stick to her like fevicol or have their merry way because she’s high on weed.
Where are we celebrating healthy relationships, equal relationships? Where are the role models of acceptable behaviour?
It has been 2 years since the Nirbhaya incident shocked the nation- there were candlelight vigils, songs written about her and a whole slew of stars who ranted about the injustice. But what actually happened, where is the change?
ANSWER: There is none- because until each and every person acknowledges, accepts and advocates equity and respect, there will be no change.
Parents have to teach their sons to respect girls from infancy, treat their sons and daughter’s exactly the same way. Men have to treat their wives, sisters and mothers with respect- demonstrating the behaviour they want to see in their sons.
The legal system has to get its act together and come down swiftly on any infringement. A young man does not go out and rape on day 1, he starts with smaller infractions- punish the small ones and prevent the bigger crime.
And more importantly, the message has to be constantly reinforced, not just when an incident happens.
In the aftermath of the recent Bangalore mass molestation episode, every single celebrity has come out and spoken against it, which is great, but why just now? Why not extol your fans and followers to demonstrate their respect for women at other times? Don’t tell men they need to “protect” women from preying men, tell them not to prey on them in the first place. Tell your fans and followers to not stand by quietly when they see an atrocity- ask them to speak up.
And please shaming does not work- all those images of women stripping and beating men with brooms are disgusting. Lasting social change comes about when the hearts and minds of people are changed. We all need to be part of the change- in small and big ways.
- Do not employ underage children for home help and work, encourage their parents to educate them. If you can afford to, support them by paying for food or books or help with studies.
- Support women run enterprises, there are many social enterprises like spice grinding, catering, stitching, floral work that are run by underprivileged women- often going against their families. Buy from them and encourage the work.
- Ask your driver, office boys or other male employees if they are educating their girls.
- Do not instil fear in your daughters, by telling them how there are big bad guys out there. Instead teach them how to stay alert and stay safe. Teach them to call out bad behaviour.
- Call out bad behaviour, do not be reluctant to create a scene if someone heckles or cat calls. Bullies retreat when challenged.
- Do not tolerate bad behaviour even among friends and family. If some one is nasty to their wife or children or demeaning to women and girls, call them out on this.
- Don’t be critical of some one helping the women in their families, or tease or joke about them. Cooking and cleaning or child minding are things that need doing, not just by one gender. If you see someone helping, recognise that they are doing the right thing!
- Support the art world- they are doing a lot in this space and getting the message out!
Hoping that 2017 will bring about the change that is long over due!