Woman = Stigma
By Poonam I Kaushish
What is moral? And what constitutes morality? Do one’s morals end where another’s nose begins? Sizzling questions which strips our probity to the bare bone exposing a potent cocktail of raw naked sexual exploitation and power of the Ugly Vile Indian Male!
Else, how could we allow male predicators in positions of command and authority who seek sexual favours, politely called the ‘casting couch,’ in exchange for a role, job or career advancement from females to get away with it. Sic.
All hell broke loose when Bollywood dance choreographer Saroj Khan justified the casting couch asserting, “At least the industry provides employment. After all, it isn’t as if women are raped and abandoned. This has been going on since the beginning of time. Someone or the other tries to take advantage of every other girl. Even the Government (sic) does it.”
Thereby, opening the floodgates of accusations. Fed up of being solicited, Telugu actress Sri Reddy marched topless to Hyderabad’s Movie Artistes Association offices last weekend. Another Tamil actress tweeted her unsavoury experience with a leading TV channel programming head who had made suggestive comments, insinuating that she’d have to give in to his demands if they were to continue the work relationship.
Cooed Congress ex MP Renuka Chowdhary, “Parliament too is not immune to the casting couch, it happens all the time. It is time that India stood up and said “Me Too.” Recall, last year the West was abuzz with the “Me Too” movement by top film and TV actresses and models who squealed on how powerful movie mughal Harvey Weinstein had sexually abused them over 30 years highlighting the pervasive culture in Hollywood and institutional failures, with Governments and corporations failing to responds to women’s concerns.
Breaking the omerta code, all four bared the brutal truth around sexual harassment in India. Be it films, advertising, corporate world, business or politics sexual favours are rampant. Women complain of “couch” tactics to land a film, job, election ticket or political office. Not only are they asked to show lot of skin but visit ‘bosses’ and mai-baaps after work. In the advertising world colleagues’ comment that women should wear things that make them look luscious, some pinch while greeting you.
Exploitation is the name of the game and Swamis too are past masters harbouring a fondness for outright sexual exploitation of hapless women followers who come to them seeking solace from husband, family harassment or a child only to be blackmailed later with their nude photos. Thankfully, three such notorious Babas, Asaram Bapu, Guru Swami Nityanand’s and Ram Rahim are behind bars.
Sadly, in a culture where our male-dominated national narrative conditions people to think of women as playthings to be enjoyed and destroyed and where women have little or no cultural respect and are always blamed, any wonder anger and indignation is kept behind closed doors.
Raising a moot point: Why are women viewed as sex objects? A plaything of males to satisfy their libido and massage their egos?
Perhaps it has something to do with our patriarchal lineage and misogynistic culture. A culture that believes that women are second class citizens. Cooed a politician, “The more skin women show it is like if there’s gasoline, there will be fire. If there’s spilt sugar, ants will gravitate towards it for sure.” Disgusting, to say the least.
More. When it comes to the paarde-ke-piche-choli-ke-neeche antics of our menfolk, most claim that given our traditionally open society sex is a part of our heritage and needs to be guarded with all the vigour at their command. How can you talk morals in the land of Khajurao?
Not a few women complain that they are viewed as sex objects and mince-meat for male lust camouflaged as human animals. To rise professionally they need a ‘godfather’ who can make or break them. Comply or reconcile to battling it out at every level.
Clearly, in a society heavily loaded in favour of men, several women who face sexual abuse at work stay quite in order to avoid further harassment and unwanted attention. Or are hesitant to speak out fearing they will be dubbed ‘loose charactered’ at best or ostracized at worst. Either which way the damage is done.
For those who enjoy the ruinous events now unfolding in the country, there is some good news! The end of the tragedy is nowhere in sight. The bad news? It’s simply a system’s failure! They collectively assert. Who failed the system? Not the politician, bureaucrat or police. All point an accusing finger at each other. Nevertheless, everyone is agreed that there is something rotten in the State of Denmark! And we call ourselves a civilised society!
Alas, policies to deal with sexual harassment are either absent or weak. Till 1997, India had no explicit laws against workplace sexual harassment. In 2013, Parliament passed the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act. This was widely ignored and hardly implemented.
In 2015, when Union Minister Maneka Gandhi wanted to make it mandatory for companies to disclose whether they have put in place a committee to inquire into sexual harassment complaints of women employees, her request was turned down by colleague Arun Jaitley. Unsurprisingly, surveys have found that sexual harassment is widespread in Indian workplaces.
What next? We need to ensure systematic education of children to make certain they will respect women. Our learning process needs to emphasise the importance of gender equality and eradicate the sick male mindset. A girl’s need for employment, fair play, dress, time and place should not be made an excuse to use her. Alongside, we need to change our approach to sexual harassment. Another option is radical feminism to make a social impact.
Also, sexually harassed women must speak up as it will make more people aware and come out in support thereby help in taking collective action. If they continue to suffer in silence, they only encourage men to continue their crime. Undoubtedly, the right groundwork must be laid for women to work in a safe and secure work environment and an orientation session for men and women on what constitutes sexual harassment.
In an milieu which has systematically obliterated morality and where incidents of moral turpitude pervade country-wide tough times call for tough action. Undeniably, we need to cry a halt to women being playthings of voyeuristic men. Time is ripe for a revolutionary change. The Constitution has given equal rights to women. Merely mouthing platitudes of freedom will no longer work. By remaining silent spectators we are only encouraging rowdyism and its practioners to get away.
The strength of democracy and the quality of life enjoyed by the fairer sex is largely determined by the ability of the people specially males to look at women as equal partners with equal rights fighting for a rightful place in society. Men need to change their moribund mindset and thinking. Will women continue to constitute the weaker gender to be used and discarded? Will the fair sex continue to rot in silence at the hands of lecherous men? Will we break new ground and unshackle women? A time to introspect — Apradhikaran akhir kab tak? —— INFA