While one could dismiss his rants as that of a publicity-seeking pervert, what about the observations made by so-called ‘saner voices’? Consider what youth icon and bestselling author, Chetan Bhagat, had to say in his column when he advised young men and women who stormed the streets of Delhi to voice their outrage: “Don’t just laugh at anyone who says women should cover up and not venture out at night. Suggest that while this old belief may come from a place of practical reality, this cannot be the primary solution. I am not saying these people are not regressive. However, if you want change, be inclusive.”
Bhagat misses the point – the movement mounted by the youth is already an 'inclusive' one. As a New York Times article pointed out “(Jyoti Pandey) who died after being gang-raped and attacked with a metal rod on a moving bus in New Delhi on December 16, has become a symbol of all that is wrong with how India treats its women and girls. But until December, she had been an example of something very different: of how far ambition, hard work and parental love can remove one generation from the rural poverty that is the lot of most of India’s 1.2 billion people.” Jyoti had overcome her poverty, humble beginnings and the demeaning caste system to become part of a young India that is technologically savvy and is in sync with global traditions. The youth are not just fighting for equal rights for women but for the dignity of all 'men and women' regardless of their position, power, income class or social standing. What can be more inclusive than that?
In fact, the sustained campaign in the aftermath of the Delhi rape, on Facebook and Twitter, has led to unprecedented coverage in the press and on TV news channels, resulting in the government shedding its lackadaisical approach. For the first time in the history of Indian media, social networking sites have taken the lead in analysing the government’s response to the situation on a day to day basis.
But by no means was this the first instance of a social media-engineered campaign. Three years ago a right-wing group let loose a reign of terror by attacking pub-going women in the city of Mangalore and threatened more such attacks in other cities. Outraged, some young women banded together and launched a “Consortium of Pub Going, Loose and Forward Women” and hit back hit back with the Pink Chaddi Campaign. The audacious campaign – which involved women sending pink chaddis (panties) to the leader of the right-wing group to protest against his anachronistic views – soon went viral and hundreds of women sent in pink underwear as a form of a non-violent protest.
Bollywood films, too, have come under scathing attack from the Facebook-ing youth of India. A recent film which was made by the young and talented Imtiaz Ali, Cocktail, used an age-old Hindi film trope: Indian men prefer the chaste, god-fearing and family-oriented girl to the modern smoking/drinking/fun loving girl (read: slut). Far from being a crowd-pleaser, the film got slammed by the very audience it was targeted at: the youth.
Bollywood, which has never missed an opportunity to cash in on “public attention”, has wisely stayed away from turning the gangrape into yet another crass, commercial venture. Maybe because they have gauged the mood of their target audience – the youth? Maybe not. But it definitely has forced some in the industry to pause for reflection as a recent interview in The Times of India with upcoming director Abhishek Kapoor shows: “Indian cinema has a big influence on today’s youth. …Like when you talk about item numbers, and the way the woman is paraded… but we sell it, in Bollywood…But on some level, you are titillating the audience and putting these things in their head that it’s OK. Indians love films. But there are a lot of uneducated people out there, and jobless, they do not know right from wrong, and sometimes they emulate what they see on screen.”
Or as Shabana Azmi, actor and activist points out: “When in item numbers, slices of the body are focused on, and the angles are only about the swiveling hips and the swinging navel, you make the woman surrender her autonomy to the male gaze. I ask heroines to make an informed choice... Just because Salman Khan takes off his shirt in every film to show his six-pack abs, they can't do the same! It's not kosher for a woman to be commodified just because a man is too! Instead of mindlessly dancing to the item numbers, listen to the words, focus on your collaboration in that process... We are not giving a single thought to what we are projecting. We have to start by realizing, we are all culpable.”
It’s high time that Bollywood ‘resets’ its attitudes towards entertainment or it might risk losing the audience that it craves – the young Indians.
Read part I of this post: "Mulling the Role of Indian Media in the Aftermath of a Horrific Rape"