The December 16 gang-rape of a paramedical student outraged India and led to a series of nationwide protests. For the first time, Indian women and their issues got prominence in public discourse. The media, TV shows, politicians, even the everyday public discussions started taking into account the status of women in the country. All of this was supposedly aiming for a safer and better India for women. Thus, it seemed obvious that in the 16th Lok Sabha elections, the contesting political parties would definitely target women voters, encourage women leadership and focus on women related issues.
Apparently women are largely missing in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections, both as contenders and voters. However, their presence remains imperishable in the never-ending sexist jokes and comments by Indian politicians. Their objectification remains persistent in our media and their submissive role and sexual violence against them continues to be upheld by Indian TV Shows.
Through the TV shows, the Indian news channels and the 16th Lok Sabha elections, there is a pattern of double-standard and hypocrisy that is noticeable. I am particularly disturbed by one TV show that has an amazing audience response, not only inside India but also among the Indian families abroad, especially in United Kingdom. I was genuinely shocked at the patriarchal representation of women, the subtle and most of the times the systematic violence against women that the show promotes, while ironically the serial aims at creating awareness about a particular system of oppression against women.
Rangrasiya is set in a small village of Birpur where every year a girl is wed-off to a man across the border. The show’s lead Paro is saved from this forceful marriage by Major Rudra Pratap. While the Major is able to save the girl from a forceful marriage, he loses his job in a series of events that follow. He holds the girl responsible and makes her go through organised mental and physical torture. And while Major saves Paro from a forceful marriage, he in turn forcefully marries her.
However, we should not forget the fact that Major Pratap loves Paro and with all the torture that he put her through, she loves him back. Thus while the show itself aims to create awareness about a custom and culture of oppression in a village where girls are married against their consent, it goes on to reinforce and justify systematic abuse and violence against women in a romantic setting.
What is the similarity between the Indian sitcoms and the political leaders in this year’s Lok Sabha elections? Despite extensive discourse on women empowerment, in ending oppression against women and extending security, the rhetoric continues to be largely against them.
Thus like majority of the Indian TV serials, the Indian politicians objectify women, perpetuate the sick idea that rape against women is their fault, in fact, promote the notion that rape comes with a “choice”- to enjoy rape or to foolishly condemn it and make a big deal about it. After all, “Ladkon se aisi galtiyan ho jati hain, to iska matlab yeh to nahi ki unhe phaansi de di jaaye (Boys make mistakes, but this doesn’t mean you hang them),” said Mulayam Singh Yadav, chief of ruling party of Uttar Pradesh Samajwadi Party(SP) defending rapists, at a rally in his home state Uttar Pradesh.
Furthermore Samajwadi Party’s Abu Azmi added to Mulayam’s comments by saying that raped women should be hanged along with the rapists. He went on to comment, “If any woman, whether married or unmarried, goes along with a man, with or without her consent, she should be hanged. Both should be hanged. It shouldn’t be allowed even if a woman goes by consent.”
But comments like these are not restricted to politicians from one political party. In an attempt to create awareness about what a rape victim goes through, PC Sorcar, the Bharatya Janta Party’s(BJP) candidate from West Bengal condemned the Bengal Chief Minister, Mamta Banerjee, saying “She says those who have raped, they are naughty boys. I ask her, if she is raped. What will she do?”
When Trinamool Congress candidate from West Bengal, Dev was asked if he was enjoying the political rallies, he said, “It’s just like being raped. You can shout or you can enjoy it.” BJP MLA, Heeralal Regar said that Sonia Gandhi and her son should be stripped and sent back to Italy while Shakeel Saifi of Bahujan Samaj Party branded Arvind Kejriwal an “item girl” for the Congress.
In her recent visit to India, Gloria Steinem said, “I came [to India] and what was here a half-a-century ago is still here… and yet there is everything else.” Women continue to be passive citizens in India, thus in an important election as Loksabha while women constitute 49% of the voters, leaders like Mulayam who traditionally target male voters do not feel the slightest risk of losing female votes as he publicly promises to nullify the recently passed stringent anti-rape law.
Women continue to be reduced to their traditional roles and it is firmly advocated that they should live under a man’s protection rather than as individuals with their own rights and individuality. In BJP Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi’s, hi-profile ad campaign they show a mother asking the question, “Did I make a mistake by sending my daughter to the city?”
Women continue to be victims of systematic rapes and assaults in riots and these are boldly justified in cruel words like, “Every action has an equal and opposite reaction,” (Modi commented upon the Gujarat riots of 2002). And women continue to be praised in India for all the wrong reasons, for their submissiveness, for their inability to assert themselves both at workplace or home, their loyalty to a husband or boyfriend who is abusive. The chronic patriarchy of double standards and hypocrisy runs through our entire society.