India Responds

I’m an avid watcher of NDTV’s “We The People“. Barkha Dutt, the host of the debate show, talks about current affairs with six to eight panellists who are invited for every discussion. The panel usually consists of politicians, social scientists, academicians, social workers and celebrities, depending on the topic of discussion. There is also an audience which often poses questions directly to the panellists.

Of course, the issue of rape in India was a hot topic which lead to several episodes surrounding it from capital punishment to the portrayal of women in Indian cinema. The topic of Bollywood item songs came into the picture because people were linking the objectification of sexually attractive Indian women in racy songs that have little or nothing to with the Indian film to the rise of rape across the country.

I don’t know how I feel about that statement. To say that there is a direct correlation between the portrayal of women in India movies/item songs and rape is too simplistic. But there is no denying the fact that the hypersexualization of women in media contributes to gender violence among other factors like rape culture, patriarchy, sexism etc. It’s all those things working together that accounts for India’s ridiculously high rape rates.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with a woman being sexual on screen, but the manner in which it is conveyed is important to note. Shabana Azmi speaks to this perfectly: “But when we talk about item numbers, there are item numbers and then there are item numbers, and it would be wrong to make sweeping generalizations that all of them are bad. When you have an item number like Beedi Jalaile, for instance, which is based in our folk tradition and is robust and really celebrating women’s sensuality, that’s welcome and completely different from some of the item numbers today that are downright debasing. It is in the intention of the filmmaker. It is perfectly possible to be completely vulgar with a woman fully dressed, and it is perfectly possible to be artistic if the woman is completely naked. Voyeuristic camera angles and vulgar lyrics do not empower a woman.

Also noteworthy:

Watch the debate here: Shabana Azmi FTW!

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