Paromita Vohra: Old whine in new media
There's a lot to be learned from the world of television soap operas about how to respond to accusations of sexual harassment
Arunabh Kumar, founder of TVF
There's a lot to be learned from the world of television soap operas about how to respond to accusations of sexual harassment.
For instance, you may note that when gents talk about rape and sexual harassment and evoke bloodthirsty ideas like castration and lynching, a chorus of approval rises around them, to indicate they are progressive and rational, if a tad passionate. It is similar to the percussive crescendo when the hero declares his nobility in a serial. If women suggest even imprisonment, or bring up misogyny and patriarchy, within one tweet-minute, a chorus of "radical feminist" "end-of-all-tradition" starts up. It's like ye olde K-serial vamp montage - tedha medha shots of a woman with an evil expression and a crooked bindi with reverbed soundtrack of "Daayan, daayan, daayan."
The next step is about logic, which, as you know, is the cornerstone of plotting in soap operas. Character analysis will be used to determine plausibility. People will say the man is good, a little rakish maybe but ladkon mein thodi shararat acchi cheez hai, dynamic, genius, unusual and, also, heats the biryani when guests visit. The woman is attention-seeking, neurotic, disaffected, characterless. Yes, soap operas work by emotional logic. Did you ask whose emotions? Daayan, daayan, daayan!
Who says these stories aren't based on research and reality. For instance, in 1992, Bhanwari Devi, a social worker, was gang raped by upper caste men in Rajasthan for trying to stop a child marriage.
In her failed attempts for justice, defence included, that being upper caste proved that the men were incapable of rape. A policemen had remarked, who would rape a middle-aged woman? But, now, it's new media ka zamana. Fresh blood, fresh stories, hai na? Let's see.
When Arunabh Kumar, founder of TVF, was accused of sexual harassment, their first response was — no such woman exists. Plus, we're so successful, logically, folks will be jealous, nudge-nudge wink-wink. Yaniki — this is just the black magic of some daayan because mere bete se sab jalte hain.
Can accusations of sexual harassment sometimes be rooted in confusion or misinterpretation? Sure. They combine unspoken or implicit contexts but also specific acts which add up to harassment. These are things which committees are meant to assess and decide on. Till they do, what else is there to discuss - and why?
Last week, following the accusation of sexual harassment against one of the co-founders of ScoopWhoop, internal correspondence, which has become public (must be jadu tona again), has another co-founder offer proof of their exemplary behaviour (how can such nice people do bad things, like Bhanwari Devi's alleged rapists), and absence of proof of the complainant's uneasiness.
While the letter declares the complainant will not be named, she is in fact identified through every inference possible. While claiming to prove amity, the correspondence spends some time saying the complainant was not doing well at work, folks disliked her, and when she resigned some people withdrew their resignations.
Intentional or not, it's a bit like those old K-serials, this making eyes and implications by daayan-vamp, while stringing beans with bhabhi-sa, to poison her mind against the righteous rival. Why not wait for the committee to do its work? Because, if not, then it's just old whine in new media.
Paromita Vohra is an award-winning Mumbai-based filmmaker, writer and curator working with fiction and non-fiction. Reach her at www.parodevipictures.com