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Shuddh desi truths

Paromita VohraOh, another column on the Save our Sisters goddesses campaign. You may think that when you see this. Frankly that’s how I felt when I saw the first one ever.

For those who came in late, a social awareness campaign has been doing the rounds featuring very well-executed photographic replications of hand-painted goddess images. Except, each of the goddesses — Saraswati, Lakshmi, etc. — bears the signs of violent abuse. Some have a black eye, some a bruise, while some others have cuts.

Its creators, who are doubtless well-intentioned people who would truly like to raise discussion about the issue of violence against women, must feel they have come up with images that will shock and generate discussion.

But, of course, there is a great difference between discussion and reflection. All discussion do not automatically lead to change. Some discussions, in fact, ensure that nothing really changes and I’m afraid this is one of those.

When speaking about important social issues, a series of pre-fabricated stock positions are always available. You can quickly step into any of these positions to establish yourself as belonging to a certain way of thinking. To speak on behalf of women, immediately identifies you, today, as thinking, caring
and progressive. 

Paromita Vohra Opinion

There is a catalogue of things to say — castrate the rapists, save our sisters, make the laws stronger — whatever. You don’t really need to stop and think about the meaning of this.

Talking of women as victims changes nothing. When we talk about the victim we don’t really need to think because everyone knows the victim is a poor thing. By saying we want to save her we become the good guys. Honestly — where is the thinking in this? When we talk about victims, we don’t really talk about anything, we merely go through the motions of looking like caring people and comfortably avoid the uncomfortable anomalies of
our lives.

To establish women as devis — pure and good ones, not angry or powerful ones — is old hat. To want to protect them because poor good people deserve protection even older hat. And to object to this protection claptrap is slightly newer but also predictable hat.

This is how it has become very easy to talk about women, because you can speak so much and say nothing; you can avoid discussing the real issues in this issue-based story. 

What might have happened if the campaign had featured not devis, but devs, male gods?

Imagine: the image of a beatific god, a divine male with gently rounded cheeks, titled ‘Wife Beater’; or, a strapping god, masculine and high-minded, labelled ‘Emotional Abuser’; a mischievous god, personable, blue and twinkling, labelled ‘Serial Adulterer’. 

It’s shocking just to think about it, isn’t it? Because it forces us to re-examine an unquestioned catalogue of stock images, in which perpetrators and abusers look like asuras. Even though we all know the truth — that they look regular and often ideal. Desirable like your boyfriend; cute, like the colleague with whom you share a smoke; charming, like the friend’s husband who always notices your sari; engaged, like the artiste, who writes great books or makes paradigm shifting films; noble, like the boss who knows everyone’s children’s names; perpetrators may often look like gods, not demons. We all know, it is often the most popular chachaji or favourite cousin who ends up being the sexual abuser. But he looks so nice, seems so dev-like that no one believes the abused devi-girl, hai na?

Oh, but then who will save the status quo if we start to look at such shuddh desi truths in the eye?

Paromita Vohra is an award-winning Mumbai-based filmmaker, writer and curator working with fiction and non-fiction. Reach her at www.parodevi.com.

The views expressed in this column are the individual’s and don’t represent those of the paper. 

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