I wonder if all those who are demanding capital punishment for rape, will stop evading their taxes if tax evasion is made punishable by death. Demanding capital punishment, especially in the case of a crime which is tied to the very basis of the social structure — patriarchy and economic disparity — is just a way to absolve yourself of any responsibility in changing things while looking like you care.
Gendered violence — rape and domestic abuse — is underreported for a reason. Masculine violence is both glorified and institutionalised — and consequently, violence against women is hardly treated as crime, despite legislation. That our law itself distinguishes between eve teasing and sexual harassment makes the daily molestation of women sort-of excusable, instead of addressing a continuum where masculinity means asserting power by denigrating or oppressing others. Gendered violence comes into focus only when this violence takes the shape of a recognisable crime — death, or near-death, otherwise called murder.
Demanding capital punishment is to recognise the murder, but not acknowledge the nature of gendered violence. Telling other people what to do about a problem, establishes that you are not part of the problem, when, in fact, you are.
Thing is — I don’t want the Thane police chief to tell me to avoid night travel and carry red chilli powder (as if we didn’t know it’s our responsibility). I want to know what he’s thinking of doing to sensitise his department to make sense of a changing world and equip them to do their job well, in it.
I don’t want Salman Khan to say, “If not death they should be sentenced for life so they learn a lesson.” I want to hear him acknowledge the deep-rooted misogyny of his films and say that he will think of how his persona can be dabang in a way that does not involve objectifying women as much. I want to know how he’s going to set a good example to the millions of boys who look up to him. Deal, Salman bhai?
I don’t want successful indie filmmakers to shrug off the sexism and violence that their films glorify in the service of a clichéd cool. I want them to think about how their work practices and the poetic violence of their films stands for this aggressive masculine culture and see them do things differently, meaning, really, fundamentally, differently, as men.
I don’t want to hear my laddish friends dismiss the misogyny in Honey Singh’s lyrics because the music and rhythms and the local cultural references are so invigorating. I want Honey Singh to make fantastic songs about male angst and experience that do not involve asking a woman, “das de mainun ki hai rate.” Sure, sex is tangled up in thrilling threads of power play, but I’m sure men can imagine ways of expressing this that don’t involve crushing and objectifying women, sex and themselves.
And stop telling mothers to bring their sons up better. Tell fathers to set a good example. To explore ways of being men which don’t require asserting power over others as a fundamental affirmation. Teach them to find new ways of loving and being strong, instead of making them ashamed of sex or holding themselves up to punishing standards of what it means to be a successful man.
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.