Slaps and slights

09 June,2024 01:12 AM IST |  Mumbai  |  Paromita Vohra

A Kangana Ranaut clip encouraging Pahadi women to give every champu a pahadi thappad circulated soon after

Illustration/Uday Mohite

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Should Kulwinder Kaur have slapped Kangana Ranaut? At the press conference on stock market scam allegation, should Rahul Gandhi have said the reporter Mousumi was expressing the BJP's party line when she asked if the Opposition demands for JPCs to waste taxpayer money? Are these the relevant questions? Or do we need a different type of question?

Glee suffused social media in response to Kulwinder Kaurs's slap, followed by sheepish propriety. There was confusion about the appropriateness of a person in uniform losing crossing a line. But, as a beautiful line I just read in a book review said: Every categorical declaration and moral certainty eventually winds up at war with the story of some real individual. Yaniki, it's complicated.

A Kangana Ranaut clip encouraging Pahadi women to give every champu a pahadi thappad circulated soon after. But it's not about thappads is it? It's about the fact that Kangana has been a diligent instrument of violence for the ruling party. She has fueled toxicity, hatred, othering and perverse arguments as drumbeats for actual violence. She has done so as part of the cultural penumbra of a government that bulldozes Muslim homes, permits lynchings, acquits rapists, permits trolling of young women who express their views online with death threats and rape threats, and never responds with empathy to people's movements or hardships.

Kangana did not critique the farmers' movement on points of principle. She denigrated the women sitting on protest - of whom Kulwinder Kaur's mother was one - as rentable for 100 rupees, only because they stood against the government. Will anyone ask Kangana a question about what happens when you help architect a world of violence instead of empathy and mutual consideration? Kulwinder Kaur was suspended for the tangible slap. Who will hold Kangana to account for her intangible but real violence?

That would be difficult for our mainstream media to do because it would require them to re-frame the debate and see things, at least for a moment from Kulwinder Kaur's point of view; not to chase simplistic judgements but explore the complexities of the issue; the why of it.

Similarly, if reporters merely repeat the dismissals of the BJP as questions, when Opposition leaders raise issues, are they not merely following the terms of reference set by the ruling party? Where are their own questions to help viewers understand the issue and decide for ourselves?

The media's sycophancy is not the only thing that has destroyed public debate in the last decade. It's that they have reduced every debate to binaries thereby making any real discussion possible. They have disconnected incidents from contexts - when it is in the connections that political questions lie.

Last week, we were introduced to a young man called Deshpremee on Samdish Bhatia's documentary-on-the-go YouTube show. The 18-year-old from Darbanga, painfully hesitant, painfully malnourished so his body is that of the child, was a piercing and heartbreaking confrontation with the inequality and suffering in our country.

But our debates are framed by the liberal or conservative desires of urban elites, not the truths of those who suffer what is bracketed as "rural distress". They go out not to save some abstract idea of India but, in hope to save themselves.

Now that debates feel possible, our political endeavours must lie not in whose side they take, but how these debates can be reframed to reflect what matters most.

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

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