Sep 262014
My column in the DNA, earlier this week
The Times of India’s stand is pretty much the same as that of khap panchayats – she was wearing revealing clothes, therefore she asked for it
  • PTI

Last week, the Times of India, that claims to be the most read English daily in the world, peeked down actor Deepika Padukone‘s dress and put up content titled “OMG – Deepika Padukone’s Cleavage Show”. Ms Padukone, unlike most who grin and bear this sort of intrusion into personal space, hit back in a series of tweets that essentially took the news brand to task, in no uncertain terms.

In a Facebook post that has attracted over 2000 comments and over 150,000 likes (at the time of writing), Ms Padukone says, “I am not naive about my own profession; it is one that requires lots of demanding things of me. A character may demand that I be clothed from head to toe or be completely naked, and it will be my choice as an actor whether or not I take either. Understand that this is a ROLE and not REAL, and it is my job to portray whatever character I choose to play convincingly.”

And then the TOI decided to explain itself: “Deepika, we accept your reel vs real argument, but what about all the times, and there have been many, when you have flaunted your body off screen – while dancing on stage, posing for magazine covers, or doing photo ops at movie promotional functions? What ‘role’ do you play there? So why the hypocrisy?”

Well, since the old lady of Bori Bundar has asked, I thought I would help them understand the most basic aspect of women’s rights. And that is actually just one word – one simple yet elegant word – consent. Consent, very loosely defined, is permission or assent. Has the person in question said yes? At a second level is a related question, just as equally valid in the context of women’s rights: “Do women have the rights over their own body?” When a woman says no, no matter who she is, does it a) mean yes? And, as importantly, b) is she going to be judged by what else she says when she says no?

It is all very well to say, you are flaunting your body, albeit in a different context and therefore it is all right for us to intrude on your privacy, and use your body to our advantage. But at a very fundamental level, this is pretty much the same argument that we have been hearing from every regressive element in the Indian ecosystem. What the paper and everybody else needs to understand is that it is very clearly a matter of a woman’s right over her body and her consent for anyone else having a right over it.

The response of the TOI on the Deepika Padukone issue occupies the same space as a famous film scene. In the film Dostana starring Amitabh Bachchan, Zeenat Aman and Shatrugan Sinha, Zeenat Aman plays a modern woman who wears a bikini and a sarong at a beach. When ‘eve-teasers’ whistle at her, she complains to the policeman (played by Amitabh Bachchan). His retort is, “Aap aise kapde pehen kar ghar se niklengi toh ladko ke seeti nahi toh kya mandir ki ghantiyaa bajengi?” (if you wear such clothes and leave your home, what do you expect men to do – whistle or ring the temple bell). Today, we can look back at these lines and say regressive, regressive attitude, blaming the woman for violence and the rest. And we would be right. What do you say to the leading English language daily?

It looks like almost three decades later nothing has changed. It is the same argument that is being used. Today, when we talk about women saying no to sex and then being forced, or to being groped, or being whistled at, the same set of counter arguments pop up.  The argument, whether made by a leading English daily or by the head of a khap panchayat, ‘but she was asking for it’ needs to be treated with the same contempt that you would have for a traditionally dressed woman or man, who with the full fire of righteousness, and in an Indian language tells you that girls who don’t cover up their bodies will be prey to rapists If that had been the case, we could be sure that all of us, including the newspaper in question – would have outraged over medieval attitudes and patriarchal behaviour.

This entire argument goes beyond Deepika Padukone and into the space of women and media created perceptions. I would argue that it is not Bollywood or item numbers that demean women, rather it is these sorts of attitudes that do. When a leading newspaper tells ‘you that you flaunt you body, therefore we can peep into your cleavage’ it is far more dangerous than the head of a feudal setup saying something similar. We know we should oppose the latter as it is antediluvian and archaic insofar as its perception of women is concerned. But, what about the former? If the feudal organisations think of women as their property, this treats women as much the same. And frankly, there is not much to choose from between the two ways of seeing women. Except that one is in English and the other is in an Indian language.


A ‘roadside romeo’ is lumpen, but a media house peeking down a woman’s cleavage is ‘respectable’.
A khap panchayat that says a woman must be well covered to avoid rape is regressive, and a leading English daily which asks but if you flaunt it anyway, why do we need your consent?
No means no, except when we understand it as yes .

I agree with one point in the TOI article, and that is it reeks of hypocrisy. Unfortunately, it is not the hypocrisy of Ms Padukone, but of the media outlet. When the largest English Language daily in India justifies the invasion of the body of a woman – without consent – you should hardly be surprised that you have a system that justifies rape.

Jun 252012

My column in today’s DNA


Psychiatry identifies a condition called Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), popularly known as Multiple Personality Disorder, in which two or more distinct identities or personalities compete with each other to take charge of the patient’s behaviour. If you were an alien observing the Indian media to observeIndia, you wouldn’t be wrong in assuming that there is a severe case of DID that requires urgent attention and treatment.

Indians especially those of us living in cities and working in relatively high paying jobsseem to suffer from acute multiple personality syndrome when it comes to India and our fellow citizens. There is one personality that sees Indiataking her place at the high table of world powers. There is another personality that thinks that India’s poor are people from another country and another time. There is a third personality that believes that rules should be applied uniformly and the corrupt should be locked up and the keys thrown away. And then to counter that there is a fourth personality that believes that it is completely all right for them to jump the red light and slip the traffic policeman a fifty rupee note along with their licence. There is a fifth personality that will use every contact, every piece of influence in their larger family and friend circle to get their kids into elite schools

and colleges or jobs. And a sixth personality that chaffs at

the concept of reservations. There is another personality that will sit in its comfortable drawing room and talk about how wonderful it is that people from other countries turn up in large numbers to protest against their government or participate in the electoral process, and to counter that is a personality that will send SMS’s or press like buttons in lieu of participation and plan a holiday on election weekend.  And of course there is a personality that moans at the non application of rules and the reign of goonda raj where the rich and powerful reign. And there is another personality that outrages that  officials – especially police officials – applying the rules without prejudice are puritans from another century or the Taliban from another country. All these personalities and opinions reside within a single person. If it was spread across the country you would call it diversity. But, within one person it seems like a serious problem that requires some concerted psychiatric care.

There is nothing that exemplifies this affliction more than the recent fracas in Mumbai over police raids on watering holes, night clubs and bars. At one level you have had the media and citizen groups that have gone hammer and tongs at the system not sending people to prison when laws are violated, at the other there is outrage when these laws are applied to them.

Mumbai has some of the most archaic rules that govern alcohol and nightlife. Everyone needs a permit to drink alcohol – a permit that states that you need alcohol for medicinal reasons; essentially a permit that declares you an alcoholic. This permit requirement goes back to 1949 – the Bombay Prohibition Act – which no one has bothered to repeal .There are three things that policeman can do in a situation like this. One is ignore the law and do nothing. The second is take money and look the other way. The third is doing something about it. There are many who advocate option one. But, the job of the policeman is not to interpret the law – that is the job of courts, nor is it to make the law – that is the role of legislators. The Policeman’s role is to implement the law.

We keep using the West as an example – in the west establishments breaking overcrowding rules will be penalised. Those that serve alcohol without license will be fined. Those that serve the underage alcohol will be shut down. Teenagers caught with traces of narcotics will end up with a jail record. Parents who take their underage kids into night clubs will be prevented from entering the establishment. There is something called the rule of law and it is obeyed. . And when the law is wrong, as in many cases it can be, groups of citizens lobby their elected representatives to change it.  They get involved. There is a conversation, it is a process.

There are just too many laws and rules that govern us, and many of them violate our personal rights and personal space. Those laws need to go. But, we need to be conscious that our rights are in relation to the rights of others, and not absolute in themselves and vice versa.  It is important  that we sit down together and find solutions. Vilifying policemen who carry out the law is not conversation. It is a tantrum of those who ask ‘how dare anyone ask us what we do’, at the same time as raging against those who do the same.