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Indian Cinema responsible for current Rape Culture?

August 27, 2013

Beg to differ with that sorry.


Many years back when i was perhaps in school or college, i remember watching the scary Tamil picture ‘My dear Lisa.’  It is the story of a young girl who is gang-raped in a tourist lodge by a group of men who later murder her and her boyfriend.  The girl returns as a ghost and avenges every single villain in the movie.  The film was a run-away success even if the actors never got to become big stars.  My reaction as I recall on seeing the picture was one of utter disgust over anything.  It was a time in India when there were not many crimes taking place, not even terrorist attacks.  Many therefore were in awe of the ghost scenes in ‘Lisa’ which might sound silly now.  It was also a time when the satellite tv was not around yet or was still a baffling new concept and when watching films in VCR was considered a good recreation.  It was also the time Hollywood pictures like ‘The Omen’ and ‘The evil dead’ were making a come-back in Indian cinemas.  ‘Scary pictures’ were in vogue for a short time and this tamil picture ‘Lisa’ cashed in heavily on the current mood of our masses.  The combination of crime and horror was too much for our crowds to resist.

Ever since i have watched plenty of Indian pictures both Tamil and Hindi.  One thing that is common between Bollywood and the south Indian film industry is that, many of them have a rape scene tucked into the story which is unwarranted.  And in most cases it happens to be gang-rape by the baddies or the so-called villains. Never mind its a 2-minute scene after all.  But that 2-minute is gory enough in detail. I have never felt anything other than utter revulsion for such scenes but frankly how many of us stopped watching pictures for that reason?  The rape scene or rather the gang-rape scene came to be accepted as part and parcel of Indian cinema with time and thus the very crime rape got to become ‘an acceptable crime’ soon enough.

Noted Tamil novelist Sujatha who is no more, successfully penned scripts for many  tamil films that turned out to be super-hits.  He also reviewed pictures and gave some honest reviews/interviews in reputed tamil magazines.  One of them was on the national award winning tamil picture ‘Paruthi Veeran.’  Directed by Ameer who is known for his ribald dialogues and foul language and for stories based on natural settings as in real life, the film was a critically acclaimed one winning many laurels at national and international levels, and at the same time qualifying as a commercial success – a rare phenomenon in Indian cinema.

Our family friends went to see this picture in a drive-in seaside cinema in Chennai for the sake of ambiance for a week-end and left it half way unable to sit through the entire show for its crude and filthy language and violence content.  They found the  picture way too offending to their refined sensibilities.   The story narrates the lives of those living in the fringes of our society – the lowest illiterate class to be precise.  So the profane language could be somewhat expected and even excused.  But what was unnecessary was the way the film finished with an imposed gang-rape scene in the climax which the director could have done without.  it was horrible and writer Sujatha expressed these exact sentiments in his written interview on the picture on inflicting needless violence and wrongfully sensationalizing such a heinous crime in the minds of our peasant population (with the sole intention of making a quick mega buck).  Somehow to me the picture brought out the perverse side of the director Ameer himself.  This is not reality in Tamil Nadu – i mean not the film itself but the gang-rape culture; its like introducing a bad new trend, setting a wrong precedent, to our easily influenced masses to whom cinema remains a powerful medium of expression and communication.  Tamil Cinema has seen its golden days under revolutionary film directors like K. Balachandar who dealt with a range of taboo subjects even as early as in ’70s much advanced for those days, but none is as crass as ‘Paruthi veeran.’  I guess i would have liked the movie but for the gang-rape scene.

Rape is not a common crime in south India and especially in Tamil Nadu.   May be there are one or two sporadic cases but crimes happen everywhere not only in India.   Last it happened in Tamil Nadu and got reported extensively in the media was when the crime was committed in police custody atleast 20-25 years back in what was and is still infamously referred to as the ‘Chidambaram Padmini’ case.    The very law enforcement officials who were in charge of protecting and enforcing law and order in the range took it into their hands.    All the perpetrators of the crime were duly punished as per rulings in the court of  law although law took its own time to deliver justice.  The victim was rehabilitated eventually and there was media follow-up until she settled into routine married life at a later date.   But to my knowledge this is the one and only gang-rape case reported in recent TN history.  May be there were one or two tribal rape cases per year where again the weakest sections were exploited by those who held the power based mainly on caste prejudice.  While so I always felt that the gang-rape scenes of tamil films were and are nothing but unwarranted violent scenes forced on unsuspecting audience.  Why give ideas to the illiterate rural masses of our society whose everyday life is a struggle for survival and so full of misery?  These pictures are like a view for them into another world.  The pictures have a deep impact on these people for whom most often cinema is the only cheap entertainment available and who therefore take films rather too seriously and for not what they are – a mere means of recreation.

At the same time i have been coming across a spectrum of crimes committed against women by north Indian men from the states of Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand,  Chattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Bengal.  I am not for ploughing into needless regional politics – sometimes its just that brazen truth needs to be told in black and white.  These are the most backward, irresponsible and worst-administered states of India where all the development indices have been registering a poor or even negative trend and where statistics for all kinds of crimes is a steadily increasing graph year after year reflecting the undercurrent of violence and lawlessness characterizing the society.

These states also are mostly labour intensive by nature and labour suppliers to rest of India.  In the south, Andhra Pradesh could be the only chief source of labour.   These north and central Indian states also seem to practise the worst form  of Hindu culture in my opinion in which women are subjugated to a lower, inferior position in hierarchy of the family and society and where honour killings are not unknown and caste bias is  at its worst extreme.  Not to leave out a shocking rate of female infanticide and the incumbent result of appallingly falling male-female ratio.  Kangaroo courts are order of the day as also the gang wars among anti-social elements with some states also being terrorized by the Maoist rebels running a parallel government in the ‘red corrider.’  All these factors compound to the existing complexities many times over and the situation is vicious and grave. Until now the maoist naxals indulged only in abduction or killing of politicians, administrators and civil servants.  The Ranchi incident where the local woman constable was gang-raped could be the first time on record so to say that the maoists have engaged in brutalizing a woman in  this fashion setting a wrong precedent.    The motive in this case seems to be retribution, still a crime is a crime and gang-rape is not the normal kind of crime.

So from the data that my ‘mindbank’ stores from various news reports and tv bulletins I can put it across that mostly these criminals have broken homes, flawed or wronged upbringing, unhappy and unhealthy environment, come to hang out in gangs in ruins or dilapidated structures that become their prowling grounds where they can easily lay hands on unsuspecting victims, grow up into drug addicts or alcoholics, history-sheeters, illiterates semi-skilled or unskilled, impoverished, unqualified to find stable employment opportunities and those who have a grudge against the society especially the better-off.  The profile pattern of the assailants that emerges from most cases seems to be chillingly strikingly familiar.  So who is responsible for breeding this type of men in our midst?

Gang-rape seems to be an extreme form of  phyhsical violence to me like to everyone else around.  I mean its not like ‘normal rape’ if i could call it that way that gets reported from around the world.  To me it smacks of pained collective psyches of the absolutely failed who want retribution in any form from whoever happens to cross their paths.   It means its not a single individual who is troubled and who needs medical attention or counselling.  It means a particular section of the society is sick, the men are getting sick.  And these men could be those who feel they are left out and doomed forever and for whom all doors of opportunities are closed on their faces.  These are the men whose lives were condemned the moment they’re born, leading hopeless and direction-less lives pushed to extremes by an increasingly uncaring and ruthless society where we the better-off do not have a moment to stop and check what is happening to the most unfortunate stuck at the bottom of the ladder.

Are all our children going to schools?  Are they already petty criminals and shop-lifters?  Are they social outcasts already? Are they on their way to become anti-social elements already? Or are they coming up the ladder with us at all?  Do they need a helping hand? Do we ever bother to check or try to throw them a lifeline when they are left out in the cold at the bottom of the ladder?  Indifference is the hallmark of the Indian middleclass who pretend all is well.  After all what can a handful of NGOs hope to achieve.  By no means they are substitutes for a government or administration.  We must be grateful to NGOs for what they are doing in their capacity to reform the society by uplifting and rescuing many from deplorable lives.

I am not in anyway trying to absolve the rapists of their crimes and in this case the gang-rapists.  I am trying to reason how mindless urbanization and lop-sided economic growth in Indian society is leaving behind those desperate masses who never have a chance at life and who are utterly frustrated with the knowledge that they can never make it.  With slums taken away for posh townships and with nowhere to go, just imagine the plight of the homeless for a minute.

The criminal gangs from the north and central Indian states are classic examples.  With a huge population that is vastly unemployed and increasing poverty levels and poorest health and literacy indicators, the states have become a burden on rest of India in last one or two decades.  The worsening law and order conditions in these states complicate matters.

Soon as Ms. Jayalalitha took over as Tamil Nad Chief Minister, there were two back-to-back ATM heists in Chennai city last year where usually crime rate is low.  Because we always take pride in the fact that ours is one of the safe places in not only India but on entire earth where its okay for a woman to parade the roads donning a diamond necklace in full view of the public.   Not that crimes don’t happen here – they do but in most cases with a suspected motive.  So the ATM heists took us by shocking surprise and we didn’t have to be scientists to predict that the assailants must be outsiders and not locals.   Within days the crimes were cracked and the police zeroed in on the criminals hiding as innocent tenants in a populated housing colony.  Without warning the 5-6 biharis were shot dead at point-blank range in a hushed encounter and lot of cash, part of the robberies, was recovered.  Human Rights agencies stepped in crying foul and filing complaints against the bloody violence inflicted on the criminals without giving them a chance to explain or prove themselves innocent.  But the city heaved a sigh of relief and there was open appreciation for the way the gang was busted by the woman chief minister of Tamil Nadu, one of the most efficient ones in Indian history ever.

Investigations revealed that the criminal gang had been in operation in Bihar for a long time and most men were wanted criminals for murder and armed robbery by their local police.  Why what treatment was meted out to the bihari gangsters in Tamil Nadu was not given to them in Bihar?  After all the police do exercise some special powers in specific cases.  A court of law is the best place to dispense justice but in a nation like ours where the legal system is full of loopholes that are bent on giving the accused a chance to get away, swift justice sometimes becomes imperative.  It could be human rights violation or whatever but its the best precedent one can set as a warning for future criminals in the making.

I very much empathize with Raj Thackaray who is in the habit of blaming the ‘migrant labour’ for all things gone wrong in Mumbai and for spiraling crime rates in the state of Maharashtra.  There is some truth here.

These most backward states of India spawn criminals and gangsters like nowhere and worsen the law and order situation everywhere they migrate to.  Ofcourse as an Indian citizen anyone can work or live anywhere in any state in India – from Kashmir to Kanyakumari.   Still the states that lag behind are not doing others any favour with their huge chunk of illiterate and criminal-minded labour population.  Why should the hosts come to bear the brunt of something gone systematically wrong?

Back to tamil films and Bollywood cinema, its never just ‘rape’ for our guys but only gang rape.  Remember Phoolan Devi whose lifestory was made in celluloid screen as ‘Bandit Queen.’  This is the same Jharkhand-Chattisgarh-Bihar-Uttar Pradesh belt where maoist naxals run a parallel government terrorizing the rural masses.  The life and story of Phoolan Devi revolved around the way the woman naxalite avenged the killers of her husband and her gang-rapists.  Phoolan Devi, an MP in our parliament, was later assassinated.

This is one real life story of the gang-rape case made into a picture from central India.  But again this crime was committed with a motive to ‘punish’ and not just the way its been happening now in Delhi and Mumbai as sheer gang-rape cases without a motive.  There is a world of difference between the two.  The red corridor of central India is awful and ridden with blood chilling crimes amongst which gang-rape happens to be more of a coincidence.

But one cannot treat the Mumbai or Delhi cases the same way.  In these two incidents there clearly lacked any motive to commit the crime and the crime itself seems to have been committed for the sadistic pleasure of the assailants.  The victims were helpless well-accomplished urban middle-class Indian women, strong and bold and successful as they come.  Perhaps to the violent attackers, these women epitomized the kind of life unattainable to them dwelling in their lowly world?  Hatred seems to be their chief emotion.  Most of these assailants produced in the court do not even seem to have any remorse for what they ‘d done to their victims.

To those in the  lowest strata of our society, cinema has come to be the chief form of escapism first.  A make-believe world of existence.  Bollywood or tamil pictures as the case may be give them a chance to flee the rat-race world out of which they had been pushed out even before they could take off and for whom none bothers to stop.  Cinema the dream is their obsession.

Imagine these masses hooked to addictive Indian cinema full of needless violence and petty crimes and most of all gang-rapes.  Imagine the potential impact such a negative portrayal of women can have on rural illiterate impoverished and unemployed frustrated masses.  And imagine their fury and angst when they come face to face with the success stories of the same careless society where some of us make it big all the way from attending right schools to universities to landing in plum jobs to marrying into good circles.  What an unattainable unthinkable feat this is to those living on the fringes of our same society?

Many call for death sentence for rapists.  Whether that translates into legislation or not is not the point.  But will our film-makers ever take an ounce of responsibility towards the society that they are harming in such a mindless and cruel manner for their personal gains and glory?

World is full of so many many lovely things we can all talk about.  Beautiful things and kind people.  Why be so reckless in forcing upon our masses our crude imaginations and hate-mongering subjects?  Indian society is still at crossroads with a sizable population of ours living under the poverty line even today.   Breeding our illiterate masses on ‘heroic tales’ of gang-rapes as depicted in Indian cinema can have only one detrimental effect on the health of the society and that malaise is already getting to gain world popularity.

The ‘Chandralekha’ acid-throwing case used to be the one-off acid attack incidents in Tamil Nadu.  Suddenly our media was flooded with news on acid attacks in Pakistan.  Bad things always catch faster and so did the horrible acid attacks on women in India especially in the north – a direct import from Pakistan through television media.  Early this year after decades even Tamil Nadu registered two acid attack cases and in both of these the victims died after days of enduring indescribable pain, disfigurement and brutality.  The acid attack cases are suddenly on rise in entire India owing to needless publicity given to Pakistani crime scene here.    The idea is to show the enemy nation in poor light as we can guess but what about the counter-effects that have come to affect us.   Our population is still not ready or mature enough to handle such grave issues.

I don’t think any new legislation (to be) introduced for awarding death sentence to rapists or more correctly gang rapists or acid attackers could make a serious difference.  Our film industry here could do a constructive role in shaping the impressionable minds of our poor rural illiterate masses breeding such criminals.   The irony is that the perpetrators of such heinous crimes might not even have a clue as to what’s going on in their sorry state of ignorance.  Lets not forget India is a third world country and will remain so for a long time to come.

There is no short-cut remedy to this malaise.  Its no use treating only the ‘symptoms.’ The essential cure is in identifying and accepting the underlying reasons and treating the malaise from within.   For that we Indians must acknowledge what an unfair and unequal society we have been busy building all these days.

Death penalties to some extent can work but permanent solution lies in reforming the society and instilling a sense of hope in our frustrated lower classes. The assurance that they are ‘not left out’ has to be there.  The promise that they can make it and that they belong as one among us has to come.  This is the only way to go about India’s rape problem – more so to the gang-rape mutation of the dastardly crime.  That a bunch of men could find solace in the collective act of inflicting physical violence and brutality on unsuspecting and defenceless victims – women, speaks that the social fabric in this section is torn completely and utter lawlessness and hopelessness prevail.  Reforming that ailing section of ours is a daunting task:  lets begin with imparting 100% literacy and equal chances for everyone from every class for the starters.  A big overhaul – restructuring of the entire community is due since long and is the urgent need of the hour. Only education and awareness that  instill a sense of morality and righteousness in the learned can have a lasting effect on prevalence of law and order and peace in our midst.

India will be into perpetual chaos if dire steps are not taken towards such a reformation and rehabilitation of the juvenile delinquents and petty criminals who could be on their way already to become notorious gangsters.  Different nations erupt in different ways when in crisis when inequalities in the society become too much to bear and injustice becomes the norm of the day.  A rebellion has to happen in that case.  As its happening in Egypt now.  As its happened with Libya in the past.  In India, the way the frustrated express their angst and hatred toward those lucky like us seems to be by way of adopting this chilling ‘gang-rape’ culture.  Atleast that’s how it seems to me.  A  just and far more equitable society will automatically free itself of its social evils.


From → Bharatiya Naari

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