We live in a curious world. On a day Reliance Jio promised to propel India to a new digital paradigm, there was also news of a pregnant woman who was nearly burnt to death in Andhra Pradesh simply because the family didn't cherish the idea of welcoming another girl child.
Indeed, technological advances made by the country have done little to improve the condition of India's women, who still remain lost in an archaic maze, relegated to the absolute dead end. The situation involving Mayanti Langer Binny, television host and wife of cricketer Stuart, who was trolled on social media after the all-rounder had a poor performance against West Indies in a T20 match, is a grim reminder of the stuck in the mud attitude of our educated citizens.
In recent times, players' spouses and female presenters on TV have rarely been spared by a certain breed of misguided cricket fans. Women like Sakshi Dhoni, Anushka Sharma, Mandira Bedi and now Mayanti have borne the brunt of fans, who display a weird propensity to stoop down to sexist remarks without the slightest hesitation.
While there were other anchors who dabbled in cricket presentation before her, it was Mandira who became the prototype for women broadcasters in Indian sport. As much as she tried to draw attention to matters of cricket, Mandira seemed peeved by the fact that her noodle straps and low neck dresses remained the main attraction for some fans.
Ever since those days, over a decade ago, women have been waging a grim battle to gain acclaim for their content over charisma. But if the free flowing vitriol on social media is any indication, their battle is far from over. While male commentators enjoy careers that span far longer than the length of their playing tenure, women tend to barely last a few years on the screen.
The list has been long — Shonali Nagrani, Archana Vijaya, Karishma Kotak, Shibhani Dandekar, Rochelle Rao, Pallavi Sharda, Lekha Washington and Isa Guha being some examples. Unlike their male counterparts though, these women have been largely on a merry-go-round on the cricket circuit. The women are never quite sure of their presence for the next series or the next edition of a league.
The deep-rooted association of women presenters with their physical appearance is a near-unshakable facet for them. Anjum Chopra is perhaps one of the few who has managed to put content at the forefront of her presence in the studio. But most of them have been battling attitudes and stereotypes, as men retain a predominant space around the production studios.
As hard as they clearly work through pre and post-match routines, the focus is nearly always skewed toward their appearances and dresses. Eager producers, driven by the need to chase TRPs, can do precious little to stem the tide.
Mayanti, for instance, has done an enormous amount of work around cricket and football. She has done a good job anchoring shows, moderating conversations and interviewing athletes. She has spoken at length on camera to most of the leading international cricketers. But a Google search for Mayanti will not fail to present you with titillating imagery, ahead of her work in actual sport.
The barrage of ill mannered expressions in the recent few days that unnecessarily drew Mayanti into the conversation over Binny's 32-run over serve to underline the perceptions surrounding women in the broadcast space.
Unfortunately, even men who were empathetic toward the embattled cricketer and his wife were blatantly sexist in their remarks. She was even taunted and encouraged to consider suicide. The tweets flowed unabated in real time, even as Mayanti was tasked with managing her pre-match and post-match shows from the studio.
— Ratan Khimji (@RatanKhimji) August 27, 2016
To her credit, Mayanti did deal with the trolls with great dignity and poise. "I hope no one ever demands the death of your loved ones or sends you violent images threatening the same. Taunting me with suicide is shameful," tweeted the exasperated lady. "Think of the families that suffer because of this tragedy and you have reduced their plight to a joke.
— Mayanti Langer Binny (@MayantiLanger_B) September 1, 2016
"I hope you find love and loyalty. By suggesting divorce, suggests you haven't," she reminded in another terse tweet. "I've been working since I was 18. Instead of calling me a gold-digger, go get a job and earn the right to support yourself and your families."
"I hope bullying us made you feel better about yourselves, cause otherwise was it really worth it?" she questioned, finally signing off by offering best wishes to the trolls. The entire episode reminded us of the attitudes surrounding women in sports broadcasting.
It is time urban India showed more class and conscience in the way they relish and reflect on sport. We need to eschew jingoistic tendencies and enjoy sport with a balanced mind. The enjoyment is sport is lost upon us when we view it through the prism of gender.
Women in sport and broadcasting have earned their spots through their hard work and talent. It's time we respect that instead of succumbing to our voyeuristic tendencies.