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Deepika to Smriti Irani: 2014, yet again, was about showing women their 'place'

What did year 2014 look like in headlines for the average Indian woman? Nothing particularly out of the ordinary in our country. One woman got raped inside a hired taxi by the driver. One 21-year-old girl got killed by her parents for marrying into another caste. Two young girls were found dead, hanging from a tree in a UP village, no one knows why they died or decided to kill themselves yet. An actress got told by a newspaper and many many others bred in the country's rich tradition of patriarchy that she has no right to crib about how you portray and comment on her body because she works in films and is therefore a commodity.

This is not to say that there weren't  a few surprises here and there. A television host got slapped on the sets of her show for wearing 'skimpy clothes', this despite a strong cordon of security. The new HRD minister of the country got ridiculed not because of how she performed at her job but because she is a woman who used to be an actor in saas bahu TV serials prior to this.

Two years after we thought that a nation had risen in revolt against the violence inflicted on women post the December 16 gangrape, this year was a reminder that we are back where we started - or maybe, we started from nowhere at all. The misogyny seems too deep-rooted to be overthrown by candlelight vigils or even stricter laws.

 Deepika to Smriti Irani: 2014, yet again, was about showing women their place

AFP.

Take for example the episodes surrounding two actors Deepika Padukone and Gauhar Khan. While you might want to dismiss the Padukone episode as a publicity stunt manufactured to grab more than the usual number of eyeballs before her big release Happy New Year, you cannot overlook the popular public reaction to episode. Padukone's complaint against Bombay Times couldn't be faulted - she slammed it for tweeting out a video of her with the following words 'OMG, Deepika's cleavage show'. Was she right in pointing out that BT was effectively leering at her in the most loutish way possible on a public platform? Yes.

BT defended themselves by more or less saying that given that she has, out of her own volition, put her cleavage on display she shouldn't ideally have a problem with whatever way someone decided to address any body part of hers. What was perhaps more shocking was the hundreds of tweets, blog posts and Facebook status updates which echoed BT's feelings and insisted that women in films should be looked at only with lust, not respect. Immediately after the controversy, people started posting videos of her song 'Lovely' where she performs a pole dance and shook their heads saying, "Really, what was she howling about anyway?"

With Gauhar Khan, apart from agreeing with the assaulter that she does indeed wear 'skimpy' clothes, came a rush of social media gyaan, how she deserved to suffer the plight because she is Muslim. Her assaulter is believed to have said that Muslim women shouldn't wear such clothes. The debate that dominated social media was not on how ridiculously flimsy a woman's safety is in the country, but on how the Hindutva brigade was always right about the Muslims being a violent, noxious breed of humans. Does any woman, or for that matter any man, deserve to be hit in public or otherwise for no reason? Not at all, but who cares?

The same argument grew into a deafening chorus when Smriti Irani was sworn in as the education minister in India. Led by former Narendra Modi fan girl Madhu Kishwar, every decision Irani took was traced back to just one point of reference: that she is a former TV actor. Though most of the ministers and politicians in our country aren't known to have been assiduous college toppers in their past, Irani struck as more undeserving than the rest because first she was a woman, second a woman who has worked in films. For example, we don't quite remember much outrage at Chiranjeevi being the tourism minister under the UPA or Maharashtra CM Devendra Fadnavis modelling for local clothes brands very recently.

The fact that India still likes its women as simpering, whimpering damsels in distress who can't take one successful breath without help from the macho India man, became evident through two more incidents. A letter written by actor Shenaz Treasurywala, where she wailed and cried on her Facebook wall, asking 'powerful' Indian men to 'help' and 'save' us women went viral. Thousands of people, women included, shared her post, sagely nodding their heads at the appropriateness of her demands - after all, men are everything Salman Khan tells you they are in his films. Hence, they should save us and feminism shouldn't make us forget the deep, foolproof protection that a man offers. Very few questioned her motive - the letter was written just a couple of days before a film starring her was set to hit the theatres after a long, long time.  However, when two videos showing two sisters in Rohtak beating men up started to do the rounds of social media, we didn't immediately sit up and applaud them with dewy eyed appreciation - the kind reserved for Treasurywala's weepy letter. Are you sure they were harassed? Are you sure they are not troublemakers who are just beating men up for publicity? As accounts contesting the girls' claims surfaced, everyone wanted to believe that the girls weren't attacked or harassed. They are just random Rohtak ki thugs. Beating up the opposite sex is obviously a man's prerogative.

And it's not just machismo that women in India aren't associated with, intelligence too is something we were reminded we don't possess. Hence, 'love jihad' actually became a political issue. It was assumed that women are gullible, stupid creatures who fall for any kind of chicanery. Muslim men, were were told, can manipulate Hindu girls who have the brains of a sparrow, and make them convert to Islam. No such fear was expressed about the Hindu men being brainwashed or doubts raised about the possible cunning of Muslim women. The agency of the woman was completely ignored in an issue which had political parties of our country crying themselves hoarse.

Did we scream, shout, curse and feel helplessly angry? Did we say 'WTF' aloud a million times? Did many coffees grow cold in workstations as mothers made anxious long distance calls suggesting one more thing you shouldn't do to make sure you don't get groped, raped or beaten up next? Yes, they did. What came out of it? Nothing much. Except maybe the old wisdom we were offered as consolation yet again - that we were still alive and not irreparably scarred. Some have not been that lucky in this country.

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Updated Date: Dec 31, 2014 16:43:02 IST