Posted in Women & Family

Gender Specific Crimes

Watching ’47 Natkal’ once again on tv, i wondered whether crimes against women have in anyway gone down in our society. Made in 1981, directed by K Balachander, this is one more picture that I remember my mother discussing with our neighbours. The novel was published as episodes in a weekly. By the way, I love the way the picture ends, with Jayaprada telling Saritha, ‘at least marry me off in the film/story!’ It was Jayaprada’s debut film I guess before she became popular in Tamil films and then moved over to Bollywood. Chiranjeevi who went on to become another megastar in Andhra played a very convincing role with Delhi Ganesh lending him identical voice. Saritha’s naive tone for Jayapradha, another plus for the movie. This is one of the pictures that moved me to the core. Rare one that I got to catch up with very late in life although I’ve read and heard about it more often. Its exploration of depths of sadism in men always got me thinking. The cunningness, the sleaziness of it all. Remember this was an era before the arrival of mobile phones and computers.

It so happened that this picture also was somewhat a reflection of the lifestory of my mother’s neighbour and schoolmate in Mylapore from 1960s. The first time ever this friend went to the cinemas with her newly married beau was for watching ‘Palum Pazhamum’ in which Shivaji Ganesan played the lead. That night the young husband had burnt his post graduate wife with cigar butts because she admitted to ‘the mistake of adoring the hero Shivaji’ who was the heartthrob of many in those days. This friend of my mother was well qualified among their peers and was also working as a teacher. In 60s divorce was rarest and unheard of in Hindu community. But this woman won her independence from her physically and mentally abusive spouse and moved over to a hill station with another man who she fell in love with (someone who witnessed her tragedy in person). Someone inter-caste broadminded enough, or may be i must say progressive enough, to share his life with the unfortunate woman deserves applause (by 60s standards).

I saw this aunty for the first and last time in 1982 when she came visiting us on my mother’s demise. She last had seen my mother in 60s. My granny told me her traumatic story and how she braved through it even if she was ostracized by the very society and family she was part of. The picture had been released just an year before, that refreshed memories for everyone. The lady was living life on her own terms which was considered heroic then. I admired her guts even though now I cannot even recall her face. Hardly she was there with us for one hour mostly holding my granny’s hand and crying over it. I believe the forward thinking couple had a son of my age. She had severed her roots but had sounded strong and contented to me. That was all that I retained of her. But her story got imprinted in my mind forever.

Many times I have wondered whether this friend of my mother could have been the influence behind Sivashankari’s ’47 natkal’ with appropriate additions and changes. The torture sequences match at least. Such a coincidence, especially given the timing.

It was a time when novels printed in weeklies as a series made a huge impact in our society. We were subscribing to a number of Tamil weeklies ourselves, Kumudham, Aananda Vikatan, Kalki just to name a few.

(I discovered a cache of bound books after my mother passed away in a zealously guarded wooden almirah locked and safeguarded from prying eyes. My mother from her teens tore the novel pages and got them bound into huge volumes. She thus had ‘Ponniyin Selvan’ to others, all in sepia tinted volumes from the pages of Tamil weeklies through ’50s and ’60s. She never shared them with anyone. It was a private collection.)

Another friend of my aunt in Mylapore was a teacher as well. Although she was not divorced, she was separated from her husband. She had a single hidden patch of leukoderma in her body that brought her marriage to an abrupt end even before it started, on her very first wedding night. She lived a lone matronly life ever since raising her siblings. Not a single paisa by way of alimony, because there was no legal separation on paper. The husband went on to remarry and have a family. Even as a teenager i felt indignant over her sad state of affairs. What bothered me more was how the poor lady resigned to her fate without putting up a fight.

If you were a teen upto 1980s, you could never have missed the ‘mottai pattis’ either. They were part and parcel of our landscape, a blot on our conscience even today. Sometimes I think our entire nation is drenched with their silent tears. Think of the Vrindavan widows. We had a similar patti in my husband’s side. Widowed even before she bloomed into womanhood. But she was blessed with slightly broadminded folks for her times who saw to that she was not confined to white saris but only to white blouse. No question of remarriage.

There was this lady married to a gay man. In those days, these things were never spoken of. The wife was a lifelong unpaid servant to her husband and his family without a word of protest. The husband, well, carried on in the sides (as it was rumoured). One more suffering in silence.

Women were denied rightful share in family estate. A widowed woman who i knew, worked as a housemaid to raise her children even as her affluent brothers split among themselves valuable inheritance.

It doesn’t always have to be gang rape or molestation. Women have been humiliated and abused far worse psychologically, emotionally in this country. The latter cases are life long inflictions. Life sentences.

KB was already into making pathbreaking films by 1970s with the heroines as protagonists against these very sophisticated and subtle social evils masquerading as passable or tolerable relations and situations. Well, they are not. I wouldn’t want to draw inspiration from films for everything but I guess it is easy to make my point clear this way.

For one thing, I noticed kind of rebel wave with the films, for starters. This gave me awareness that otherwise could have taken years.

I think, it was only in 1960s, 70s and 80s that the media behaved responsibly – be it the mass media such as film industry or the print media. Their influence on the public was enormous.

One more thing from those days was the very common symbol of inverted triangles that you found on every wall in the street. It was also there as tv commercials. Family planning, that only worked too very well. Even though if belatedly we realize, the targeted community was merely the Hindu. It goes on to show that if you relentlessly keep drumming up a message to the masses, it can have a far reaching effect after all. Look at our family sizes now. Media can learn a lesson or two here.

The bold streak that I found in KB women is much more pronounced in this generation women. But what is disturbing is that, there is no dearth of scheming men or crimes committed against women since. In all these intervening years one would like to think, we have evolved into a better society.

But here we are today justifying rape, alleging ‘selective enragement.’ How many crimes against women in last 2 to 4 weeks. Public apathy to crimes is shocking. Media overplaying the gruesome acts of violence is vulgar and irresponsible. Please just stop replaying the tapes. Its very disturbing.

Why is Sushant case hogging so much publicity anyway. Why is his lady secretary’s untimely and unnatural demise any surprise or reason for mystery when Jayalalitha’s was not? Sridevi’s was not? Sunanda’s was not. So easy getting away, doing away even women who wielded power in India, is it not. Where is hope for poor rural rape victims in the circumstances. They are far down the line, they just don’t matter.

If you are a woman, you are taken for ride by everyone for everything: from the men who take orders from you to the men who you have to take orders from. Sometimes this is sickening. We women grow up deep in this knowledge.

Men forever want to bind us into this moralistic windowless cocoon from where there can never be an escape without character assassination. We live in a society where yardstick for men and women is still different. I have never personally come across a man who thinks of a woman as 100% his equal. Somewhere we fall short in the eyes of men. There is simply no such perfect man.

I have honestly lost track and count of the number of rapes happening in this country. I am even more perturbed that men in social media politicize these crimes against humanity in a bid to gain mileage without an iota of sensitivity. Who really is bothered about the tortured body or soul. It is all finally a mudslinging blame game for vested interests with an agenda, with the victim shamelessly and heartlessly denied dignity even in death, for gaining an upperhand in the endless tussle for supremacy.

My request to media is to stop this relentless coverage on gruesome crimes. I understand truth needs to be exposed, but there is a limit to portrayal of negativity and gory details. Before the acid attacks on women in Pakistan was covered in a big way in India, there were hardly such crimes happening in India. Some crimes need no publicity, especially the horrific minute details for the sake of mere TRP ratings.

Here is a leaf we can take out of the Arab book as to how to under report crimes in media (only). This is good for the general welfare of the society. For our sanity and peace of mind.

Let law and order deal with crimes. Let the media not run the case delivering judgment. This is wrong, whatever be the nature of crime.

In today’s world, we need more stories on positivity, hope and happiness not frustration and despondency.

My heart goes out to the suffering women. Into my 50s, there is almost no injustice or inhumanity that i have not heard of concerning women: from female genital mutilation to female infanticide. The latter used to be the scourge of even rural Tamil Nadu. I think we need tougher laws to deal with this now and we need to educate masses. There is no single over-the-counter recipe to settle down with.

But then watching ’47 natkal’ brings me back to square one. What makes a man hit a woman. A silver line in the cloud is that, the closing dialogue at least proved to be harbinger of things. A lot has changed now. I have friends who are divorced, single (spinsters) and widowed living with dignity in our midst like never before, completely independent. Sometimes I feel like, why at all men when we have mastered cloning. May be for that extra spice we have the male sex, otherwise their very existence in universe now has been proved redundant! Don’t get me wrong: i am no feminist. Just a thought (shrug)!

Finally it is all up to the individual. How you respect women, how you treat women – these need no tutoring. What can literacy or economics have to do with one’s commonsense and sense of righteousness. You just have to know.

It angers me to think that we women have to even think of something absurd as ‘women’s safety.’ Why at all the pepper spray? Why not ‘men’s safety.’ Until we come to a point when we coin such a term/phrase, i guess we won’t be a mature society. Meanwhile let’s brace for more crimes against women…

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