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The movie ‘Pink’ talks about the true meaning of consent along with myriad challenges that loom large for women in India.
Shoojit Sircar’s Pink is an exercise in unpacking the meaning of consent. Plain and simple. To any logical mind, a yes is a yes, and a no is a no. And what was once yes, CAN turn into a no, and we have to simply respect that – especially when it is about personal agency and one’s bodily integrity.
Whether it was Brock Turner who had no consent and went ahead and raped a girl, or Ramkumar who killed Swathi because she rejected him, the issue at hand that remains pivotal is the question of consent. A human has an inherent right to say yes, or no. And when it is no, one can neither be forced into compliance, nor be taken to task for saying no. Throw gender into the mix and nothing changes: except perhaps the pronouns of relevance.
Amidst all the tiny subplots and threads that tie into one big fabric, Pink tells a very important story. While Pink zooms in on the greater question of consent, it also calls in question the myriad challenges that loom large for women in India at this point in time: that society is quick to assail the character of a woman – doubly so if she lives alone, has male visitors at home, indulges in some alcohol; that women from certain social backgrounds are stereotyped, and a woman’s mere act of socializing is considered a ‘hint’ that she’s available; that male privilege only asserts and reasserts that they are but helpless victims of their own uncontrollable urges and must not be tempted; that there are women who perpetrate patriarchy as much as there are men who stand up to patriarchy. While these are ideas you will take home from any review, any assessment of the film or even your own time spent watching the film, I want to focus on something not many will, or have:
The law, legalese and the entire legal system when it comes to prosecuting a case of sexual violence, or a case where sexual violence is involved in some way in the narrative.
This film left me with a dull headache at the shoddy inadequacy of the legal system in handling cases of such a nature, be it in substantive or in procedural law. The fulcrum of the case rests on a question of sexual assault. But look at the 1860 Legislation that we have to address crime in India: the only closest provision is one that calls in question an act that ‘outrages the modesty’ of a woman. Section 354 of the Indian Penal Code is the only effective legislative provision in place that addresses sexual violence – other provisions don’t have the specific tag of the ‘sexual nature’ of a crime.
This term, this idea of ‘modesty’ is neither defined nor even comprehensible – and the lack of interpretative assistance or explicit meaning in the penal code has allowed for three horrible consequences: (a) The assailment of the character of a woman – especially when she is the one who files a case, seeking justice for sexual assault, (b) The admission of a victim’s ‘character’ as evidence in a court of law in a bid to dismantle any existence of ‘modesty’ (the law allows admission of good character as evidence for an accused, but no aspect of the victim’s character is mentioned as being admissible) and (c) The re-victimization and criminalization of a woman who is seeking help from the judicial system.
What this concept of ‘modesty’ means is not mentioned in the Indian Penal Code. This ‘modesty’ is what encourages a culture of ‘honour’, femicide – whether as foeticide, infanticide or otherwise, and a sense of disregard for the bodily integrity of a woman. With provisions like this in place, how can a woman be called empowered – if her choice, her right to be the final sovereign with the final say on her body and mind is not respected, and instead, blatantly disregarded?
The double standards on the way we approach the character of a woman and the character of a man in India were beautifully essayed and articulated in the film. Amitabh Bachchan’s lines as a lawyer in the courtroom leave you with chills and a slap in the face. “Humare yahaan, ghadi ke sui character decide karta hai,” (when he addresses the claim that the girls returned home late after working late shifts), brings up a pertinent point. He also beautifully articulates the fact that drinking is perceived as a health hazard for men, but as a character flaw in women.
Pink leaves you smarting: not just at the debate around consent and the question on the law, but just at how much of a tightly wound weft of misogyny and patriarchy we are up against. The film cannot just sink into the annals of Indian film history – we need to turn it into inspiration for change. How many of us that watched the film walked out of the theatre, shaking our heads at what we know for a fact is reality? Why are we going back to our normal lives and allowing for patriarchy to deride us, and hold us down tight under its crushing thumb? Why can’t we, as a nation of women resilient by force, rise and question the systems that encourage this culture of toxic and hegemonic masculinity to continue?
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