Kamal Haasan Misses Teachable Moment On Bigg Boss Tamil, Jokes About Sexual Harassment

A contestant on Bigg Boss Tamil openly admitted to harassing women in buses in his college days and it was treated as a hilarious joke instead of as the serious teachable moment that it could have been.

A contestant on Bigg Boss Tamil openly admitted to harassing women in buses in his college days and it was treated as a hilarious joke instead of as the serious teachable moment that it could have been.

Bigg Boss Tamil contestant Meera Mithun recently accused another contestant, director Cheran of ‘manhandling’ her during a task. She has also said that he was racist and violent to her.

While Meera had complained about his physical and verbal violence, it was largely misunderstood as a complaint of ‘groping’, and in another recent episode that focused on the events of the week, one point discussed was whether she had made a false accusation.

By and large, the contestants, and the host, actor and politician Kamal Haasan, supported Cheran over Meera. Meera has since agreed that she could have framed her words better to avoid misunderstandings.

A video clip of the discussion which has gone viral however, is a sign of how much sexual harassment is normalized.

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During the discussion, Kamal Haasan pointed out that sometimes what is perceived as harassment can be a genuine mistake, for example, while taking public transport like buses, sometimes people touch each other accidentally. He also added that sometimes, people who take buses do so with the intention of harassing women.

At this point, another contestant, Saravanan, raised his hand. Kamal, initially thought that Saravanan was raising his hand to say that he had beaten up some harassers. However, Saravanan helpfully clarified that he was actually one of those people who did the harassing.

This, ideally, should have been a moment to stop and reflect. Kamal, as the host could have done a number of things here. He could have asked Saravanan why he did so, and if he believes the behaviour is appropriate. He could have given the opportunity for women in the audience to speak and share their stories of being harassed. He could have taken the time to lay out exactly why this is unacceptable.

Instead, he chose to treat the moment as a joke, mouthing a dialogue from his movie Guna, “Avar adhaiyum thandi punidham aayitaar” (He has gone beyond all that and has now become pure and holy). The audience too, laughed.

This did not escape the notice of singer Chinmayi, who wrote in a tweet, “A Tamil channel aired a man proudly proclaiming he used the Public Bus Transport system to molest/grope women – to cheers from the audience. And this is a joke. To the audience. To the women clapping. To the molester. Damn.”

In a further statement, she wrote about a male friend of hers was also molested on the bus, and how until he told her about his experience she had no idea that boys get molested too. “Thankfully he was strong enough to poke and even break the fingers of such men. Most girls cry. Or we numb ourselves. Saying it is normal. We begin normalizing such behaviour and the train ourselves to never speak up or create a scene. Coz, hey, we need to go to college, and school and work!”

Unfortunately, the way Bigg Boss handled that moment only contributes to this normalization of harassment. As author Somya Rajendran wrote in this piece for The News Minute, “while one cannot be sure that the clapping and laughter from the audience was for this particular statement – since it’s possible that such sound effects are added by the production team later – it is without a doubt irresponsible of the Bigg Boss show to present the incident as comedy.”

While Kamal Haasan has still not responded to this criticism, Saravanan has come out with a statement after receiving flak. “No one should commit the same mistake I did. If you do that there is punishment for sure. I raised my hand when Kamal (Haasan) sir asked the question only to reiterate that no one should do that,” Saravanan said on Monday. He added, “The intention was to ask viewers to not do these things but it got cut and I couldn’t say it.”

A majority of women in our country, especially those not rich enough to afford rickshaws/taxis/personal vehicles rely on public transport every day, and such harassment is a reality for them. It has happened too often, to too many of us, and all of us have been told that “such things happen. Just deal with it.”

It is easy to treat this as a minor incident and say that Bigg Boss is not the sort of forum for such serious discussions, and that it is merely an entertainment show.

I disagree. Shows like Bigg Boss are watched by millions. Many people connect to and emulate people who come on such shows. This sort of relaxed, informal setting is exactly the sort of forum in which the seeds of social change can be sowed.

Meanwhile, men of course, are applauding Saravanan for his “brave decision” to speak up. Like Chinmayi, I am not surprised by the hypocrisy. As she pointed out, “A man admitting that he molested women 30 years ago has GUTS. He is a GREAT man! A woman identifying who molested/raped her xyz years ago is shamed, asked to die, did it for ‘fame’. Must also ask sorry to molester for ruining his name. Lovely sense of justice the world has.”

Image source: YouTube

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