Why Debate On Deepika At JNU? Focus Instead On Our Gender Violence Problem, Seen In Chhapaak

Instead of trolling Deepika for her support to JNU students' protest, or calling her actions 'promotional', the need of the hour is to recognise that her new movie speaks up against a gender based crime.

Instead of trolling Deepika for her support to JNU students’ protest, or calling her actions ‘promotional’, the need of the hour is to recognise that her new movie speaks up against a gender based crime.

As we all know (for it’s impossible not to) that Deepika Padukone appeared earlier this week in a protest expressing solidarity with JNU students, who were allegedly subjected to mob violence as a continuation of JNU’s stance against the NCR and CAB resolutions recently passed by the government.

It is neither unexpected, nor shocking, that her appearance was deemed a publicity stunt given the timing (the then upcoming release of her movie: Chhapaak).

However, what is very shocking, and of grave concern, is the fact that there are two kinds of backlash to this move of hers that are happening:

  • calls of boycotting of her movie which is on acid attack, by not only men, but also by women
  • and comparisons of her to other movie stalwarts who are “wiser and have stayed silent instead coming out as anti-nationals”.

Why? Because this shows, once again, that every kind of affiliation (from religion, caste, class, to political) is considered more important than gender and human rights for India.

The horrifying issue of acid attacks

Maybe Deepika did it as a publicity move. So what? Who are we kidding when we pretend that the world today, including philanthropy, doesn’t run on marketing?

What is more important is that acid attack, a gender-based violence in India which subjects the victim to a terrible fate, is rampant and on the rise. India ranked second out all nations in 2018 in acid attacks, attacks are reported to be on the rise instead of declining like in countries like Bangladesh, and the state of Uttar Pradesh just by itself had 56 reported cases in 2017 (more than what many nations have had in entirety).

What can matter more than recognizing that there are serious loop holes in both prevention and prosecution of the matter that India has failed to get under control in spite of the IPC modifications. {The Criminal Law (Amendment Act) 2013 Section 326A and 326B were inserted in the Indian Penal Code providing punishment for acid attack and attempted acid attack, but prior to this, acid attacks were not recognized as separate crimes}.

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However, this, and similar actions like ban on sale of acids and disability benefits to victims have done nothing to counter the issues, mostly owing to poor implementation and lack of behavioral change towards women. Countries like Bangladesh and Columbia, shocked rightfully by the nature of the crime and ashamed at their global positioning on the matter, have moved mountains effectively in shorter time windows (Bangladesh for example, succeeded in dramatically decreasing the number assaults through tough laws, tight control on sales, and mass campaigning – bringing their global ranking significantly down from the previous number 1).

Gender based violence in India

India, as a nation, as never ranked as a country where patriotism or indexes related to national security or identity are lagging. However, it ranks consistently and embarrassingly high for most GBV’s (gender-based violence-s) and in a 2018 Reuters study, ranked the most dangerous nation in the world for women. What followed was a nationalist debate again on the possible bias and western intention in the study to malign India, amidst some, but not enough dialogue on the lagging women’s safety indexes and the slow results from the 2013 Penal Code modifications.

I am ignoring here the issue of defining nationalism and patriotism in terms of group or personal interests and marking any kind of dissent as an act of dis-loyalty. That issue has been beaten to death and will continue to fall on deaf ears until the severe polarization and hard line stances that have come back full circle since 2016 worldwide start reversing. Several factors have been noted by scholars on this global trend and multiple analyses have put forward on why India has particularly high propensity to hard lining.

But coming back to the matter, what is getting ignored in this debacle is the fact that India fails to recognize what needs to be prioritized. #MeToo has mostly already fizzled in India, in spite of the recent high-profile gang rapes. While in countries like the US and the UK, it has led to continued actions like Times Up and debate on gender pay gap.

A history of minimising protests against GBV

The history of feminism and gender rights movement in India, predicts this. Movements have been triggered by inciting incidents (Mathura and other custody rape in the ’80s driving the anti-rape campaigns, Bhanwari Devi’s gangrape in the ’90s resulting in Visakha guidelines, and Jyoti Pandey’s horrendous death in 2012 leading to mass demonstrations, unrest, and finally Criminal Law Amendment) but gender has consistently fallen secondary to caste, class, and survival in India, preventing holistic change of culture and outlook towards women. For example, the 80’s movements saw gender as sub issue of caste, economy (anti-price rise) or worker’s right.

Role of Indian women in Indian patriarchy and their contribution to the subjugation of women have long been studied by academics. It is not unique necessarily for India I(although there are aspects that are unique) and is indeed known of many other patriarchal societies where the oppressed themselves side with the causes and norms of the oppressors. They are modulated either by conditioning or misguided interest. Even in the US, following the Bill Clinton scandal, democratic feminists were known to come out in favour of Clinton, or downright support workplace sexual harassment in effort of minimizing the blow to their party. However, it is important to recognize the insanity of it today – post Nirbhaya, post MeToo – and the damage it is causing for India given the state of women’s safety and their vulnerability to violent gender based crimes.

Which is why women should support Deepika’s move

It shocks me personally when even urban women, with access to resources who definitely have been exposed to the pictures and stories of victims like Laxmi Aggarwal, Sonali Mukherjee, Reshma, and Zakira come forward – not enraged at what women are subjected to, enraged and fearful for this could happen to them or their daughters for causes as trivial as rejecting a proposal, ignoring a suitor, or expressing a opinion – but concerned about the actress not supporting the national government.

How can religion be more important than safety? How can we let a opportunity like this, given how powerful mainstream Bollywood is in India for reinforcing social issues (from Munna Bhai MBBS, to PINK and Talwar), go to waste? It doesn’t matter if the story has been dramatized, if the movie doesn’t live up to the hype, or if the actress is taking a stance for whatever her reason. What matters is that this is our opportunity to rally in support of action against a serious gender crime and for gender safety in general.

The need of the hour is to forget why Deepika did it and what it reflects of her political orientation. Instead, the need is to watch Chhapaak, find out about acid attack and its victims, be horrified by it, and resolve to prioritize gender in India for the next decade until women’s safety is guaranteed.

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About the Author

Tanushree Ghosh

Tanushree Ghosh (Ph. D., Chemistry, Cornell, NY), is Director at Intel Corp., a social activist, and an author. She is a contributor (past and present) to several popular e-zines incl. The Huffington Post US ( read more...

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