From Jayalalithaa To Deepika To Anushka: Society Just Loves Witch Hunting Women!

Bollywood has seen plenty of women being bashed over the years. We heard of the ridiculous controversy over Deepika Padukone’s outfit from a song in her upcoming movie to trolling Anushka Sharma for Virat's poor performance.

Historically, the blame for larger events has been carried by women. For example, in 1792, the Santhal witch trials in the Chhota Nagpur Plateau region showed the first ever evidence for witch-hunts in India[1]. People believed that witches were responsible for deaths of villagers and for infecting livestock with fevers, among other things.

It doesn’t stop there! In May this year, a 45-year-old Adivasi woman was killed by a mob in Assam. She was suspected of practising witchcraft despite stringent laws against witch-hunting. Sadly, witch-hunts are still prevalent in some Indian states and cross the bounds of religion and happens in various communities.

In a horrifying incident in Bihar in 2021, 35-year-old Sunawwar Khatoon, a school teacher, was mercilessly beaten to death by a mob over baseless accusations [2].

Such heinous acts of violence extend to more well-known examples like Jayalalithaa who was assaulted in the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly in 1989 despite her power and prestige.

Jayalalithaa was not the last of more well-known examples of misogyny driven violence.[3]

Witch hunting in Bollywood

Bollywood has seen plenty of women being bashed over the years. We heard of the ridiculous controversy over Deepika Padukone’s outfit from a song in her upcoming movie[4] which led to uproar over offending the religious sensibilities. No stranger to controversy, she was also castigated for her dance number in Padmaavat (2018) to the point of receiving death threats[5].

Padukone’s co-star, Priyanka Chopra was also embroiled in controversy surrounding her American series, Quantico. She was blasted for depicting nationalists being shown as terrorists in the show, even though she did not have control over the script.[6] This compels us to think about how even abstract fictional themes can offend people, to the point of sending death threats to said actresses.

Since when did actresses become keepers?

One must ask, how come actresses have been made the keepers of political and religious accuracy, or are they just easy targets to blame? Being religious, one would expect the extremists to be extremely respectful towards women, their safety and be careful of their words, yet we see the contrary.

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Another example of a witch-hunt was seen during the Sushant Singh Rajput enquiry following the actor’s suicide. The incident wrapped up many actresses into a blame game. Alia Bhatt was traced to a year’s old interview and her remarks were taken out of context to threaten her[7].

Rajput’s ex, Ankita Lokhande was also accused of his death when she expressed grief over it[8]. Though they had long broken up long before the incident, as she moved on, netizens continue to point out her abetment in the actor’s death.

Similarly, and most severely, Rhea Chakraborty was made a news channel spectacle for months as she was interrogated by authorities while the public carried out their own vigilante justice, blaming her and mounting accusations related to Rajput’s case[9].

It is interesting to note that beyond the more important topic of mental health becoming worse in the stressful acting industry, people immediately took to blaming the women in Rajput’s life, poorly affecting their mental health as well.

A parallel example of women-blaming is evident in the world of cricket, where wives and girlfriends of cricket players are often blamed for their partners’ performance. Sanjana Ganesan had posted a photo of her and her husband, cricketer Jasprit Bumrah, when many fans quickly linked it to the team’s poor performance in the Asia Cup 2022 that had happened prior[10].

Similarly, celebrities such as Anushka Sharma[11] and Natasa Stankovic[12] who are married to Virat Kohli and Hardik Pandya respectively are regularly used as scapegoats. While showing support for their favourite players should suffice, fans continue to target women even when the players themselves have shown utter disgust over this behaviour.

Actresses such as Fatima Sana Sheikh, Uorfi Javed and Hina Khan face flak on every post, compelling people to comment on their clothes, passing judgments on their modesty and faith. Fatima Sheikh and[13]

Uorfi Javed get regularly slut-shamed for their bold clothing choices[14]. While, Hina Khan was attacked for wishing people “Happy Diwali”, many commenters made racist comments, questioning her religious commitments[15].

This begs the question of why are women, almost always, exclusively blamed for sacrilege or dire offence? Is it a woman’s sole responsibility to uphold the honour of her community, religion or husband?

It is also important to note that clothes do not sexualize the celebrity, but the viewer does, so how it fair to blame actresses for how the viewer feels about their attire?

How is society complicit in such public spectacles?

Why are such incidents are so common throughout history?

We still read about women-bashing in the newspaper and often see female celebrities on the news, being torn down over baseless accusations. On one hand, this shows the callousness of the India media, looking to make quick content out of women’s misery.

While media actively inciting the viewers to join in on the witch hunt on the other hand, it shows the compliance of the Indian masses as well. Both men and women alike to find such witch hunts entertaining, giving such news great traction.

Usually, vigilante witch hunts have been carried out against disadvantaged, elderly or widowed women from economically weaker communities and those suffering from mental illnesses, the idea behind it being of textbook physical and mental oppression.

Similarly, tearing down female celebrities is a way of oppressing them, and their popularity makes them an easy target. Fuelled by envy or pure negativity, many enjoy watching women being punished, whether it be in real life or in the news.

Why does witch hunting still exist?

It is no secret that society has deemed women as much more powerful than they would like to acknowledge. Otherwise, it is hard to imagine why small acts can set off major controversies; pushing people to criticize, blame, prohibit and exert control over the situation.

For the longest time, women have been tied to larger concepts, limiting them to norms and households.

And while our Constitution enables to each person inalienable rights as long as they do not directly harm another person in today’s date, it still seems to be a hard pill to swallow for many who still enjoy dictating women’s education, attire, appearance, behaviour and major life choices for so long.

Once again, I enunciate, if a woman’s choices bother you, it is only because you seek to control them.

Image source: Getty Images


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About the Author

Ria Tirkey

I am Ria from New Delhi. I'm a student of political science and law and I have a lot to say apparently. read more...

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