Skimming the surfaces of sexism isn’t enough
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Gangrape speaks of the deep pathologies in the way young men are socialised. We should look within
I hate item numbers," exclaimed a (male) film actor in the midst of a talk show about the gangrape in Delhi that shook the nation. Immediately, there was a heated discussion about the uselessness of item numbers in the midst of Hindi films. Some spoke vehemently about how these songs were sexually provocative without actually pushing the story forward, specifically "selling" films that would be difficult to market otherwise. Others wondered at the wisdom of the actresses performing these numbers with raunchy overtones. Many said that they contribute to the "commodification" of women. A few did raise the question of "free choice", but their voices were drowned out. I tried to point out that "item numbers" were only a symptom of an underlying malaise and not part of the disease. But the debate goes on, and the Twitterati is now abuzz after an article suggested that some item numbers (like "Jumma Chumma" from Hum) almost instigate gangrape, if not symbolically enact it.
As we flounder, seeking answers to why a bunch of young men would spend a cruel evening raping and then torturing a 23-year-old woman almost to her death, one wonders at the seriousness of this debate. Are we turning into a Talibanised, sanctimonious lynch mob, banning Honey Singh and exculpating the "item number", making tiny symbolic gestures without gazing within?
The anatomy of gangrape is something that requires a far deeper analysis than the banning of half- naked women wobbling their assets at the camera. Yes, these songs are foolish and border on pornography — and perhaps those who participate in them are in grave danger of being dismissed as being superficial — but it could equally be argued that (as indeed it is) most film actors participating in them are doing so of their own free will. While for some it is unacceptable, for others it is a symbol of woman power and a celebration of a woman's sexuality, if she chooses to drop her clothes and dance semi-naked on screen. The reality is that the number of rape cases is unlikely to be affected by whether women wear burqas or bikinis, on-screen or off-screen.