20 January 2013 | by Shruti Kohli | NEW DELHI
She prefers to call herself an artivist, an artist born to be an activist. Her slogan is “say enough to all that is wrong”. In that vein, danseuse Mallika Sarabhai, tells Shruti Kohli how lyrics of songs and dialogues of movies influence violence against women and even though alcohol negatively affects men’s behaviour towards women, banning it will only increase the problem. She has a different solution:
Shruti Kohli: Suddenly everybody is saying “enough is enough” and in the wake of the Dec 16 incident, everybody wants a different world for women. And suddenly we have realised that everything that we considered as means of safety for women, have failed. The victim of the 16 Dec incident was escorted by a man, was not wearing revealing clothes, it was not very late in the night, the police check posts fell in the way of the bus, other people were out on the road etc etc. The beliefs failed, the system failed, humaneness failed …everything failed! What’s your take?
Mallika Sarabhai: The same day that the Delhi case happened, a two-year-old girl in Hallol district near Baroda was taken tto the fields rapes and killed. Am glad that Damini’s death here in the capital has brought it to the national attention. If things were to change, it will be a tribute to her. But this is happening with millions of women across the world. In India it is horrendous.
Somehow this case seems to have gotten the attention of Delhi and when Delhi starts shouting, the rest of the nation shouts because “this was someone like us” You can’t necessarily relate to that adivasi woman in Chhattigarh who was raped and when she went to the police…she was training to be a police woman. She used to run and jog everyday because she wanted to be the police. People raped her, she went to the police and the police did nothing and she committed siucide.
But that doesn’t ring a bell. Also, today Delhi is saying “that could’ve been my daughter”. My question is how many parents are saying “that could’ve been our son.” I don’t think anybody is saying that. The guys who raped were like us as well in that sense. They were not outlandish, they didn’t look like brutes, they weren’t from some Taliban like country. They were “regular guys.” Why aren’t we saying that could’ve been my son. Why isn’t the same mother who is saying “that could’ve been my daughter (who got raped)”, instead saying, “that could’ve been my son (who raped her),”
Shruti: Yeah. My beautician’s daughter had to miss school for ten days as her parents were scared to let walk back home from the bus stop all alone. However, no boy was made to miss school for this reason. Why, after all they were men who raped the girl. It’s not a women’s issue. Rape is actually a men’s issue!
Mallika: This is exactly the kind of regressive and kneejerk reaction we saw after the case. Look at this idiot Asaram Bapu and what he has said. I think every single woman worth her essence should go and shout outside his ashram till he goes down on his knees and begs pardon. This is not the first time Asaram Bapu has done something like this. I am helping fight a case where two young boys 11 years old, who were sent to school in his ashram were used allegedly for tantric things and their completely dismembered bodies were found a month later in some far away place in Ahmedabad. We are helping the two fathers fight the case. Asaram Bapu even refused to go to the court and depose till we got an order out and he was forced to go.
Then, you have a lot of people suggesting this and that like dress of women, co-education, mingling of opposite sexes. That is not the answer! We need a huge social change. We need a huge systemic change.
Every parent needs to understand that they have to bring up their kids differently. They have to shame the boys into saying that this kind of behaviour is not okay. You have to put them in touch with themselves and say that it’s okay to feel upset and cry. It’s not unmanly.
This “be a man” are the three most dangerous words in the English language. What does it mean? It means since you are a man you shouldn’t be sentimental, don’t be emotional, push yourself on everything, be macho, that makes you a man. What parents need to do and what school children need to be taught it needs to be incorporated into the educational curriculum, police needs to be sensitised, Parliament needs to be sensitised, judges, lawyers, doctors, I mean across the board that is have to be done
Shruti: What do you have to say about the effect of music on people’s minds. Let’s take the case of Honey Singh…
Mallika: I was horrified to read the lyrics of his songs!! Absolutely!! I have written about it and somone who read my column has filed a case against this singer. I wrote about it six weeks before Nirbhaya’s case happened. I was horrified with the lyrics of the songs. The reader got back within half an hour of reading the column and asked, “This is horrendous! What should I be doing to help in this?” He wrote to everybody and never got a response. Then he wrote to me and asked if he could file a case. I said yes. Just three days ago he wrote to me that the case has already been filed in Chandigarh. After all this then, this Honey Singh says I actually love women!! This guy needs to be educated.
Lyrics have a huge influence on a human mind. Look at the lyrics in the Hindi films. What about the item numbers? I think the most vulgar commodification of women is happening in the item numbers. And then look at the photographs and reports. Why go far? Just today’sDelhi Times has this report at the top on the front page “Who’s the most desirable?” with pictures of all Hindi film actresses below it. Rubbish desirable! What are you doing?
Why don’t you say “who is the nicest? or who is the most philanthropic? or who is the kindest or the most intelligent or the most humane?” Huh! Who’s the most desirable? I was horrified that in the midst of all this, this is what they publish! This is what leads to rapes! And this is what leads to violence! And all of them get paid (Rs) 5 or 20 crores for promoting this. Even otherwise the photos in glamour pages are all ‘male gaze’ something like saying come grab me!
Shruti: Alcohol is also being seen as a reason for violence against women. Some people are demanding a ban on alcohol. I happened to meet Bhanwari Devi last month. Even she said that alcohol is a big menace. Men get drunk and come home and beat the women or sexually assault their daughters.
Mallika: In Gujarat we’ve always had prohibition. That has not stopped violence. In fact, that has led people to drink low quality hooch which renders many women widowed. Sometime back, 150 men from one colony died after drinking hooch. People also go blind.
But yes, at the same I can’t deny that drinking does cause violence. Drunk men do beat women in their houses. But as I said banning would only lead them to find other low quality means. I feel that if women were empowered enough to take on abusive men, if the society didn’t stigmatise women for walking out of marriages, if they were economically independent to look after their kids, that would be the solution.
If a man is being abusive and violent after getting drunk, walk out of the marriage or throw him out. We, at Darpana have started the Kranti Citizens’ Research and Action Initiative. It’s basically about what government helplines should be. You should be able to walk in and say I have so and so problem,, sort this.
And we get women everyday who are being beaten up and abused. I tell them ‘you are the one who is earning, you are the one who is keeping the family. Why don’t you just throw him out?’ But you know what they tell me?
Even if he is abusive, if other men know there is a husband, they won’t bother us sexually. The minute I’m separated, I become prey for every man who needs a f***. This is the situation. So, they will put up with insults, abuse, violence because at least it’s coming only from one man and that as long as she doesn’t become a “bazaru aurat” (sex worker).
Shruti: This is in rural areas. Is it?
Mallika: No, no. This is in Ahmedabad city. That “V” is not for victory then. It’s for violence. It’s violence that binds the world together against women.
Shruti: An American replied to my tweet recently saying “In America we can’t even imagine such cases (referring to the Delhi gang rape incident). Here, even if a woman were to walk nude on the streets, no one would bother her.”
Mallika: What rubbish!! It’s bad in America too. There’s a whole book written on the subject “Take Back The Night.” The number of date rapes that are happening in America is horrendous, marital rape is horrendous, boyfriend rape is horrendous. But it is much less than what it is here in India. Their law mechanism is very strong. Here, the law mechanism is weak.
Shruti: So how does it help even if we have a strong law?
Mallika: Like I said, there are less rapes in America than in India. It’s a more civilised society. Besides, they are concentrating more on procuring guns and killing people as of now.
Shruti: When we talk about these issues, the picture looks grim. Although so much work is going on, still it doesn’t seem to end. Do you think things are changing? Or is the change so small that we goes unnoticed?
Mallika: A lot has changed. One is that more and more women are willing to speak about it. Even on their death beds, women will accuse their in-laws of dowry harassment that they burnt them. Secondly, awareness level has gone up that violence against women is wrong and they should not put up with this. There are NGOs doing good work.
But there is another negative change that has happened and which, at times, tends to overshadow the positive change. The globalisation and capitalisation has only strengthened patriarchy with the commodification of women. If they are selling products with tags like “widens your vagina” … is horrifying. The whole thing of “wide is better” “tight is better” etc etc …horrible!! And you have nude or semi-nude women selling cars to pastries to everything. You are constantly equating women with body. Not a person. Just body. And a body to be used for pleasure. This is come with the last 20 years of capitalism. That is affecting women’s consciousness in a big way and that’s why you don’t see a change.
Shruti: But are you hopeful that these people in the entertainment business are ever going to change anything? They are aggressively towing the “sex sells” line!
Mallika: The change will have to be forced on them. I said this today at a conference that the next time there is a movie with an item number or vulgar lyrics or dialogues, strike outside the theatre. Strike outside Katrina’ Kaif’s house. Shame them…shame them into not doing it. Somebody has to do it and I think people power can.
Shruti: We can also boycott these movies.
Mallika: Yes. Boycott. Absolutely!
Shruti: Talking about changing rape laws, what changes would you look forward to?
Mallika: Rape laws are full of loopholes and the worst is when something does not get proved. Investigations are so shoddy. Yesterday there was a case where the judge said ‘I know that these people have raped this girl but the police investigation is so full of loopholes that I have to let them go’. From the very first step, investigations go haywire. The very first test that needs to be done in case of sexual crimes is that of the semen and DNA. This has to be done without delay. For this, you need primary health care centres everywhere so that a woman can be rushed to take these tests. That’s not there.
Rape laws have to be made strict. Cases have to go to fast track courts. There has to be special police. The police need to be given gender sensitisation training so that they don’t ask the same question ten times and snigger. Doctors also. The way doctors examine rape victims is so dehumanising. Of course laws have to be made stringent but along with that a massive gender sensitisation campaign needs to be done.
Shruti: People, especially men, have pointed out at the misuse of rape laws just like dowry laws.
Mallika: The actual number of women who are killed for dowry is so huge, that even if there are five percent cases of false charges, it should not be made a yardstick. Misuse of any law is always a possibility…of any law. I don’t think human inventiveness stops anything from being misused. Just because it is being misused in five percent cases, you can’t take away the actual use. If the investigation is being done more stringently, then you can weed out the misuse to a great extent. Right now what’s happening is that it’s the actual abuse that is being weeded out.
Shruti: A journalist friend in MP told me the other day that while writing a piece on violence against women, he culled out figures of rape cases in the MP High Court. He said that at least 95 per cent cases were fake in the sense that a couple eloped and when the gir’s family found them, they got the girl to charge the boy with rape.
Mallika: If 95 per cent cases in one court were fake, what about the huge number of rape cases being filed everyday in the courts? have you seen the papers? Maybe 5 percent or maybe ten percent. I’m sorry Shruti but tell your journalist friend that havng worked in this field for three decades, I don’t believe that at all.
Shruti: What would say about initiatives like The Petticoat Journal?
Mallika: Wonderful! At least there is one platform now which will talk about the real issues concerning women rather than what Aishwarya Rai is wearing. The more real thought starts happening among people the more we will focus on real issues rather than on frimfram.
If you, or a woman or women around you, are subject to domestic violence, sexual harassment, sexual violence, and other atrocities at home or anywhere else, here is what you can do.Know more