A woman travelling home from work is waylaid, abducted, molested in a running vehicle, videotaped, intimidated and blackmailed. She happens to be a successful actress and she's bold enough to report the crime. God's Own People go berserk. Amidst the wailing and breast-beating, names are bandied about and conspiracy theories are unleashed. The nexus between criminals, politicians, police and the film fraternity tops the 'trending' list. Kaithapram Damodaran says the incident has two positive outcomes. The victim's revelation has set an example to other women. And her courage in reporting for work, barely a week after the traumatic event, has sent a strong signal to both men and women: 'She will overcome.'
When a victim remains silent, the criminal is emboldened to repeat the crime. A blackmailer seeks to cash in on the victim's guilt or shame. When she refuses to be silenced, the plot fails. Thus when the actress said, 'I was violated,'she was blazing a trail, making it easier for women in similar circumstances to report similar crimes. Prithviraj's FB post touched a raw nerve and brought tears to my eyes, "Today she makes a statement - a statement that will echo through time, space and gender - that no one or no incident has control over your life but YOU!" And he promised, "Never again will I let disrespect for women be celebrated in my movies!" Prithviraj is perhaps the first actor to express regret for being part of films that glorified misogyny. There is no denying the fact that Filmistan is probably the least woman-friendly of all industries.
It is guilty of the objectification and marginalization of women, reinforcement of gender stereotypes, vulgarity and violence, under-payment of actresses, blatant gender discrimination, sexual favouritism and various other forms of exploitation. Anita Ramesh, faculty member of Zamorin's Guruvayurappan College, Kozhikode says, "Woman has long been assailed by what may be called 'fear terrorism'. She is forced to be on guard every minute to protect her body. She thinks twice before breathing the late night air without a male protector. Vultures who see her as a piece of flesh to be enjoyed are lurking round every corner. If she ventures out into spaces and time forbidden to her, she is labelled as one with loose morals. In case of a feud or vendetta, what better way to teach her a lesson than to violate her body? As our films tell us, 'Nee verum pennalle!'" But the mini screen projects another brand of femme fatale. In TV serials we see women hiring quotation gangs to settle scores in their family brawls. Whether this reflects the dominant ethos of a decadent society is a moot point. Does TV impact society or is it the other way around? The influence is often bi-directional.
Pulsar Suni, the main accused in the abduction saga, had intimidated the actress Menaka Suresh six years ago, and despite the victim lodging a complaint the police had failed to file an FIR. So the offender went scot-free and went on to repeat the offence. It is hard to imagine that he led a wholly pious existence for the last six years and suddenly in February 2017 he launched a gruesome assault on a young actress. How many similar offences had he committed during those years and how many women had failed to report or paid up to buy his silence is anybody's guess. "Pulsar Suni would never throw away the cellphone!" a young man tells me excitedly, "It's a goldmine!"
Bindu VC, MD, Kerala State Women's Development Corporation, says unequivocally, "All of us are responsible for the value systems prevailing in our society. Today money and fame are valued above everything else. People will do anything to attain these." Bindu emphasizes that goondas had always been around, but in recent years they have rapidly gained social acceptance. "Perhaps the turning point occurred over a decade ago when new-gen banks started using goons to seize vehicles when the C.C. was in arrears," she opines. Kaithapram underlines the irony of celebrities patronizing goondas when he says, "Every group seems to have their own private goondas, ostensibly to protect them from the innocent public!" "It is sad that people condemned a leading actor on the basis of mere speculation and rumours, without waiting for a shred of evidence," rued Kaithapram, referring to the widely circulated allegation that D was behind the 'quotation'. Instant judgment is the curse of social media. As the Mahabharata example succinctly puts it, "If Keechaka has been killed, only Bhima could have done it!" The price of fame is defamation. The poor man has to grin and bear it.
‘Defence lawyers are part of it all’
Bindu points out that "Alloor was a non-entity until he obtained a judgement in favour of his client Govindachamy in the Sowmya rape-and-murder case. Fenny Balakrishnan shot to fame by representing Saritha Nair. Even bad publicity is good publicity, because scandals are good for business. Lawyers compete with each other to extricate criminals from the clutches of the law." In answer to a question about capital punishment or castration as deterrent punishments for sexual crimes, Bindu says she is against any punishment that is irreversible. But, not surprisingly, many others advocate an eye-for-an-eye approach.
Apparently, the laws prohibiting abduction and blackmail are in need of amendment. Blackmail or criminal intimidation under IPC Section 503 warrants only two years in jail. Abduction attracts punishment only if 'intention' to murder, cause grievous injury, enslave, marry off, etc. is proven (Section 364-369). Even rape laws have inherent flaws. It may not be a bad idea to mandate castration for child rape, life term for minor rape and 10 years for adult rape. "Advocates who defend hardened criminals, murderers, rapists, child molesters and the like are perfectly justified in the eyes of the law, but the public can certainly ostracize them and bring pressure on them to desist," says Bindu. "Whether they are driven by greed or whether they themselves have criminal tendencies, one can only speculate, but social stigma can certainly impact their choice of clients."
Silence is Violence
"Women and their bodies have been sites of dispute since time immemorial," says Anitha. "The framing of their bodies as objects - to be protected (benevolent take), of desire (to be 'pleasured' at will), of religious, caste and community identities, of vendetta and honour, of beauty - has taken a heavy toll on women and their self-esteem. To break out of these culturally enforced, constricting enclosures, women have to assert, fight, grab and in the process sometimes get ravaged." Women who are victims of assault and blackmail would do well to remember that violence can be ended only be resistance, not by a conspiracy of silence. The time has come to shed all misguided notions of honour and respectability. What happens if a diamond falls into a pile of shit?
Nothing! The diamond remains a diamond. The pile of shit remains a pile of shit. "Honour is not merely connected with the body. It is the raiment of the soul," wrote Kamala Das aeons ago. Her words still echo in my heart. The body is inconsequential. Bodily functions are irrelevant. What can a blackmailer reveal, after all? A nude body? A few natural processes? And who's going to look at the pictures or videos? Only a handful of cheap, invisible, internet voyeurs. Are they worth bothering about? Face the world. Speak up. Say 'I was violated.' And break the shackles of false modesty. As our actress friend has done.