Barring a few, the Indian film industry has remained largely mute to the spate of savage crimes against women and children in the country. Shouldn’t celebrity especially from the entertainment world who have such a powerful and influential voice speak up?
After all, power comes with responsibility!
One of Bollwyood’s most vocal spokesperson Ashoke Pandit agrees, but explains the crippling rider. “Of course power comes with responsibility. And our Bollywood actors have powerful voices which they do use very effectively when required. Farhan Akhar has constantly supported the fight against crime targeting women and children. Salman Khan and Akshay Kumar speak up as they’ve done in the Asifa case. And they speak with authority. It is the fashionable cosmetic kind of armchair concern coming from glamorous sections of Bollywood that I object to. I come from Jammu and I know what the reality is in that region. The barbaric rape and murder of 8-year old Asifa is not as a simple a crime as it seems. Asifa was an adopted child and she had come into a large inheritance. And the truth will be out soon. But to have half-baked by glamour girls who see this as their chance to be India’s Shabana Azmi and Meryl Streep is opportunism at its worst. I condemn this kind of superficial cosmetic concern. When you don’t know the issue don’t trivialize it by talking about it.” Ashoke also admits that the film industry is a thankless place. “So many times I’ve stood up and fought for the individuals who I thought were wrongly accused of crimes. They’ve turned around and spoken against me. But it’s okay. My parents and spiritual guru have taught me to do what is right, and move on. However others may hesitate in coming forward to offer verbal or emotional support for the fear of a backlash. The trolls are not bearable. They attack your mother sister and family. I don’t care. But you have to have a real thick skin to withstand the backlash.”
Filmmaker Vivek Agnihotri thinks there is a lack of sensitivity in the entertainment industry. “It’s easier to make money without touching upon social issues. They (the Bollywood celebs) have no real sense of the real world and India outside of Pali Hil and Juhu. So they end up making stupid comments and sounding like saints exposing their lack of understanding and hypocrisy. They end up becoming the subject of ridicule. So they have decided to keep quiet. Besides, how can sinners comment on someone else’s sins? If guilty of sexually exploiting women, how can they speak against sexual exploitation?” So is there a prevalence of sexual exploitation in the Indian entertainment industry? Tamil veteran actress Khushboo who has also been a part of Bollywood from the time she was child, disagrees. “Sexual violence within the industry is not something I have come across till date. I grew up in this industry and I have been fortunate or lucky, I must say. Those who have been subjected to it, my empathy. But that is a very rare case. No producer is a fool to invest in crores just for sexual favours.” Khushboo thinks it’s the hounding and trolling that prevents actors from speaking up more strongly on sexual violence. “On Asifa and other heart breaking happenings, I think celebs stay away as they know they will be hounded by the paid trolls, called anti-national, anti-Hindutva, IT raids… hassled by the service tax department, use of filthiest language on social platform, create fake news about them, malign their image and what not.”
Kiran Rao protesting for Asifa
None of this will stop Khushboo from calling a spade a spade or a rape a rape. “And I say this with personal experience to all of this, I care a damn and I will continue to call a spade a spade. Many want to stay away from being hassled… and that is not fear but a hard bare truth that even this (Asifa) will be forgotten after few candle light marches and protests, just as Nirbhaya was.” The intrepid Pooja Bhatt has very strong views on sexual violence and feels women often aid men in perpetrating such crimes. “Unfortunately crimes against women go beyond female infanticide, rape and physical abuse. Abuse comes in various forms-mental, physical and emotional. We respond to the most heinous and violent if at all as a society in general. Most men who tweet about female emancipation degrade their women in a daily basis in their very own bedrooms by forcing them to indulge in acts and fantasies to support their fragile egos. Women tend to play along because they are too frightened to lose those men that they should actually be kicking out of the door.” Pooja feels there are many forms of sexual violence, all hard to classify. “How many men boast about having multiple partners yet refuse to use protection? Isn’t that a crime against women? This sense of entitlement that most men have is one that is perpetuated by women as well. How many women advise another woman to ‘look the other way’ when their husbands cheat on them? Isn’t that a crime against women? Pooja is as strongly against domestic violence in a so-called civil environment, as she is against the crime that stalks women and children on the streets. “The life that we preach and the lives that we lead are shockingly different. How different is a CEO of a company if she plays along with her husband or boyfriend’s sick fantasies against her will from a simple and common housewife in a ghunghat or purdah who endures beatings and even rape by her husband’s relative because she has nowhere to go beyond her matrimonial home?”
To blame only the men for sex crimes is to Pooja, a deleterious form of social hypocrisy. “Yes, men can be monsters but we have to ask ourselves as women if we have somewhere contributed to those monsters. A mother who looks away when her son beats and cheats on his woman is complicit in his crime. A woman who agrees to a sex-determination test because she wants brownie points for having produced a male heir even though the sex of a child is determined by the man, is complicit in murder. So you see, the vicious circle of crime and hypocrisy claims everyone, man and woman alike.”
Singer-actor-BJP minister Baabul Supriyo thinks celebrities talking about sexual violence is of little consequence. “There is no need for it. As a father of two daughters, all I can see is that, the more people speak, the more trivialized, politicized this barbaric crime gets. In spite of being dead against Death Penalty as advocated by the European Union, I would make one exception and it would be enough if we just get united in one thing. That convicted rapists of children and juveniles should be given mandatory death penalty. These animals do not have the right to live.”