Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Preity Zinta and Ness Wadia Case

 Recent TV debates and Tweets following the public spat between well known actor Preity Zinta and Ness Wadia , a scion of the wealthy Wadia clan of Mumbai, made it startlingly clear that in the eyes of many Indian opinion makers, mere use of obscene language and gesture against a woman does not constitute a cognizable offence as spelt out by the amended laws against women's molestation. To them obscenity, when all is said and done, is less a crime and more of a moral sin to be reined in so far as possible for the ‘purity’ of the onlookers. As the Samajvadi Party supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav said famously, boys will be boys ! they may slip up now and then ( Ladke hain, galtiyan ho hi jati hain.) . Actually this view is literally accurate. As a moral sin, talk of women's molestation like cuss words, will turn men on, both when they discuss them and when they overhear others doing that . Since in this case the appellant is a film actress, a profession many see as rubbing shoulders constantly with questionable morals, a female journalist and current a Right Wing evangelist said the actor was being foolish and extra vengeful in talking  of her modesty being outraged publically when what were hurled at her were in all probability a few cuss words and a mild physical assault . Didn’t she know while she was trivializing Section 358 of the Indian Penal Code thus while many poor young Dalit girls were being raped and killed ?

More than the case, which is yet to be investigated fully, the public apportioning of blame it has triggered off shows how prolonged and organized male dominance in our society may have systematically shaped social imperatives that spell what kind of misbehavior construes ‘outraging the modesty’ of a woman . Those who explain human rights differently for men and women in the context of article 358, feel that acts and speech that a victim identifies as an eroticization of male dominance and female submission, is actually relatively harmless and making a case out of it is to trivialize gross forms of molestation that the poorer women suffer. This attitude is more pervasive than we believe. In the context of several cases of rape where the alleged perp was a powerful male , both the police officials who refused to register a First Information Report and leaders of political parties the perps owed allegiance to, have said that the charges were motivated by personal or political malice . We had warned you earlier, they go on, how some scheming women may be tempted to fabricate rape or assault on modesty charges under the new law, after having had a previous consensual relationship with the alleged perpetrator.

Any fair enquiry into the distinction between familiar banter and serious assault on someone’s modesty must enquire into the meaning of the act from the victim’s point of view . What the present debate obscures is that the fight over a definition of someone’s modesty being outraged is mostly a fight over the terms of access to women . The tacit question being whose sexuality threatens the system more?  


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