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KOLKATA: Independent senior woman journalists have written to the West Bengal Women’s Commission, expressing shock at the regressive content of serials aired during evening prime time on Bengali entertainment channels.

The women, who are part of the National Network of Womenin India and work towards gender sensitivity in the media, said they were appalled by serials first portraying women as only homemaker and now plummeting to new depths by promoting the presence of two wives in a man’s life.

Serials such as ‘Ei Cheleta Bhel Bheleta’, ‘Punyi Pukur‘, ‘Bene Bou’, ‘Mem Bou’ and ‘Radha’ have been named among those which portray such regressive ideas. These daily soaps are telecast on Zee Bangla, Star Jalsha and Colours and several have stories spun around men either marrying or on the verge of marrying two women — one self-chosen and the other by his family.

“Watched by millions of women, these serials are far from showing real empowerment. They legitimize abuse, violence and patriarchy in its worst forms. Not just paying heed to the fact that bigamy is a legal offence in the communities that are depicted in the stories, the serials signal wrong messages about family values. Notwithstanding negative comments on social media, these serials continue with their attempts to cheaply garner TRPs,” said independent journalist Monjeera Majumdar.

Fuming at the regressive content, independent filmmaker and chairperson of the state commission for protection of child rights Ananya Chatterjee Chakraborti said it was extremely sad to see such inane serials when Bengal has a literary tradition of powerful stories of women empowerment by authors like Ashapoorna Devi, Mahasweta Devi, Suchitra Bhattacharya and Nabanita Deb Sen.

“It is high time this depraved depiction of gender is stopped on prime time television that caters to a wide section of viewers. It affects true progress of gender equality through media and presents disturbing and distorted images through regressive and archaic mindset,” she said.

Psychologists said the addition to these serials among homemakers and domestic help was reflective of shadow patriarchy where a woman exercises her power as the mother of the son when she is torturing her daughter-in-law.

Psycho-analyst Barnali Ghosh offered a different perspective. She felt women watch the serials for emotional gratification in the absence of an alternative avenue. “The audience comprises people who are retired or housewives or domestic help. There’s a need to fill the void. Serials such as these provide a range of such emotional experiences that are otherwise lacking. When they see polygamy, they react to it with distaste. Even this is a form of engagement,” reasoned Ghosh.

Film and TV producer Shrikant Mohta of SVF Films that has produced several of these popular soaps, including ‘Bojhena Se Bojhena‘, ‘Bodhu Kon Alo Laglo Chokhe’ and ‘Patol Kumar Ganwala’, defended the storyline. “What we portray through these serials is reality. Can these critics claim and prove that polygamy isn’t happening in our society? The truth is that we prefer to look away and pretend that nothing’s going wrong around us,” said Mohta.