Monobina Gupta , TOI
04 August 2012,


 Not so long ago, a young woman was molested in full public a gaze in the heart of Guwahati. Barely a month later, a moral vigilante group barged into a homestay party in Mangalore and roughed up the women. The political class and the authorities responded by walling themselves up in silence. Of course, they made the ritualistic tutting noises on primetime television talk shows. But are they always so loathe to speak their minds? Apparently not. The very same people in positions of authority issue cultural fiats in the blink of an eye. This is an age of social, cultural and patriarchal backlash. There’s an entire way of life, a whole range of desires, aesthetics and attitudes that are in the process of being tabooed: bare skin, short skirts, provocative films, ‘offensive’ posters, sexual orientations, partying, drinking, smoking, holding hands, kissing. Where’s the end to this cultural gangsterism? As modernity overwhelms us, we also seem to have become more barbaric in the way we express our disapproval and negotiate cultural and social spaces.

The newly released film Jism 2, directed by Pooja Bhatt happens to be the latest in a long series of such triggers. Describing Sunny Leone’s Jism 2 posters as ‘objectionable’, NCP MLA, Vidya Chavan petitioned the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) Commissioner and Shiv Sena Mayor Sunil Prabhu to take the posters off. Rushing to do the bidding of NCP-Shiv Sena leaders, the general manager of the Mumbai electric supply and transport, removed the posters from bus stops. Its hard to ignore how on every occasion of such perceived ‘moral turpitude’, the usually inert and slothful authorities act with remarkable efficiency.

Recently, the West Bengal Board of Censorship banned posters of Hate Story, as “obscene and provocative”. One of the posters showed the actor Paoli Dam‘s bare back, later ingeniously blotted out with blue ink! Rightists, Leftists and the Centrists have covertly joined hands in their disastrous mission to ‘save’ Indian culture. With their direct and indirect support, Mumbai has witnessed the summary closure of hundreds of dance bars, throwing the women out of their jobs. Subsequent research has revealed the slow pauperization of the former bar dancers; many among them forced to return to the small towns they had tried to escape so hard.

One would have expected the National Commission for Women (NCW) to take the lead in protecting women’s rights. But here’s a sample of the organisation’s beliefs and actions. Reacting to the Magalore incident, Karnataka State Women’s Commission chairperson C Manjula reportedly said, “Home stay parties mislead young girls.” Why? Because in the perception of the NCW, the parties generate ‘suspicion about what’s going on’ “I will hold discussions with the university vice-chancellor and principals of colleges in the city to find solutions to the issue of protection of young women students,” she said. No less than the NCW chairperson Mamta Sharma herself has time and again made statements offensive to women. In the aftermath of the Guwahati molestation incident, Sharma said women should be “careful” about what they wear. Earlier in the context of eve teasing she has asked girls not to mind being called “sexy”.

What on earth is going on? Ironically, the Congress has never tired of slamming Anna Hazare for his ‘my way or the highway’ politics. But what about the ‘cultural highway’ that is being imposed on us every day? How long will this go uncontested? To quote Germaine Greer from Whole Woman: “It’s time to get angry again.”