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Mind The Gap: On the performative wokeness of Bollywood celebs

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Sunday, October 16, 2022
By Namita Bhandare

Hello and welcome to Mind the Gap, a newsletter that looks at the week’s gender developments. Supreme Court judges can’t agree on the Karnataka government ban on the wearing of hijab by schoolgirls. Details of a grisly crime in Kerala (trigger warning!) and a song that’s becoming the anthem of the Iran revolution. Women, Life, Freedom. Solidarity.

     

THE BIG STORY: On the performative wokeness of Bollywood celebs

No matter what he does, film, ad or a talk about intolerance in India, Aamir Khan has long been a red flag to the Rightwing ecosystem.

The latest furor comes over an ad that follows a story line where it’s not the bride, but the bridegroom (played Khan) who enters his wife’s home. The outrage has followed predictable lines, Khan is anti-Hindu, why doesn’t he condemn polygamy etc etc.

The ad comes days after Khan’s latest film Laal Singh Chaddha flopped following a boycott call issued for the same reasons mentioned above, though how much of its fate was influenced by the boycott or just merit n(and lack of) is hard to say.

I won’t comment on the boycott call except to say it is thuggery and bullying by the mob. But I also have a problem with the ad (and yes, Khan didn’t write the story board, but did agree to act in it). Instead of challenging the traditional belief about a woman’s rightful place first with her father and then with her husband, there’s a lazy role reversal – look! Husband is entering his wife’s home -- that does nothing to change the stereotype. Surely the message is that if daughters are not anyone’s property, neither are sons.

In the past, Khan has freely aligned himself with causes he believes: Narmada Bachao Andolan (2006) and Anna Hazare’s movement (2011).

His 2012 talk show, Satyamev Jayate touched on issues from female feticide to child abuse.

In 2015, his comments on growing intolerance in India cost him a lawsuit and two endorsements, Incredible India and Snapdeal, ironically proving his point about intolerance.

Chilling effect

The threat of boycott (and tax raids and even arrests) has had a chilling effect on those in a position to influence public opinion.

Last week, Priyanka Chopra, a UNICEF goodwill ambassador since 2016, expressed solidarity with Iranian women demanding regime change and was called out for her silence on schoolgirls in Karnataka fighting for their right to attend school in hijab.

The silence is not that hard to understand in an industry that is constantly under scrutiny. If you’re a professional who wants to survive, there are certain topics you need to steer clear of: Hindu religious figures, history that isn’t aligned with Rightwing standards, current affairs and politics (unless it’s to heap praise on the government).

[Read Samanth Subramanian’s comprehensive New Yorker essay, When the Hindu right came for Bollywood.]

Shameful silence

But what explains the silence over the shameful rehabilitation of a man like Sajid Khan, publicly accused by nine women for flashing his penis, watching porn publicly and demanding sex for roles?

Why has no leading actor asked how such a person gets a free pass to reality show Bigg [sic] Boss on Colors TV anchored by actor Salman Khan?

The few who’ve spoken up against him and other #MeToo accused like Anu Malik (now a judge on Indian Idol), Vikas Behl and Kailash Kher include singer Sona Mohapatra who speaks in virtual isolation.

Delhi Commission of Women chief Swati Maliwal has received rape threats for demanding that Sajid Khan is taken off the show.

Meanwhile, the Federation of Western India Cine Employees has actually supported the film-maker, saying he has the right to ‘earn his living’.

Any sympathy for the restrictions on the free speech on actors and public figures, rapidly evaporates in the face of the film industry’s self-imposed omerta on its own faults and functioning.

How many demand POSH committees? How many challenge its worst kept secret about casting couches? How many question prevailing stereotypes in story lines? How many question the absurdity of men playing college students well into their fifties, romancing women less than half their age? In the ad, a 57-year-old Aamir Khan plays bridegroom to a 30-year-old Kiara Advani.

Performative wokeness cannot be a substitute for a conscience.

IN NUMBERS

Number of parents in India who have registered to adopt as of 2021: 26,734

Of the 6,996 children in childcare institutions, children who are legally free for adoption: 2,430

Average time taken to adopt a child aged under four: 2 years

Source: Parliamentary panel on law and justice

GOING PLACES

Credit: The Newsminute

Ashwini KP is the first Indian Dalit woman to be appointed special rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance by the United Nations. The 36-year-old has completed her doctoral thesis on Dalit human rights and has worked as a senior campaigner with Amnesty International.

Read her interview with The NewsMinute here.

WATCH

Take a minute to listen to Shervin Hajipour’s Baraye, a song that, reports The Economist, was heard 40 million times within 48 hours after its release on September 29 following which Hajipour was arrested but finally released on bail. The song -- a series of tweets that characterise the angst that stems from the custody death of 22-year-old Masah Amini – is already becoming the anthem of the revolution.

STORIES YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED

Supreme Court split verdict on hijab row is headed to a larger bench

Credit: PTI

Failure to reach an agreement on the contentious issues of allowing school girls to wear a hijab (head scarf) over their school uniforms in Karnataka has inevitably meant that a clutch of petitions will now be heard by a larger bench. The chief justice will take a call on who and how many judges, three or a full bench of nine, will preside.

Read Utkarsh Anand’s report here.

In Kerala, details emerge of a grisly crime

Credit: PTI

Superstition, fear and just plain depravity in what could well be the goriest crime in recent years. How did Mohammad Shafi, a convicted criminal with 10 cases over 15 years, convince a middle-aged couple, Bhagaval Singh and Laila, to participate in the human sacrifice of two women and even, apparently, cook and eat a portion of their bodies as their ticket to prosperity?

The bodies of the women, identified as Roslin and P Padma, missing since June 6, have been exhumed from Thiruvalla in Pathanamthitta district. Police said they will widen the probe to look into other cases of women who have been reported missing. Ramesh Babu’s story is here.

In Rajasthan, priest arrested for gang-raping a Dalit woman

Credit: Feminism in India

In Ajmer, a 50-year-old priest, Sanjay Sharma and his associates have been arrested on charges of gang-raping a 25-year-old Dalit woman repeatedly for over a month. In her complaint, the woman said the priest first raped her when she was alone at home, and made a video with which he blackmailed her. He also threatened to kill her family and held her captive for five days during which she was kept sedated.

…And the good news

The Madras high court has said that transgender people are entitled to reservation under a third gender category for admission to educational institutes. Read more in Bar&Bench here.

AROUND THE WORLD

Singapore Airlines has finally dropped its long-criticised policy of firing pregnant cabin crew. The change, effective since July 15, says Bloomberg, now gives pregnant cabin crew the option of working as temporary ground staff and resuming flying duties after maternity leave.

Europe’s top court has ruled that EU companies can ban headscarfs as long as it is a general prohibition that does not discriminate against employees, reports Reuters. The Court of Justice of the European Union was ruling on a case involving a Muslim woman who was told she could not wear a headscarf when she applied for a six-week work traineeship at a Belgian company.

Myanmar’s junta sentenced ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi to an additional six years in prison for corruption, taking the 77-year-old Nobel laureate’s total jail time to 26 years. Suu Kyi has been detained since the generals toppled her government in a February 1 coup last year.

        

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That’s it for this week. Do you have a tip or information on gender-related developments that you’d like to share? Write to me at: namita.bhandare@gmail.com.

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