Monday, July 22, 2013

Marital Rape in Bhaag Milkha Bhaag: Why We Need To Talk About It?

I watched Bhaag Milkha Bhaag after more than a week of its release. While the movie was gripping (though long, with some scenes and song sequences that could have been easily done away with), what has been surprising for me is that even though, for a very brief moment, the movie shows about marital rape (though all behind the curtains), in this one week, I haven't come across a single article/opinion piece in any of the media houses/blogs that used this opportunity to talk about the issue that people still don't want to even acknowledge - Marital Rape.

The movie of course is about the life story of Milkha Singh, so the scene in itself is of a few minutes. For the brief moment where it touches upon the issue, a young Milkha Singh is shown to have finally been united with his sister, and now stays in their tent in the refugee camp. Her sister (played by Divya Dutta) is called upon by her husband at night, who has drawn makeshift curtains at his end. As she goes there, she is she is first slapped by him for not coming on his first call, and then, what follows are a series of sounds - of the husband panting and reaching orgasm as the wife's cries are heard. The noises wakes up the young Milkha, who is feeling angry even as 2 other teenaged boys sleeping there look at the drawn curtain and chuckle. Divya Dutta finally comes out of the tent and splashes water on her face continuously to ease here trauma, and then hugs Milkha (who had come out, unable to bear it all) and cries.

Of course, neither domestic abuse nor marital rape were elaborated, but the scenes were pretty clear about what they conveyed. Yet, in a country that was left outraged by rape just around 6 months back, not a single article is carried by any media house on what could have been a good starting point to talk about the "untalkable". Or is it that as always, when faced with the most uncomfortable truth, we would rather not talk about it and turn our face? For if we don't talk about it, it means that it doesn't exist!! Or is it that marital rape brings the whole issue too closer to us, and we might have to face ourselves in the mirror, for rape is something that the "other" commits, how can a married person "rape" his wife? Or is it that our outrage is only for certain kinds of rape? Probably rape of a working woman in an urban area, or of a child, but other kinds of rapes- of dalit women, of poor women in urban areas, of the maid working at the home, of women by the Army personnel under the protection of the AFSPA are not much of a rape and has its own justification or cause?

Strangely though, the Justice Verma Committe formed to look into the malaise of rape and gender violence that has set in the Indian society, also recommended criminalising marital rape, and cited various narratives and instances of the same. Yet, the government very conveniently shelved it. Why just the government, much of the discussions and articles surrounding the recommendations in the media concerned more about gender neutrality of the law and the age of consent of sex, totally ignoring the other important issue of marital rape. But then, would it have passed the parliament is itself a question, given how leaders of political parties proudly talked about how women cannot be wooed without stalking and displayed their full misogynist side during the debate on the rape law (irony, isn't it?).

Yet, the reason why the movie should have been used by activists and feminists as a starting point to talk about this important issue with the wider public is that for many, that scene hardly signified marital rape (for the possibility of such a thing itself is non-existent because marriage in itself is a stamp for having sex with wife, consensual or otherwise), or at best, marital rape in a bygone era. As it is, the moment you talk about marital rape, men start playing the victim and you get to hear all kind of weird and hysterical responses - from how it would be misused, to how a wife is supposed to satisfy the husband, otherwise where will the poor husband go if not to a prostitute or have an extra-marital affair!! And yet, another person on by Facebook list easily dismissed the whole scene and issue as "the incident was circa 1947.. I guess at that time, in a marriage, it was always deemed consensual?" followed by, "On a lighter note, how did you make out that it was one? There was a makeshift screen."

And that is why we need to talk about the scene, and point it out, for far too many people may have just failed to read the whole scene correctly, and worse still, as always, assumed there is no such thing as marital rape and any kind of sex- forced or consensual- within marriage is OK. And when you do come across it, you just chuckle (like those boys) or better still, pretend that you didnt hear/see anything. 

Bhaag Milkha Bhaag should have been used as an opportunity to talk about marital rape, given that we are still trying to figure out why rape incidences are going up in the country, and banning and blaming anything - from porn movies to internet to clothes to item songs. But, in all this, we fail to blame ourselves, for the truth is too close to home than we would like to acknowledge!!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

The case of "Public" in RE-Public of India

"Public morality", "public decency (or indecency)", "public sentiments", "public trial", public this and public that... and add to that list one more now, "public conscience" (aka collective conscience of society)... Sorry to say, but the "public" of this country has started to disgust me now.

Till now, probably such "public terms" were used by the police, politicians and right-wing groups to harass people and extort money. So, you could be sitting in a park, talking to a girl (need not be your girl-friend) and you would have gone against the "public morality". You could be a girl who could have gone to a discotheque and you would have been branded immoral by the "public". You could be walking on a road holding hands with your partner, or just having an ice cream in an ice cream parlour, and you could be booked for "indecency in public". You could be a painter who could have painted a few nude paintings, and so the "public sentiments" could be hurt, or you could be a film maker, whose movie theme could "hurt the sentiments of a section of the public". And let me not get started on the "public trials" that are held during the News-Hour discussions of this country every day. And as I write this, I just receive the news that another (gay) party was raided by police and people booked for dancing "indecently".

But, when the courts start meting out justice on the basis of the conscience of the "public", things take a new low. I woke up on Sat morning to the news of the hanging of Afzal Guru, which was conducted in total secrecy in the wee-hours. The whole state of J&K was put under curfew, many modes of communication shut down. And much of the "public" in other parts rejoicing. But something seemed shoddy to me, the whole manner in which the hanging was conducted. What did the Govt fear? Keeping my reservations about death penalty aside, I would have considered it as justice being done finally. But when I read the basis of judgement, I was shocked. And as the rhetoric now dies down, and facts start to emerge , the shoddy manner in which the trial was conducted, and the gaping holes and questions left unanswered surely point to other directions.

In this piece A Perfect Day for Democracy, Arundhati Roy puts across some of the facts, "At the most crucial stage of a criminal case, when evidence is presented, when witnesses are cross-examined, when the foundations of the argument are laid — in the High Court and the Supreme Court you can only argue points of law, you cannot introduce new evidence — Afzal Guru, locked in a high security solitary cell, had no lawyer. The court-appointed junior lawyer did not visit his client even once in jail, he did not summon any witnesses in Afzal’s defence and did not cross examine the prosecution witnesses." Which can only mean one thing. This letter written by her wife that has emerged now also puts across the lawyer situation that he faced in his trial (and the other background things that people ight not know, or would not like to look at)

But what shocked me was when a friend, celebrated the hooliganisms of the hooligan group named Bajrang Dal and VHP at Delhi Jantar Mantar, where they attacked people (mainly from J&K) who had come to protest against this shoddy judgment and hanging. How easily can rabble rousing on  the name of Nationalism cloud your judgement. So, where these people and students not Indian citizens now? Don't they have a right to protest against what they consider is wrong? Do I have to agree with everything the Govt does? So if I am in Gujarat, do I have to agree with Modi on everything, and not have a right to protest against him?  That friend pointed to me that Guru had himself confessed his role in a TV interview. But since when did TV interviews become the mode of deciding the truth? In all likelihood, Afzal Guru would have been tortured, threatened, and given a script that he had to enact. Haven't we all seen such concocted police evidences, "confessions under duress" and framing of innocents?

And as Omar Abdullah asked, "There are others on death who are also implicated in attacks on democracy. If chief minister of a state not a symbol of democracy? Is a former Prime Minister not a symbol of democracy? Of course, he is." But no, the swollen chests and egos of the so called "nationalists" and "patriots" can only be satisfied by the blood of another person. It doesn't matter if the person was innocent or not. Someone had to die to fix the situation and send out a message. It doesn't matter that an entire State has since been placed under curfew and most basic communication modes shut down for them. It doesn't matter whether as a society, death penalty in itself should be there on our law books or not. The death penalty does nothing but make martyrs of people in such situations. Afzal Guru may or may not be involved in the Parliament attack (directly or indirectly), but he will now surely been turned into a martyr by the extremist forces who would exploit the situation well. The sense of injustice would only mean that people who would have otherwise not listened to such rabble rousing in the valley would now be tilted towards them. But no, after all, the "public conscience" is satisfied. Strangely enough, this "conscience of the public" lacks when poor people are made homeless by builders, corporators or others. No, i don't want to be a part of this "public".

To end this, I will just paste this poem that someone named Sameer Bhat penned and captures the pain and anger of the people from the valley:

Why is moral conscience so thin?

There are nights
when collective conscience howls
like old miseries
deep inside democratic dungeons

The executioner wipes his hand
and neatly folds a black hood
He has stopped breathing
The public can exult

Guests descend upon studios
in big cars and winter shawls
No registered mail arrives
in desolate apple orchards

We are a secret society now
where death, too, is classified
There are no graves
Memory, too, is hanged

Does life become extinct
when the soul has exited?
Someone ask the grand minister
why is moral conscience so thin?


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