I am writing this post as a part of a new initiative started by one of my blogosphere friends , Arindam of “Being Arindam”. The blog for change , initiative by Arindam , envisages that bloggers will write about social causes close to their heart. You can read more about this here. Though this is supposed to be on Saturdays, I know Arindam will not mind the delay! And I hope more of us will join in this initiative.
The burning topic this week seems to be female foeticide/ sex selective abortions (the term I prefer to use) . Whatever, one’s feelings may be towards Amir khan, as an actor, one can’t deny that his heart is in the right place. And that he has regularly tried to use his star status to talk about larger social issues. And if while doing so, he also manages to make some money, well hats off to him. “Satyamev Jayte”, is his latest attempt on this front and quite commendable. The show has got major media coverage and as far as Rajasthan goes, has definitely made an impact. Forcing the chief minister and the Rajasthan government to sit up and take notice and take some urgently needed action.
And yet, there has been some disquiet about the episode. The uneasiness relates to the somewhat simplified understanding of sex selective abortions (SSA) created in the show. Due to obvious reasons, all the women who came on the show represented one end of the spectrum, the end which was forced almost inhumanly by husbands or in-laws to go in for SSA. While this is quite common, there is also the other end of the same spectrum. The woman who may wish to go for SSA herself, out of her own choice or somewhere in the middle, where the pressure may not be as obvious and physical but more psychological and implied. In these situations, are the women then to be blamed? Are they then the witches or “kumatas” as our Hindi newspapers like to call them?
What one needs to understand is that SSA in itself is not the problem. It is the symptom of a problem. A very ugly symptom. And while banning doctors who carry out SSA (almost like a business) and severely punishing husbands and in-laws who force women into taking such steps is necessary. It’s akin to applying balm to reduce the headache. To cure the headache from its roots, one has to go more deeply into the root cause of the problem. Which is the patriarchal mindset of our society.The lowered status of women, in every aspect that makes women more prone to all sorts of violence in every phase of her life.
As a girl child she is deprived of education, proper nutrition and medical care. Even if you as a parent do not discriminate between a girl and a boy child, as she grows up you are forced to accept that she can not roam freely like your son can in the city. When you do decide to get her married, her well-being shifts from your hands to the hands of another family who see her as a “child producer” and a “24 X7 maid” . Even a career woman, apparently self-sufficient and independent often faces victimization at work and home. A woman hardly ever has control over property and assets. Her labour at home or at farms is unaccounted for creating the image that she is a dependent/ a responsibility/ a mouth to feed. Her birth family considers her a drain on their resources because when she grows up she leaves them to work for another family often with high dowry. Her marital family always considers her an outsider, a cash cow to be exploited at will. Early marriage, dowry, bride trading, eve teasing, physical violence and abuse, at home and in the streets all are indicative of the abysmal status of women in our country.
Is there any wonder parents do not wish to have a girl child? Even well-educated, well to do parents! Read this first person account of divya. Who drives a modern, independent girl like Divya, to conclude its a crime to bring a girl into this world?
The second issue that one must be aware of is the language used and its implications. Abortion in India is legal. We recognize a woman’s right to her body and allow her to exercise the right to choose if she wants to give birth to the child in her womb. Even when abortion is legal many women do not have access to safe abortions in India. It is thus imperative that we ensure that the fight against SSA does not become a weapon in the hands of the anti-abortion lobby. Banning abortions or making them more difficult to access may seem like an easy solution to tackling SSA, but in fact it will only make women’s lives more miserable and unsafe and further dis empower them. Thus when choosing our words while campaigning against SSA we need to be very careful. The term “female foeticide” contains connotations of person-hood for the foetus and murder and smacks of right-wing, anti abortionists lobby lingo. A show that aims to bring attention to women’s issues must try to not fall prey to such traps.
There is another issue. While speaking on respect for women, most of us talk of a woman as a mother or sometimes as a wife or sister. While these are important roles that a woman plays. A woman is more than a mother or a sister or wife. This psyche is derived from the patriarchal society that sees women as being venerable only if they fulfill certain roles. By that logic is a woman who is not someone’s mother/ wife less respectable? A woman should be respected because she is a human being. Whether she is a wife or a mother or not should not matter. To give respect to her only because she can bear a child is akin to treating her only as a womb that can produce children. By this logic a woman who is infertile, or unmarried becomes more dispensable!
So, is it all bad? Is Satyamev Jayte ! just another rhetorical way of grabbing eyeballs and increasing TRPs and making money! I don’t think so. Yes it did have some simplistic arguments and used rhetoric to increase the emotional quotient. But, it did manage to stir the hornet’s nest. It did manage to catch people’s attention and get them talking on a topic that even middle class educated Indians pretend doesn’t exist. In that it has served its purpose. It has instigated a discussion.
It now remains in the hands of the experts in the area to ensure that the debate becomes more nuanced and layered. That the hype created does not die down. I read an interview by Amir khan, in which he says. I am not a 24X7 activist. I am an actor, I make movies, I reach out to people on an emotional level…. I think he is right. He has done an important part of the job. The show has instigated a debate that decades of campaigning article writing and statistic analyzing was unable to do. And for that it should be applauded. I personally think, that the show could be aired once a month to allow for the debate to continue on the selected topic before shifting the focus to another equally relevant topic. Or maybe there could be a series of shows on just one topic like SSA. Slowly developing a deeper understanding and bringing forth the nuances and the difficult debates within the issue. Or there could be a panel of discussions independent of the show organized by channels to carry on the debate. But it would be wrong to condemn “Satyamev jayte”! on that account. A step taken in the right direction does not lose its commend-ability just because its only one step! Every step in the right direction matters and is laudable.
There are no easy solutions to social problems. no one movie or one show or one person can bring about social change. Social change is a slow tedious process. It comes with active change at all levels, legal, attitudinal, political, economic and social. Lets applaud SJ for what it is. A new experiment in TV programming and much healthier than the “saas bahu” sagas that have become the staple of Indian TV
If you wish to further understand the debate also read this well written article http://kafila.org/2012/05/09/dil-se-nahin-dimaag-se-dekho-thoughts-on-satyamev-jayate-episode-1-shohini-ghosh/