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Sunday, January 6, 2013

"Guns Don't Kill People"

Everyone has a theory as to why India is so screwed up when it comes to archaic attitudes towards and sexual violence against women. People were outraged by the Delhi gang-rape case and as the dust begins to settle, they will look to assign blame. Finding and castigating a scapegoat is a short-term way of venting but doesn't provide the right kind of introspection needed in our society. In the last few days, film and music have been given a grilling and I think there are two sides to the issue.

I’d like to make one thing clear: in my view music, movies, paintings, poetry or any other forms of art and expression should never, ever, be blamed for the actions that a conscious, adult human-being takes. Yes they can influence someone – but just as much as common sense or one’s parent’s do. The operative word here being ‘influence’. They cannot buy the ammunition, pull the trigger, fire the bullet. It is a person and their gun that do that. Unless someone is able to hypnotize another into shooting someone on their behalf, I don’t buy the argument that you can blame influencers. It is the same with any crime. Art is not hypnosis.

What I have noticed living in India is that the onus is never on the mob not to act; instead it is always on a party for ‘inciting’ something. I find this infuriating. By releasing individuals of the social responsibilities we subject ourselves and other members of society to, we – to my mind – consider them animals. And animals are treated with a wholly different, and usually simpler, more brutal, set of rules. Animals can be fenced off, relocated or even put down. They are not participants in the social contract. Human beings make up the sinews of our social fabric and they must face the consequences of their own actions – what may or may not have influenced them is conjecture on our part.

Let’s take the example of the ‘musician’ Honey Singh. Here is a guy whose lyrics twang with graphic, violent sexual imagery – the kind that we’re used to hearing from 50 Cent and his American compatriots. I have heard some people say that he is ‘inciting rape’ and others say that his lyrics are ‘misogynistic’. For me, he is just another one of the awful artists I can happily ignore. I remember when people held rallies against Marilyn Manson after the Columbine Massacre. The quote a speaker used, showed in Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 911, was “Not everyone who sees a Lexus commercial goes out and buys a Lexus, but some do”. It was in reference to the violent lyrics in Manson’s music – as if because one of the thousands who listen to his songs may go out and shoot someone, he should stop making music. We cannot prosecute theories. We can and should, however, prosecute people. No one is forcing you to listen to his music. If you don't like it, don't listen to it. 

I like 90s West-Coast rap. I played video games with a whole myriad of guns, knives and other dastardly weapons. I watch suicide bombings on the news. The fact is that I haven’t gone and killed, raped, dealt drugs or done any of the other stuff. If I told a friend of mine that I would “kill the next person who taunts me about my football team losing on the weekend” and he went and actually murdered the person to do so, I would a) wonder how I’ve befriended a psychotic murderer and b) be outraged if someone accused me of  ‘influencing’ or ‘inciting’ him. Unless, like the Newtown Elementary School shooter he had a plethora of mental conditions and/or he was a minor, I would want that person to face the full force of the law.

For the record, I don't think that capital punishment solves anything in the long term. Revenge is not going to bring back those taken from us. I don't even think it's a deterrent. Long standing issues must be addressed through social policy, reforming of offenders and a prison system that fulfills the function of a prison: protecting society from those incapable of existing peacefully in it and correcting them as much as is possible. 

At least, that’s what I thought on Saturday as I sat firmly atop my high horse, flicking the channels during the innings break of the cricket match. I tuned in to a national news channel just as another shouting-match was heading to a commercial break and I was greeted with an advert that made me fall off my seat. It was Virat Kohli’s Celkon advert, which you can watch for yourself below.

Wait… what? It’s the usual spiel of how to pick up a girl. What I didn’t like was the manipulation of the oblivious Tamanna and then taking her picture. Are you kidding? When is it OK to just randomly take a photo of some girl you’ve just met? It ‘worked’ in this advert because the guy is Virat Kohli. If someone did that to my sister, I would be apoplectic. It got me thinking about the lengths the Indian men in movies, TV shows and adverts go to ‘get the girl’. The ‘thrill of the chase’ is something all young men feel. I felt it, chasing after some poor young lady miles out of my league. I knew though, as did my friends, when no meant no and the chase was spent and what lines not to cross.

Remember the movie ‘Band Baaja Baaraat’? I liked it. After watching the Virat Kohli ad though, I realized the slightly sinister way in which the hero went about ‘getting to know’ the heroine. He pretended to be someone else to find out things about her, he stalked her bus and then he plonked himself down next to her and chatted her up. Again I ask you to imagine is some stranger did that to your sister, daughter or female friend. How would you feel? I would feel creeped out. I don’t care if it’s Shah Rukh Khan trying to get a hold a girl: manipulating and stalking another person is wrong on many levels. The lengths to which guys are shown in popular media to go to on the ‘chase’ are quite ridiculous.

Let’s go back a bit further: remember the classic film Bombay? With A. R. Rahman’s superb score? Its another film I thoroughly enjoyed that I now look back on with mixed feelings. The hero again, goes to incredible, insane lengths to find out who the girl is, where she lives, where she goes, etc… I didn’t do any of that at college. I hope my friends didn’t! I think we need to explore this running theme, propagated on screens small and large across India, that you go to whatever lengths necessary to find the girl, stalk her, charm her and keep trying to woo her even after she says no. In the movies – and let’s be honest, this scenario plays itself out in most Bollywood films – it’s ‘OK’ because the girl says yes in the end. But what happens when no means no? Where is the line in the sand?

I know so many stories of guys who have gotten hold of female colleagues’ numbers and sent them text messages asking to meet. In one instance, even after being told no, in no uncertain terms, the guy went to HR and somehow found out her address! So determined was he! Did he get the girl? Good grief, no.

I don’t know if it strengthens or contradicts my point about the media influencing men’s actions in this country in crisis. Do stalkers feel the need to chase and chase after a girl until she says yes, based on what they’ve seen succeed in films? I don’t know. I’d like to think not. I’d like to think that the guys who engage in such seedy tactics are lonely, sexually repressed young men for whom the actions of the movie actor who chases a girl are not compensated for the love and values that good parenting and healthy relationships bring.

At this point in time, India has a lot it needs to ask itself. I don’t know whether I’m even in a position to talk about this – maybe women like being chased and chased even after they say no? I don’t know. Maybe I'm way off here and I don't have the right to feel uncomfortable on my sister's behalf. Female stalkers exist too and they’re just as dastardly as their male counterparts. The difference is that they don’t have the power to overpower their crush. They don’t have the power to ‘pull the trigger’, as it were. To me the issue seems to me to be a part of a larger malaise, where women are trophies and goals to be "had". They are not equals in society. Their “no’s” are not taken at face value, they are laughed off and even used as motivation to try harder.

What is missing in our society? When I was at university in England, there were as many girls as guys. There was a yin to every yang. At home, there was balance. In the work place there was balance. In the public, there was balance. I think there is a large gap in India’s soul that the sacred feminine has to reclaim. I yearn for a time when every man and woman in India can watch a movie, listen to a song or read a newspaper and filter what they've taken in through a sieve of common sense, compassion and empathy. But maybe that’s asking too much.

I don’t care about Honey Singh. Let him say what he wants. As long as he isn't treading on my liberties, it’s sticks and stones. Sticks and stones. At the same time, I won’t allow myself to be conditioned into thinking I have a chance with a female stranger as long as I try hard enough. Movies are not real life. There is a reason the film doesn’t end after 15 minutes when the girl puts a restraining order on the drooling protagonist (can you imagine if we had enforced restraining orders in India?). When a person’s emotional being is built on strong values, he will be impervious to this nonsense.

1 comment:

Revacious said...

Your post got me thinking. A lot.
It's kinda uncanny that you used animals & their behaviour to illustrate your point. If you look at the majority of Indians, in villages & mofussil towns, they have not been released from thinking of the primary necessities of food, shelter & clothing.. They haven't been able to engage in "higher thinking" if you know what I mean. They have been brought up in a strictly patriarchal society where women are not known to have a voice, a personality of their own.
In such a scenario, it's easy enough to imagine what kind of impact a "hero's" antics on-screen will have on him. I've known a friend who was stalked by a drop-out from her small native town (see how he fits the description?) in the scariest ways.. It only ended when her friend who knew someone in police used his connections to take action against the guy.
The point is, the majority in our country are still mindless masses, whose only education comes from the parents. What if the something goes wrong in what one learns from the parents? Politicians are happy to keep it that way. Bollywood becomes the word of God, kinda.
The ad & movies you talk about are indeed scary.. but I really liked Band baaja for Anushka's spunky heroine. The girl actually had an equal role in the film, she was an excellent foil to Ranveer's pushiness. Which is a lot to ask for in Hindi films, women are just arm-candy, usually. Which, again, is because the society sees women that way: films derive from reality.
It's a vicious circle, round & round you go.. :\