All this faux talk about protecting a ‘woman’s honour’ is nothing more than a way for men, and society, to keep women in control.
The movie Padmaavat has been debated excessively, so much that the conversation is almost boring. In the fast-changing world of Internet news, Padmaavat and the controversy surrounding the film has exceeded what’s considered the normal life cycle of a news item. We did all our debating, angry-Facebook-status-writing when the news was hot. Hell, we even fought over coffee breaks with our colleagues in offices. The arguments usually ended with them calling us “anti-nationals”, and us calling them “uneducated andh-bhakts”.
Somewhere down the line, we seem to have stopped caring enough about the real issues underlying the Padmaavat controversy, drama and debate. Maybe it’s because of an overload of available information. We are consuming news, opinions, long Facebook posts at all times on our mobile phones. In addition to that we are also bombarded with (more often than we’d like) WhatsApp propaganda forwarded in our family groups.
Still, the question that rankles the most is about the so-called ‘woman’s honour’. The calls for a Padmaavat ban are in the name of the honour of an upper caste woman.
The concept of the honour, of the family, clan, and community, hanging on the woman’s shoulder is not new. Politicians, religious leaders, writers and filmmakers have used this trope for long. It is embedded in our everyday language.
What is disturbing for me is that “preserving a woman’s honour” doesn’t come into question when she is forced to walk unsafe streets in the country. It doesn’t play a role when she reports sexual assault, and speaks against misogynistic processes of accessing justice. It is not emphasised in her freedom to choose a career or outfit, in giving more election tickets for women to contest, win and rule; or to give women politicians more cabinet berths and let them take decisions.
But when it comes to a movie release, it is once again the same flawed notion of honour riding on a woman’s shoulder.
And it really makes one rethink the concept of honour. Whose shoulders does the honour really ride on? Haryana, a state with the highest rate of female infanticide and skewed sex ratio, that boasts of its strength and machoism saw 10 cases of rape in the last 10 days. Despite the many measures taken after the 2012 Delhi rape case, a country run by self-proclaimed 56 inch-chest macho men finds it impossible to make spaces safe for women. Instead, they find it easier to talk of war against neighbouring countries. So, whose honour is really in question here?
All this faux talk about protecting a ‘woman’s honour’ is nothing more than preserving an entrenched social phenomenon, that keeps patriarchal structures intact. A woman’s ‘honour’ is really a way for men, and society, to keep women in control. And it is not peculiar to India.
Anywhere in the world when a woman tries to raise her voice, or threatens the current social order, an attempt at character assassination will follow, almost like a Pavlovian response. We are trained to dismiss a woman of ‘questionable character’ no matter how important a role she plays, no matter how powerful her message is. It’s what happened to Varnika Kundu, the Chandigarh-based DJ, when she spoke about being stalked by a powerful BJP leader’s son.
Coming back to Padmaavat, amid all the din, the real questions are again being ignored. It is time to decouple the phrase ‘woman’s honour’, and release it, from the burdens of historical and cultural baggage.
Gurmehar Kaur is a writer and student activist.