You will hear smug declarations normally made by upper caste folks ranting about “merit” that caste is dead in India. Don’t believe them.
Take the case of a BJP legislator’s daughter who was forced to go public in a viral video begging her father Rajesh Misra to spare her life.
Her crime? She had dared to marry a Dalit boy. And the father, like a typical strongman politician from the heartland, had unleashed his “boys” and her brother Vicky to allegedly kill his own sister and her husband.
The most heart rending part of the entire affair was, the girl barely in her 20’s, asking her “papa” how he was as she could not hold back her tears and sobbed. Papa, the politician facing public ire and embarrassment in caste free “Hindu Samaj” new India, said he was fine and she should be happy.
The father daughter bond is perhaps the strongest and the most sacred. At least, I know that my father means the world to me.
Yet Rajesh Misra was allegedly ready to kill his own daughter Sakshi. The girl spoke on national television about her broken dreams of studying further, her ambition to work in his political office and the systematic physical abuse she faced at the hands of her mother and brother. Sakshi’s tears flowed freely as she said her father had never given her the confidence to share her trauma with him. Yet, she still asked him how he was. This is the eternal lot of Indian women still asking their tormentors how they are.
Sakshi’s trauma played out on national television. And then there is a film Kabir Singh in which the protagonist describes his lover as his “property”, takes her out of medical school classes, slaps her repeatedly, kisses her whenever he wants and later wants to have sex with another woman at knifepoint.
I sat through the long film which is India’s biggest grosser of this year with stratospheric box office takings and felt nauseated at the problematic depiction of the “hero”. My nausea was compounded when the director Sandeep Vanga gave a strange interview, which condoned physical abuse such as slaps as a gesture of “true love”.
The fact that Bollywood has a huge impact on people’s behaviour and Kabir Singh glorifies stalking, alcoholism, drug abuse and physical abuse of a woman is apparently all ok in the service of “art”.
We were still not done with patriarchy and Bollywood with religion adding to a toxic mix as a young and gifted actor Zaira Wasim, all of 18, gave up her acting career as it interfered with her “imaan” and pursuit of religion. Wasim, a Kashmiri, had faced many threats from terror groups when the two films she had done with super star Aamir Khan - Dangal and Secret Superstar caused a sensation. Wasim had to publicly say she was not a role model for other girls in the Kashmiri valley. I still think that an actor who received a national award for her talent should never stop working, but why are such choices only made by women?
Women have fought hard to have careers and a teenager giving it up should have raised questions and red flags. Unfortunately in India we are squeamish about having real conversations and genuine debates. Society is now so polarised that one camp rushed to justify Wasim, while the other attacked her.
The three reigning superstars of Bollywood - the Khan trinity: Shahrukh Khan, Aamir Khan and Salman Khan are not expected to carry honour and religion on themselves. The reality is that in southeast Asia women carry the burden of honour and are even killed to uphold it.
At a time when India seems to be swinging around to violent patriarchy with “56 inch” chests the holy grail and less and less women joining the workforce, it is a dark time to be a woman in India.