Posted On Saturday, October 05, 2013 at 10:10:14 AM
Last week, while surfing news channels, I came across two clips that were pretty disturbing. One showed an irate crowd thrashing a couple of men on a crowded railway platform in Mumbai. They were described as ‘serial molesters’ by an earnest reporter dressed in pink.
The girl they were accused of stalking on a suburban train for over a week had finally decided to go to the police. But not before allowing the public to have a good go at her tormenters. The goondas were being beaten up with gusto by over 30 extremely agitated people. It looked like random folks hanging around on the platform were only too happy to join the fray and pulp the two rascals.
Several women were seen hitting the cowering fellows with handbags and umbrellas. And it made me wonder: is this really the way forward? Has nothing else worked? Not even fast track trials and death sentences for rapists? The violence against women has carried on unabated.
Like the Nirbhaya case and the Shakti Mills’ incident were tiny, insignificant dots of zero consequence. If we really believe we have no alternative but to take matters into our own hands and deliver instant justice to perpetrators of such crimes, we are in for trouble. Big trouble. And if we think hammering people in public will shame them… forget it. We are living in an era of besharams. Sadly, it’s getting harder and harder to identify even a single person in public life who has a semblance of ‘sharam’ left.
The second clip was a shocking story about the abject physical abuse of a 15-year-old maid in Delhi. I averted my eyes when they showed the tortured little girl as she sat mutely inside a police station after being rescued from the house in which she had been held as a slave.
Her boss, Vandana Dhir, is a well-placed 50-year-old woman professional working with a top international French firm. The other occupant of the torture chamber is Dhir’s 80-year-old mother. Oh yes, there are five vicious dogs in residence as well.
The maid was systematically savaged for well over a year. Neighbours had heard her cries for help, But had done nothing for twelve months. Two stories. Both awful. The first one shows an over-active public response to sexual harassment. The second one exposes our shocking apathy towards acts of extreme cruelty taking place under our noses.
Both are signs of a dysfunctional society that either overreacts as a mob or doesn’t react at all. I have heard friends say (with a careless shrug), “It’s none of our business.” Which makes me ask: So when does something become our business? Beating up people in public will not solve a thing.
Keeping mum is far worse. Going to the authorities, most frustrating. What is the fourth option? One traumatised and brutalised maid has finally been saved from the jaws of death (skull fracture and dog bites all over her frail body). There are thousands more — one of them maybe working in the flat next door.
If nobody wants to get involved in such ‘jhanjats’ — either because they don’t particularly care or don’t have the time — countless lives will be at threat. On the other hand,if handbags and umbrellas start flying around routinely, there will be a complete breakdown of any order in public spaces.
The larger question involves a fast-disappearing sentiment called ‘shame’. How does one restore that in a society that seems to value it less and less? I know one can’t blame Bollywood films for any and every social ill in society. Nor should we be looking for solutions to society’s problems inside a multiplex.
But when filmmakers casually throw around words like ‘besharam’ and ‘budtameez’, sorry, but they are definitely responsible for making such terms sound harmless and cute.
Alas, popular commercial movies do exercise an overpowering influence over our mixed-up culture. It’s worth appealing to our film community to be a little more sensitive before going ahead with catchy but potentially dangerous titles. There should be some basic ‘sharam’ even in a commercial context.