Musings around the Supreme Court verdict on extra marital affairs and divorce.
I was watching a tamil film called Priyanka on TV. Remake of the Hindi film Damini. Priyanka was made in the early 90s. (Note : Not in the 50s). The film was full of patriarchy. Aside from the main plot of the rape, the character of Priyanka was also sketched in such a way, she was a victim of societal blues. She was always at the mercy of some man. Her father was someone who could not afford to get her married (So much of melodrama around the marriage). She agrees to the proposal of a rich man who falls in love with her and her father feels so grateful (OMG, aren’t smart educated women supposed to be grateful when some bloke marries them?). And since she is poor and her mother in law is rich, she has to put up with a lot of verbal abuse -direct and indirect from her in laws. Insulting her, insulting her father and making her life miserable. And since she puts up with everything in silence at the cost of her dignity she is a “good wife” and a “responsible daughter”. Such is the state of a young woman of marriageable age. And this is considered “normal”. The girl is supposed to “adjust”. And this was the message we were conveying to young Indian women, mind you, in the 1990s.
Situation two :
I was watching Keechaka Vadham in a Kathakali play recently. Not getting into Keechakan’s vices and virtues…what Keechakan did was something as simple as falling in love with a lady. He didn’t care if the lady had five husbands already. He fell in love with Malini, an avatar of Panchali. Now how did Panchali react? She is supposed to react with extreme indignance, anger and she is not even supposed to have a straight conversation with him. She is supposed to get scared of him, run away when he comes close to her and act as if her chastity is at question JUST BECAUSE some random man fell in love with her.Now there were little boys and girls (as young as 5 and 6) watching this play.
And I almost wanted to pull up the kids and say “Kids don’t believe in everything you see in this play. In today’s world you don’t have to overreact so much when someone falls in love with you. Its not a crime. You can treat him like a friend, tell him that it won’t work and part as friends (IF you cannot go ahead with it}. And if they were over 18, I would have certainly said “ Girl, if he’s a decent guy, if you like him, go for it”.My messaging is simple. I do not want men to be victimised for liking a woman and MOST importantly for a woman to feel that SHE is supposed to overreact and make a big deal out of it, just because someone likes her. Irrespective of whether shes been married five times over.
I don’t question the intention with which a historically valuable piece of art was conceptualized, nor am I taking fiction for reality. All I am trying to say is, any MEDIUM has the responsibility for its MESSAGING. Keechaka Vadham was probably the love cinema of the Young Woman , a thousand years ago. Priyanka probably impacted a young woman of marriageable age in the 90s. We imitate media, we ape what is portrayed in the media. And i DO NOT wish for today’s woman to ape such age old structural stupidities.Sexual liberation of a woman is a very tricky topic that can go berserk and subject itself to a million unwanted interpretations. The societal restrictions on a woman were largely on her sexual liberty as recent as 20 years ago. I do not watch Tamil movies of today so I refrain from commentary.
But lets admit that in the name of chastity, protection, security and simply because the man wanted to be in total control, a woman was made to believe that if she loses her virginity, it is as good as losing her life. So she should go all out to avoid male glares, be a virgin till she dies, not even have good men friends….in fact it is believed even today that if a woman talks to a lot of men, she is “loose”. And every element of media, stories conveyed through the education system screamed the same message for the woman : “ If a man likes you, YOU are responsible and YOU are supposed to overreact”
The subjugation of the woman, and her subordinate position in society largely stems from such a restricted mindset.Now what has this got to do with the supreme court verdict? I see a lot of memes which indicate that finally the “married man” is free to have sex outside marriage . That’s how crude and AGAIN patriarchal we can get. Not everything is always about the man. I think this is a bold liberal step for the woman. In fact there is nothing “liberal” about it. Consensual partnership is nobody’s business.
I am not saying this means that every man or woman has to now go and seek extra marital affairs.But that woman who , say, lost her husband….or is going through all kinds of abuse in her marriage….or is simply attracted to someone nice, does not have to overreact and wonder “Oh what will society say”….”Haven’t I grown up watching films where the woman is NEVER supposed to be happy?” When the young woman reads about or hears this SC verdict, she can finally define her choices for herself. She does not have to associate her “pureness” with marital status or consensual partnership. If her divorce is going to take couple of years, she does not have to remain miserable UNTIL its ALL LEGALLY fine. And she does not have to think so much about something which is very trivial but blown up simply because of the insecure mindsets of her ancestors.Unlike what shes been told , she finally can breathe a sigh of relief and smile back at a genuine man who smiles at her!