A schoolteacher casually discusses in local slang three kinds of sexual violence: chhota kaam (molestation), bada kaam (rape) and pura kaam (rape and murder) and how much it costs to rape three sisters together. A man asks him whether there is a ‘group discount’. This is how the web series Paatal Lok introduces the backstory of the dreaded criminal Hatoda Tyagi.
The entertainment industry has often been under fire for doing much damage to the dignity of women through their stereotypes of women and normalising of sexual violence by adhering to old school value system.
Packaging sexual violence in the most scintillating manner is something that films have been doing for years.
A recent change, however, is that some films and web series discuss it in the light of other crucial factors responsible for the increasing violence against women, such as the power dynamics related to patriarchy and caste.
Reality is gruesome
In 2017, the Kathua rape case in the state of Jammu and Kashmir created a huge outrage across the country.
An 8-year old girl was gangraped and tortured in a village temple for days and then murdered. As caste groups, lawyers and law and order machinery created barriers in the investigation, public outrage forced the charge sheet and finally the court convicted the culprits.
A similar resistance from the ruling party and the dominant caste group that support it was seen in the Unnao rape case in which a local MLA was the prime accused. The victim tried to self-immolate in front of the residence of the chief minister while her father was tortured to death after the rape case emerged.
Multiple rape and murder cases from Uttar Pradesh dominated the conversations last week.
One of them from Hathras was particularly horrific. The victim went through unimaginable horror and trauma for two weeks, and after her death, the police hurriedly burned her body in the wee hours without the consent of her family.
The common factor in almost all of the hundreds and thousands of rape and murder incidents happening across the country seems to be government apathy. The corrupt system favours the perpetrators and puts the victims and their families through further trauma. While the public discourse always focuses on corruption as the primary reason for government apathy, the common villain in most of these cases is casteism.
Ka Pae Ranasingham, the Tamil film that premiered on Gandhi Jayanti day underlines the dignity that is denied even at death much like the incident happened at Hathras and the apathy that the system shows towards a woman.
The protagonist Ariyanachi runs from pillar to post for about a year to get her husband’s mortal remains from his workplace abroad and forces even the camera-obsessed prime minister to lend her audience in full view of the media, but the system makes sure that she fails while giving the world the feel that the patriarch and his men delivered justice quickly to ‘desh ki beti’ (daughter of the nation).
The film also shows the mirror to us as the audience by juxtaposing Ranasingham’s death, about which nobody is interested in finding out more, with that of the death of Sreedevi, the actress who died abroad hijacking the media narrative and our imaginations for weeks together.
Onscreen depiction of rape as caste violence
Anubhav Sinha’s Hindi film Article 15 documented the horror of a rape and murder in caste-ridden Hindi heartland (not to say that the other regions are better when it comes to caste violence).
Article 15 of the Constitution of India prohibits discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth.
In the film, the system controlled by a minister and policemen from the upper castes conveniently create criminals out of the innocent fathers of the two victims, by giving it the colour of honour killing—a concept that most of the civil society identifies with. That it finally takes a Brahmin cop from elsewhere to take on the feudal system that is corrupt from top to bottom is something that came under criticism.
Back to the web series Paatal Lok. Multiple instances of rapes figure in the backstories of the characters. In the show’s third part titled A History of Violence, a middle-aged woman is gang-raped by a group of upper-caste men in broad daylight to avenge a violent act committed by her son.
In the same part, there is a curious discussion about rape in another backstory that explains how the character Tope Singh is thrown into the world of crime. In case of Hatoda Tyagi, the three sisters are eventually raped and Tyagi, the schoolboy kills his sisters’ rapists in a gruesome manner and becomes a criminal for the rest of his life.
Caste is dominant even in civil society’s outrage
Strangely, the outrage related to these scenes had little to do with caste violence and rape. They were focused on elitism and caste pride. Hindu groups on social media carried out the hashtag campaign #BoycottPaatalLok while some elected representatives lodged complaints against the series alleging it to be anti-Hindu. They slammed the show saying that it shows the community in poor light by linking it to the violence against Muslims and women.
In an almost similar way, a Sikh politician filed a complaint against producer Anushka Sharma for ‘hurting the sentiments of the community’ by showing a group of Sikh men raping a woman. “Sikh men protect the dignity of women,” they said implying nobody from the community can be accused of rape.
In Article 15, the young girls were raped and murdered for demanding a hike of just three rupees in their daily wages.
They were overpowered not just because of patriarchy but the caste system that dictates how people of a particular caste should do the duty that is assigned to them as per holy scriptures, without demanding more or asking questions to those in the layer above them in the hierarchy.
As per statistics, an average of four Dalit women are raped everyday and conviction rate in such cases is abysmally low.
In most cases, the appropriate section of the law, for example the SC/ST Atrocities Act, is not added to the FIR to avoid stringent punishment to the accused.
Simplistic anti-corruption and anti-rape stories are beaten to death in our films. While decrying rape and hitting hard against the rapists, it is important not to leave the real underlying causes unaddressed and the real villains unnamed.
While protecting the victims’ real identity by naming them as “India’s daughters” are welcome, the narration of their horror should go deeper than just rape and punishment to create any real impact.
(Dress Circle is a weekly column on films. The author is a communication professional and film enthusiast. Read his past works here)