‘Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge’ is widely cited as one of the creative masterpieces of Indian cinema. It follows the classic Indian romantic film plot – the protagonist, Raj (Shahrukh Khan) finds the fair maiden of his dreams, Simran (Kajol) on a trip through the scenic environs of Europe – falls in love, stalks and flirts (extremely desperately at that) with her (despite her resistance, of course) till she too “realizes” that she is in love with him. After a lot of pseudo-romantic hocus-pocus, they end up staying together, happily ever after. Everything that was loved and appreciated by the public when it was launched back in the 90s continues to be adored by many even today.
Bollywood has been the staple diet in terms of modern entertainment for the Indian masses for almost half a century now. This basic celebrated tale of DDLJ has been fed and re-fed to the people so many times and such is the extravagance and opulence associated with it, that they have come to treat this plot as the sworn-by canon of romance – almost adding an aspirational value to it. And therein lies the problem. It is portrayed as if the star has a right to the hand of the diva – as if he does not seek an equal adoration from her but rather has come to demand it and go to any extent (irrespective of her feelings) to ensure that he gets it. We have been exposed to this tale so many times that we don’t even realize right way that it is as if we have been numbed by the repetition and this grave act has come to be embossed in our society as a standard. The situation is so bad that an Australian magistrate recently acquitted an Indian man, Sandesh Baliga (a case reported in January 2015), who was on trial for stalking two women, after the court noted that the accused was influenced by Bollywood movies and did not realize that what he was doing was, in fact, criminal.
Bollywood, however, is just the tip of the iceberg. This normalization of patriarchy and the complete omission of consent from traditional relationships in India runs much deeper. Children are, from a very young age, exposed to a society that considers it to be a duty for the females to fulfil the desires and aspirations of the men of the household. This is a society that places restrictions which are much more stringent on women than on the boys of the house; a society that stays protective of the male child, even when he is at a heinous crossroad, all the while controlling the female instead of the person at fault. This patriarchy has flourished through our traditions and we have been forced to accept and swallow this sad reality without our even realizing it. Or perhaps, even worse, we subscribe to it, know about it and yet, do nothing about it.
Today, as India stands as one of the front-runners in the process of globalization, we look at creating an equal and safe society for women as one of the top priorities for the country to progress – an election promise that every politician includes in his manifesto. The newly elected CM of Uttar Pradesh initiated a pilot scheme of introducing squads consisting of plainclothesmen and vigilante groups stationed in and around women’s colleges to pro-actively check eve-teasing and sexual harassment of the fairer sex. These groups are being termed as “Anti-Romeo Squads” by the popular media – a gross injustice to Shakespeare’s creation, a celebrated lover who sought to have his relationship approved by the society – failing which the couple committed suicide. “Anti-Raj Squad” would be much more appropriate, I believe, in honour of the classic from Indian cinema.
These squads have been given high powers for the same – allowing for detention and police questioning without any further proceedings in front of a court. The space outside the colleges is actively sanitized, making it difficult for any male belonging to the young adult age group to even pass by. This move has received strong acclaim from many – being touted to be a huge step forward, an indication that the new government is serious about its promise of a safe environment for the students and is willing to take harsh steps towards addressing it. The response from these sections has been so strong that Haryana has also adopted this move in the form of its Operation Durga. Even the Government of Gujarat is considering a pilot programme based on this across campuses in Ahmedabad. The resistance against this move has been just as strong, with activist groups demanding the removal of this plan with FIRs and court cases being lodged at both ends of the table. It is being termed as moral policing – forced eviction of couples and the criminalization of a gender in itself.
Keshav Prasad Maurya, the new Deputy CM of UP said in an interview with the Economic Times that “People opposing Anti-Romeo squads don’t realize how unsafe the state has become in the past few years.” The debate, however, is not if action is required but on the methods employed by the government for executing this action. There have been multiple reports of people being detained and harassed by the authorities only to realize that they were in fact relatives of the students of the colleges.
The problem, however, is more fundamental than these few cases. This forced moral policing of the students – restricting their motion and interaction with the members of the opposite sex is an explicit infringement of their privacy. The government cannot be allowed to choose the social circles and the relationship status of the individual on his/her behalf. This process of gagging of these personal interactions will only lead to a more construed society – one that continues to be governed by the taboo that surrounds present inter-personal relationships. Dialogue, debate and inter-mingling of the two sexes, not segregation, holds the key to the larger goal of being able to provide an equal and safe pedestal to the female members of the society.
This change, however, cannot be brought about overnight – definitely not with a squad of vigilantes put in place by the government. A change in the basic values that shape the citizens of the future is necessary and the charge of bringing about this change falls on all of us – students and educationists, entrepreneurs and policy makers – even our filmmakers and other media collectives. For it is only through this cumulative effort that we can bring about a significant change in the society – one that normalizes equality, safety and consent instead of an unquestionable, systematized rule of patriarchy.