Whither women's empowerment on TV

Women are slappe­d, kicked, abused in Indian shows but hardly show how women need to be empowe­red.

Ians September 28, 2010

NEW DELHI: Women are slapped, kicked, abused and raped in popular shows like Naa Aana Iss Des Laado, Balika Vadhu and Pratigya, which reach over 130 million households, but hardly show how Indian women are fighting back or need to be empowered.

These supposedly socially relevant shows started as attempts to break away from the cliché of kitchen politics and tackle themes like female infanticide, child marriage and discrimination. But soon they turned out to be half-hearted efforts, showing violence towards women rather than creating awareness against such atrocities.

Of late, these shows have been depicting scenes where a husband rapes his wife only because she stands up against him, or in another show, the husband slaps his wife hard for arguing with him. How then, do these shows talk about women's empowerment, ask many viewers.

Such depictions of subjugation are "intolerable", according to noted actress and social activist Shabana Azmi.  She added that "it is extremely important to have positive role models for women. And it's sad that on television, we usually don't see that, even when so many writers are women themselves. I do think that the only way we can counter the image of a girl is by making available as many positive images of empowered women as possible."

It seems like that is not happening anytime soon even though these shows are a staple for most Indian women.

STAR Plus has started Kaali - Ek Agnipariksha to show how independent girls become soft targets for sexual harassment. So, while on one hand the channel claims to depict the improving social standing of women, on the other, it shows how men have an upper hand in sabotaging women's lives through Pratigya which even depicts the protagonist being asked to drink water that had been used to wash her mother-in-law's feet.

Acclaimed filmmaker Govind Nihalani, known for making socially relevant movies like Aakrosh and Ardh Satya, said such themes should only provoke debate. "Somewhere these issues have to be brought into the open so that people are aware of it. Especially for those who want to change and for those who have to be changed. Both have to be exposed to these problems. Whatever regressive things that TV shows convey, they ultimately pretend to have a progressive outlook," he said, adding that "everyone is a rational human being. People don't accept any action passively or do what they are shown."

One case of violence against a woman is registered in India every three minutes. According to National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data, over 7,600 women are killed each year because their in-laws consider the dowry inadequate and a very small percentage of them are brought to justice.

Zohra Chatterjee, former joint secretary in the information and broadcasting ministry and now member-secretary of the National Commission for Women (NCW), says channels and producers hold major responsibility for their content and they must realise their social responsibilities."There is always a fine balance that has to be struck in portraying anything on screen. One cannot totally sanitise the screen, but at the same time you should not go to excessive for the sake of TRP(ratings)," said Chatterjee, who was a key person in setting up a media monitoring centre where 45 content monitors sit and evaluate content on the small screen.

She told IANS that "channels are pulled up for breaches, and they need to be more conscious of their social responsibility. The NCW also pulls up channels and issues show cause notices when they show deprivation of women's rights. Indignity of women is our prime concern."

Woman-centric serials became a rage after Ekta Kapoor's Kahani Ghar Ghar Ki and Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi. Ekta claims TV content has helped a lot of Indian women in becoming assertive at home. "Many people felt that television is 'corrupting' Indian women to stand up for their rights. Some people with very conservative mindsets thought that the women were being influenced and corrupted as we encouraged them to stand up for their rights. But recent research proves that many women from smaller towns and rural areas have also started taking charge of decision making and being an active participant in their family issues," she said.

Buoyed by her unprecedented success, others took the plunge. But many today say with each new show, content has gone from bad to worse.

Radhika Bhirani ([email protected])


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