The sordid past weekend of 34-year-old popular Kannada actor Darshan Tugudeep clearly captured the struggles that go on in modern-day relationships.
On Friday, Kannada Big Gun beats wife, stubs cigarette butt on her, whips out his registered .32 and threatens her. Battered wife files a five-page police complaint in which she says Big Gun is a habitual abuser. She also mentions that he is a serial womanizer and is currently having an affair with a hottie co-star. Big Gun is arrested, but manages to swing it so that he eventually ends up in hospital, not jail, like most celebrity criminals before him. On Saturday, wife withdraws the complaint. On Sunday, the Karnataka Film Producers’ Association orders a three-year ban on the colleague who is allegedly “distracting” Big Gun. A few days later the association revokes the ban.
What does this illustrate apart from the fact that even single girls have cheerleading squads and that the Kannada film industry (like most film industries world over) is run by hypocritical, sexist—and practical—men? Don’t forget, macho heroes are almost always a bigger box-office draw than their female colleagues; more money rides on biceps than boobs.
Villain? Darshan with wife Vijayalakshmi. Photo by PTI.
“Our message to women artistes is that don’t destroy others’ families for selfish gain,” the industry organization’s president Munirathna Naidu (a contractor who was once held responsible for the death of a teenage girl when a wall collapsed) told The Times of India.
Besides, this slut in question was just an outsider, a Mumbai model-turned-southern siren, the producers probably reasoned. Karnataka tops the bigotry charts almost every year. Remember 2004 when the state attempted to ban new films not made in Kannada? Bangalore residents were forced to see Veer Zaara under police protection. Shortly after I relocated to the city earlier this year, the state government said immigrants would have to clear a Kannada test if they wanted to stay in this city. I have since learned to say politely: “Kannada gothilla” (I don’t know Kannada).
As for our women? Has nothing changed in New India?
Though domestic abuse is not a phenomenon that’s unique to this country, studies have estimated that one in every three women here is a victim—pretty much the same as in China. In fact, the same weekend Darshan’s misdemeanours were revealed, Li Yang, the founder of Li Yang Crazy English (The New Yorker magazine once called him China’s “Elvis of English”) admitted that he had abused his wife and children. He said he never expected his wife to reveal so publicly that she was a victim of domestic abuse (she posted pictures of her bruises online) because it was not Chinese tradition to share family conflicts with outsiders.
Unlike their poorer counterparts, most middle class and upper middle class Indian women still believe that abuse is a private issue, one that they must keep under wraps to maintain “izzat” in the community, says sociologist and author Shalini Grover who has documented contemporary marriage among the urban poor. “In a basti, everyone knows what’s going on in your marriage. There are no secrets, everyone can hear the shouting,” says Grover.
So why do some of us work so hard to keep the horror of marital abuse under wraps? Maybe women are brought up to believe that abuse is an integral part of a long-term relationship like marriage. Maybe we think it’s “natural” because we have seen our mothers and aunts abused. Maybe our sense of self-worth will remain diminished as long as we grow up in a country that gets rid of its girl children like garbage. Maybe we are so reluctant to give up the perks of being married to Big Gun, we put up with infidelities and the occasional beatings.
A large chunk of educated Indian women don’t work and despite their fancy degrees, have no way to support themselves. Besides, even though divorce rates are rising dramatically in urban India, friends and family still recommend “adjusting” over “destroying your marriage”.
A recent study of 21 large companies across Asia found that many Indian women who do work, drop out of the workforce before they become senior executives. If you’ve ever worked with Indian women you already know the one- word answer to this puzzle: marriage. Many women still join the workforce to find/until they find a man who can take care of their material needs. Self-reliance is not a quality India teaches its men or women.
Besides, economically independent or not, negotiating India as a single woman is not for the faint-hearted. With no male buffer, you’re only one step less accessible to abuse than all those “foreigner” ladies, right?
Big Gun’s story then is hardly exceptional. It is the everyday story of the way men and women negotiate relationships in New India.
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