THE BLOG

We Need to Dig Deeper in India's "Women's Issues"

15/07/2013 12:39 BST | Updated 11/09/2013 10:12 BST

Radha Bedi's half-baked BBC documentary, India: A Dangerous Place to be a Woman, sought to raise awareness about the dangers for women living in India. Although viewers were confronted with the harsh circumstances of violence against women, including accounts of acid attacks and rape, Bedi's documentary lacked the depth that would suggest deeper reasons and solutions concerning the social decline of a nation that, although economically succeeding, is still riddled with misogynistic values.

The title itself focuses on cautioning women to be vigilant, and reflects the documentary's major focus on women's stories. Whilst I believe the safety of women and their accounts as victims are of great importance, I also believe this kind of central analysis only prompts a short term solution to fighting violence. Perhaps most poignantly put by Jackson Klatz, violence against women is not just a 'woman's issue' and directly involves men as they are, in this scenario, the attackers. Bedi missed the opportunity to deal with the underlying cause, which is ultimately the mentality of a society that is far more apologetic towards men than women. This kind of attitude echoes the opinion of police officer Michael Sanguinetti in 2011 (which spurred on the global slutwalk) who advised that women should dress appropriately to avoid being victimised and harassed. Redirecting her focus towards men would mean that UK viewers could analyse how Indian society combats a social structure that places the blame of the rape directly where it belongs: on the rapist.

If Bedi centred her film around the Indian media and its role objectifying women and idealising violent masculinity, her documentary would've dug deeper and detangled the underlying issues of India's sexism. Much like adverts for American Apparel, Budweiser and BMW (to name a few), Indian media is also saturated with images of women serving one purpose only - to boost the marketability of a product, concept or film. Ironically enough, even 'feminist' organisations such as the controversial FEMEN have argued that their message "gets more attention if we are semi-nude" paralleling the motives of Bollywood directors Mahesh and Pooja Bhatt, notorious for their erotic scenes. UK audiences may shrug off Bollywood films, especially the item numbers (songs used to market films, infamous for their raunchy dance sequences), as humorously dramatic and eccentric, but this attitude overlooks the significance that these songs and films can have on the perception of Indian women.

Although we can't wholly blame Indian media and the Bollywood industry for evoking certain mentalities (after all, a supply only fulfils a demand) we cannot ignore the deep influence that these public outlets have.

Since the Delhi rape case, Indian actresses spoke out addressing the strong influence films can have on a society that goes bananas for Bollywood. Shabana Azmi, one of the most respected actresses in Indian cinema who also vigorously campaigns for the positive cinematic portrayal of women, recently visited the UK where she discussed the influence of Bollywood on society. Item numbers, she argued, slice up women's bodies through provocative camera angles and reduce the female form to an object of the male gaze. It is exactly this craft, she argued, that has deep implications in a society that believes women exist only in relation to men.

We can see this patriarchal attitude hidden within the documentary itself. When Bedi reports a case of sexual assault she mentions that the police officer became furious when learning her attacker was married and had a sister. He says, 'Well if you've got a wife and a sister, how dare you touch her?' But what she didn't pick up on was why must a man be connected to a woman, via marriage, blood or any other sense, in order to condemn violence against women? Women are first and foremost human beings, and to consider them solely in relation to familial roles is deeply chauvinistic. We don't, in India or anywhere else, only exist as mothers, daughters and wives, and should not have to be considered as such to be safe in the presence of men. It's that simple. Even Indian media campaigns limited viewing women in periphery roles in order to fight sexual harassment. This kind of motive is basically patriarchy fighting patriarchy, and once again, in the long term, does not resolve the problem.

Similar issues kept cropping up throughout the documentary that weren't dissected and examined. Bedi's 'raise awareness' tactics only work if we question, analyse and ultimately come up with solutions. By revealing women's stories and not attempting to unmask the role of men and their mentality, Bedi didn't expose the root of the problem in male perception; we were only given a glimpse through the interviews with the rape defence lawyer and Sabrina Sidhu, an officer at UN Women.

Bedi's documentary, thus, falls short of a real analysis and instead, slumps into the category of 'tragedy tourism'; sympathising with others for an experience that will only serve to teach us gratitude, and it this kind of outcome that definitely doesn't even begin to solve the state of the country we have just exposed.