The drama involving a superstar actor's arrest for suspected involvement in the assault and abduction of an actress has played out to feed a frenzy of revelations and accusations. Like every tragedy, this too, is an opportunity for all and sundry – it is a media jackpot and a moral potboiler. There is a difference between understanding an unfolding issue and munching on the bits of glamorous gossip, the second being easier. Going deep into a social issue, or rather a serious incident, is probably a search in the dark - either you do not realize there is more than what meets the eye or you just run back to the news snippet stage because you can't decode the complexities.
A young woman gets picked up by goons suspected to have been hired by a male actor, and is assaulted in a moving car for hours. Not very surprising in a country where cars are stopped to rape women or women are stopped to be raped on cars and buses. In fact, this is alarmingly routine. But more than just the 'incident,' it is the conspiracy angle that bombarded the eerie narrative.
This ain't a surprise. There have been worse scenarios involving the same fraternity that has embedded itself in a nefarious nexus. The questions we need to explore are, in fact, beyond the obvious. Why are we so interested in this case? Let us take the glitter out. We have a newly wed star who divorced his then-actress wife to marry another. Perfectly normal. Then there is the assaulted actress, betrothed and a former colleague of the actor, his better half, and his ex-spouse.
The assaulted actress reportedly incurred his wrath after she revealed the actor's amorous pursuits to his then wife; a stellar national award winning artist who later vanished into oblivion of being a 'star' wife. Now, the issue acquires complex hues not due to the involvement of a superstar or history-sheeter. Perhaps, it is you and me who are responsible for the trauma the woman was subjected to. Nabbing a suspect or proving a conspiracy will not make the world any safer for women, it can be done only if we choose to get a divorce from the crime syndicate we have become as a society. Haven't women been assaulted, raped, and thrown off cars and trains. The violence unleashed on women is unfortunately routine, internalized and normalized as something women must live with as a cost for being a part of society she painfully bears and reproduces.
As long as the burns spare our skin, we mostly choose to consume the news, get enraged and keep quiet. We choose to keep quiet, for speaking up can cost a lot. Still, sometimes we land in a soup, mostly when someone pushes you into a mess and shoves you deep into it despite your best efforts to come out. Cut the glamor and the case is simple. A man purportedly decides to settle scores with a woman. The suspected modus operandi was to gag her in a moving car, bare her skin by force and assault her. It was an aggravated attack on her personal and social space. The real catch is not the assault, it is the technology that followed. The goons chose to videograph it, knowing fully well that it is a Damocles sword, for both parties or did they? Perhaps they did not. Because women, most of them rather, choose to keep quiet after an assault. It is considered a loss of face, 'honor' and a myriad other 'valuables' that keep a woman afloat in a patriarchal society.
The error that the conspirators or the executioners committed in this case was unfortunately the miscalculation vis-a-vis the response of the victim, way above the reported list of errors that nailed the suspects. This is not a crime for benefit, it is one of vengeance. The idea was to trap the victim for ever and to make her 'toe the line' set by a section of the influential fraternity that is wrathfully male dominated.
The attack was more of a social assault than a criminal one. It was an effort to excommunicate her from her own life. What happens if a woman is shot in a private act? The image throws up a vantage that society is simply uncomfortable with. It just jumps beyond the sexual boundaries set by the world around her. Sex is at the same time taboo and the most sought-after commodity that exerts tremendous influence in charting a woman's life in a patriarchal society.
The boundaries and identities of a woman's life are unfortunately decided by her sexuality. If you stay put within the marked and unmarked confines you get to survive. But if you act more like a human being than a socially conditioned gendered being subjected to the abuse of the patriarchal mores, you are doomed.
The criminal here is the larger society with its rotten mores that the suspects, who chose to assault and gag the actress, feed on. More than the prime suspects, the unpaid quotation gang was every potential viewer of the elusive video clip.
There are faceless voices that cast aspersions on the victim and her possible audacity ranging from returning alone in a car at night to making the 'wrong friends.' The blurring lines between what is understood as amusement by rogues and abuse by women result in the unregistered FIRs and insensitive, derailed investigations. While the mistake in choosing the victim and the mode of obliteration that was employed backfired, it should be seen that the statements that are flowing in from the official sources still point to an effort to inflict a moral assault.
Considering the languid policing scenario of the times, the law has employed penal provisions that can deal with grave crimes.
But if investigators are to collect evidence to build strong, irrefutable charge sheets and rogue elements are to be wary of perpetrating heinous crimes, we should stop embracing the mind set of social criminals who stone assaulted women by casting aspersions.
Only if criminals are afraid of rational, open and critical societies, not jails or vigilantism, can women hope to account for a fair share of an enlightened social landscape.
(Views expressed are personal)