|HER WORLD||Sunday, May 26, 2002, Chandigarh, India|
Awarding the modern-day Duryodhanas!
FROM THE GRASSROOTS
Surviving with aplomb
Awarding the modern-day Duryodhanas!
Move over, Oscars! Make way for the Duryodhana Awards for 'bad' films and sexist advertising and Rakshasa Awards for violence against women in the media instituted by the Maharashtra State Commission for Women.
Amdani Atthani, Kharcha Rupaiyaa was judged to be the most gender insensitive film, 'winning' over other nominees like Ajnabee and Asoka. The message in this 'award-winning' film is that women need to be subjugated and husbands have every right to beat their wives into submission.
For sexist advertising, Fair and Lovely (a fairness cream) 'won' hands down over the advertisements for the Tata Press Yellow Pages, LML Vespa and Moov.
In the category of violence in films, Aks was awarded the Rakshasa prize over nominees like Abhay and Gadar.
We are not opposed to the depiction of women's sensuality or of portrayal that shows an objective understanding of women's issues," says T. F. Thekakara, Member Secretary to the Commission. These awards, she continues, are meant to register an objection to the manner in which women have been commodified and to censure negative imagery of women in films and advertising.
Unlike the Oscars or their Indian versions, the Filmfare and Screen Awards, this is one award that advertisers or filmmakers shied away from. No one came for the ceremony to receive their awards - they will now be mailed to them.
But the Commission is also recognising positive portrayal of women in the media. Two mainstream films were nominated for their sensitive treatment of women's issues: Chandni Bar, about the travails of a cabaret dancer and Lajja, an episodic film of the struggles of a woman and her encounters with other, similarly struggling women. The award was given to Chandni Bar.
The Commission, a statutory body set up in 1993, has the authority to play a more pro-active role in crimes against women, investigate the progress of cases and ensure the implementation of laws protecting women's rights.
The awards are an offshoot of a seminar on the portrayal of women in the media held in Mumbai last year where participants expressed helplessness at sexism and violence in films, television and advertisements. "We believe that the media is a very potent weapon. All we ask is that women are portrayed realistically, not as vulnerable toys," Thekakara says.
The jury, chaired by well-known lawyer Indira Jaisingh and comprising Mumbai Police Commissioner M.N. Singh, consumer activist Shirish Deshpande, Laxmi Lingam, Head of the Media Department at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, SNDT University Vice-Chancellor Rupa Shah, the former Vice-Chancellor of Mumbai University and others, went through 45 nominations.
The nominations came from individuals and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) working with women. In an effort to solicit as much response from ordinary women as possible, the Commission put up hoardings all over the city. Initially, when the awards were announced, prominent television channels virtually blacked out news of the awards, perhaps worried that many serials they broadcast would attract nominations. No television serials were, however, nominated for the awards this year. But the Maharashtra Commission for Women is planning to appoint 'media watchers' for each channel and institute some process of monitoring television serials. The list of 'media watchers' will be finalised and announced shortly.
The 'Duryodhana' Award is named after the mythological Kaurava prince of the epic Mahabharata who tried to disrobe Draupadi, the wife of the Pandava princes. In fact, the award is a statuette of Duryodhana with Draupadi along with a citation naming the insensitive advertisement.
The Rakshasa Award is a similar statuette that draws upon the notion of the rakshasa or demon in Indian mythology. The political correctness of using the symbol of a rakshasa (also usually depicted in mythology as a dark-skinned forest-dweller or indigenous native) is, however, a matter of debate.
For instance, Swatija Manorama of the women's resource centre, Vacha, feels that it is wrong to use mythological characters and invest them with negative characteristics. However, members of the Women's Commission defend the nomenclature as they felt that ordinary people perceived both characters as having scant respect for women.
Manorama is also anxious that the entire exercise of handing out the 'awards' would be misunderstood as indicative of an approval of sorts. "It is almost like saying that these films are the best of the worst," she says. "Speaking of vio lence, there are much more subtle and deep-rooted forms of violence that may not come to the attention of the jury and would thus be ignored," she adds.
Echoing her view about the use of mythological characters to signify 'good' and 'bad' qualities, Sudha Kulkarni of the Mahila Dakshata Samiti is, however, not averse to the focus given to the issue of gender insensitivity in films and advertisements.
She expresses misgivings about the use of the term 'awards' though, since giving such films undue publicity may be counter-productive, she feels. The awards come at a time when the dominant image of women in the media is drawn from a mixed bag of models and socialites on the one hand and staunchly tradition-bound women on the other. "A certain amount of regression has overtaken us," Thekakara says, pointing out that films and television serials have begun reinforcing customs that are actually waning, like karva chauth when women fast for the well-being of their husbands or the pallav where women cover their heads in public and in the home. Another dominant image in the media is that of women crying in moments of crisis, being slapped or pushed around. The excuse that this is an accurate depiction of reality simply does not wash. Rarely are the positive stories of women with courage and valour reflected in the media, say members of the Commission. Worried about the increase in negative images, the Commission decided that the awards would be a good way of expressing its disapproval at the deterioration in standards. Another cause for concern was the rising crime graph, with Maharashtra recording the fourth highest ratio of crimes against women in India. The media's depiction of violence has definitely had an impact on society, especially on children, asserts Thekakara.
"Look at the awards as a signal to improve standards. We are not being puritanical. We are looking at these awards from the standpoint of women's empowerment. We want a movement towards refinement. We are tired of seeing these one-faceted sex objects. Even the male is stereotyped as a hunk with nothing in the top category. We've reduced ourselves to such woeful caricatures," Thekakara says.
FROM THE GRASSROOTS
IN Kandai, Pauri, Basanti Devi, who is about 50 years old now, has been fighting for the future of mountain folk. She has been among the active women participants in all the rallies in the Uttarakhand region. She has crossed the boundary of her farm and fields to traverse the road of protest in cities. She nurtures the hope that the load of mountain life would be a little easier, at least for the generations to come.
Itís been eight years since. Time has changed a lot and so have many things with it. Circumstances have changed, aspirations have changed. Now that zeal is no longer there. Political mischievousness handed over Uttaranchal where Uttarakhand was due. Though this new state has entered the second year of its infancy but the Uttarakhand of the dreams of Basanti Devi and thousands like her still remains a dream. For them nothing has changed. If at all, their desperation and frustration has only worsened. Basanti Devi is not the only one who has been sad during these two years of the formation of the state. She is a mere representative of those womenfolk who are known as the fulcrum of life in the higher reaches.
There are numerous others like her in the mountains who have been put off and are angry with the present-day condition of Uttaranchal. Sudha Devi of Kandai village, near Pauri town, has not been able to forget 1994 even today. She still remembers how after winding up her work in the fields she used to go to participate in the stir to keep the fire of protest burning. She did not care about her limitations then. She had just one dream. ĎFor her Uttarakhand,í she was willing to make any kind of sacrifice. She, too, is perturbed by the condition of Uttarakhand which has been a victim of political treachery. She is not in a condition to even hide her pain.
"We fought a long battle, sacrificed our own blood, suffered atrocities. Was it for this? Whatever we had hoped for from this state we havenít got." The fire that has been simmering inside her suddenly erupts. She says she still remembers the day when she had left behind her home and hearth to accompany the protesters to Delhi. In her own words, "That time I did not think for a moment what would happen to my children, my cattle, my home, my fields. I had but one dream ó Uttarakhand. A new state would give employment to the unemployed, we had thought. We would be able to get fodder for our cattle, mountains would develop and our hardships would be mitigated, but alas! Itís been two years since the new state came into being but nothing has happened so far which would make us feel that our demand for a new state was legitimate, was right.
Even today our problems, our pain, our sufferings are where they used to be." There are numerous like Sita Devi who are suffering too. Numerous women who get up at the crack of the dawn and are so busy with their household and outside chores that they do not even get time to think about themselves. The situation is the same everywhere. Whether itís Ida village of Garhwal or Salkot. One will find women toiling everywhere. But they do not complain about their hardships. Their only complaint is that there is no drinking water, electricity or medical facilities in their villages. Rajmati of Bangar village says that setting up a state is not everything. The main purpose is providing at least the bare minimum basic amenities to the villagers.
Rameshwari of Kathood village says that while fighting for a new state they had not thought that the ministers of a poor state would use the money of the masses on their own luxuries. She says haplessly "itís a shame that today wine is being sold like water in Uttarakhand. There was earlier talk of a wine-free state and today the situation is such that wine shops are dotting the entire landscape of the region." There are many who concur with Rameshwari and are not satisfied with the situation in the state. On the issue of land, water and forest cover too these women are unhappy with the administration. Jayashree of Kandai village says "The government talks of involving women folk in the milk scheme but the fact is that they do not have control over their own trees, there is a dire problem of fodder for the cattle population."
These women are demanding that fodder markets, as in towns and cities, should be set up in villages also or the villagers should be allowed to bring in fodder. There is some substance in this argument also. Itís a fact that in the last few years, a massive fire has been raging in the forests of Uttaranchal. Trees and shrubs, which form fodder for cattle, have been consumed in this fire. This has created a problem of fodder in the region. To tackle this menace it is essential that such trees be planted which have less combustible leaves. But in reality the exact opposite is happening.
In most forests, officials are getting pine trees planted which are easier to maintain. There is less effort involved in looking after them and the leaves are not eaten by the animals. The result is that today most forests in Uttarakhand are pine forests and their highly combustible leaves, in turn, give rise to fires in the forest.
Most women in this region are in favour of mixed forests so that there is no fire and the cattle get enough food also. Women also want more powers for forest panchayats. In this context Guddi Devi says "Forest panchayats comprising females have done commendable work in the East. In case of a fire in the forest, all the women get together and fight it. But their commitment and attachment has died ever since they have been told to stay away from their own forests." People are annoyed with the ways and policies of the forest department. On the one hand, World Bank-sponsored Integrated Forest Development Scheme is being imposed on them, while on the other hand popular and people-friendly schemes like forest panchayats are being given a go by. Absence of any kind of punishment for the culprits in Muzzafarnagar incident, even after two years of the new state administration, is also plaguing the women. According to them, until the culprits, responsible for despicable behaviour with the protesting women during the stir for a new state, are punished they would not stand vindicated.
Surviving with aplomb
Sans make up, dialogues and glamorous dresses, most stars look so deglamourised in real life that they disappoint their fans. But that does not seem to be the case with saadi kuri, Poonam Dhillon. She is beautiful. There are no tell-tale signs of make-up and arch-lights, no residue of a hectic, cut-throat filmy lifestyle and no regrets even after a failed marriage. She is calm, serene and contented. Her face and body show it. The daughter of Squadron Leader Amrik Singh and Gurcharan Kaur, Poonam remembers her childhood in Chandigarh with nostalgia She passed out from Carmel Convent, Sector 9 in 1977 as a science student. She still remembers her teachers Parminder Madam, Das and Sharma. For the sheer fun of it, she had participated in a beauty contest at Delhi and to her absolute joy became Miss Delhi in 1977. From then onwards started her rendezvous with Bollywood.
Her parents were very against the idea of "good" Sikh girls joining the much-gossiped about film line but Poonam was successful in convincing her parents that the hazards of her job were no different from that of any other profession a girl wishes to join. "It all depends on the girl herself, how she conducts herself and there is a percentage of some harassment in all professions. Initially, I took my mom as an escort everywhere." She reminisces about the depression under which she had to shoot for her film Samundar with Sunny Deol. It was very soon after her fatherís death. "Seeing a plane, I would think of dad, quite forgetting he was no more. Dad was someone we always referred back to, says Poonam.
Unfortunately, the love in her marriage could not help her to transcend the dissimilarities of caste, religion and background. Poonam lives alone in her Hill Queen apartment with her five- year-old daughter, Paloma, and her nine-year- old son, Anmol. She has set up the business of giving make-up vans on hire. However, Poonamís first priority are her children. This number one socialite of Mumbai has the entire town abuzz with admiration at her total involvement with her kids. Like Madhuri Dixit, she believes in "giving back a lot of oneself to society. After all, it is people who give us all their admiration, adulation and support to make us what we are today". Perhaps it is that feeling which spurred her on to join Congress I.