“Remember how she had once danced to ‘hua chhokra jawaan re’?”, I overheard a young man tell his friend at JNU’s Ganga Dhaba last evening.
“Yes, so?”, the friend asked in answer.
“So nothing! Ab chhokri jawaan hai, chhokra jawaan hai, ye toh hona hi tha!” And he burst into fits of laughter.
Gauhar Khan has been trending on Facebook for the last couple of days. The actor was slapped by a member of the audience, Mohammad Akil Malik, while she was shooting for a reality television show in Mumbai’s FilmCity. The assailant is said to have been objecting to Khan’s ‘immodest outfit’ and her dancing to ‘raunchy’ numbers. Evidently, good Muslim women are not allowed to do that. It’s improper. Good Muslim men, can however try and get cozy with such a woman in public and even slap her. That is proper, decorous behavior, of course!
The slap on Khan’s face, in my mind, is a slap on all that we have been fighting for since the 1960s. Despite all the waves of feminism flooding the world, there remains a Malik in many of us still. The man who slapped the actor was guilty, certainly. But are the young scholars whom I heard laughing, at the actor for her choice of roles in certain mainstream Bollywood movies entirely innocent?
Malik seems to have confessed that Khan’s clothes titillated him and he slapped her so as to be able to teach her a lesson. She will think twice now before wearing a short skirt, he told the police. And of course women should just stop wearing short skirts on screen, he further argued, since that happens to “damage the brain” of young men. Neat. So neat.
For argument’s sake, let us agree for a moment that every woman wearing clothes with hemlines above the knees is promiscuous, and that such women need to be slapped and rectified and brought back on track so that they do not stray into a life of whoring. All right. Now, what about women wearing sarees? What about women wearing the burqa and the hijab?
What about the dalit woman in some remote corner of this country who has no time to think about dilettante things like dresses and needs to work in the fields to feed her family? Why is such a woman found lying outside the village, at the burning ghat one morning, raped and mutilated?
What about that little child playing in a field, absolutely unaware of how her dress flying up as she sits on a sea-saw, revealing a little of her innocent flesh, can some how incite adult thoughts in a pedophile lurking behind the bushes? Why is such a child found lying in her neighbour’s abandoned garage one morning, raped and mutilated?
What about the seventy year old woman, way past her prime, and therefore according to the Delhi High Court, incapable of being raped (definitely, women are no different from cows; as long as they are fertile, as long as they give milk, as long as they procreate, they are of value; beyond that age you can sell the cow for its meat; beyond that age you can engage in forceful intercourse with such a woman but of course since her womb is of no value to anybody anymore, it is not going to be seen as rape)? Why is such a woman found lying in her empty apartment one morning, raped and mutilated?
What about the young boy studying in a boarding school in Darjeeling, clad in his boy shorts and starched shirt and polished shoes? Why is such an adolescent found lying in a washroom one morning, raped and mutilated by his Physics teacher?
What about that teenage girl, covered in days of dirt, begging for money at a traffic signal in Mumbai? Why is such a girl found lying in a ditch one morning, raped and mutilated?
What about Nirbhaya? Why was she found lying on the road, raped and mutilated on a cold December night two years ago?
Gauhar Khan might have been wearing a short skirt the unfortunate day that she got slapped. But even the hijab cannot guarantee your protection. We may pretend to be domesticated but deep within we are animals. And each such report of violence and sexual crime only confirms my fears. Society tries to trap us with its ideologies of wrong-doings and right-doings, with its hypocritical, convoluted, complex codes of conduct. But it has failed to tame and contain the animal spirits within the social animals that it has been producing, harbouring and nurturing.
An article of this sort should conventionally end on a note of positivity; with some hope. But I seem to have descended into that zone that Jonathan Swift had once lived in and come out declaring to Alexander Pope in a letter, “I heartily hate and detest that animal called man.”
That slap on Gauhar Khan’s face is a slap on the face of humanity and it is time we saw it the way it is. Statistics say there are some 18,000 lions left on earth; 3,200 tigers, 200,000 leopards, 15,000 jaguars, 70,000 bald eagles, 700 gorillas, 400,000 elephants, 28,000 rhinos and 7,000,000,000 humans. Seven billion. Isn’t it time we stopped? Just stopped?
For the ones more optimistic than I am, here’s hoping you find positive answers to some of these questions. And do share them with me here. And while you’re looking for answers I’ll share with you what a fellow research scholar told me this morning – “It’s interesting how Malik first tried to get fresh with Khan and then got miffed when she asserted herself. It was after that that he slapped her”, Janani M Kandhadai rightly pointed out – and this fact is important because in our attempts to make the woman appear as a helpless, hapless victim, we seem to have completely overlooked her agency. Janani also finds it curious that “they wanted to test his blood alcohol levels” – as if that would explain everything, that would excuse everything, that would justify everything.
Let us not try so hard to justify our existence as humans anymore! We are not worth it, perhaps. The world is burning. And we are only fuelling it.
And in the meantime, news has arrived of a three year old girl child allegedly raped twice by the peon of her school.