NEW DELHI, India– Since the vicious New Delhi gang rape of “Nirbhaya” in 2012, women’s safety and women’s rights in India have received both national and international attention. It seems like a contradiction: a country that is largely conservative and 80 percent Hindu, worshiping and praying to a multitude of important female goddesses (Durga, Lakshmi, Kali and Saraswati among others), while also subjecting their women to increasingly brutal violence and sexual attacks.
Of course violence against women exists in every single nation on the planet. India is in no way a singular case. But people have been questioning why India seems to have a nationwide epidemic of rape and sexual assault against its women and girls. Is it because of high levels of unemployment, poverty and illiteracy? Perhaps it is a complex combination of multiple cultural, economic and social variables that contribute to violence against women.
Deepanjana Pal, a senior editor at FirstPost, elaborates, “Rape is not about sex. It’s about power and notions of masculinity. It’s a performance that establishes in the rapist’s mind his supremacy.”
Moreover, one of the “largest drivers of mainstream popular culture” in India, Bollywood is being scrutinized for its influence on its viewers. Based in the city of Mumbai, Bollywood (or Hindi cinema) is not only the largest film producer in India, but also the largest film industry in the world. Typical Bollywood films run between three and four hours long, containing songs, choreographed dances, love interests, action and violence as well as happy conclusions.
Bollywood “does not condone or glorify rape,” but it “does condone a culture of misogyny and sexual harassment that contextualizes and allows rape.”
Bollywood films tend to portray men as overly masculine, dominating others through violence. Most females in the films are hyper-sexualized love interests. On the one hand, these female characters are empowered by wearing what they decide to. However, their bodies are objectified by the male characters and seen as sex objects. Exceptions to this include recent films such as Kahaani, Queen and English Vinglish, which have strong female characters.
In most Bollywood films, there are song and dance numbers with female dancers called “item girls.” The name in itself objectifies the females, stripping them of their humanity.
It would be inaccurate to draw the conclusion that watching Bollywood films lead to sexual attacks on women. However, Bollywood film producers need to be aware that their films do have an influence on its audience.
In spite of a recent surge of media spotlight on violence against women, Bollywood films do not take this opportunity to bring focus on the topic. To many, Bollywood films are purely entertainment and a way to escape the hardships of life for a couple of hours. But for others, it is an example of how India’s film industry is failing the country’s women.
– Sarah Yan