The problem with Uttar Pradesh’s passive-aggressive men is not that they don’t particularly care about the rights of their women, but that they don’t particularly think of them at all. In Snigdha Poonam’s gut-wrenching story today, thousands of mobile recharge operators believe it’s par for the course to behave like mini-me versions of beauty pageant overlords, checking out noses and faces and cheeks and teeth and “wheatish-coloured” skin of their female customers. Selling this information onwards, in this age of greed, desire and penis-envy, is a small step as well as a small price to pay for anonymous sexual gratification.
Let’s call it out for what it is : Uttar Pradesh’s men want the right to anytime voyeurism, as long as it’s limited to them. The woman at the other end of the phone line is irrelevant because her number -- she -- has been “paid” for. Best part, there’s no need to invest in her, her emotions, her intelligence, in her as a real person. She is now mine to do as I want, for as long as I want. To ask for “friendship,” to persist with rude, obnoxious messaging and calling until she gives in. To refuse to take no for an answer.
Actually, it’s the refusal that excites these men with severe inferiority complexes, cutting across caste, creed and religion. These male children have grown up believing they are special, the objects of universal attention. How can a woman refuse this special person? She must be shown who’s in charge.
I am. I “paid” for you, didn’t I ?
So as journalists fan out across UP, interviewing scores of politicians seeking the votes of these very women who they are complicit in treating like second-class citizens -- the truth is that each of these politicians are totally part of the game mobile recharge operators play every day.
Sharp nose + rosebud mouth + fair skin? That will be Rs 500, please, for the phone number who belongs to this woman. Swarthier skin? Ok, let’s settle for Rs 50.
If there’s anything worse than UP’s passive aggressive men pestering disinterested women, it’s passive aggressive phone recharge operators decoding the beauty quotients of their clients and believing they have the right to do so. The woman with the cellphone may believe she’s climbing the ladder to independence, but who gave her the right to think, in the first place?
Snigdha Poonam’s story says more than 65,000 women have complained about unwanted callers. But the solution must go beyond police arrests. If UP wants to start thinking about gender justice, its hundreds of politicians swarming at the polls today must answer why women’s issues are not on top of their agendas.
Let us ask the 73 BJP MPs who promised to bring “acche din” in 2014, or BSP leader Behenji Mayawati or Kannauj MP and wife of outgoing chief minister Akhilesh Yadav, Dimple Yadav. Let us ask the duo who swears they will never fall apart, Akhilesh and Rahul Gandhi. Is even one of them remotely interested in the equality of UP’s men and women, before law and the Constitution?
I believe Uttar Pradesh’s politicians are as guilty as its recharge operators violating client information or its severely complexed men who would rather hind behind the anonymity of a phone call and don’t have the courage to face a woman. The political class can do to UP what several of India’s southern states have done, which is to ensure gender justice.
There must be men in UP who believe this is a fundamental right. Perhaps they should join hands with UP’s women and stand up and call for change.
Jyoti Malhotra is a senior journalist.
The views expressed are personal