The R word wasn't taboo. An acclaimed musician, a seasoned actor and a firebrand politician came together on a common platform to discuss antiquated laws, the male gaze and the need to change mindsets, almost a year after the infamous December 16 Delhi gang rape.
The session on ‘Women, changing the Indian mindset' at the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit, moderated by CNN-IBN deputy editor Sagarika Ghose, brought together an all-women panel that featured sitar player and composer Anoushka Shankar, actor and political leader Khushbu Sundar and BJP national vice-president Smriti Irani.
India is witnessing a women's revolution, Ghose invoked American playwright and activist Eve Ensler, to set the proceedings rolling. And the trio on the panel didn't pull any punches while urging women to fight against the triad of abuse, objectification and exploitation.
Despite having one of the best laws against women, India is one of the worst places for women to stay in, said Shankar, who recalled how, earlier in the year, she had come out and spoken about being abused as a seven-year-old child. "Changing of mindsets takes a long time. What we can do is to raise children who would grow up to respect women," said the mother of a three-year-old son.
Irani, sharing her own trauma as a mother, revealed that she worries about her lawyer daughter every single day. "Even as I step into Parliament and pretend to be really powerful, I think of my 23-year-old daughter who takes a local train from Andheri to Church Gate and mentally prepares herself to be pawed and humiliated. As a mother I feel powerless."
A popular TV actor, whenever Irani is told that the media and television lead to children being spoilt, she retorts with: ‘Television cannot raise your kids the right way, the responsibility lies with the parents.'
The hyper-sexualised song and dance numbers and item numbers peddled by Hindi movies that feature men who behave like stalkers play a big part in objectifying women, said Shankar. "I am fine with nudity and people making love in a movie if it is done in good taste. But when I see the misogynistic and voyeuristic way women are showed in item numbers and Bollywood songs, I feel I am watching something dirty."
Bollywood isn't necessarily the biggest culprit, our lawmakers are equally regressive, said Ghose. "When you have Parliamentarians such as Sharad Yadav making comments like ‘Aisa kaun aadmi hai jo ladkiyon ka peecha nahin kiya' (Find me a man who hasn't followed girls?" even as the House debated the new rape law, we have a long way to go before the man on the street begins respecting women's sensibilities," said Khushbu.
When it came to laws that would act as deterrents to crime against women, Irani said, the government wasn't putting its money where its mouth was. "The Domestic Violence Act was passed in 2005. But nothing much has moved since then. When I raised the question in Parliament, I was told it could take another decade before funds were allocated to implement these laws on the ground," added Irani.
Asked about what she made of high-profile cases, such as those involving Tehelka founder Tarun Tejpal, religious guru Asaram and retired Supreme Court judge AK Ganguly, Khushbu said close after the Tehelka case that hogged headlines in the media, a woman in Assam was allegedly gang raped and killed with her eyes gouged out. But since the victim was far away from the national capital, the news was relegated to inside pages. "A rape is a rape, regardless of whether the perpetrator or the victim is high-profile or not," said Khushbu.