The latest reality show on television is the rape accusation levied against Bollywood star — Shiney Ahuja. Barely had the ticker run out of words on the bottom of television screens, that experts popped up in PIP mode and breathless reporters predicted the worst — “life in prison” — this even before the actor was booked for the crime. However this piece is not on the veracity of the accusations or the coverage that this incident has attracted — that is to be expected. For me this story plays out not as an indictment of the world of glamour or the media, or the way the law works. For me the first 24 hours of this sad episode have been an indictment of how we as a society use language (as Rousseau would suggest) to cloud judgment and veil class prejudice.
The lady in question has been described as the domestic help, the servant or the maid in report after report, in overheard conversations and even by ‘experts’ on television, who, in one instance, doubted the accusation based on the fact that the accuser was a ‘maid’. The assumption being, that if he were to have committed a crime such as this, why would he do so with a maid?
I think what people have not realised is that the victim, in allegation or in certitude — is something that time and authorities will determine. The fact that she may have been a victim has little to do with her being a maid, the only bearing it has on the case is that it places her in the house at the time she claims the incident occurred.
To identify a rape victim is unethical, but identity does not stem from a name alone — her anonymity is not preserved by a pixilated image on television. Her identity must be protected from the frame of prejudice that unfortunately emerges from the social position she occupies. In our attempt to rush and create Kodak moments of the misfortune that befalls the perceived mighty, we trip over the fallacies and dichotomies that exist in our own understanding of the social structures around us.
Undoubtedly, like all else this will one day be yesterday’s news, the crime will be proved or disproved as the nation watches. And then it will recede from public memory, much in the way other horrors have. However, every once in a while when it will emerge, it will always be parenthesised and recounted as the case with the maid, or the domestic help or the servant. Thank God for synonyms.
(Advaita Kala is the author of Almost Single)