Opinions of two Indian Muslim Women have actually rocked the mainland India. First, it was Tamil actress Khushboo who told the Tamil edition of India Today that pre-marital sex is okay “provided safety measures are followed to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases”. And now, it is the Tennis star Sania Mirza who said the size of the dress she wants to wear is her prerogative.
And what’s so criminal in holding these views? Views regarding women sexuality and men sexuality in the first case. And the dress code for teenage girls in the second case. I guess, it is the politics that’s criminal. The crude politics of conservatism and the media.
The politicians and volunteers of the Dalit Panthers of India (DPI) and the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) who are working under the banner of a Tamil Protection Movement in their crusade against Khushboo are brothers-in-arms of the Mumbai-based staunch Hindu outfit Shiv Sena. They have a natural ally in Sunni Ulema Board, a self-proclaimed Muslim moral group. Four of them together have found some more interesting bedfellows: the mainstream media.
The interesting thing about these moral police forces in India is none of the above actually represent any Indian population of worth. Far from that, they do not even represent the groups they claim to be leading.
DPI at work!
DPI is interested only in publicity, like its political counterpart Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) is greedy for power. The BSP showing its true colors has partnered even with the right-wing BJP (which is predominantly Brahmin party) in political seat-sharing. Naturally enough, since their formation the so-called representatives of the Dalits have no support among the “backward” peoples of India, despite their national party status, BSP has hardly have any success except in just one state. A national party claiming to have base all over the country has won 0 seats in 24 out of 25 states where it fielded its candidates. Out of 435 of its contestants, only 19 won in the 14th Lok Sabha Election. All of them only in Utter Pradesh, where it lost 61 seats!
PMK, another new nationalist wing like DPI, is also a case in point. Since it has condemned both Dravidian parties of the South, DMK and AIADMK, one would assume it would not join hands with either of them. Or at least, never with the right-winger Hindu nationalists like BJP. Well, not exactly. It was part of the BJP combine when Vajpayee was in power. And now, it lends support to the Congress combine at the center with DMK as a partner. And it has 0.55% voteshare in India in 2004 down from 0.65% voteshare in 1999. So one can imagine its support base even in the South where it has won in total 6 seats (and zero in rest of India).
The lesser said about Shiv Sena, the better. Even with more than 80% of Indian population in India professing a Hindu way of life, this self-proclaimed protector of Hindu interest has hardly ever made its presence felt outside only one state: Maharashtra (that too, more in the name of Marathi nationalism). It rose to power after murdering Krishna Desai, the immensely popular communist leader of Maharashtra who was an invincible symbol among textile workers. Ever since, Shiv Sena has espoused right-wing views and led to communal riots one after another.
Sunni Ulema Board: I am sorry, but I had never heard of this name before. Neither have many of my Muslim friends. Not even those who stay in Hyderabad. Wonder where they came from? They certainly are not the Muslim clerics nor are the national arbitrators of religion-related issues for the country’s more than 160 million Muslims.
If Dalit Panthers, the Shiv Sena, the Sunni Ulema Board, the BSP and the PMK are not worth anything in India, since they all combined together do not gain support of even one percent of Indian population, how come they (just three of them this time—DPI, PMK and Sunni Ulema) are the forces that led to the crisis of Khushboo and Sania.
All of us know that Khushboo is such a heartthrob of South India cinema that people have even worshipped her (literally, yes!). Only a decade ago a temple was built in Tiruchirapalli town for Khushboo despite the fact that she is a Muslim. She is a national award winning actress of India (that’s the highest accolade an actor receives, by the way).
And for the still uninitiated (is anyone there?), Sania Mirza is one of the current leaders of India in every sense. She has very rightly overpowered the national obsession with Cricket and has rose to prominence first as a woman, then as a Muslim, and then as a tennis champion to have entered Grand Slam events. The 18-year-old is the first Indian woman to break into the top 50 WTA rankings too.
In other words, as contrasted with the political outfits who are not known outside the boundaries of their own sycophancy (how many had even honestly heard of DPI or PMK or SUB), these two women are nationally (and even internationally) renowned and respected.
And yet, both of them have tendered public apologies recently. Khushboo for saying the right things, and Sania for not even having said anything as reported.
…and the Media:
All thanks to the mainstream media. The corporate, controversy-hungry media. Nothing happened to India Today magazine for having run the surveys and the stories and for inviting Khushboo to write about gender issues. Nothing happened to Hindustan Times for having asked Sania questions to respond regarding dress code.
“On Friday evening, my jaw dropped as TV channel after TV channel reported that Sania’s remarks about the Khushboo controversy at the HT Summit had angered clerics. On Saturday, the newspapers reported this story. The problem was: Sania had said nothing about Khushboo or about pre-marital sex during our session. I should know. I was the moderator. Could it be, I wondered, that some enterprising reporter had grabbed Sania (and Narain and Natalie, who were quoted as agreeing with her) as the session ended, and asked a few leading questions?
Possibly. But the reports were quite specific. Sania was supposed to have made these remarks during our session at the HT Summit. Which, I knew, she had not.”
Thus Mr Sanghvi has managed to steer clear of the controversy. After all, she did not say that at his Summit. What he conveniently does not mention is the intent of HT coverage of Sania. Was it to showcase just a success? Well, we had a miss universe and a formula one champion on the same panel. Then how come, Sania got all the coverage on the reported story of the day?
Wow! Was that not sensational enough a headline? Was Sania at the summit for that purpose? To provide that headline? So that her life threat will be revisited? It was meant to be a leadership summit and Sania was to be presented as a role model for Indian youths, along with two other achievers. This story by HT correspondent Namita Bhandare has hardly any mention of other two panelists and 90% of the story covers Sania only (and only about her skirt issues about which she had voluntarily chosen not to comment earlier). The savvy editor got the question right. The event was powerful enough (what with all the celebrities –from Sonia Gandhi to Manmohan Singh). And Sania gave in to the hungry journalists.
So, that does not take away the grim reality which still is to be posed as a question. India Today got its sales. Hindustan Times got a breaking story that it got the words off the mouth of Sania for the first time etc. And other media publications linked both of them together and came up with a theory that suggested Sania supporting Khusboo. Natural, ain’t it? I have worked as a journalist of small repute too. I should be knowing.
For a ‘crime’ that led Khushboo to surrender at court, any misrepresentation of Sania’s statements with Khusboo’s attitudes was going to be dangerous. No, not from the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, which is the arbitrator of religion based cases in India. In fact, Khalid Rashid of the Law Board had said way back in September, “What Sania wears in (the) tennis court is the demand of the game. Perhaps, the fatwa (edict) was issued to gain cheap publicity.” Dangerous it was to prove, through the mainstream press. After the Muslim Board and Sania had both dismissed the so-called fatwa two months back, what led a responsible editor to pose the question that he did (regarding the dress code), if not to expect a headline worthy controversial story (which he eventually got!).
Khushboo should not have apologized. After all, they are her opinions. She never mentioned them under any pressure. Yet she broke down, because of the way the media blew up the entire issue and gleed at the prospect of photographing a dozen of angry Dalit Senas. She is in trouble now. Real judicial trouble with half a dozen cases piling against her! So much for the freedom of speech that the media enjoy, but not the people. Or the women.
Sania must not have apologized either. After all, she never even said that she supported Khushboo. For statements she never made, her effigies are now being burnt down by the same southern conservatives who are taking turns to protest against her and Khushboo. Sania, well aware of the mud, wants to now get out of it. And like all of us, she does not wish to go to jail. And so she even had to go to the extent of condemning pre-marital sex, a topic she had nothing to do about. Why should a celebrated tennis star need to condemn pre-marital sex for whatever reason? But she is forced to do all these, thanks to the impoverished mainstream media. She knows, her silence will be taken as a support. And this implicit support will lead to explicit media coverage.
What a shame! What hypocrisy! Do we not talk about sex and wear short clothes? When the majority Indians have other real issues to worry about, why even give one inch space to these publicity hungry organizations that are after the blood of two immensely praiseworthy Indian women?
There is certain correctness in speaking out what is apt. Basically, why should men expect virgin wives to begin with? And why should someone play tennis with trousers? Considering also the contrary stock: do men take a virginity test? Or are soccer players banned or even male tennis players wear trousers? Only the real sick minds could think the way these dangerous outfits are preaching or viewing players on field.
As Rasheeda Bhagat says, “The Khushboo episode will blow over sooner than later, but what about the double standards practiced in our society?”
Throwing tomatoes, rotten eggs and slippers or calling actresses prostitutes (as a Dalit actor-director Thangar Bachan did in August this year, leading to his outrage with Khushboo) are signs of degraded mentality. And the vast majority of us have actually failed to get rid of those conservative mindsets despite their scant presence among the outfits. We did not send Bachan to court for something that outrageous. Because the news is when the man bites the dog, remember? If the woman says something contrary to male norms, then its news!
But hey, this is a wake-up call. Now is the time not to support the sensational media into forcing these two very courageous Indian Muslim Women to come forth with statements of apology for anything they said and done. We must show our pride over what they have said, and what they have done. What we need is more of them: More Khushboos. More Sanias.