In the past week, Bollywood's 'Sultan' Salman Khan not only raised eyebrows, but also triggered a lot of backlash in the wake of his distasteful remark, when he compared his post-shoot self to that of a 'raped woman'. Scores of people took to social media, condemning his insensitive comment that effectively perpetuates and normalises rape culture.
The National Commission for Women (NCW) has demanded an apology from the actor, failing which they have threatened to take action against him. The actor was asked to appear before the commission on 29 June at 2 pm.
Leading women's rights activist Kavita Krishnan, and singer Sona Mohapatra, who found themselves at the receiving end of online abuse following their condemnation of Salman Khan's rape analogy. They have poured their hearts out on social media, talking about the way rape culture is perpetuated by irresponsible comments made by public figures.
On 22 June, Kavita Krishnan expressed her critique of media's gender sensitivity on Salman Khan's 'raped woman' analogy. Condemning the general apathy towards rape analogies that are commonplace in everyday exchanges, this is what she wrote:
"I ask why there is a storm over a remark Salman retracted almost as soon as he made it (he said 'I shouldn't have said that' as soon as he had made the rape analogy, and rephrased his thought) while there is no serious discussion about the widespread culture of rape jokes and rape analogies in general.
"In other words, everyone seems happy discussing and bashing an individual celebrity - while studiously refraining from debating the larger issue. There was never this kind of widespread outrage, for instance, when a balatkar joke was made by the Thinking Khan in 3 Idiots. And how many of us have snickered when our colleague/classmate has talked of being 'raped' in an interview or a cricket team being 'raped' in a game? That is not to absolve Salman - but it is to say that instead of doing the easy thing of crucifying Salman on Twitter, we should be resolving to stand up to such jokes or analogies when our boss/colleague/friends indulge in them."
Singer Sona Mohapatra, on the other hand, also took to Facebook, but talked about the issue from a different perspective. Having faced vitriolic attacks on social media, and being personally attacked for having opined on Salman's crude remark, she wrote out a heartfelt letter, making a point about how the trolls could never mar her spirit.
"The fact that I have been mercilessly trolled in the last 48 hours, with 1000's of rape threats, inundated with morphed naked porn images & threatened to be put out of work & lots more is only an indication of the poison in our society. Poison that gets a chance to flow freely when national 'Icons' created not only by their followers & audience but encouraged by their peers & media, regularly misbehave, talk rubbish, do rubbish, don't get punished, don't learn from their mistakes but instead get encouraged, celebrated, pack cinema halls & become brand ambassadors of 'goodwill," she wrote.
Both women shed light on the grim realities of rape in India, the general apathy towards sexual assault and the manner in which celebrities in a position of power aid in the perpetuation of rape culture. They talk about the fight Soni Sori has been fighting, and the manner in which the media has turned a blind eye to the rape and murder of a woman in Chhattisgarh.
"When media channels call me for comments on this subject all day and invite me to discussions on this at prominent night slots, I do give my comments but could not bring myself to join the night debates this time. Why? Because - because Soni Sori is on her 7th day of hunger fast against the actual rape and murder of a woman - and I don't see the media lining up to ask for bytes on this or organising night time debates on it. Sure, one or two may have ran news about it - but they are not going at it hammer and tongs as they should - as they do when an actor makes a stray remark that he almost immediately rethinks and rephrases. NCW gives Salman a week to apologise. Has NCW any plans to go meet Soni while she is on fast - demand to accompany Soni to Gompad?" questions Kavita Krishnan.
Sona Mohapatra and Kavita Krishnan are voicing the larger sentiment of women from across the nation - that we've had enough. That women will no longer let rape jokes be normalised and integrated in colloquial exchanges. That the realities of sexual assault in the nation will be brought forth and talked about.
"And in a billion plus country, containing the largest population of many many good, honourable, hard working people, I will not let the the stupid, dangerous, nasty few win. Who will put us out of 'work'?? Salman Khan??!! That 'talented' (!?) thug? I don't think so. I can think of 100 different ways to make a living & thrive but I will choose to sing & perform my music till the last day. Not him, not anyone can stop that.
I cannot even imagine the pain of that 21 year old girl, her family & the struggles of Soni Sori but I do know that I can commit to their cause. We are all linked up by the same umbilical cord.
Rape is no joking matter," concludes Sona Mohapatra, resonating the voice of millions of women in the nation.