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Wednesday, July 06, 2016

Veritas

The whole of social media has been boiling over the murder of Chennai techie Swathi, who was hacked to death last week by a criminal. I've consciously not named the killer as I feel he doesn't need anymore publicity than the media has been giving him at the cost of emotional torture for Swathi's family. The criminal has been arrested and I believe in the judicial system to serve him right even though I have fair enough reasons not to.

As I've been reading the numerous articles and posts all over the internet, I've been coming back to a pattern. There has been anger and support from the social media elite each time something like this happened which is a good thing. A young lady murdered in daylight in one of the highest traffic local railway stations in such a manner is definitely a busy day at work for these social media revolutionaries. 

One person has poured her anguish in a vivid descriptive with it's share of classic stereotypes. Her claim is that the on lookers didn't help Swathi while she was bleeding to death. But, I don't think that's her real problem. She worries that no one dared to touch the body of a Brahmin girl. While she seems to be a very talented writer with a knack for vivid imagery (I give her that) I find it obscene that she thought this was about caste. How many people would have seen a young lady lying in a pool of blood and seen that as a body of a Brahmin? Amidst all the things that could've popped up in her head, she thought this was about caste. All that the article does is reflect on the author's mentality and obsession with caste. The funny part is that if this had happened to Dalit there would've been a similar article by a caste obsessed author who'd have claimed the same thing from the perspective of a Dalit. Not everything is about caste and we'd be wasting our time if we spent further time entertaining these nut jobs.
As a budding engineer who earned her place in the sun through hard work and determination Swathi was also in some ways the archetype of the modern South Indian woman who could be both traditional and modern. She wore a salwar kameez, sported a simple bindi, not necessarily the more elaborate caste marks.  
What the papers do not underline, though the vox populi does, is that she was the epitome of a Brahmin girl, born to succeed. Even as she lay dying, no one dared to touch the body of a Brahmin girl.
Another regional article says how this is Swathi's fault (of course) because she carelessly ignored the guy stalking her for a couple of weeks. A few even accused her of having enjoyed the stalking (yes, that's what the movies tell you, and yes the movies are everything). How convenient!! I couldn't but wonder how Swathi would've gone about this, if she had decided to report it. She would've definitely taken it up with her parents. I just can't picture a middle class (caste-no-bar) girl walking in to a Chennai police station by herself to report a stalking incident. I'm not saying she shouldn't do it. She should've been able to, but wouldn't have. Her father wouldn't have been that cool movie dad who would've stood by his daughter. The first thing he would've done is to accuse her of the responsibility for someone stalking her. I can go on, but, I'm sure the rest is a known tale of the middle class status versus the right thing to do. It would have been a much better use of the author's time if he/she could've at least mentioned what's the process of reporting such incidents to the cops to educate and encourage people in the future. Yes, it would've. Unfortunately, it wouldn't sell or garner more webpage visits. 
இதை சுவாதி தன்னுடைய நெருங்கிய தோழியிடம் சொல்லியுள்ளார். அப்போது அவர்கள் போலீஸிடம் தகவலை சொல்லிவிடலாம் என்று சொன்ன போது அதை பெரிதாக சுவாதி எடுத்துக் கொள்ளவில்லை. அதுவே அவரது உயிரை காவு வாங்கி இருக்கிறது. சுவாதி முன்எச்சரிக்கையாக செயல்பட்டு இருந்தால் இந்த கொலை சம்பவமே நடந்திருக்க வாய்ப்பில்லை.
Translation: She recounted this (the stalking and subsequent including an assault) to her close friend who advised her to report it to the cops but Swathi didn't take it seriously. That was the sole reason for her untimely death. If she had been careful and acted with caution, there is no chance for this murder to have happened.
I read an article about how movies are totally inspiring these criminals to stalk girls. The author has recalled a series of scenes and stories from Tamil movies to support her claim that movies are glorifying stalking. While I agree that she's absolutely right about the claim, the genre in discussion has been in existence forever and it doesn't feel right to have enjoyed all these movies at the time, called them (at least some of them) epic romantic stories and now claim that they are endorsing stalking. Ladies having a thing for the bad guy has become a regular theme in movies. Let's face the fact that we're responsible for making these films hits, thus encouraging more creators to fall back to such distasteful writing. Having said that, India is in dire need of decoupling movies and lifestyle choices. These are just movies. They are just actors. It's just entertainment. But, no. Let's all blame it on the movies, ban filmmakers, walk happily arm in arm and ever after in to the sunset. The End.
In a society where there are so many rules for falling in love (No.1 being that you don’t), it is not surprising that our ideas about love are so warped. Good girls and good boys don’t talk to each other. They are strictly heterosexual and marry the person of their parents’ choice, carefully selected after matching caste, class, education, complexion, height, salary, and horoscope. In the movies, romance is the selective disruption of these factors. The hero is an aspirational figure, the go-getter who overcomes any number of obstacles to ‘win’ the girl. And many a time, the obstacle on his path is the girl herself who calls him a ‘porukki’ or tells him in no uncertain terms not to follow her around. By the end of the movie, however, all her nays magically turn into a coy yes and everyone goes home happy. True love has won, consent be damned.
As Baradwaj Rangan has written in his usual matter of fact manner supported by data, movies seem to be a soft target for any and every inconvenience.
We need to seriously and rigorously study the impact of cinema on society. (Quizzing Ramkumar about the films he likes, the heroes he worships may not be a bad start, even if this isn’t technically a “study.”) We need to study why so many people remain impervious to the good things cinema says — vote wisely; abolish the caste system; don’t do drugs — and take home only messages like “smoking is cool” and “girls who say no are really saying yes.”
Some articles talk about how ridiculous it is to not have any CCTV cameras installed in a very crowded and high traffic local railway station. By far, that's the only relevant article I've read in the past week about this incident. It addresses a way forward to help in someway. I'm sure there are more speculations, accusations and so on.

Do you think anybody who wrote their piece (including the one you're reading now) genuinely cared about Swathi? It's human nature that they didn't, at least not as much as they cared about all the issues they have written about. Let's say that everyone embraced Brahmins and Dalits, people stopped making crap movies, all the girls behave responsibly by reporting stalkers, they also cover themselves from hair to toenail and the government installs gazillion CCTV cameras across the universe. The guy with a mind to kill will find another way and another reason to kill her or someone else. 

I was talking to a colleague about this a couple of days ago. The first words he mentioned about this topic started with, "These girls are playing hard to get with guys ('pinaala sutha vudaradhu' in Tamil) and they enjoy that". I stopped him right there. Let's assume that Swathi played 'hard to get. Let's assume that she enjoyed the stalking. Let's find every angle in the book and blame her of every wrong that she could've done in this case. Does that justify violence against her? Does that justify murder?

The suspect in Swathi's case has been arrested, but his case is going to be buried along with millions of pending cases including the useless ones like MS Dhoni being accused of harming the sentiments of Hindus because a magazine put a picture of him disguised as a Hindu God and one of the objects in his hand was a Reebok shoe. The court will not throw this case out in a heartbeat but will hear Swathi's murder case for 25 years. We don't have time to talk about this, but yes, we will call upon the mysterious case of Swathi being a Brahmin.

Few years back, someone filed a case against a movie claiming that the movie disrespects lawyers because there was a lawyer in the movie at the receiving end of a joke (yes, one joke). However, the same movie had scenes where the hero professes his love to the girl and talks about the way she dresses in public in the most distasteful manner possible. We cared about neither of the above back then. Why? Because Facebook wasn't so much of a thing in 2005. Today, we can say what we want. So, we will say what we want.  

I see a clear pattern with all these articles and arguments. We need something or someone to blame, close the chapter and move on. Caste, male chauvinism, feminism, movies, fashion sense, government, security lapses and so on. We'll blame everything. We need to write that category and stick that note on it. It's because of this. It's because of that. If this had been. If this hadn't been. We never run out of conjuring excuses and reasons, do we?

Not one person is responsible for his actions. A movie is responsible for his actions. A girl is responsible for his actions. A caste is responsible for his actions. But, he is not. When there's one more murder, one more rape, one more victim and one more chance, the social media elite will rise to the occasion to speculate, crowd source the motive, tarnish the victim, devise statements for the defense lawyer of the accused and claim to have discharged their social media civic responsibility of voicing their anger.

This habit of not taking responsibility for our actions is rooted in our day to day. It has become a part of our lives. Everything happens around us. We don't take responsibility for anything we do. We neither care about the problem nor the solution as much as we care to blame someone.

One human killed another. No matter what movies the killer watched, no matter what's the caste of the victim, no matter what dress the victim wore, no matter if someone else told the killer to kill, it comes down to this. A killer killed the victim. The killer had a choice, a very simple one, to kill or not to kill. The killer made his choice. The killer killed the victim. Let the killer face justice. Let the killer serve time. Maybe, the killer will reform, maybe the killer will come back and do the same thing only to face justice again. But, let the killer take full responsibility for the deed. Let us hold the killer accountable for this. Not the movies, not the caste, not the onlookers, not the government, not the society and definitely not the victim. Let's hold the killer accountable for this. The killer is responsible for this. The killer did this. The killer did this!

2 Expressions:

VJ said...

THIS!

So true! Stop passing the buck on to the next person!

However, Chiju, I feel as a society there is a collective responsibility.
Firstly, the victim blaming thing is not entirely an India-only phenomenon. The boys will be boys excuse was pulled at the Stanford Rape case as well. It seems the world as a collective have not bothered to educate people (men and women - there are women stalkers too) about the importance of consent. This mentality is not influenced by cultural. But, I have misgivings about theater/movies not influencing reality. I think they are both tightly coupled. You make movies inspired from real life, and real life is sometimes inspired by movies. You must admit that the Indian film industry does romanticise the gawking/stalking hero winning the "affections" of the victim/heroine. At least, growing up, I knew (and I have told you about it) a lot of guys back home who thought it was ok to discuss women like they were objects, going so far as to follow them home to find out where they lived etc. You cannot dismiss every one of these activities as playful, mindless games. Jokes/Games are fine, even I can enjoy them. But sometimes they do cross a fine line. There is a sociopath in everyone. Have we as a society not made this line clear? This is our collective fault. Or so I feel, anyhow. For instance, I dont see locals in Singapore throw leud remarks at women/men, or even look at them disrespectfully. Unfortunately, I cannot say the same thing of men from india who come here to find work. And we shouldn't make excuses for their behavior. They are not in the minority.

lastly, and perhaps more of a personal view point, am i the only one who feels all those memes about being friend zoned, or the girl rejecting the guy and making the "Wrong" choice offensive and very annoying? I mean, if the girl/guy was using the other person, it is a definite issue. But the number of guys who seem to think the girl secretly enjoyed the attention of a stalker, or did not know how good this guy was etc seem to be huge! How can anyone think like that? It boggles my mind. IMO it's again taking the side of the "poor, misunderstood" boy who clearly has every good intention. "No" means "NO" or in some cases "HECK NO". Anyhow, I am meandering.

Chiju said...

I have agreed (in my post) with the fact that movies romanticize/glorify stalking. I'm just saying that let's hold the individual accountable rather than blame it all on every other stalker.

And yes, this is not an India only problem. But, my knowledge (at least verified) is restricted to only India.

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