Why Salman Khan's 'rape' metaphor reflects our misogyny

Last Updated: Fri, Jun 24, 2016 12:55 hrs
Salman Khan (AP Photo)

During the promotions for his upcoming film Sultan, actor Salman Khan described his physical hardships in great detail. Talking about the taxing shoot, where he plays a wrestler the actor said that he had to lift his co-star multiple times so that the scene could be shot at varied angles and said

"When I used to walk out of that ring, it used to be actually like a raped woman walking out….I don't think I should have (pauses). It feels like the most difficult….I couldn't take steps. I couldn't take steps."

The Indian Express has correctly pointed out that the actor had in fact realised his mistake and another female voice can be heard saying "he couldn't walk" and he proceeds to retract and clarify.

This has not however toned down the criticism against the actor who has been notorious for domestic violence, hit and run and illegal hunting. But none of these have deterred his stardom, quite telling of god-like status that male actors enjoy in India.

Here, The Quint has published some of the tweets by the actor's fans defending him.

In this article in The First Post, Sreemoy Tadulkar offers an interesting theory about why thousands of the actor's fans were so vocal in their defense.

"According to some fans, their larger-than-life icon has been 'unfairly targeted by the media' for an entirely innocuous comment in search for easy TRPs. Bhai didn't mean it, of course. In other words, Salman here is the 'victim'. In the eyes of the other, mostly male section, Salman's popularity is sure to soar even higher than before because only he has the balls to say what everybody knows is the truth. Doesn't a backbreaking session at the gym leave you feeling as if you have been raped?"

According to Swetha Ramakrishnan's article in The First Post, one need not be very surprised at these types of comments coming from Mr.Khan.

"In a Mumbai Mirror interview earlier, he had said, "Yes, I'd like to have a child but the problem with that is with the child, the mother comes along. If I can avoid the mother and have a child I wouldn't mind two or three." Salman Khan is a product of a generation that forwards Whatsapp jokes on how being husband is akin to being a servant. Basically, in Salman's universe, women stop you, slow you down, they control you, they're a vice, but they're bloody addictive, just like a drug.

"Leave every second vice in your list – that's the mantra I follow. And I have left everything one by one. When it was between coffee and cigarettes, I quit coffee. Between cigarettes and drinks, I quit the stick. Between the drinks and women, I have chosen women. Ab iske baad duniya chhod do! But I will never quit movies," said Salman, in theSpotboye interview."

And this brings us to why we mustn't take a simplistic view of this latest controversy, but reflect on why rape jokes, and analogies have become acceptable. Priyanka Dasgupta's article in the Times of India does just this. She points to instances of jokes and remarks of such a nature that go completely unnoticed in films, including in big hits like 3 Idiots.

"Most must have laughed at it when they heard Boman Irani's character Dr Viru Sahsrabuddhe compare the act of shaving his moustache with 'aisa lag raha hai kisi ne kapde utar liye mere, izzat loot lee meri' ('I am feeling as if I have been disrobed and raped'). The Central Board of Film Certification, without Pahlaj at its helm, hadn't ordered a cut. In film history, it remains one of the many funny dialogues that are not to be taken seriously. Nobody even thought that using such a line is distastefully regressive and might be reflective of a deeper sense of anomaly in society. Even in 2016, many think that women who wear skimpy clothes deserve to be at the receiving end of eve-teasers. Similarly, they see no wrong when such comments are made. If required, there is always a father figure with a ready-to-use apology. But that's more of damage-control exercise rather than a reflection of any change in mindset."

Sandip Roy concurs. In his article in The Huffington Post India, he cites several instances of politicians who have rather flippantly used rape to describe several things.

"The point is not that rape is special. The point is that rape is still regarded as something not special at all, quite trivial. The point is that more often than not women are still blamed for bringing rape upon themselves

It's a manner of speaking we say. We do not take rape seriously as a crime that's about power.

..Instead we regard it as a sex crime. Rape is about sex, and sex is deemed to be enjoyable even when it's not that good. We think of rape as a sort of "adult" joke, a wink-wink nudge-nudge metaphor about anything and everything from cricket to election campaigns to a grueling workout.

We may pick on Chetan Bhagat and Salman Khan but it's a flippancy that permeates our culture through and through. We are like that only."

The fact that the media has chosen to selectively lash out at an individual celebrity is also problematic. In her article for the Janata ka Reporter, Kavita Krishnan articulates her opposition to this selective media outrage.

"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?

I make a distinction between the remark that Salman made and the kind of ideological, programmatic, systematic misogyny expressed by a Dilip Ghosh ('Jadavpur women are shameless and cant be sexually harassed') or a Mulayam ('Boys will be boys, rape is not a big deal') or Amit Shah ('Communal violence is done to save mothers and daughters')."

Meanwhile, there have been some rather absurd defences of Salman Khan's comments.

Madhu Kishwar thinks that Salman Khan is being targeted for not being critical of Narendra Modi!

And friends in the film fraternity have said that he is childish, and speaks his heart.

The National Commission for Women has demanded an explaination from the actor and a case has been filed against him in Kanpur. Ironically, Manoj Dixit, a lawyer, in his quest to save women's prestige has said-

"An actor followed by lakhs of youths making a statement that he feels like a rape victim after the shooting is absurd and (full of) revile for women who had to face inhuman incidents like rapes. He is not even married, how can he feel what a woman feels after being raped?"

When did marriage become a pre-requisite to empathise with a rape victim? One can only wonder if this gentleman's remark will cause as much of a stir as the rape metaphor it seeks to denounce.

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