Clampdown on expression of desire

Kissing Scene in A Suitable Boy (Image Source: The Quint)

Patriarchy quells expressions of desire. Slowly, systemically, gradually. Free love exists within pockets of cinema in ways, that it finds hard to in real life. But the self-appointed guardians of Indian culture are now overstepping all bounds to clamp down upon free speech.

An FIR had been registered on 23rd November, 2020 against two executives of OTT platform Netflix, regarding the freshly released web-series A Suitable Boy made by Mira Nair, based on the 1993 award-winning novel written by Vikram Seth, of the same name. The allegation is that the kissing scene shown within the purported campus of a temple, “offends” religious sentiments.

Monica Shergill, Vice President, Content (Netflix) and Ambika Khurana, Director, Public Policies (Netflix) have been named by the FIR and booked by Rewa police. The basis was a complaint filed by Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha (BJYM) national secretary Gaurav Tiwari, who has demanded an apology from Netflix and makers of the series, and a removal of “objectional scenes”, that he alleges, encourage “love-jihad”.

This is certainly not the first time when such bizarre right-wing hysteria has attempted to crush creative freedom, and any scope of communal harmony. The Tanishq ad that had shown a Hindu bride married to a Muslim family, being showered with love and affection from her in-laws triggered such massive troll on social media that the flurry of threats and hate-messages led to Tanishq succumbing to the mob-pressure and withdrawing the ad.

Both of these events are of extreme relevance in light of the love-jihad ordinance that Uttar Pradesh is planning to implement, and which the BJP governments of Haryana, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh seek to imitate.

The most disturbing and unfortunate phenomena within all such events is that love, affection and solidarity across the divide of religion is attracting a kind of hate and spate of vindictive reactionary measures from masses, that threats of violence and imprisonment mouthed by the government upon baseless and dubious charges does not.

The hyper-masculine style of policing and regulating free speech and desire, that has become so pervasive within the communally charged socio-political contexts of India today, make it very similar to the regressive environment of the 1950s, within which the tale A Suitable Boy is embedded.

Lata, a free-spirited woman in a university falls in love with a bedazzling Kabir Durrani, a Muslim boy and has to navigate her instincts within a socio-cultural space where she knows that her love would be deemed illegitimate, solely on the account that the boy’s surname is Durrani, and hence he isn’t ‘suitable’.

Women’s agency and freedom has always been crushed under the narrative of ‘honour’. Their free will and desire traditionally held no value, within a political atmosphere obsessed with retaining the ‘purity’ of a society on the lines of religion, caste and class.

The series A Suitable Boy and the Tanishq ad that ran the tagline of ‘ekatvam’ (communal harmony) have both been brutally branded with allegations of inciting ‘love-jihad’. The term itself is coined with the assumption that Muslim men are inherently evil and dupe innocent Hindu girls into a trap in the name of marriage.

More jarring and appalling is the fact that a person on a social media post retaliated, with the question that why do Hindu women have to be partnered with Muslim men, within an inter-faith marriage? Why can’t it be the other way around?

Kangana Ranaut, a noted film-actor in Bollywood posted an obscure message on Twitter in response to this ad.

“As Hindus we need to be absolutely conscious of what these creative terrorists are injecting in to our subconscious, we must scrutinise, debate and evaluate what is the outcome of any perception that is fed to us, this is the only way to save our civilisation”.

Usage of terms like ‘creative terrorist’, ‘Hindu’ and ‘civilisation’ reveal our collective anxieties about women’s sexuality, and under the garb of protecting it, we go to terrifying extents to paint the men of any group that has been internalized as the ‘other’ in our minds, as the oppressor.

This sentiment is not uncommon within sections of public opinion, and it tells something fundamental about us as a culture.

At some level, despite our professed modern belief systems in gender-equality, we know that the institution of marriage is still highly unequal. The man enjoys power, prestige and authority within the relationship. The woman is still seen as a symbol of purity and virtue, handed over by her natal house to the in-laws. Which is why within any representation of an inter-faith relationship, it irks the sensibility of the majoritarian group to witness the women of their community wilfully embracing the family-space of another faith.

To be able to lure a woman of another religion is perceived as a sign of masculine prowess for one’s own community, while seeing a woman wilfully wedded to a man of another faith is invariably fabricated as an affront to the masculinity of one’s own group.

Fanatic Hindutva organizations have routinely posted vitriolic messages on social media, particularly to appeal to the sense of innate ‘masculinity’ of Hindu men, that is purportedly constructed to be under threat by the very idea of inter-faith marriages.

Women exercising autonomy in the sphere of their intimate, personal lives is evoking a sense of collective emasculation in the Hindu male psyche, and triggering the threat of a loss of male control over the sexuality of women of one’s own community.

The fact that women’s will to marry a man of another religion or social group is being perceived as a source of shame and insult upon the masculinity of a whole religion, which is then culminating into desperate attempts at painting the masculinity of the ‘other’ group as deceitful, tells a lot about our collective mindset as a nation.

Honour killings and formulation of legal ways to imprison men of a minority community for engaging in a consensual inter-faith relationship does not seem to disturb us as much as a display of affection within a temple.

Over the years, Hindu fundamentalist groups have routinely attempted to arouse panic around expressions of love; be it the Valentine’s Day celebrations, LGBTQ+ love, or inter-caste and inter-religious romance; any instance of love that transgresses a patriarchal and repressive conception of propriety is perceived as a threat to the cohesive Indian community and family.

How The Criticism Against Tanishq Ad Peddles A Hindutva-Nationalist Narrative | Feminism In India

Why 'Love Jihad' Is An Attack On Women’s Rights | Feminism In India

'Love Jihad': Tracing The Portrayal Of Women As 'Wombs' In Hindu Nationalist Politics | Feminism In India

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