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Last Updated: Thursday, 1 April, 2004, 13:48 GMT 14:48 UK
'Odds stacked against Indian women'
Men behaving like barbarians, the sex explosion in the media, humiliating judicial rules for women - it's all too much for Bollywood's Preity Zinta. In her latest column for BBC News Online she writes about why she wants a better deal for India's women.

Preity Zinta
Preity Zinta: Expect a "tight slap" if you cross her

"An Indian girl is dependent on her father when she is young, on her husband when she is married and on her son when she is old! I don't want you to be like that. I want you to be the master of your own destiny."

This is what my father said to me when I was a little girl.

He made it possible for me to come this far by believing in me and making me believe in myself.

A conservative society... is leapfrogging from orthodoxy to in-your-face sex on television, films and the internet

Today he is not there but I am everything he wanted me to be. I am independent, confident and master of my destiny.

If my life was a film, then my father would be my ultimate hero. He protected me by making me stronger.

Therefore, today I am the modern Indian woman. I haven't forgotten my culture or my values. Yet I am ambitious and work-oriented.

'Not safe'

But there is a problem.

I do not feel safe on the streets, neither do a lot of women in India.

And why is that? It is because of a phenomenon we in India call "Eve teasing". It sounds rather biblical and innocent but "Eve teasing" can range from catcalls to sexual assault of women.

A lot of women in India have a story of "Eve teasing". Here is mine.

In life I have a "one tight slap" theory: it means if anyone makes me uncomfortable or treats me like a piece of meat, then they get a dose of my theory.

I remember shopping in a crowded area in Delhi a few years ago with my friends when I felt someone pinch my butt.

Since my reflexes are pretty sharp I immediately grabbed his hand, traced it back to his body in the crowd and gave him one tight slap.

I felt angry and humiliated. Incidences like these take away a woman's dignity, her space and her freedom.

'State helpless'

Today I am privileged because I am a star and always surrounded by security. But what about the women in my country? Who is going to protect them from these everyday villains?

Rajasthani women
Who will protect ordinary women?

Sometimes I wonder why some men behave like barbarians. And why the state is so helpless in protecting the women.

Why should women feel unsafe in a country which had an internationally revered woman prime minister?

Why should men stalk our women on roads, tease them on buses and trains, and assault and rape them when five of our 29 states are run by politically empowered women?

For one, I think it has to do with a sex explosion in our media. There's too much smut on prime time television.

Even I feel embarrassed to watch some of the television in front of my family.

On view are videos where the camera zooms in and out of the girl's anatomy, accompanied by vulgar and crude remix music which single-mindedly murders classic Indian film songs.

There is one video in which a man on a train has a drink and sees a properly dressed girl morphing into a little sex kitten in a bikini top and a slit skirt. Then they begin a dirty dance inside the compartment.

Moving images influence people, sometimes adversely. People copy movies all the time: when Superman came out, kids jumped out of buildings thinking they could fly.

So when I read in the papers that a woman was assaulted in a train, music videos like these come to mind and infuriate me. I don't understand why the censors haven't even looked at the social implications of such videos on prime time television.

'Respectability threatened'

In India, ironies never cease, especially when it comes to women.

Traditionally, our women, though confined to a homemaking role, held a very respectable position in a society which was - and still is - essentially patriarchal.

But today when our women are becoming more independent and stepping out of their homes, their respectability and security is being threatened by men behaving badly.

It's all about men imitating all the dangerously sexist images of women that our media spits out day and night. I daresay that some of today's cinema is also to blame.

Unlike the Hindi film heroine of yesteryear, who was largely the epitome of purity and had a certain dignity, there is today an emerging "genre" of B-grade skin flicks that showcase "sexy" heroines in slinky costumes.

In one such film, the hero grabs his heroine on a smoky strobe-lit dance floor and orders her to stare at him till she goes weak in the knees and begins breathing heavily. All this in their first interaction!

Such distorted in-your-face sexuality on 24/7 television and mainstream cinema sends a clear green signal to the impressionable men in the audience, telling them that behaviour like this is justified.

So consider the odds stacked against our women.

A conservative society where most parents still don't discuss sex with children is leapfrogging from orthodoxy to in-your-face sex on television, films and the internet.

A victim of a sex crime has to go through the humiliating process of proving to our judiciary that she was not a "loose" character who consented to or invited the offender.

But I am an eternal optimist.

I believe that good will always triumph over evil. There will be more heroes in our society than villains. And, in jest, one day I may even be party to the creation of a new phrase called "Adam teasing"!

To read Preity Zinta's future columns, bookmark bbcnews.com/southasia

Here is a selection of readers views about this column.

I totally agree with Priety's 'tight slap' theory although not her thoughts on the cause of bad behaviour in the indian male population (which is media). I was not raised in India myself and this might result in my biased point of view. The whole world is bombarded by lewd media and that does not make a fraction of the male population in most countries rude oglers at the unsuspecting female. I think it has more to do with education and awareness of the progress of the indian woman today. The more women are willing to stand up for themselves (go 'slap' theory) the more these 'offenders' will realise that they can't get away with their unacceptable behaviour!!
Pooja, Uk

preity i completly agree with your views regarding the condition of women in india i think government should take take necessary steps to protect the dignity of women also the censor board should me made more strict seeing the increasing absurdity in the movies and private mucis videos but preity i would like to tell u that definately you have done a great job and your thoughts,views and courage is worth praising but even you had given somebold scenes in kya kehna what do u think about yourselves by knowing this
sameer, india

I think its shameful that Indian men are like this - whenever I go to India, I never allow my sister to walk on the streets without a guy accompanying her, due to the above. I agree to some extent that the censors could be doing their job a little better (but then again, the same could be said about most people in India). However, I wouldn't say the media is the only factor contributing to this - It's the role of the police (and hence government) to protect all members of society. Finally, a note to all those who agree this is an issue which needs attention - as Mahatma Gandhi said "You must be the change you wish to see in the world".
Sumeet, UK

Way to go Preity! This is a chicken and egg situation. The film industry always says that we are giving what the public wants ! The public says there is no good entertainment available. Unfortunately, both the film industry and the media are not bold enough to experiment to give the best entertainment. They will always rely on cheap stuff. Never mind their talk of freedom of expression etc. ( Sheer hypocrisy! ) It will never be used to educate and inform people to the key issues. I am writing this on the day India has won the match against pakistan. This has been done by a team of brave young boys willing to experiment and let go of the past. Like you I am optimistic and will always support the new brave young people we sometimes glimpse in the film industry, to come forth and stand up in confidence to show a new direction. Thanks
rajas, India

Indeed, the article written by Ms. Zinta brings our attention to a problem faced by women throughout the Indian subcontinent. However, I would like to point out that the situation cannot be rectified by merely griping about it...ranting and raving has never made things change for the better. "If one is not part of the solution, one is part of the problem": Is Ms. Zinta looking for a solution by deluging us with a furious tirade about how sex and violence rules the screen, or has she actually contributed to the problem by being a part of an industry which thrives on precisely the same elements she has now chosen to criticise?
N. Subactagin, New Zealand

Preity, you go girl!! Good luck for the future.
Emma, Scotland

I do agree with your description of the status of the average Indian woman and share your concern. However, don't you think the depravity arises primarily from a sex starved culture, a culture in which sex is "taboo" - throw in a lack of education and common etiquette? And to think that such depravity exists in a country which gave the rest of the world Kamasutra! Sex needs to come out of the closet and people need to change their holier than thou attitude - perhaps with that will come a greater sense of maturity and responsibility! And, I share your optimism in this regard. Hopefully, my daughter when she grows up will have better things to say.
Vivek Shenoy, An Indian in Bahrain

i completely agree with preity's comments. i am of indian origin but have been raised in the u.k. when i went to india a few years ago, i was shocked at how complete male strangers on the street would stop and stare at a girl in an extremely vulgar and degrading manner. these guy's have no respect for women. however, when it comes to their sisters,a sense of morality suddenly comes upon them! i agree with preity when she says that indian tv/music videos (and bollywood for that matter) is unecessarily too sexualised and show women as sex objects only to please men, and not as human beings in their own right. there should definately be some form of censorhip or a watershed as on u.k tv. overall however, i think indian men's chauvinistic attitudes to women need addressing and the only way to do this is through education. this is the only long term solution to the problem as well as many other problems in india.
salma, u.k

I agree with Preity's comments, but we have to realize that this has been happening in India forever. Preity has put much attention to what has been showing on TV but she should realize that she is also part of what is being seen on TV. Generally, Bollywood movies have changed with speed in the last couple of years. Changed in the way the actresses are dressing then they were before. Wearing a bikini is simply just another outfit to them. Bollywood is adapting a lot of Hollywood fashion and I wouldn't be surprised to see woman ahowing it all in the near future. For instance, films like Boom, Ek chotisi love story, Jism, etc, What have these films have in common? The answer is woman showing almost everything to the audience. But people don't just do things from watching T.V. You must have seen that men who do perform such immoral acts, have a somewhat bad character. These men do such acts not because they watch T.V and wanna try for themselves but these acts are a reflection of that certain man's character. We have to improve a men's character. People doing such acts should learn and understand why you can't sexually or in any other way assault another person. Stopping these shows on T.V will help but it will not solve everything. People have to learn. The government shouldn't create laws but spend their money in teaching people. Ofcourse it will have to work both ways. Women should also contribute. They shouldn't wear outfits that shows a lot of skin. This is because, it is India and the culture is not western. It is an indian culture and you can't expect to wear western (extreme, which show a lot of skin) clothes and not be commented on. It is a matter of change. Indian fashion has changed but the people are the same. You gotta adopt both or nothing.
Imran, Nz

I appreciate the concerned of preity zinta over women's issue but the fact is that she belongs to the same genre. All those stuffs are the part of the film industry which she belongs to and she knows that without all these stuffs a woman can't come up in the film industry.
raj, india

I would like to add my story. When I was 12 years old and living in Mumbai I had to take a public bus to school. One day there were two fisherwomen on the bus. Fisher women are known to be aggressive and ready to resort to physical violence. The rule in the bus was that you got into the bus in the rear and exited from the from the front. In the aisle between the seats people would stand if there were no seats available on either side. When my turn came to alight I started to walk to the front and I could not help but brush against people standing in the middle. I was only 12 and my hormones had not kicked in yet and the fisher women had the least bit of sexual attraction as far as I was concerned at that age. As I was heading for the exit I must have unknowingly and unwittingly touched the women. As I went passt them one of them gave me a blow on my head. A heavy bracelet around her wrist hit my head and there was deep gash and I bled for hours. The fisher women were laughin! g. My father was livid when I got home and he wanted to make a criminal complaint but it was too late. This was a case of women overreacting. If a man accidently or deliberately touches you,you do not have the right to harm the man physically. You may complain to the police. If you act with the intent of harming you will have commited a crime. The real solution is to make society allow free intermingling of males and females as happens in the West so that men do not feel compelled to furtively touch women. Hormones are hormones and they can not regulated out. Even in India I interacted with girls starting at age 14 or 15 and never had to resort to such juvenile behaviour. I received my first kiss from a girl when I was 15 and my first act of sexual intercourse was 20 with a married Indian woman who was perhaps 30. Yes these things do happen in India.
Deepak Kuceria, USA

I have a question for Ms. Zinta, she is commenting on sexuality being abused by TV networks and Film Industry, but she is an active part of it and also taking part in movies, otherwise supporting what is against her Values, the Indian Values. How does she address to this and how does she keep her conscience free from it?? Sulman
Sulman, Bangladesh

Dear Priety, I think you have the cause and effect wrong. "Eve Teasing" has been in the Pakistani and Indian culture for the longest time, at least as long as I have lived. With Pakistan becoming more "liberal" I feel less harassed on the streets of Lahore and females have become less of an anomaly to be reacted to on the streets. All the government can do is create laws to prevent acts of overt harassment, but most of the changes have to happen from within the society.
S. Khan, Pakistan/Canada

Ms.Preity Zinta is absolutely correct in the way she has depicted the Indian Male. The problem of eve-teasing is prevalent all over the metros, in conservative "Chennai", amongst the "Bhadralok of Kolkotta", amongst the "Cosmopolitan crowd of Mumbai Megapolis" and the lesser said of "Capital New Delhi" the better. A woman can never use the public utilities and walk in the street without feeling threatened. I only hope that Preity Zinta demonstrates her commitment to the uplifting of the Indian woman and advocates the "tight slap" on the TV commercials of the health care products she extols or in the Movies she acts - and sends a strong messge to the female child that she can take control of her destiny against an maruding Indian Male.
N J Srinivsulu, India

It is one thing to gripe about the problems women face - it is another thing to use Preity's wealth and do something about it. India, unfortunately, is a male dominated, chauvinistic society and while she may think there is smut on TV, 99% of Bollywood produces is sheer fantasy garbage - and Preity has contributed to that. Quit being a hypocrite Preity.
Gautam, USA

Preity's article is well written and to the point. When we visit India i am amazed at some of the explicit shows on TV(during day time!). It is worse than US, it seems there is no censorship. I think our conservative society is on a rebound and sadly the young people get easily influened by these shows and feel copying certain things make them modern. I feel there must be censorship on TV and there must be sex eduation at secondary school level for the young genertion to get familiar with the opposite sex. Celebrities like Preity can be helpful in organising sex education classes and also prmote tough measures for the "eve teasers"; I wish some responsible people in India can come upwith some plans.
kunal, USA

In Bollywood, the heroes lit a cigarette every minute to impress the heroin.What kind of message is being sent to kids ? Miss Zinta acted in several such movies against those same men that she claims are irresponsible in Indian society.It is time she puts her words in action..
Prashanth, Canton,USA

Priety has spoken for the indian woman.men should know that it is women power that has made them what they are today.
sarita, canada

Even though I am male and now live in the US, I can associate completely with the author's comments. For the 15 years while we were India, my sister almost never went out alone. At every street corner, jobless youth would lounge around literally looking for girls to stare and whistle at. I really don't know what prevented me from mowing them down with a car everytime they stared. I don't see any immediate solution to this - except the "slap" and maybe some karate to go with it.
Aditya, India/USA

Blame Darwin for his theory that we all come from chimps and so the beast behavior is justified and accepted by our society. I want to see beautiful things all the time I rely on my memory to capture purity I see in flowers children and women then I became an artist and I create from my memory. I feel blessed that I can create my own entretainment and not rely on movies or tv shows that distort the thinking and attitude toward one onother. I keep the hope alive that one day we can leave in perfect harmony and beauty
Sarah Baron, USA

Preity Zinta will take our society to the same level as we have in North America. The divorce rate is close to 60%. Women love to be single moms because the Government pays for their expenses. There should be some sort of check on whats happening all ove the world. I totally agree with her comments regarding eve teasing and all that. Too much of liberty for women and men both is harmful.
sunny, canada

I totally agree with every word written by Preity and thank her for being one good Role Model for most to follow. I am as optimistic as her and hope we see a safer future for women, men and children all over the world. Safe to work , travel and plan a wonderful future without being caught up in daily worries about being assaulted or humiliated. Wishing for many more role models like Preity. Luck v
Vinay Hinduja, India

I was skeptical when BBC announced Preity Zinta's column. I'm now pleasantly surprised that she's addressing significant issues with great eloquence.
Pramod Kulkarni, USA

I think it is rather ironic that the subject of sex in media was touched on by Ms. Zinta because her roles in "A-films" also portray women as sex objects. I agree that media/film strongly influences men's perception of women in negative ways and must do more to stop harrassment and violence towards them.
Furqan, USA

Priety, Eve teasing has more to do with improper education, lack of respect for others and virtually no rules to protect women. When there were no Internet, no music videos, heroine-epitome of purity, problem existed. In fact India was never a safe place for women after invaders started coming (approximately 1000AD).
Sanjeev Manral, India/Korea

As the clever Indian actress Says; Is compeletly right, but she should know that the whole world is abusing women in one way or other. And if she thinks by saying so she can change the world my thoughts are NO! That is good that she mentioned, but who is gona listen. thanx
Sayed Homam, Canada Toronto

I am from India originally but now settled in Auckland. I can understand exactly where Preity is coming from when i had to travel in buses in Delhi always carried a sharp pointed nail file in my hand and if anyone came too close or within my personal space got the jab and retreated very quickly. Women in India tend to keep quiet about this issue in public places which encourages the street romeos, if they were to create a fuss and draw attention to these jerks then i think these jerks will think before they touch or whistle.
Loveleen, New Zealand

Preity has rightly brought good light to a disease we choose to ignore in the backalleys of India. And I commend her for doing so cause some influential people have to take up the cause and she can be influential. I do not agree with her diagnosis though. Media is not responsible for our everyday behavior. Kids immitating superman etc. etc. are more exceptions than the rule. India does not produce or consume pornography anywhere close to some of the western and oriental nations yet the latter are pretty safe in comparison. The affect of movies on our daily behaviour is at best latent and shortlived just as the affect of any 'preachy' movie about woman's rights would be. The tumour is in the justice system. It does not instill enough fear into the hearts of a potential perpetrator for the consequences. I guess one has to start with the extremes. Public caning (Singapore), harassment protection (USA) laws are essential as we strive towards gender equality. If some of the influential personalities could affect that into our legislation and judiciary it could be an effective start. We need some landmark cases to be publicised nationwide. We cant preach a billion.
Abhishek, Singapore

What she says is very true of course but everybody is not so fortunate like Preete Zinta in India. There are millions of extremely poor families, surely these women will always be dependant on their fathers, husbands and son. It is easy for her to talk.
Pinar, USA

Well-said. As a yearly visitor to the Indian subcontinent, I heartily agree with Ms. Zinta's viewpoint. Its rather difficult being an 'independant woman' while you're being hooted at and grabbed while walking the supposedly safe streets of our countries. For Ms. Zinta to acknowledge the film and media industries part, as an actress, I think she should be applauded... while also stressing that changes need to be made by the establishment of which she is a part.
Sabeen Ahmad, U.S.

I agree with Preity very much because even I have noticed it even if I'm a NRI and visits India every two years. I have noticed that even walking on the road makes you uncomfortable because most of the men just stands on the roads or in front of the shops and looking at you from top to bottom even if you are not wearing any vuglar clothes. For the last ten years I have never travelled on public transport because we have our own car, therefore, I'm not sure about the stituation on the buses or train but I can imagine that it's even worse. Moreover, I also agrees that it's because of over exposing in our films and music videos, really there are many such film that you can't watch with your family, and these films are really giving very bad impression to our children's.
Shally, Hong Kong

From Someone who has lived in 8 countries: How can you conlcude that Eve Teasing is a by-product of smut on TV? By that logic, the US, with triple X cable porn and a billion dollar hardcore porn industry, would have the most amount of eve teasing. The other extreme, with no eve teasing, would be Saudi Arabia, where holding hands is censored. Yet in reality, my mother taxes taxis or walked home in New York and Berkeley at at 3am, after a movie without fear of being hassled. In Saudi, veiled and unveiled women are incessantly hassled just for being present. On the contrary, I think more freedom of the media, combined with an open porn industry, will allow people to get thier frustrations out in other ways - and consequently result in less violence towards women.
George Oommen, Uk

I feel proud of Preity Zinta for her bold and authoritative statement. I feel the newspaper editors are also resposible for publishing irrelevant and non-sensical vulgar pictures in most of the renowned newspapers. The newspapers should not be turned into a soft porn piece of dirt.
Sudarsan Sen, India

I wonder what are those humiliating judicial rules for women that PZ talks about. There has to be fairness irrespective of sex. There are many highly distorted laws in favor of women which makes Indian men virtually criminals by a stroke of written statement. Everyone knows the ludicrous judicial system once you have a court case. It will be better for our men folk to learn what PZ is talking about. Injustice should not be tolerated irrespective of sex.
Mohan Kumar, USA

I agree with Preity Zinta that the sex explosion in the mdeia is responsible for the increased eve-teasing. The media in India is becoming more and more profit oriented and is losing sight of its social responisbility. The government also in its quest for FDI has given up the role of protecting its citizens except in art of rhetoric. The government and the media must begin to take their responsibility more seriously.
Neha, USA

Being raised in India, I know exactly what Priety means. The state of affairs she highlighted is appalling, true and a serious concern for modern India. During college I repeatedly saw the typical male hypocrite profile - be protective of women you are related to, and cheap about women you aren't related to. It was amazing to see righteous brothers turn into cheap personalities within minutes of change of environment; and in this case I am talking of well educated people. What goes through the mind of such people is rather scary. They literally try to pierce through the clothes to see everything they can and run lewd imaginations. It is not just perverted its rather sick. If women were to know what goes through the head of these people - they might prefer wearing something like a burka than to be visually assaulted every time they venture into public. This is just the visual assault; some actually use crowded buses, lone streets, and un-suspecting victims (even friends) as opportunities for physically assault. The reported cases in India are just the tip of the iceberg - each and every woman I know has been teased and more than once. The size of the problem is enormous and probably this is why my father (since I was in school) taught me to be protective and very cautious in public spaces when along with my sister or any female friends. Being aware, cautious and strong are the only ways a woman can protect herself. Rooting out the cause of the problem - the mindset of the Indian male, is not as difficult as it may appear. People don't realize that being harassed or treated as flesh is more than the physical implications of the actions - it leaves a long lasting scar on the soul of the victim. In cases I could change the habits of friends by making them look at themselves from some-one else's view point. They realized they were wrong. To solve this at a large scale medial plays an important role. If the public could be made aware of the plight women go through everyday and made to realize that the harassed victim might be one of their own; then people could start seeing things from the other side. Rather than taking this as a part of life, the government should start campaigns to promote better social behaviour.
Dilmeet Grewal, Canada

Good for you. It is possible for indian women to continue to become educated, enlightened and yet retain the important aspects of the culture and religion. Young women like you, being brave, helps the struggling and frightened to have better lives.
Carol Wilson, New Zealand

I completely agree with what Preity is saying. I am a university student and i have to say that it is sometimes very hard for women, especially teenage girls, to stand up for their own beliefs because of the ever-changing and increasingly corrupted beliefs that society seems to be adopting. Very few people seem to be realising that we, as a community, as a nation and as a growing population with an increasing number of young children being exposed to this "in your face sex" in the media, have a major problem. I have seen how hard it is for some parents to control their children and to instill in them the beliefs that they were brought up with because of such a huge influence from the media to follow otherwise. I think that people need to become more aware of this increasing problem, education is pivotal in this case. It is also comforting to know that there are other people who actually think and feel the same way as you do. For in today's society you sometimes wonder what this world is coming to.
Stephanie , Canada

I am from India originally but now settled in Auckland. I can understand exactly where Preity is coming from when i had to travel in buses in Delhi always carried a sharp pointed nail file in my hand and if anyone came too close or within my personal space got the jab and retreated very quickly. Women in India tend to keep quiet about this issue in public places which encourages the street romeos, if they were to create a fuss and draw attention to these jerks then i think these jerks will think before they touch or whistle.
Loveleen, New Zealand



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