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Why are #Sexist #Television Soaps in #India so Popular With the Public?

May 26, 2013

by Sourinee

I am really happy to learn about your campaign, particularly the reviewing of gender and sexuality in Bollywood.

I wish to draw your attention to some of the daily soaps in prime time slots in Indian national TV. While  many of these soaps reinforce patriarchal values, what is extremely worrying is that these are also very popular, reaching not only the homes, but often, the hearts of millions of Indian viewers.

Poster for 'Anamika' with the female character who plays a "witch" in the foreground.

Poster for ‘Anamika’ with the female character who plays a “witch” in the foreground.

Thus, I was shocked to see that Sony Entertainment channel, which boasts of socially responsible shows, such as Kaun Banega Crorepati, is actually broadcasting a serial named “Anamika“, which villifies a woman, identified as a witch. This woman apparently preys on young men in the name of love, destroying lives. Given India’s painful practice of “witch-hunting”, which has been painstakingly resisted by social activists, how can a popular media even romanticize and reinforce the same concept which has been used to kill people?

I am not aware of the details of the serial, and am too revolted to watch it to know more about it. Equally damaging is another serial, named “Madhubala: Ek Ishk ki Junoon” (An Obsessive Love Story), a Colors channel presentation. I have watched some of the episodes and in these episodes, the serial glorifies a man who abducts, hurts, blackmails, insults, and provokes a woman to give up her life, all in the name of ‘love’.  He even has criminally hurt the father of the woman, but that has not threatened his throne as the “hero” of the serial. This man, not just the actor, but the character–Rishabh Kundra–has a huge fan following.

madhubalaDeep down, among a huge section of Indians, there is an internalizing, and a positive avowal of the thought process that this character represents.  This is disturbing and portends more and more violence against women.

How can all these be glorified as heroic? There might be some skewed arguments that say that these portrayals are an attempt to reveal what is wrong, and why it is wrong.  But in that case, should not such behaviours be clearly resisted and marked as wrong, unacceptable and unworthy, instead of being sanctioned as a good man’s excesses, or weaknesses?

What is far more dangerous is that people might admire such behaviours and choose to adopt them and even call it love. It is a great disservice to society and to our collective struggle to allow a popular character to indulge in these behaviours. There is nothing great about treating another human being as your property and this can not be justified in any way. It is very very surprising that this regressive and violent storyline and portrayal can get so much funding while causes to end human distress does not get adequate funding.

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To mark 100 years  of Indian films, we are inviting people to submit reviews for our “Gender in Indian Films @ 100″ film review series.   To make a submission click here. To read previously published reviews click here. 

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. Rees Gallacher permalink
    May 26, 2013 3:01 pm

    The problem sometimes lies with the huge gap between those educated to understand the difference between a drama – understanding that the behaviour of a “bad” character isn’t heroic, no matter how glamorous or attractive he (or she) appears – and the audience, who may identify with a character who is morally wrong because the society they live in is at heart, morally wrong and they are brought up to believe that certain types of behaviour – violence towards women, child abuse – are acceptable in their society and therefor acceptable on TV, in film, on the stage.

    I am always a bit reluctant to blame artists outright for their portrayal of a character when it’s so open to interpretation depending on individual inclinations, education etc – and when a country like India is currently in a bit of an uproar because of the treatment of women, I am inclined to think that the problem, although possibly not helped by popular culture’s portrayal of male and female behaviour, can not really be blamed for it when those very authorities who should be making society safe for all of its citizens jails 10 year old girls for the audacity of being raped…..look to your politicians, police and judicial system – and get your film makers on board to expose their disgraceful practice!

  2. Greg Firmstone permalink
    May 30, 2013 3:34 am

    IMO, while I’m well aware of the disgusting portrayal of women on Indian soaps, the degradation of women is a planet wide issue, not just restricted to Indian males, Christian males, Muslim males or whatever.

    We’re all just men (naughty little boys, in fact) who still have a long way to go in the way we relate to women..

    Starting first and foremost with myself, we men collectively share the responsibility of setting the highest example of respect for womenhood,

    ONLY THEN will we be able to take ourselves seriously as Neo Humanists or whatever. Only then can we truly extend this love and respect to children, ourselves, animals, plants, the whole Neo Humanistic gambit.

    When PR Sarkar (Shrii Shrii Anandamurtiji) first gave his treatise on Neo Humanism, the thing I found MOST inspiring was the fact that it showed the deficiencies in traditional Humanism as a human-centric philosophy. These limiting mindsets, philosophies and bigoted socialisations wreak tremendous pain and havoc on our lives, what to speak of the damage they cause to all other lifeforms on our lovely planet.

    Many self-described progressive people, myself included, once called ourselves humanists until in my personal journey of discovery I realised my journey of growth as a Yogin towards Infinitity was being severely restricted by limited mindsets, attitudes and behaviours that were (and, sadly in too many cases, still are) far below the high standards I wanted to embody in thought, word and action..

    Bottom line? Giving GENUINE respect to all women is an ongoing challenge for ALL men. And it starts with myself.

    Any other men out there who want to come on board?

    • Living being permalink
      July 19, 2013 2:58 pm

      Hi read both the comments and happy to see that the spark for change has started amidst strong wind though…hope the spark is not blown away with the majority trying to dehumanize people like u……many women do not want women activists…all that they require is HUMANISTS. If u discuss the topic as women’s issues there would be people to prejudge what is going to be said, but if it is said for improving human kind…just as we discuss ecological concerns or pollution, which affects ALL, then we can bring a change…All the Best….let us strive to be good humans and protect our earth for the posterity. Thanks

    • July 21, 2013 10:28 pm

      Well of course it is a human rights issue! But a human rights issue that targets women, just like the Jewish genocide targeted Jews, and Apartheid targeted blacks. To discuss the Jewish genocide and not talk about Jews would be foolish — don’t you think so?

  3. December 19, 2013 8:32 pm

    Rural and small India is very orthodox and highly patriarchial. The TV shows that we Sec A & B types like to criticize are not aimed at us although they are made by observant and business smart people who are definitely a part of Sec A & Sec B. Studies have demonstrated that people prefer to associate with people and places that reaffirm who they already are. This also extends to TV viewing. People watch supposedly ‘sexist’ & ‘regressive’ shows because that is exactly like their own societies. This explains the popularity of these shows.

    Rural India cannot stomach a ‘Sarabhai v/s Sarabhai’ and a ’24′. If you compare a high society show like ‘Kitty Party’ with the kind of ‘regressive’ stuff served on Colors TV and on Star Plus these days, you won’t find much of a difference in the ‘pettiness’ level. Only the societal settings are different.

    Now to the impacts of these shows. Emily Oster and Robert Jenson found out that watching TV soaps by women leads to great improvements in women’s status in society and leads to significant increases in reported autonomy, decreases in the reported acceptability of domestic violence and decreases in reported male child preferences. They also discovered increases in female school enrollment and decreases in fertility (primarily via increased birth spacing). The effects are large and equivalent in some cases to about 5.5 years of education within the surveyed population. http://www.slate.com/articles/business/the_dismal_science/2007/08/tv_is_good_for_you.html
    So let’s relax and let people who watch TV soaps watch them. It is bettering India!
    P.S.: I can’t stand melodrama. I watch psychopaths on the loose on Criminal Minds! Cheers!

  4. Jay permalink
    July 9, 2014 9:50 pm

    These Indian soap operas, no matter how you slice it, are reinforcing sexist and conservative stereotypes. Saath Nibhana Saathiya is an example of a show where one of the main characters, Kokila Modi, uses fear and an iron fist to overstep her bounds in controlling a household. From the start this show has gone about everything from arranged marriage, to premarital pregnancy the wrong way. The way in which Kokila raised her children, specifically her son, causes them to grow up unloving and uncaring about anyone except their godlike mother. Ahem is so caught up in his mother’s wishes that he fails to fight for his woman because his mother would rather bring in an uneducated and complaint bahoo, something that further reinforces the idea that the ideal wife is a submissive and almost dumb female. The fact that the creators don’t even portray Gopi as human like at all is pretty hopeless. This is a huge contrast from Gopi’s cousin Rashi who is portrayed as conniving, evil, and always using her brain to get out of work. This is basically the creators’ way of telling India: this is what happens when you educate a woman and bring her into your house as a wife for your son. I hope I speak for all that despite the fact that we may not agree with Rashi’s choices we can all relate to her, in addition we actually get to explore the inner workings of Rashi’s mind in every episode. Gopi on the other hand literally is shown at face-value, what we see of her face is what we assume is going on in her head. Even in the days when Ahem hated Gopi we never once got to see how she felt, or the pain she was going through. Essentially these shows are telling women to be like Gopi and basically take everyone’s shit, while those who will stand up for themselves, like Rashi, are essentially setting themselves up for a live of sneaking around and essentially being seen as villains by society.

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