What Deepika’s cleavage row tells us about our attitudes

Rupande Mehta
Rupande Mehta, writer, women’s activist, health-food enthusiast

By Rupande Mehta

A lot has been said about Deepika Padukone’s cleavage row with Times of India. While many people are up in arms in her defense, others are confused and some are asking Deepika to examine what she is indeed fighting for.

While it is appalling that a national news outlet like TOI engaged in this kind of bashing, I am not surprised. In an earlier article, I talked about how this behavior is reflective of our collective mindset. By calling Deepika a hypocrite, TOI has simply said what was on most people’s minds. Why is this different now when you have flaunted your body off screen many times, wrote Priya Gupta, Bombay Times’ managing editor.

There are two problems here – Deepika feeling clearly violated and TOI defending its right to freedom of expression. If you strictly examine this dispute based on my above statement, both parties are correct. Deepika has the right to feel violated and TOI has the right to print whatever they like in accordance with Indian Constitution’s Article 19. But what this issue reveals is something much greater. It exposes the dirty mindset we Indians carry and have promulgated for decades. It shows how regardless of where we are in society, we can be extremely crass and defile any human being. For me, there is little difference between this issue and Hema Malini’s insensitive comment about widows. Both are reflective of our attitudes and the way we view women in our society.

What scares me is not that Deepika felt violated or a major newspaper responded the way they did but the fact that in the secrecy of our homes, there are many who would agree with TOI. They would probably say, ‘why dress like that to begin with? If you do not wish to be objectified, why wear something that is revealing? If you do wear something revealing then be ready to put up with its ramifications – be that rape or cat calls or eve teasing.’ It’s the age-old argument of unloading the responsibility for sexual harassment on a woman’s shoulders.

deepika-toi-220914The mindset that ‘she is asking for it’ is disturbing and TOI has successfully shown that regardless of education (I am assuming Priya Gupta holds a Bachelor’s degree at least) or gender (Gupta is female), we all possess it and are not afraid to use it when someone criticizes our actions or beliefs. Ultimately, if we have to put a woman in her ‘rightful’ place, regardless of our social position we will. It does not matter if we are Ness Wadia, Hema Malini or Times of India. It does not matter at how many social gatherings we have defended a woman’s right to choose or advocated for her upliftment. In the end we do not care. A woman is a woman and she needs to stick to the role our society has crafted for her. She cannot stand up for herself, defend herself or have the right to feel violated or abused.

Whatever Deepika Padukone’s reasons for her outburst, she successfully brought to the forefront an issue that has been a problem for millennia. A woman’s right to choose is only restricted to the degree of her objectification – the higher that degree, the lesser the right. A man’s role and his responsibility in controlling his urges hold no place here. In fact, we are totally in acceptance of the idea that a man is born with an animal instinct and his urges are irrepressible and wild.

Everyone in society has a role in defining attitudes, especially when you are a celebrity or a media powerhouse. Likewise we all have responsibilities as well. While come-hither sexuality and skimpy clothing are not helping change the grossly unjustified mindset against women in our country, calling it out and slut-shaming it is not helping matters either.

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