Author: Kanishk Yadav
Much has been said and written on the party launch of actor turned politician Kamal Haasan. The question and answer session that he held has been termed a refreshing change to the one-way communication that politicians prefer. However, on Wednesday, the Makkal Needhi Maiam founder in his effort to make quick observations, faltered on a crucial question.
A supporter had asked a question about gender-based violence. It read – “I ask you with a lot of concern. What is the solution to the atrocities against women?”
Kamal Haasan did not hesitate for a moment before he said, “I am the solution.”
By ‘I’, he probably was speaking on behalf of men, who are often the perpetrators of gender-based violence.The newbie politician did well to recognize that the solution to such violence lies not with the victims but with those who assault them.
However, he followed this up with a problematic statement, “It is not enough if you just talk about love and bravery. You have to think about your elder sister, your mother. Have to think about the younger sister you have to get married. You have to think about your daughter. If you think about all this and your heart melts, there will be no crimes against women. You can’t see everybody as your lover. Not everyone can be the girl of your dreams. So you have to think about your mother and sister. You also need a lover, I am not saying you don’t. But you have to give her equal space. Haven’t you heard that the god you pray to gave half of himself? Give space like that.”
With this statement, Kamal Haasan, unfortunately, showed that his understanding of gender-based violence is deeply flawed, much like that of most politicians. From rightly identifying that the problem was with men, Kamal went to elevating himself (and other men) to the position of women’s ‘saviors’.
Given that he is entering the political scene in Tamil Nadu with a desire to rid the state of old ways of thinking, it is necessary that he also updates himself on this important issue.
Most women’s rights activists and experts who spoke to TNM pointed out major problems in his statement: from defining women according to their relationships with men, giving the term ‘lover’ to a man who perpetuates violence against women, and the failure to acknowledge the problems that women face.
Of mothers and sisters
“Kamal Haasan has failed to see women as co-travelers and as people who have productive roles in society,” says Geetha Narayanan, a women’s rights activist based in Chennai. “Yes, women can be mothers and sisters but that is not all that they are.”
Geetha goes on to add that a person who truly believes in gender equity would not have made such a statement.
According to The International Foundation for Crime Prevention and Victim Care (PCVC), women face a staggering amount of violence within homes from their husbands, fathers, brothers and other male family members. The center receives an average of 500 crisis calls a year from women across Tamil Nadu who are undergoing domestic and intimate partner violence.
Statistics on domestic violence, therefore, make such statements about needing to see women as “mothers” and “sisters” ring hollow.
“We believe that we need to look beyond the mothers and sisters rhetoric and examine the violence that our family structures routinely perpetuate against women,” says Swetha, from PCVC.
Kirthi, the founder of Red Elephant, a foundation that works for gender equality, points out that by calling a woman, ‘mother’ or ‘sister’, a nexus is created with men.
“That takes away the humanization of a woman as an individual. She can only be humanized when seen in relation to a man. The struggle that women have faced has been completely disregarded and they are only referenced to as the property of men in some manner. What more, men are made the ultimate breadwinners who are responsible for these women and cannot have other aspirations,” she explains.
Other activists, meanwhile, termed his statement an ‘absolute travesty’.
“Women in Tamil Nadu have struggled for years with problems that challenged their very existence (foeticide, infanticide). His answer shows a complete lack of understanding of the issues that plague women on an everyday basis. It is absolutely disrespectful,” argues Kirthi.
Women make half the population and as Kamal steps into the political arena, he will do well to remember this and deal with the issues they face with more seriousness and a far better understanding.