Women are slapped, kicked, abused and raped in popular shows like
"Naa Aana Iss Des Laado", "Balika Vadhu" and "Pratigya" that reach
over 130 million households in India and they seem to be doing
little to empower women.
These supposedly socially relevant shows started as attempts to
break away from the cliché of kitchen politics and tackle themes
like female infanticide, child marriage and discrimination. But
soon they turned out to be half-hearted efforts, showing violence
towards women rather than creating awareness against such
Of late, these shows have been depicting scenes where a husband
rapes his wife only because she stands up against him, or in
another show, the husband slaps his wife hard for arguing with
him. How do these shows talk about women's empowerment then, many
viewers are asking.
Such depiction of subjugation is "intolerable", according to noted
actress and social activist Shabana Azmi.
"It is extremely important to have positive role models for women.
And it's sad that on television, we usually don't see that, even
when so many writers are women themselves. I do think that the
only way we can counter the image of a girl is by making available
as many positive images of empowered women as possible," Shabana
Alas, that is not happening - even though these shows are a staple
for most Indian women.
STAR Plus has started "Kaali - Ek Agnipariksha" to show how
independent girls become soft targets for sexual harassment. So,
while on one hand the channel claims to depict the improving
social standing of women, on the other, it shows how men have an
upper hand in sabotaging women's lives through "Pratigya".
"Pratigya" even depicted the protagonist being asked to drink
water that had been used to wash her mother-in-law's feet.
Acclaimed filmmaker Govind Nihalani, known for making socially
relevant movies like "Aakrosh" and "Ardh Satya", said such themes
should only provoke debate.
"Somewhere these issues have to be brought into the open so that
people are aware of it.
Especially for those who want to change and for those who have to
be changed. Both have to be exposed to these problems. Whatever
regressive things that TV shows convey, they ultimately pretend to
have a progressive outlook," he said.
"Everyone is a rational human being. People don't accept any
action passively or do what they are shown," Nihalani, 73, told
One case of violence against a woman is registered in India every
three minutes. According to National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB)
data, over 7,600 women are killed each year because their in-laws
consider the dowry inadequate and a very small percentage of them
are brought to justice.
Zohra Chatterjee, former joint secretary in the information and
broadcasting ministry and now member-secretary of the National
Commission for Women (NCW), says channels and producers hold major
responsibility for the content and they must realise their social
"There is always a fine balance that has to be struck in
portraying anything on screen. One cannot totally sanitise the
screen, but at the same time you should not go to excessive for
the sake of TRP," said Chatterjee, who was a key person in setting
up a media monitoring centre, where 45 content monitors sit and
evaluate content on the small screen.
"Channels are pulled up for breaches, and they need to be more
conscious of their social responsibility. The NCW also pulls up
channels and issues showcause notices when they show deprivation
of women's rights. Indignity of women is our prime concern," she
Woman-centric serials became a rage after Ekta Kapoor's "Kahani
Ghar Ghar Ki" and "Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi". Ekta claims TV
content has helped a lot of Indian women in becoming assertive at
"Many people felt that television is 'corrupting' Indian women to
stand up for their rights. Some people with very conservative
mindsets thought that the women were being influenced and
corrupted as we encouraged them to stand up for their rights.
"But recent research proves that many women from smaller towns and
rural areas have also started taking charge of decision making and
being an active participant in their family issues," said Ekta.
Buoyed by her unprecedented success, others took the plunge. But
many today say with each new show, content has gone from bad to
Bhirani can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)