November 16, 2006

Serial Criminals

I am amazed at the tripe that is dished out in the name of serials (soap operas) through the Tamil TV Channels in India. Casual observation suggests that the audience is comprised mostly of women — home-makers in particular. Most of these serials indulge in stereotypical portrayal of women as weak, dependent, regressive, and property-like. Professionally successful women must be manipulative or of loose morals. Progressive women are break-aways and rebels living dangerously on the fringes of the society.

Of all the serials that I got to familiarize myself with —— believe me, it doesn't take more than a few minutes for each one — the worst was the one titled Kasturi, where the hero is bigamous. The legal wife, not only accepts this without much protest, but agrees to be his live-in maid. The fellow is a criminal under Section 494 of the Indian Penal Code:

Whoever, having a husband or wife living, marries in any case in which such marriage is void by reason of its taking place during the life of such husband or wife, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to seven years, and shall also be liable to fine.

Kasturi takes women back by a few millenniums to the days of the legendary Nalayini, who is supposed to have carried her leprosy stricken husband to a prostitute's house, in a demonstration of her loyalty and devotion.

If you are as mad at these serials, and worried about the mental health of the viewers, as I am, please take a few moments to read and sign this Petition against the Portrayal of Women in Tamil TV-Serials. Thank you.

  1. Im blissfully ignorant about TV serials but I chanced by your blog randomly and I think its wonderfully well written.

    On the point of preventing whatever content from the TV, it becomes a matter of choice and those watching it do so at their own discretion. Dont you think that having affirmative serials is a better way to educate masses than have the stupid serials off air ?

    Just me thinking out, but uber neat blog anyhow!

    Have a nice day
    Peace be

  2. I haven't seen the serial but going by the mention of "the legal wife", I believe he doesn't marry the other person. And the Indian penal code is bluntly discriminative in such a case-- a man can get a divorce on the ground that his wife is having an affair with another man, but this does not apply the other way.

  3. g,
    Affirmative serials will be great, but cessation of negative serials is a good beginning.

    I used the term "legal wife" to denote that the second marriage is not recognized under the Hindu Marriage Act. This, of course, does not in itself negate your point about the discriminatory nature of the laws governing adulterous relationships.

    I am not a legal expert - far from it - but here's my understanding, for what it's worth. A man committing adultery is punishable under IPC 497, but the woman is not. It seems to be discriminatory against men, but actually this law is an arcane derivative from the treatment of women as property of the men. The adulterous man is actually being punished for property theft. A woman cannot be punished, because if she were mere property, she could not be presumed to have a free will, could she?

    The laws governing divorce on the grounds of adultery, at least for Hindus, are weakly discriminatory. This is what I found from here when I googled the topic:

    While no formal definition of adultery exists, it does have "a fairly established meaning in matrimonial law" (Diwan 171), namely "the voluntary sexual intercourse of a married man or woman with a person other than the offender's wife or husband" (Choudhary 91). While the law considers it valid grounds for either sex, adulterous women are "judged more harshly" than men (Kapur and Cossman 102).

    I welcome corrections and clarifications.

  4. Here's some clarification I could find on web regarding adultery:

    "Section 10 of the Indian Divorce act 1869 discriminates against women because it prescribes different requirements for obtaining a divorce based on sex. Whereas a man may obtain a divorce based upon proof of adultery alone, a woman needs another cause in addition to adultery, such as incest, cruelty.."

    "Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code (1860) criminalizes adultery committed by a man. Section 198 of the code of criminal procedure (1973) allows husbands to bring criminal charges against the men with whom their wives have committed adultery. however, the law explicitly denies women the right to charge their husbands with adultery." [link, pdf]

    What you said is right in the sense it is the man (who "lures" the woman) who is considered the guilty one here, not the married woman herself.

    Also see this.

  5. I have been watching this serial, not out of any great liking but just to give company to my old age mother who wants to watch some of these serials. Beleive me. She simply sits through the serial Kasturi as if she is watching the Ramayana in another form.

    I know this serial is abloslutely and outrageously portraying women in the very nature that all right thinking men and women consider socially incorrect.

    I stongly oppose and condemn the director for this sort of serials shown in prime times. I would impose the maximum punishment under Indian penal code for this director.


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