Kerala’s Very Own Brand of Rape Culture and Its Media Apostle

What is “Rape Culture?” Activists of the 70s, more accurately the “second wave feminists” of the United States of America, coined the term to demonstrate how society normalises the act of male sexual violence on women. An updated understanding now tells us that this culture of rape affects all genders, not necessarily the cis-gender. What are the characteristic features of a rape culture? As mentioned already, it normalises male sexual violence. It shames and blames the victim (offline and online), makes rape jokes and trivialises the mental as well as physical trauma the victim had undergone. Rape cultures make it difficult for the survivor to lead a normal life by ostracising her, while letting the rapist walk out guilt-free. Come again, who does it? The society. The very society in which, you and I are a part of, which is shaped by patriarchal discourses. You need an example? Here is one. Read the below paragraph:

“When we read the evidence of PW3, we have to be cognizant of her psyche- her mental makeup. Her past conduct and behavior have to be borne in mind . . . She was not a normal innocent girl of that age. She was a different person. The peculiarity in her personality must realistically be borne in mind. The evidence of a person of her age with such a conduct certainly has to be viewed seriously and with caution. A court cannot meekly swallow her version. It requires serious critical assessment.” (pp. 42-43)

The quoted paragraph is neither from a novel, nor from a movie. It is a legal document, a part of the Supreme Court verdict of the Suryanelli rape case.[1] Now, does this all sound like the introductory paragraph of ‘Course 101’ for the undergraduates? The author can’t help it, for in this country, this is to be repeated now and often, to remind some of us, including certain senior and reputed journalists, that a rape joke isn’t a joke!

The latest episode of J. B. Junction in Kairali TV, a popular talk-show hosted by the channel’s M.D. Dr. John Brittas (Mr. Brittas, who is an alumnus of Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, has his degrees in Political Science and Media Studies. He is also the recipient of the Journalism Educational Award from the Goenka Foundation, for his research on "The Impact of Globalization in Print Media"), is a disastrous display of everything mentioned above. The guests were three students, Sam Mathew, Pratheeksha Sivadas and Arya Dayal. Mathew rose to fame recently after his poem “Sakhavu” (“Comrade”) was critiqued by laypeople and critics alike for its overt sentimentality. Pratheeksha later claimed that the poem is hers, which she wrote once for a student’s magazine. Arya’s rendition of the poem in YouTube made it an instant hit among students. In the present episode, Mathew recites another of his poem “Padarppu” and claims that this is written from the perspective of a woman – a rape victim – who falls in love with the rapist! Throughout the poem, the poet romanticises the act of rape and goes to the extent of making the victim say that the rapist’s sperm inside her is her guiding light in her darker days, glorifying motherhood and ignoring the violence perpetrated on her body. Whoa! Wait, the charade doesn’t end there. The host Mr. Brittas tells the poet, accompanied by his characteristic vulgar laugh, “Oh! But you don’t rape anyone!” and asks Pratheeksha, a plus-two student (Yes, a plus-two student who is definitely under eighteen, a minor, a child) whether she liked the poem. Pratheeksha says yes!

Brittas and Mathew are nothing but carriers of Kerala’s peculiar brand of rape culture that trivialises rape. Take a quick look at the narrative-structure of Malayalam movies that engage with rape. The victim either goes mad or commits suicide unable to bear the shame. Revenge for her is always the prerogative of the male-hero (Anuragi (1988)). To seek revenge on her own, the victim has to take an after-life in some of these movies, as a Yakshi, a creature of fantasy. Agency is denied to her otherwise (Lisa (1978), Akasha Ganga (1999), Indriyam (2000)).

It is not possible to believe that Brittas, an experienced journalist does not know the implications of his words. For, this is not the first, but the latest among such incidents that throw light upon this man’s shameless exhibition of misogyny on prime time television. Watch some of the earlier episodes of J. B. Junction; for example his interviews with actresses Ananya and Abhirami and Urvashi. If he made fun of Ananya for choosing a man who is not handsome enough (according to Brittas, of course!) as her life-partner and forced her to prepare tea, he went to the extent of asking Abhirami how far she enjoyed kissing Kamal Haasan during the making of Virumandi. His interview with Urvashi caused a furore – where he pried into her personal life – that the video has been taken out of YouTube. It is high-time Brittas should learn what responsible journalism is. Making a rape joke, while the state has not yet recovered from the rape and murder of two young women – Soumya and Jisha – reveals nothing but his incompetency and lack of ethics as a journalist.

Brittas and Mathew are nothing but carriers of Kerala’s peculiar brand of rape culture that trivialises rape. Take a quick look at the narrative-structure of Malayalam movies that engage with rape. The victim either goes mad or commits suicide unable to bear the shame. Revenge for her is always the prerogative of the male-hero (Anuragi (1988)). To seek revenge on her own, the victim has to take an after-life in some of these movies, as a Yakshi, a creature of fantasy. Agency is denied to her otherwise (Lisa (1978), Akasha Ganga (1999), Indriyam (2000)). Note the absence of a legal discourse of rape in all these movies. Certain others go to the extent of showing how the heroine falls in love with the macho hero after being raped by him (Ente Upasana(1984)). Next in line comes the hero who rapes the ‘deviant’ female lead to teach her lessons of humility and submission (Kariyilakkattu Pole (1986)). Remember this scene from the well-received and commercially successful Meesa Madhavan (2002), where the hero casually makes this remark that he would like to rape the sleeping heroine, and the ensuing vulgar laugh (which so resembles Brittas’) in the darkness of our theatres? How different are this senior journalist and the young poet from the script-writers of these movies? How different are they from the online bullies who threaten to rape women, if they choose to take a different political position? Aren’t they the prototypes and products of the very own rape culture we are fighting since time immemorial?

I would suggest that Mr. Brittas should take a lesson or two on responsible and ethical journalism immediately, instead of spoiling the name of a channel in which the proletariat of Kerala has their direct investment.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suryanelli_rape_case