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Impact of Bollywood? 90% young women say male violence is an accepted social norm, one has to live with it

By Rajiv Shah
In a stark revelation, about 90% of the female respondents in the age group 18-30 years, interviewed in an Oxfam India report to ascertain the impact of Bollywood films on youth, admitted to either being recipients of intimate partner violence (IPV) if they were married, or spoke of IPV as an accepted social norm, if they were not.
The report, which is based on focus group discussions (FGDs) in rural and urban areas of five states -- Bihar, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Odisha -- notes that "only two women said that their spouses had never hit them", adding, "Most reported forms of partner violence include slaps, pushing, rebukes and mental cruelty."
"There is a very high incidence of extra marital affairs by men in all locations", the report states, adding, "Most women felt that it was acceptable to be hit once in a while. 'Wohi sawarenge, wohi dulharenge…toh wohi na marenge…' (he is the one who loves us, takes care of us…so what if he hits us once in a while…) was a common sentiment".
The report is titled "The Irresistible & Oppressive Gaze: Indian Cinema and Violence against Women and Girls", and is based on inputs from activists Lopa Ghosh, Nisha Agrawal, Ranu Kayastha Bhogal, Julie Thekkudan, Diya Dutta, Mary Thomas, Rajini Menon and Himanshi Matta.
Apart from interviews during FGDs, the report carries individual reactions, more than half of whom were females, mainly to elicit the impact of films on youth. "When asked about the qualities of an ideal man, 95% said that he should be above all loving and caring, be able to earn consistently for his family (90%), have a good personality (86%) and spend time with their wives (70%)", the report says.
Even while "only about 60% talked about physical attractiveness and masculinity", when probed on the notion of manliness, the report says, most cited instances of Salman Khan in "Sultan" because he repents and grieves for the loss of his child and loves his wife loyally; Akshay Kumar in "Airlift" for his patriotic fervor; Ajay Devgn in "Drishyam" for his ability as a common man to defend his family; Aamir Khan in "Dangal" and Shahrukh Khan in "Chak De" for their motivational roles; and actors such as Ranveer Singh and Siddharth Malhotra for their masculine attractions.
The report says, "It is not surprising that in 48% of the films, men perform a nationalistic function, serve the country, society or community in some form. In 17% of the films, women perform a similar function."
However, during a discussion of a sequence from "Dabangg" (2010), in which Salman Khan tells Sonakshi Sinha that she should "accept his offer of money when offered lovingly as it is well within his right to ‘slap’ her into accepting his bidding", the report says, "70% of the female respondents were of the opinion that this was a romantic conversation hence the hint of violence is excusable."
The report notes how with their folksy diction and rural proverbs, item songs are widely used tools for sexual harassment. "95% of young girls reported that boys and men played those songs on their mobile phones or sang them out loud when they walked to school or went somewhere to run an errand."
The study concludes that Indian cinema has "considerable influence on patriarchal attitudes and sexist behaviour across all aspects of life and society. Films are the primary, and to an extent, the only cultural good consumed by the communities that were part of this research."
According to the report, "The objectified image of a woman on screen deeply influences young girls and women. They find themselves caught between tradition and aspirations. Fear of assault is connected to the way in which girls dress up. Women on screen frame the notions held by young men and boys about how a woman should be."
"More dangerously", the report says, "Notions of consent as mandatory has been completely liquidated by mainstream films. Acquiring a romantic partner is considered to be a real goal. Exposure to explicit content encourages irresponsible sexual behaviours."

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