Bollywood actor Salman Khan recently made a comment, in which he said that he felt like a “raped woman” after filming his movie, “Sultan”. This statement outraged the Internet and people across India. The actor’s fans, however, rushed to his defense, arguing that his comment wasn’t a big deal. To this, people responded by saying that the problem wasn’t if the joke itself was a big deal or not. The problem was that he made a comment about a serious issue as a passing remark, even though he is someone in a position to educate thousands of people who listen to and respect him. Whether he meant it or not is of no consequence. What he said was seen as insensitive and not at all funny.
It also brought about a bigger, more loaded debate about rape culture and the conversation surrounding rape in India. According to an article posted by The Indian Express, in 2015, there was an average of 6 rapes and 15 molestations every day in India. Joking about an issue that affects people across the world on a daily basis showcases the normalisation of sexual violence and the deep-rooted misogyny that continues to exist in our world. It also shows how seriously rape is taken in India; it’s still considered to be something that isn’t a big deal and something that feminists are “blowing out of proportion.”
With the Jyoti Singh, or the Nirbhaya, rape and murder still fresh in the minds of many Indians, it is obvious that rape is a problem that needs to be addressed. The most important point about the response to rape and sexual crimes in India is that rape cases are abundant. Cases like the Anjana Mishra case in 1999 and the Kamduni gang rape case in 2013 highlight the atrocious and unjust crimes committed against women. In 2016, our politicians, news anchors, and people are claiming that India is progressing and moving forward. But in a nation where fourteen year olds are being raped and murdered, how truly progressive are we?
The problem isn’t that no one is talking about rape. The problem is that people in positions of power, whether those are celebrities, politicians or teachers, are not discussing it. Rape and sexual violence are issues that cannot be solved overnight or with a sweeping idea that magically cures the country of this rape epidemic, for the lack of a better term. It starts at grassroots levels where parents and teachers teach and educate the youth in their life that sexual violence is an evil. Normalizing the idea that sexual harassment of any sort, whether it is marital rape or cat calling, is completely okay and just things that happen because “it’s always happened” is the wrong approach.
In a country where celebrity culture is a big deal, there are zero celebrities making sexual violence a big deal. The common people worship actors and actresses in Bollywood like Gods and Goddesses and hang on to their every word. Celebrities have the power to evoke change, or at least begin conversations. Comments like Salman Khan’s, while negative, spark a debate and encourage people to think critically of their country and how it functions. They, just like positive comments, can force the nation to listen and give an elevated platform to conversations that are already happening.
There is no doubt that India gained independence in 1947. However, how can we say that India is a free country when destructive crimes like these take place every day? How can we mourn the death of rape victims like Jyoti Singh and Anjana Mishra without even changing the system that led to their deaths in the first place?