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Sex Choice As Advertisement,
Rape As infotainment !

By Subhash Gatade

15 February, 2005

It was early eighties when aminocentis tests arrived on the Indian scene. Primarily devised for detection of genetic diseases in the foetus and to assist in delivery they soon metamorphosed themselves into determination of sex of the foetus in the craving for a son in the Indian familities. "Better Rs 500 now than Rs 5 lakh later" One could see billboards advertising these 'tests' in a blatant manner provoking expectant parents to resort to these 'tests' and eliminate 'unwanted foetus' (another acronym for doing away with female foetuses). For a layperson also it was clear how one could save oneself from paying hefty amount as dowry if one could get an idea of the sex of one's child at such a low cost.

Two decades later and with the figures of the 2001 census staring us in our face ( which further confirmed the skewed gender ratio) one expected that the corporate world which keeps patting itself on the back for its 'social responsibility' would show more sensitivity towards this issue. But looking at the recent case of a leading telecom firm ( Reliance Infocomm) against whom a case under the Pre Natal Diagnostic Techniques ( Prohibition of Sex Selection) act has been registered it becomes clear that for bigwigs in the corporate world all talk of gender sensitivity is only for public consumption. The company in question Reliance Infocomm has been charged for 'displaying an advertisement on its website pertaining to sex determination of the foetus.' The ad talked about chinese tips for predicting the gender of the child. It also talked about techniques ensuring and increasing probability that an embryo will be of a particular sex." ( HT, Feb 1, 2005)

Ofcourse the only consolation Reliance Infocomm can have at this juncture is that it is not the only one from the corporate world which can be singled out for engaging in such practice.The process of sanitising violence against women to enhance one's business prospects can be said to be a effective marketing strategy the world over and media has been a party to this.

In this connection the ad series launched by the Maruti-Suzuki people year before last for their new car model Zen was representative of a trend which is in vogue. ["ECONOMICTIMES.COM, MONDAY, NOVEMBER 24, 2003 05:01:16 PM ] The controversial ad showed a young beautiful blonde being stalked by a tiger through the city at night. The girl passes through the various areas of the city. ...Whenever she is on the road, it is the new look car that follows her. The moment she is on stairs or overbridge, the car is transformed into a tiger. The TVC ends with the girl finally giving up the chase with a deep male voiceover 'Surrender, to the new ... The advertisement fashioned on the “predator concept” was chosen to attract young consumers below the age of 35, and it was deliberately selected to “build excitement around the brand in a completely different manner”. Only a persistent protest by a small but determined group of gender activists and intellectuals compelled the company to withdraw this ad which '.. had converted rape into a commodity.'.

In the petition which this group sent to the big bosses of the company as well as diffrent concerned organisations it was cleary stated that the said ad 'completely ignored the campaign against carjacking and rape.' It also overlooked the fact that cars in general had become a weapon for men, who abduct and rape women. It has been repeatedly argued that the projection of cars as predators, women as sexual objects and travel as a hunt constitutes rape culture. .. "

Explaining the rationale behind presenting titilatting violence before its viewers or concealing the routinesed violence Jennifer L. Pozner (former director of the FAIR Women’s Desk) makes clear that , controversy rather than facts sells in a “media climate that considers news a “product” and readers and viewers “consumers”.” As an example, female genital mutilation affects millions of women worldwide, yet you rarely hear about this. ..Ofcourse according to Ms Pozner the 'economic benefits' of 'rape - the most titillating crime' are immense. According to her " The sexual brutilization of women is a highly marketable business, bringing in some $10 billion in profits in the U.S. every year. As lucrative as the portrayal of rape is in the adult entertainment industry, it stands to reason that it is also a profitable story for the news media as well."

The UNIFEM (United Nations Development Fund for Women) published a report in Nov 2003 that one out three women are likely to be sexually assaulted during their lifetimes.We know that in many such cases the perpetrators of such crimes have stated in an unambigous manner the way the 'media' has played a role in it.

In her well researched piece Media Culpability In The Continuum Of Violence Against Women, Lucinda Marshall ( feminist artist, writer and activist, founder of the Feminist Peace Network, critically examines the issue. (30 September, 2004 "..[M]ost disturbing is the disproportionate coverage of sensationalized violence. Invariably, rape stories get far more coverage than domestic violence stories. In all likelihood, this is because rape stories usually focus on one individual woman. If she is attractive, and particularly if she is white, she is a very marketable victim." While Ms Marshalls' studies must have been based on the way media in the west presents women, it cannot be said that her observations are irrelevant for Indian conditions.Even a random look at the programmes or ads on the media circuit in this part of the world makes it clear that things are unfolding here in a much vulgar manner.

Few months back a programme in Hindi modelled on the famous 'Hard Talk' demonstrated the depths to which the media here can reach supposedly for providing titilatting infotainment to their viewers.Interestingly the great villain of yesteryears who was a guest on the programme had not expected that the compere would put him in jeopardy. ( Seedhi Baat, Aaj Tak, 5 Sep 2004, Prabhu Chawla interviewing Pran) Discussing his track record in films and presenting before him some interesting queries about his life and career, all of a sudden the wellknown compere broached the topic of the 'rapes committed by the villain' in many of the films he had enacted.Despite visible discomfirture on the 'villain's' face he unashamedly asked him, looking at the galaxy of 'sexy heroines' in the industry today ' whom would you 'prefer' in the upcoming film if given a chance' ? Taken aback, the 'great villain' who had carved out a niche for himself in the industry then with his acting, somehow wriggled himself out of this situation. Ofcourse the compere went on with his chimpish smile.

It is really disturbing that this trivialisation of rape in full glare of the cameras largely went unnoticed.Barring a single commentator in Hindi none from the fraternity of media watchers even deemed it necessary to comment on the way in which the most obnoxious and inhuman violence against women was made a butt of joke. (Anil Chamadia, Kathadesh, Hindi Magazine, Oct 2004) Looking at the detailed description the question naturally arises, where do we go from here? We have a corporate world which has yet to come out of its patriarchal mindset.We have a civil society whose majority has been an important party in perpetuating this institution of male dominance.
Is not it high time that one really understands the myth of corporate social responsibility which is being peddled with frightening regularity these days Looking at the gravity of the situation nobody can deny that it is high time that everybody also becomes more aware of the role media can play in ameliorating the condition. Coming back to the successful intervention by a small group in compelling the company to withdraw the ad the movement to 'empower the viewer' and make her/him 'media literate' needs to be strengthened. Is not it true that with the growing importance of media in politics as well as public life in contemporary democracy the importance of having such 'watchdogs' is being felt more urgent than ever.











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