Darshan scandal vs. women’s rights

I will remember October 7 for a horrifying co-incidence as far as women’s rights go.

It is a day when three outstanding women activists – Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, activist Leymah Gbowee of Liberia, and rights activist Tawakkul Karman of Yemen – shared Nobel Peace Prize “for their nonviolent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work.”

Closer home, it’s also a day when Vijayalakshmi, wife of Kannada film star Darshan Toogudeepa – first bashed up, tamed into submission, and then forced to withdraw her complaint – goes public, seeking pardon from Darshan fans after he walked out on conditional bail.

“I am extremely happy about this development. I will assure all the fans and friends of Darshan that such things will not occur in future…. I will seek their pardon. It was a bad time and both of us never realised that things will go to such extremities. I am too eager to invite my husband to our residence,” she told a section of the media.

The fans once again went berserk celebrating their star’s ‘freedom’ although it is a conditional bail and investigation has just begun.

How are we to stomach these developments when the fact that a woman’s right to a safe married life was violated in the most heinous manner is indisputable? How are we to put up with this jubilation in the midst of serious human rights violations? How are we to believe that the guilty will be punished when we know how influential and powerful people can tamper with evidence and weaken the case to a point where the very act of filing the FIR would seem utterly meaningless? How are we to continue to believe that it will not set a bad precedent for those who have already mastered the art of wife-beating and those who nurse such tendencies? Most importantly, in what way will this episode empower those women undergoing similar torture from their husbands?

It’s time to analyse this incident beyond the equation between a film star and his fans and producers and in fact, Kannada filmdom itself. Those who heard the loud cheers of Darshan fans would sure have figured out why they got so raucous and celebratory. It’s less about the pain of seeing their favourite star behind the bars, but more about suppressing the rights of a woman. More so if she is a wife of a star whose films revel in exaggerated masculine pride.

(For more articles on this scandal and other issues, visit ‘Candid Comments’ category)

Darshan scandal: where are we headed?

A couple of days ago, the dark deeds of a popular Kannada film star escaped from the confines of his bedroom and hogged headlines. They still do.

A drunk superstar Darshan Toogudeepa allegedly bashed up his wife Vijayalakshmi in his customised Innova for two hours and used the burning ends of his cigarette butts to inflict pain of such nature that only he could enjoy. Later, he dumped his wife in her friend’s house along with their son Vineesh, picked them up later in the night, and once again let his sadist fantasies rule the roost. He allegedly brandished his licensed pistol and hit her so badly that her head was injured, ear disfigured, face swollen, and body suffered multiple aberrations. She also had blood-clotting in many parts of her body. This tragedy is said to be rooted in the star’s extra-marital affair with a co-star.

And, all this heroism was exhibited without any directorial assistance as his three-year-old son stood shocked and muted and his right to safe childhood violated by none other than his own father. A media source said the inebriated star did not spare the boy as he threatened to kill Vineesh at point-blank range. Darshan has denied this particular charge.

Many of you may know the aftermath. Vijayalakshmi was hospitalised, Darshan was arrested and charged with domestic violence, dowry harassment, and was also booked under the Arms Act for threatening to kill his wife.

I got drawn into watching this drama because of how my 21-year-old living-in baby-sitter Geethashri’s (name changed), a die-hard (help me with a more powerful adjective) fan of Darshan, reacted.

Her day begins with poring over TV listings, and if there’s a Darshan movie slated for the day (it is, quite often), she arranges her routine around it and gets ready for a blockbuster treat. She celebrates his birthday wearing black (his favourite colour) and distributing sweets, squanders her savings on Darshan DVDs. She reaches hours in advance at cinema halls for each of his new releases and has kept her first-day-first-show vow unbroken. She has made me sit and watch his movies in the past, only to reaffirm my belief that stardom and acting prowess often travel on different trajectories in India.

Thanks to her, even my three-and-a-half-year-old daughter rattles off Darshan hit songs and screams “I love you Darshan” the moment she sees this star’s wallposters or stickers on autorickshwas. You can very well imagine my plight.

On last Friday morning, I saw on TV how the incident slid into a 24X7 tamasha when the star’s fans took charge of some parts of the city. They resorted to violence and set afire, what else, two BMTC buses. From the Vijaynagar police station, they marched towards Koramangala in the evening where the star was produced before the magistrate. They wanted nothing less: his immediate release.

Meanwhile, many film stars led by actor-turned-politician Ambarish tried hard and even succeeded in dishing out a compromise between the couple. The battered woman withdrew her complaint.

To my dismay, no TV channel made even a faint attempt to discuss the issue beyond the Sandalwood precincts. There was hardly a sane voice that said, “Let her deal with the crisis as she wants”; or, “This is a social issue, let the police handle it”. They repeatedly sought quotes from the film fraternity and hardly anyone else beyond. They revelled in replaying the fury of the seditious multitude than analysing how such incidents expose our society’s sheer incompetence to handle such situations.

The concern was tilted more towards the plight of the star’s producers and his film career. The tone was more like, “you know, these things happen with famous men.” Many younger star-aspirants posted messages on the net defending their friend and sought support from the public. Although the senior actors kept telling the crowd that it was a family matter and should better be left that way, they seemed to find themselves on a moral high ground as they worked out the compromise and forced the woman to recant her statement in front of the magistrate. Thankfully, today’s newspapers say that the judge has not been convinced with her revised version that she suffered injuries due to a bathroom slip.

No feminist group took up the case, not to my knowledge at least. Only the Child Welfare Committee took suo motu cognisance and tried to locate the child as the FIR clearly stated threat to his life. Apparently, the child “was not found”.

What’s more, a newspaper reported a police officer admitting that there was a delay in producing the culprit before the magistrate because Darshan’s “colleagues sought time to strike a compromise with Vijayalakshmi”, and “a steady flow of actors prevented us from producing him before the magistrate.”

Does that mean these film stars will dictate the police their next course of action? Is this what we get to hear from the police in Bangalore that was shut down completely three times in the past? The benumbing violence that spilled in to the streets after Kannada film icon Dr Rajkumar was kidnapped still reminds me of the day I struggled to reach my newspaper office but returned because the office van could not just pass through the troubled areas. Later, Rajkumar’s demise resulted in murders on the roadsides as the overwhelmed police force simply caved in. All that the city police managed after another icon Vishnuvardhan passed away was to shut down Bangalore again anticipating similar violence.

In comparison, this incident was not that out of control as we are told to believe. The crowd size, despite the TV cameramen’s zooming-in tactics, was nowhere close to those marauding mobs. Some intelligent, swift moves could have saved the city this shameful episode.

Back home, I was disconcerted by Geethashri’s continued support to her icon and tried telling her that she would not be a lesser fan if she admitted he was wrong. She shrugged her shoulders and said: “most men do such things”.

I asked her “what if it happens to you”? “Will you tell your husband, ‘it’s okay, you did nothing wrong. Many men beat up their wives and have illicit relationships. You are no different’?”

Geethashri had no answer, but went on defending her star. She is waiting for his release and is a bit concerned that he has been hospitalised for jaundice and asthma. When I again provoked her jocularly if she was going to a temple to pray for his well-being, she retorted: “I don’t need to go to a temple to pray.”

Even as I took solace in the phrase “willing suspension of disbelief”, something kept niggling my mind. Are we, the so-called educated, any different? Don’t we get influenced by film stars’ (or any other influential personalities’) fame and overlook their personal follies and sometimes, even their talent deficiencies?