Ad Showing Girl's Self-Defence From Harasser Misses The Mark By Putting Onus Of Safety On Women

We are not indestructible devis, we're human. Why must we be imposed with a roadside attack to prove that we're capable of taking care of ourselves?

Tanvi Akhauri
Oct 22, 2020 13:29 IST
self-defence ad HS Kalekar Jewellers

Advertisements have been ruffling up quite a few feathers these past few days in India. The most talked about was the ad film by Tanishq that endorsed an inter-religious marriage only to be aggressively dismissed by extremists as the promotion of "love jihad." Then earlier today, there was a row over "vulgar" religious memes reportedly released by Eros Now, which were taken down. And now, another ad is being talked about on social media, with mixed reactions, concerning the grave issue of women's safety. It's a 2-minute ad by HS Kalekar Jewellers that shows a young girl being stalked - on empty roads, in the daylight - by a man on a bike. He follows her around, which prompts her to wield a stick in self-defence and impressively wave it around like a weapon, thereby scaring the harasser away. The ad ends with a message saying, "Khud ka sammaan khud karna padega, har bitiya ko ab Durga banna padega." 


And with that, after an empowering show of self-defence, the ad takes a sharp nosedive into disempowerment. What is seems to essentially recommend is that the onus of defending themselves from harassment falls entirely on women, since her "respect" (sammaan) is in her own hands. The message is rather lopsided and doesn't deliver what it sought to - women's emancipation. But safety is not an issue to be romanticised. Why should a woman be empowered at the cost of her safety? Why is the focus bigger on making her more adept at tackling harassment when it should be on tackling the culture of harassment itself?

Watch the viral ad here:

Also Read: It Took A Pandemic For Us Women To Be Safe From Street Harassment

Why Are We Forcefully Being Made Into Goddesses?


This discourse is very common in India and is, I feel, one of the things holding us back on matters of women's security and empowerment. We tend to idealise the power of the ultimate Indian woman - a reincarnation of Goddess Durga, a fearless beacon of nari shakti - without actually handing women that power. We are in love with the idea of women being safe, so we think we are doing women a huge service by telling them that they're strong enough to take care of themselves. A woman fending off crime by herself, without help from a male, how empowering. When in fact, it isn't.

Deifying women by investing combative powers in them isn't what we want, nor what we need to be safe. We are not indestructible devis, we're human. Why must we be imposed with a roadside attack to prove that we're capable of taking care of ourselves? Why should we be made entirely vulnerable only so we can build up our Durga-like prowess to fight a criminal, just so the world knows women are tough? More importantly, how can we be expected to do that? Does every woman in India have access to self-defence classes?

That's your headache, the ad seems to say.


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Women's Safety Isn't A Fairytale, It Needs Legal Measures

I understand that the intentions of the ad probably didn't mean to be so counterproductive. It's primarily a quintessential 'woman-centric' ad from the shelf of the Indian brand of gender empowerment, which is still quite under-developed. It tried to sell the age-old goddess in every woman trope. But honestly, that trope has outlived its purpose. Because the demands of women's safety and feminism do not seek any of that. We want equality, we want safety, but not by proving our physical mettle to anyone. Why should a bitiya compulsorily have to become (emphasis on banna padegaa Durga at an age where she shouldn't have to worry about being unsafe on the roads? Shouldn't the roads be made safer for her use?


The "banna padega" ironically seems to point towards the fact that authorities have in fact been so incompetent in ensuring safety for women that women have no choice but to ensure it for themselves. But like I mentioned, this is not utopia and we are not the goddesses you are making us out to be. Safety has unfortunately been dumped on our, the usual targets', shoulders. But it shouldn't be.

The duty to usher in fundamental change belongs to the patriarchal structures, authorities, lawmakers, and rape culture that enabled it in the first place. It is something that needs corrective measures, legal implementation, solid action. For us to wave around a stick in our perpetrators' faces will not change things. Because our safety isn't the stuff of fairytales.

Picture Credit: Twitter video

Views expressed are the author's own.

#goddess durga #advertisement #women's safety #religious ad #HS Kalekar Jewellers