For many 90s Indian kids whose childhoods were defined by Shaktimaan, Mukesh Khanna has renounced his throne as the ultimate superhero icon, as a video of him making a tasteless remark on women does rounds online. In an interview with a media channel, Khanna blamed the #MeToo movement on women’s pursuit of gender equality. He even went so far as to say that women with professions, who want to walk shoulder-to-shoulder as equals with men, is a false reality because women and men have different places in the world – “Aurat ka kaam hai ghar sambhalna.” (A woman’s job is to take care of the household.)
For someone who had the privilege of playing perhaps India’s earliest televised superheroes, Khanna has taken a serious fall from grace, in my view. If there’s anything more ironic, it’s only that Khanna is also identified for having played Bhishma Pitamah, the most dutiful character in BR Chopra’s 1980s classic Mahabharat. With his misogynistic statements, Khanna has shown the narrow mindset many harbour towards women-centric issues in India. Saying that troubles of harassment began when women began working in public spaces is neither factually correct nor morally. And frankly, is a covert way of justifying gender violence. Shouldn’t Khanna have known better than to place the onus of harassment on women?
Here is the clip from his interview with The Filmy Charcha:
— Hindutva Watch (@Hindutva__watch) October 30, 2020
Do All Women In India Even Have Access To #MeToo?
“The problem of #MeToo began when women started working,” was what he said. Khanna’s words are so replete with inaccuracies that one doesn’t know where to begin operating on them.
First, what is most insensitive is how he collectively discounted the experiences of survivors who built the courage to come out and narrate their horrors when the Indian #MeToo wave began. To put the onus of women’s safety entirely on the women being attacked amounts to blaming them for the crime they had to endure. Will that not lead to increased insecurity and under-reporting of sexual crimes? How scary a picture does that paint for women everywhere in India?
Nithya Nagarathinam, an academic, using data from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) and the National Family Health Surveys (NFHS) said that “only 6 percent of incidents of sexual violence against women are reported to the police.” Furthermore, NCRB data states the conviction rate in reported rape cases is as low as 27.8 percent.
Second, saying that harassment cases began being reported or increasing when women took up jobs professionally is incorrect and rather immature. Since the theoretical concepts of #MeToo are still largely urban and virtual, the movement’s labels haven’t penetrated the rural corners of India. And in the absence of internet in these places, chances are, they won’t anytime soon. But does that mean these areas don’t report rapes and other sexual crimes? If Khanna were to pick up a newspaper, he’d see rape reports from all over India crowding the pages. Do all those women have access to the #MeToo movement? Do their silent sufferings hold no value?
Why Is Gender Equality Tough To Digest?
Mukesh Khanna would do well to know that crimes happen against women of all ages – from day-old babies to women without resources of professional work to women well into their old age. And even against women who are oblivious to the concept or need for gender equality. Moreover, in the majority of cases where women report harassment in India, the assailant is known to the survivor/victim. Can the blame for male sexual transgressions still be pinned down on women wanting to work in offices?
Khanna boldly claimed in his interview, “Log women’s lib ki baat karenge, lekin main aapko bata doon, problem yahin se shuru hoti hai (People talk about women’s liberation, but let me tell you that where the problem begins)… Nahi, mard mard hai aurat aurat hai (No, a man is a man and a woman is a woman).”
Why is it so tough for people, especially men, to digest that women’s liberation is a valid and urgent need? That women hold equal right to work outside of homes? How much longer will India hold on to its gendered traditions of tying women to kitchens? Aren’t mindsets like Khanna’s, ironically, the exact cause of #MeToo? With men vying for dominance over women through physical and emotional violence and abusing professional power to fulfil sexual perversions?
Social Media Reacts To Khanna’s Remarks
Expectedly, social media users are anguished over Khanna’s regressive remarks. Many, as I am, are regretful of ever having looked up to him as a superhero everyone wanted to be. And we’re all astounded at Shaktimaan having possessed misogynistic superpowers no one knew about.
While no one is deeming Khanna’s words to be significant enough to dwell over, it’s not easy to digest that this is what Shaktimaan has become now. Here is how people are reacting to the interview on Twitter:
Another childhood icon bites the dust. 😔 https://t.co/GfgiUYtrLA
— Shantanu (@shantanub) October 30, 2020
Mukesh Khanna is the cautionary tale of how living in the past glory can be dangerous. His attention-seeking words reek of desperation .He wants to get validated by more misogynistic men & be hailed as a hero that he never was. Media needs to stop normalising such sexist men
— Rudrani Chattoraj (@rudrani_rudz) October 31, 2020
— Adv Mumtaz Begum (@i_am_mumtaz) October 30, 2020
After his comments went viral, Khanna took to Instagram to respond to the outrage in a series of posts written in Hindi. Justifying his stance, which to me was a justification without much remorse, he wrote, “I never said that women should not work. I was just going to tell how Me Too starts… In that video interview, I was just throwing light on the problems that can arise from women working outside the home. Like the children of the house are left alone. I was talking about male and female dharma, which has been going on for thousands of years.”
He continued, “In our country, women have made their way into every field. Then whether she is a defense minister, finance minister, foreign minister or in space, everywhere women have waved their glory. So how can I be against working for a woman. I want to tell all my friends that do not misrepresent my statement… If any woman has been hurt by this statement, I am sorry that I could not put my point correctly.”
Image Credit: Indian Television + Twitter
Views expressed are the author’s own.