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Dil Se Nahin Dimaag Se Dekho – Thoughts on Satyamev Jayate Episode 1: Shohini Ghosh

May 9, 2012

Guest post by SHOHINI GHOSH

The first episode of Aamir Khan’s much publicized TV show Satyamev Jayate telecast on May 6, 2012 dealt with “Female Foeticide”. The following is a reflection of the show’s line of reasoning. Since only one out of 13 episodes has been telecast, what follows should not be taken as a judgement on the series but a response to the first episode. For reasons that I will explain later, I will use the term Sex-Selective Abortions (hereafter SSA) instead of `Female Foeticide’.

Satyamev Jayate (hereafter, SJ) takes inspiration from the format of the Oprah Winfrey show. In this format the celebrity host is as important as the issues being discussed and the issues of “human interest” are narrated through a number of `affective’ tropes that include cathartic revelations, shocking testimonies, interviews with experts, cutaways of shocked or tearful studio audiences and a host who is both emotive and inspirational. The show’s attempt to mobilize affect is reflected in its many promos and tag-line that reads:  “Dil Peh Lagegi, Tabhi Baat Banegi.”  Shows with such formats usually end on a feel-good note where a “solution” to the problem is proffered.

 In SJ, the “solution” is the “jaadu ki chhadi” (magic wand) which the host explains is the collective strength of “me” and “you”. The episode ends with Aamir Khan (hereafter, AK) promising to write a letter to the Chief Minister of Rajasthan on behalf of all of us demanding strict action against doctors who practice sex-selective tests and procedures.

Unlike most talk shows on TV, SJ has high production values. Despite a certain preachy sanctimoniousness reminiscent of his role in Taare Zameen par, AK is a respectful and competent host who helps to keep the conversations on track without being rude or abrupt. On the first episode, he speaks to three women who provide moving testimonies of how they were forced to undertake sex-determination tests and sex-selective abortions against their will. The testimonies show how sex-selection and son-preference is not a problem that plagues the rural backwaters as is commonly assumed but prevails within the educated middle class. AK punctuates the conversation with `useful’ information. For example, he rightly points out that the sex of the child is determined by the sperm of the father and not the egg of the mother. There was an important intervention made by a lawyer representing one of the three women who describes how the judge declared that there was nothing wrong in desiring a “kuldeepak” (the son who will carry forward the lineage) and upbraided the policeman who had dared to arrest the in-laws who had forced the woman to undergo forced SSA. The show included interviews with a reputed gynecologist as well as two journalists who had carried out a sting operation on doctors in Rajasthan who were carrying out SSA’s.

On the surface, the show is “pro-women” but as the arguments unravel, it becomes increasingly evident that “all is not well’. Let me explain. In describing the “consequences” of a skewed, women-unfriendly sex-ratio, AK takes us (through Airtel “3G link”) to Kurukshetra, Haryana where in one village women have practically disappeared. AK speaks to a group of men who claim that they are unmarried because SSA’s using “ultrasound” had ensured that there were no women in the village. Earlier in the show AK had linked the declining sex-ratio to SSA and the Kurukshetra example was being produced as a perfect example. Even if we were to set aside our skepticism about this easy explanation, what follows’ is worse. Back in the studio, AK extrapolates from this example to expound on a simplistic and dangerously flawed prognosis according to which the shortage of women will result in “two crore men” remaining “unmarried” thereby creating a “shaadi ka bazaar” (marriage market) with buyers, sellers and “dalaals” where women will be bought and sold like commodities only to have unbelievable atrocities visited upon them.

This idea is seconded by a member of the studio audience who says that the marriage market had already begun and that women in the all-men village had to face harassment from the “kunwara fauj” (army of singletons). (Of course, by now you are wondering who these women are since we were just told that there were none!) The other suggestion being made seemed to be that if (heterosexual) men were not provided partners in heterosexual matrimony, they would explode in a libidinous frenzy and commit atrocities on women! (Thanks to SJ, on those rare occasions that they are brought to the courtroom, sex-offenders could now take refuge in the “singlehood-made-me-do-it’ argument and ask for their sentences to be mitigated.) Another question is to ask is whether equal numbers create gender equality and prevent violence against women.  If yes, then how do we explain atrocities against women when the sex-ratio was better as recorded by say the 1961 census?

What falls by the wayside in the paradigm that AK proposes is a central tenet of women’s equality: her right to choose. If we believe in equality then the women born in Kurukshetra should have the right to decide when, who and where they want to marry. They cannot be burdened with the task of having to marry men in their village in order to maintain the sex-ratio and thereby prevent violence against women even if this thesis were true. At the risk of detonating the libidinous ire of the `kunwara’ fauj, it may be said that the women in Kurukshetra – like women everywhere – should have the right to decide what they want to do with their life and body and this includes their right to reject both heterosexuality and matrimony if they so desire.

By locating the declining sex ratio within a paradigm of `female foeticide’ and `violence against women’, SJ replays a problematic logic; one that links declining sex ratio to violence against women and the elimination of women through `female foeticide’ using the key act of abortion.

In India, the women’s right to abortion emerged not from feminist struggles but as a by-product of family planning policies. Abortion has been legal in India under the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act since 1971.  Despite its default origins, it is an important right for women and all campaigns against SSA must ensure that a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy is never threatened. The Right to Abortion is vital for gender equality and there can be no doubt that women are safer when abortions are legal and their mental and physical well-being is not threatened by having to obtain unsafe and illegal abortions.  While SSA gets a high degree of publicity what is less publicized is how difficult safe abortion still is for large numbers of women.

The makers of SJ might argue that women’s right to abortion and forced SSA are not the same thing. Certainly they are not and the three cases presented in Episode 1 of SJ demonstrate that. But unfortunately, not all cases of SSA fall into this category. There are innumerable instances where, for a number of complicated reasons, women are complicit in choosing SSA which then muddies the demarcation between oppressive villains (husband/in-laws) and oppressed victims (wives). The reasons why a woman will opt for SSA can range from her own son-preference to a desire to survive safely in a hostile household. How women should be discouraged from sex-selective practices without jeopardizing her right to take decisions about her life and body, have long agonized Feminists. An important lesson that Feminist Activism has taught us is that the inevitable fallout of empowering women to take their own decisions may well result in her choosing a path that many of us would regard as anti-feminist or regressive.

“Pro-choice” Feminists (as Abortion Rights Activists call themselves) have always privileged the personhood of the mother over that of the foetus which they argue is a `potential person’ and not an “actual person”. The “Pro-life” Lobby (as right-wing, anti-abortionists call themselves) does just the reverse. By using terms like the “unborn child” and the “death of the girl child”, they privilege the personhood of the child over that of the mother. Similarly, the term “female foeticide” carries connotations of both personhood and murder through its association with words like homicide, matricide and regicide.

Pro-choice Feminists caution that the personhood of women should not be defined only through their role as wives and mothers and have their identities subsumed by the idea of women-as-wombs. In his `Kurukshetra thesis’ and his excessively romanticized tribute to the mother at the start of the show, AK does precisely that. When he makes a dramatic statement like “Puri Bharatmata betiyon ke khoon se rang chuka hai’ (The whole of Mother India has been drenched in the blood of her daughters) he bestows personhood on the foetus.  The rhetoric veers dangerously close to that of the Pro-Lifers. (The nationalist and gendered description of India as “Bharatmata” is no less problematic but that is a separate discussion.)

Finally, as feminists well know, SSA’s are not the problem but a symptom of a much larger malaise. The struggle to end violence and discrimination against women is a battle to be fought on many fronts. Given decades of inequality, gender socialization, oppressive practices, ritualized and institutionalized discrimination, the battle for equality is incredibly hard and not one to be resolved by any “jadu ki chhadi”. So while one could provide exemplary punishment to doctors to discourage sex-selective tests and forced SAA’s, it will barely make a dent on the larger problem. On the contrary, by assuming that all SSA’s are forced, we may end up curbing women’s access to safe abortions thereby endangering her life and her rights.

It would be premature to judge an entire series through only one episode. But since the media blitz and publicity has over-powered any dispassionate debate on SJ, we need to ensure that our critical faculties are not swept away by this euphoria. The tag-line for us as critical viewers should be: “dimaag se dekho, tabhi baat banegi.”

(Shohini Ghosh is Professor at the AJK Mass Communication Research Centre, Jamia Millia Islamia.)

64 Comments leave one →
  1. May 9, 2012 2:43 PM

    You seem to find fault with everything! In terms of data whatever shown on that Satyamev Jayate was 100% true. When I read the census report last year, I concluded the same numbers.. Besides that if he uses the data to bring in a little extra fear for the wrong doings in the society it is perfectly justified. Stop criticizing everything! I am sure the makers of the show did not mean what you have concluded!!

    • Sayantani permalink
      May 9, 2012 7:52 PM

      I don’t think the author is claiming that the data provided by the programme is wrong.Instead what seems to be problematic is the conclusion drawn from the statement. And how are you so sure about what the makers have meant?

  2. May 9, 2012 3:01 PM

    That’s a really fascinating discussion. In theory, if there are fewer women, those that remain should have more power – but it doesn’t seem to work that way.

    • Akash Madan permalink
      May 10, 2012 12:29 AM

      What non-sense. Your logic would lead us to the following conclusions – if there are fewer muslims, they ought to have more power. If there are fewer christians, they ought to have more power etc etc. Strength is in numbers…

      • May 10, 2012 12:45 PM

        You are inverting the logic of the previous comment What is meant by power, I assume, is value:” women are not valued more even though the sex ration in states like Haryana is dangerously low at about 700 something women to 1000 men. Secondly, yes minorities ought to have power disproportionately to their numbers: or we wouldn’t have democracy/equity.

      • May 10, 2012 9:18 PM

        I think what butimbeautiful means is when women are less in number, their presence should be valued more with respect.

    • Meenakshi permalink
      May 10, 2012 3:36 PM

      There is nothing to be fascinated about, there are fewer women because they have absolutely no power.

  3. Ekta permalink
    May 9, 2012 3:41 PM

    Mr.Akshay Madan, I don’t think that the author is “criticizing everything”. I think its important to understand that we should not be blinded by euphoria. Women’s right to abortion and their right to partner is important to uphold. These are the issues which were clearly ignored by the programme.
    I think the author has raised crucial issues.

  4. Rukmini permalink
    May 9, 2012 3:56 PM

    You raise many valid points. But the conflation of abortion rights and male preference strikes me as dangerous. If a woman’s right to an abortion is in any way limited or impinged upon, I see the need for protest against it then. However with SSA, the illegality is in the act of determining the sex of the foetus.

    The legal debate over abortion rights has thankfully not hit our shores yet. Even if problematic so-called “pro-choice” rhetoric (a term that is distinctly western in its every impulse) was used by the makers of the show, it was solely in the context of male preference. Is this fear about restricted abortion rights not premature then and, moreover, entirely unrelated to, and frankly a distraction from, this mass-impact TV show?

    • Rukmini permalink
      May 9, 2012 4:27 PM

      * Sorry, that should be “pro-life” rhetoric.

  5. Sohail Hashmi permalink
    May 9, 2012 4:05 PM

    @ Shohini with reference to the Kurukshetra example you have said “They cannot be burdened with the task of having to marry men in their village in order to maintain the sex-ratio and thereby prevent violence against women”

    In fact women are prohibited from marrying in their own village, actually you are not supposed to marry in your own village,because of the upper caste Gotra Argument and as those fighting for the right to young people to chose who they want to marry would tell you most honour killings involve couples from the same village.

    The killings of female fetuses are happening all over and the most advanced districts in Haryana, Punjab and West UP, the leaders of the green revolution, the ones with among the highest rural incomes are leading with the worst gender ratios, just as the poshest colonies in Delhi have returned among the worst figures while the poorest areas in Delhi have a much better male/female ratio.

    This is a long haul battle, a majority of men and that means a majority of our legislature, executive and Judiciary believes in the necessity for a “Kuldeep” to carry forward the family name.(how many of these family names deserve to be perpetuated is another matter) but as long as this mindset remains and as long as a large number of women, due to the domination of male supremacist discourse, continue to subscribe to it it is very difficult to fix this through laws, the police men sympathies with the perpetrators, the judges let them off with light sentences. Neither education nor social status frees people of the desire for a son. what do you expect when eternal peace in the hereafter is dependent on the son performing the Kapal kriya?

  6. May 9, 2012 4:07 PM

    I sort of agree to your views but we also have to realise that everyone is not a intellectual or a feminist or can even scrutinize or give a critique like you did.
    what is more important that this problem stop in the first place, that’s what matter in the first place…. lets save female then talk about Feminism later.

  7. Jimsi Tassar permalink
    May 9, 2012 4:23 PM

    Well Mz Ghosh, as an advocate, I can tell you that if the intent to abort if comes from the patient and due to various circumstances like Rape or forced pregnancy etc is very different from those who abort with code languages like “Jai Mata di” or “Jai krishna” code language and use it specifically for SEX SELECTION abortion, like you mentioned. Also, to mention the “Singleton Army” in Haryana, well it is a fact and bride trafficking has been one of the incidental events of SSA and has led to further demeaning of the status of woman. You missed the point where, SJ Team clearly tries to put across the message that, ” Everything act in the society is connected” and therefore, indifference will lead to further more advancement of such criminality in our society.
    Well, Madame Ghosh, let me tell you a fact, your ranting of theories of Feminism & ideology is not understood or have not been read by the 80% of the real mass of India. And that’s where shows like SJ comes in to play to reach out to the mass. Well, don’t be such a cynic, be glad that atleast we can kick out SAAS BAHU series with nonsensical ideas, to replace it with shows which get us thinking. It is a revolution of its own kind. And regarding your points of argument of the right to abortion, well the court has enough dissidence to decide upon it, based on specificity of different cases.

  8. May 9, 2012 4:24 PM

    Please have a look at this article as well:

    डी के बोस उर्फ़ आमिर खान: भ्रूण हत्या सत्यमेव जयते की !!

    -Arvind K. Pandey

  9. kuhutanvir permalink
    May 9, 2012 4:49 PM

    Shohini thanks for breaking this down so rigorously, it really needed to be brought up, particularly the shaadi bazaar issue.
    While I hope that AK’s star power manages to bring some change to this situation, I think that the high emotional quotient of the show that is moving people to tears is its weakest link. not unlike taare zameen par, the usefulness of this show is being premised on how many people cried after watching the show. the problem however with weep-fests is that all they are good for is a good soul-cleansing cry.
    And I am more surprised at people who are pitching this as path-breaking television, because it really isn’t, not even in India. While its emotional make-up is borrowed from Oprah, its television legacy is from Aap ki Adalat and that Kiran Bedi show that may not have been as ambitious or bombastic, but was also aiming at helping people.
    I guess at the end I am echoing what you are saying; we just need to remove the Aamir=God equation before watching the show.

  10. Mohan Rao permalink
    May 9, 2012 5:11 PM

    There is another problematic argument: that sons are needed for the funerary rites among Hindus. This overlooks the fact that a large number of Hindus actually bury their dead, especially in South India. It is among these groups too that the sharpest sex ratio declines have taken place. Incidentally, Pakistan and Bangladesh and China – they don’t cremate their dead either. What we see happening here is a new marriage of patriarchy and newly invented traditions presided over by karvachaut capitalism.

  11. Happy Kitten permalink
    May 9, 2012 5:19 PM

    Let us first find means to let the girl child live and then talk about her right to abort! As you yourself wrote, it is not only the village dame who is being forced to abort the girl child but also those who are from the city.

    The testimonies show how sex-selection and son-preference is not a problem that plagues the rural backwaters as is commonly assumed but prevails within the educated middle class.

    Yes.. they are educated and call themselves feminists! They also have the means to fight back, yet they do not. One has to understand that the yearning for the boy child is not only from the Father but also from the mother. This mindset needs to be changed.

    What is the use of more rights if she cannot protect her own kind. It is sex selective abortion that one is fighting for. Let this battle be won first.

    • May 10, 2012 12:53 PM

      And how do you think this mindset can be changed? Surely, you are not naive enough to believe that a homily from Amir Khan would be enough to change our minds and start on the right path

  12. Namrata permalink
    May 9, 2012 5:39 PM

    I thought that the show distils many loosely cirulating arguments about foeticide, gendered violence and adverse sex ratios.
    For instance, early on, a PhD scholar remarked that people in adivasi areas do not go in for SSAs, reinforcing assumptions about ‘ greater equality in adivasi communities’. However the situation on the ground is far more complex.
    The same goes for the three points rattled off in quick succession by the Protection officer from Haryana regarding the shortfall in numbers of adult women and then- ‘shaadi ka bazar’ thesis, to which Shohini forcefully responds.

    Regarding the ‘choice’ argument though I go with Rukmini. Also I am uncomfortable with this ‘ why a woman will opt for SSA can range from her own son preference to a desire to survive safely in a hostile household’ , since women may also choose not to ‘survive’ at all in a hostile marital household.

  13. Alankar permalink
    May 9, 2012 6:11 PM

    The programme did raise a lot of discussion about how, how much, where and by whom female foeticide is practiced and the way it is growing exponentially. My concern remains that the show did not dwell appropriately on the question of WHY is it happening. Of course, there can be quite a few such causal connections but one which strikes my mind most is DOWRY. The word itself remained conspicuously absent in the whole show. Is it not important to also drive home the point that because women are used as a medium for transfer of wealth and property through marriage in our society that sex selective abortions are forced upon? Yes, dowry is a very old practice but in this age of consumerism the dynamics of dowry have also changed much, in fact we all have witnessed as to how consumerism has amplified dowry and marriage related rituals. More so dowry is certainly not a one time affair rather it acquires a permanence of a cyclical nature in married relations. In my opinion, this expansion of the process of wealth transfer through marriages has added significantly to the reasons for practicing sex selective abortions – mostly of forced nature. To me this aspect is very crucial when we discuss female foeticide as an issue and certainly the TV programme dispensed with it very conveniently. Or, may be I am stating the obvious and everyone watching and participating in the show knew it!

  14. Anuja Jain permalink
    May 9, 2012 6:34 PM

    Shohini, thanks for drawing our attention in such rigorously detailed way to some of the very important issues that are related to any discussion on forced SSA. While I do agree with you that one needs to be attentive to the larger implications of both the problem and suggested solution, I did find the episode useful in opening a discussion on forced abortions in itself. I liked the fact that the interlocutors of the conversation are not the ‘experts’ or the supposedly activist elite, but the ordinary people who have are both the victims and the witnesses. It usefully makes explicit that such abuse and torture is as much rampant in middle classes, as in lower classes. Also, as opposed to jingoistic rhetoric of we as ‘Indians’ coming together to fight against these problems – instead, there is an attempt at a different imagination of citizenship – rather than seeing citizenship as a status or a good – there is an attempt to invoke it as a tool of struggle against injuries inflicted on those ‘others,’ citizens and non citizens alike. I thought that while operating with in the realm of popular, it understandably use the melodramatic tropes and narrative strategies – but doesn’t get compromised by the melos as an end in itself – it doesn’t stop or end with just invoking the shock and sympathy – the oohs and aahs. It mobilizes this affect, the shock and emotional empathy to come together to take concrete action – both individually (question it when we see it happening around us), and collectively (through signing the letter that he would write). I did like the fact that the catharsis is suggested through concrete steps, rather than placebos of ‘Indianess’ – that it is asking us as citizens to utilize our position for one another. Though profit and advertising will be intrinsic elements of the show, in its politics I found it a refreshing break from other similar talk and reality shows.

  15. May 9, 2012 6:34 PM

    I agree with you about the show being trite. However I think that your fear that a woman’s right to choose will be lost in all this talk of waving a ‘jaadu ki chhadi’, is unfounded and jumping the gun. Its called sex selective abortion for a reason.

    “At the risk of detonating the libidinous ire of the `kunwara’ fauj, it may be said that the women in Kurukshetra – like women everywhere – should have the right to decide what they want to do with their life and body and this includes their right to reject both heterosexuality and matrimony if they so desire.”-Sadly this remains elusive. Given a global attitude towards the fact that life remains incomplete without marriage and children, the least we can do is protect a married woman’s right to choose, which includes not having a sex selective abortion. To choose to abort should not be based solely on the gender of the foetus which itself is based on years of societal pressure. And that is where Aamir Khan tries to come in.Banning sex selective abortions is one of the more sensible things the Government has done. So is introducing the MTP Act in 1971 at a time when abortion was(is) politicised elsewhere.

    The right to choose will probably never be a big issue in India, simply because we know that forced sex selective abortions are more the norm.

  16. GRC permalink
    May 9, 2012 6:39 PM

    I think this article is relevant but it jumps the gun. It reads too much into the ante of the program. its like 3 idiots which I did not like as a film, but I loved as a message to the masses; against the whole orchestrated education road everyone leads in india, killing self purpose and self introspection and hence self presence. That was a relevant message to all the parents and sons/daughters who have their road charted out the day they are born. Robbing themselves and their community of their individual prevalences.
    Similarly, I do not like the program SJ itself, but I love the fact that Aamir sees his position very clearly as a lighting rod to the masses, and not as an intellectual or a politician and renders a program which peels off from mass media escapism. Ofcourse the simplicity is required, but atleast we don’t have Barkha Dutt shreiking all over the place…

  17. May 9, 2012 8:00 PM

    I agree with Rukmini.

    As the article states (and does not really disprove), “the makers of SJ might argue that women’s right to abortion and forced SSA are not the same thing.” Pro-choice feminists don’t regard every case of abortion – including SSA – in the same way. The right to abortion is grounded in the personhood of the mother over that of the foetus, but SSA, by its very nature, is grounded in the personhood of the child. In a sense, therefore, it is philosophically much more similar to the ‘pro-life’ lobby.

    The article refers to scenarios where women may opt for unforced SSA: “the reasons why a woman will opt for SSA can range from her own son-preference to a desire to survive safely in a hostile household.” True. And that’s why nobody is suggesting that the woman herself be punished. Punishing doctors who practice SSA could prevent women from being forced into situations where they have to opt for it to survive in a hostile household. As for the first situation of own son-preference, again, having a right to abortion is not the same as having the right to sex-selective abortion. .

    Finally, the claim that all this will “barely make a dent on the larger problem” is like arguing that we shouldn’t worry about wars because more people die in road accidents. Punishing doctors is of course not the only solution. But it’s not a bad place to start.

  18. Rajeev Batra permalink
    May 9, 2012 10:02 PM

    I agree with you, that the problem is much deeper than what is exhibited. It may just be a ‘dent’ but I don’t see any other current initiative with the potential of a bigger impact.

    In order to engage the masses the problem needs to be simplified and extreme examples presented to create shock value. A majority of Indians pay great weight to the words of a movie star and this will definitely impact the audience.

    Yes, it would be better if we could start from ground up, working on “gender equality” instead of prohibiting SSA. In my view, to an extent, gender preference is justified but KILLING ANYONE is not excusable and needs to be rooted out immediately!

  19. May 9, 2012 11:32 PM

    the episode rightly did not venture into areas like pro-life/pro-choice, and abortions with consent of the mother. it focused only on cases where the issue is clearly illegal and unethical, forced SSA. the author is reading more than what was presented. I didnt see a single hint of pro-life argument. its a television serial intended for the masses, some hyperbole like ‘bharatmata ..’ and ‘jadu ki chadi’ can be excused. nor does it make any sense to argue that smaller issues shouldnt be debated unless they tackle the larger ones. by that logic, we shd ensure complete implementation of all kinds of human rights across india before even doing a polio abhiyan with SRK and big b. inspite of its “commercial format”, it rightly pointed out that an important way out is efficient judiciary, not just ‘soch badalni hai’.
    anyway, the article may not reach 1-millionth of what the show would. these articles are anyway read mostly by ppl who are already aware, while the show wd reach ppl who arent. and most of them truly dont hv dimaag, to uske dil pe lagey aur soch badle, to wohi bahut hai. poora dimaag to usey pata nahi kab milega.

    • May 10, 2012 10:13 AM

      mujhe to yeh slogan amir khan ka bahut achcha laga. dil se dekho. bahaiya/bahno. dimaag se to abhi tak aap sab dekhte aa rahe ho aur dekho kya ho raha hai. is liye dil se dekho ek bahut zaroori baat kahi hai amir ne. dimaag ke siwa to koi kaam hota hi nahin hai. lekin dil se nahin dekhoge to aisa hi hota rahega jaise abhi bhi ho raha hai.

  20. anarkanu permalink
    May 9, 2012 11:52 PM

    Woah! where did that come from !! Trust Kafila to bring out a ‘perspective’ for the sake of it..Where did the issue of ‘choice’ come in here? Somehow the writer and kafila junkies sees stuff which no one can!! I mean trying to make this particular issue from right vs wrong, the idea is turned on its head to become pro-life vs pro-choice. This is exactly the kind of argument that puts me off radicals lefties n feminist or any of their ilk. No wonder they are so out of touch with common masses. I mean what’s with the “critical viewers” statement at the end. I actually think criticism of the show in terms of production values is still justified but hey some smart ass “too smart for my shoes…” had to find an anti-abortion angle to show the ‘critical mind’ set I guess its just not Aamir only who has the right to get all sanctimonious but also self righteous!!

    Dont get me wrong here, I appreciate what Ms Ghosh is saying here but can someone elucidate as to why is it needed to link the same to the specific issue of SSA as shown in this ‘Mass Media’ show on television ? The show is meant to highlight an issue that all(hopefully!)..will not have any issues taking sides on.

    Having said that I do agree that crystal ball gazing on the scenarios was maybe a bit too simplistic but really was it such a digression?Its a television show for the masses. I think it was one of many possible scenarios which could happen(like others) and the one which the makers felt would be most impact-full (even at the cost of some feminists taking offence). Besides it takes much more of an effort to make any of the complex issues facing this nation ‘relevant’ aka ‘simplistic’ for ‘everyone’ and not just for the so called “evolved and critical minds”.

    Aamir obviously needed to play safe with his tv debut and being simplistic n non-controversial was the best way (…for a start). Why is it that touchy radicals want to infer much beyond the same.Or maybe you expect Aamir to bring out radical revolutions thru his show? As some one above said it succinctly “Let the girls live first before fighting for her rights and choices…” taking it one step at a time.

  21. svivita permalink
    May 10, 2012 12:12 AM

    2 points :
    1.The episode missed getting the perpretrators of SSA on the show, to get the other side of the story. It only showed the victims and failed to explain or try to understand the causes. Only once we get to know the real cause can we come up with any meaningful solution.’s a sad democracy if people are not given the right to know the sex of their child because they may want to abort it. I’m sure lots of people would prefer to be ready for whatever the sex than not knowing at all. of course this freedom could be exploited, but if we fear SSA, then we need to confront the root of the problem first. and not start curbing democratic rights.

  22. Mrinalika permalink
    May 10, 2012 12:41 AM

    I don’t get what this article is trying to say because at no point in the show was it implied that woman should not have a right to abort their child or choose their husband. And a debate on pro-life or pro=choice can be a show in itself, why it should be included in an episode on female foeticide is beyond me

    • May 10, 2012 12:51 PM

      Well said Mrinalika. At no point in the show is it ever claimed that women have no right to abort–that point was never brought in. The whole program talked about the horrific trend of female foeticide–something that is very much the truth. At one point , the India map showing red shading in majority of Indian states–it was a scary truth.

      Another point to be noted is that this how is NOT aimed at the intellectual /feminist/ aware viewer, but rather at the general public. It is for this reason that the show is being teleacst on Doordarshan (in Hindi), plus some regional channels in a dubbed format.

      And yesterday when I was listening to Vividh Bharati (the best source for old and good Hindi film songs), I came to understand through ads that Satyameva Jayate would be audibroadcast twice a week on Vividh Bharati. Which means that the show is meant to reach the common Indian in villages and moffusil towns too, to families who may not even even own a tv set.

      The first episode was in fact telecast for groups, in community halls of certain villages.

  23. May 10, 2012 7:20 AM

    The “Pro-life” Lobby (as right-wing, anti-abortionists call themselves) does just the reverse.

    Wait a minute: when did the “right-wing” parties in India started this “pro-life” business? As far as I can remember, the legality of abortion has never been a issue of contention in India, and this “pro life” vs “pro choice” thing is just an American and European phenomenon, with roots in Abrahamanic religions. So is there any evidence that teh “right-wing” in India is “anti-choice”, or are you just painting over an Indian scenario with American colours?

  24. voyeur permalink
    May 10, 2012 7:20 AM

    Nowhere does SJ suggest that the women should be deprived of rights to abortion. However if this choice is being made, it should be made independent of the sex of the foetus. Where you say, maybe the woman does it because of her own son preference, or her desire to survive in a hostile household, how is it different from those who justify the actions of the “kunwara fauj”? Are the son preference prejudices of the woman permissible? If the woman is facing a hostile environment at home, should the response be to provide a safe environment through the DV act etc. or should it be to say, get an abortion, give birth to a male child next time and we’ll all be happy?

    It’s a TV show. I don’t think we ought to hold it to the same standards as a academic position. There are always going to be over the top generalizations and simplifications. That said, I’m eagerly waiting for the corruption episode and the response of the thinking classes to it.

  25. Pavan Nair permalink
    May 10, 2012 9:24 AM

    I have never understood why being pro-life implies right wing leanings. Being pro-life does not mean that one is against safe abortion where required. Be that as it may, there is an incorrect perception that abortion is legal and is to be made available on demand. Nothing could be further from the truth. Section 3 of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act 1971 clearly states that it is the medical practitioner who has to take a decision in good faith or two medical practitioners in case the pregnancy exceeds 12 weeks. The pregnancy can be terminated only if the life of the pregnant woman is in danger or if the continuation of the pregnancy is likely to cause grave injury to her physical or mental health. The pregnancy can also be terminated if the child is likely to be born with congenital defects. There is also a separate clause which states that the circumstances of the pregnant woman should be taken into account when arriving at a decision. Thereafter the woman has to give her consent by signing on the prescribed form. What has caused the confusion is an Explanation to the relevant sub section which states that in case of married couples, the stress of a pregnancy due to failure of contraception ‘may’ be considered to cause to grave mental injury. This Explanation has opened the doors for unethical medical practitioners to abort even first healthy pregnancies of married women in collusion with the couple looking for a SSA. In public perception, abortion is legal. In fact, the form prescribed in the Rules by the central government (for Union Territories) and several states includes ‘failure of contraception’ as a reason for terminating a pregnancy. This against the letter and spirit of the Act and bad in law. It is surprising that this has not been pointed out by activists who are working in this field. Legislation banning sex determination has failed miserably and has only driven up the cost. The law is being interpreted somewhat like this. You cannot determine the sex of the child but you can kill it anyway. There is a need to amend the Act. This needs discussion and debate. Any woman seeking abortion can also ask the practitioner to use the drug Mifepristone in the first seven weeks of pregnancy. The use of the drug has been accepted by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. If indeed we have to give women the right to abort then we need to amend the law substantially.

  26. drafka permalink
    May 10, 2012 10:00 AM

    i didn’t really watch the show but the facebook comments gave me a pretty good idea.
    its good that these social issues are being brought up for discussion, but thinking that a simple solution as a letter to the CM would work is just absurd, as pointed out in the blog banning SSA/ abortion (a view that is shared by many) is not the solution, this is a behavioral problem in society and to change social perception/ behavior there needs to be major changes in government policy.
    simply disincentivizing SSA/abortion creates a black market which is a thriving trend in india, rather an incentivising policy for a girl child will be a better option.
    although the solution i provide is vague, it is on this line of thinking that a real solution for this problem can be found.
    personally i am against shows/ celebrities/ corporations who pick on social issues to build a marketing platform and i truly hate aamir khan for trying to rip a version of oprah, may be if he follows oprahs footsteps in the real work that she’s done i might change my opinion.

    • Rajeev Batra permalink
      May 10, 2012 10:16 AM

      The motive is not to solve the problem, and he highlights that. These social evils have existed for decades and are deeply ingrained in people’s minds, do you really think a one hour episode can change it all?

      It’s an attempt to change mindsets, and get people talking (like you and me here). AK’s solutions are his own attempt, but if you notice, even a criticism of his effort has brought about so many better ideas and ways in which such issues can start to be resolved.

      He can’t solve the problem but the awareness he is raising, will really push people to address the issue in their own ways. I wish him luck.

  27. Maya permalink
    May 10, 2012 10:14 AM

    Shohini, your article is much appreciated but your use of pro-choice vs pro-life strikes me as strange, given that these are the terms of debate in the US most specifically and have never been in force in India. Rather the debate over abortion needs to acknowledge the opposition an earlier comment by Jimsi Tassar sets up, of sex selective abortion versus other kinds of abortion, and here is where I think one can make the case for the personhood of the woman and her control over reproductive choices.

    Regarding the programme itself, yes it did use every typical device that made viewers revel in a cathartic experience, to the extent where friends upbraided me, you didn’t watch the show and call yourself a feminist! But I can’t help but think in a very despondent way that if it weren’t for this masala maarke version, the energy and urgency of these conversations would be nowhere on the horizon. Like you I am not very optimistic about the future of the show but am gearing up for the next round of discussion the next episode will prompt. It provides an opportunity, and that’s the best we can expect.

  28. Tania Suri permalink
    May 10, 2012 11:31 AM

    I first thought on the show were the same as regards to the tagline u use… we indians think emotionally and therefore the hysterical support to SJ without thinking of details… we need to be more practical and logical

  29. May 10, 2012 12:27 PM

    You raise several very valid points (most importantly the need to maintain our critical faculties in the face of a media phenomenon like Satyamev Jayate), but i do think that the show’s perspective isn’t really one that is in favor of commandeering women’s bodies in the service of bearing children (one might call this the right-wing pro-life approach in the US) — rather, the point of the show is to critique the devaluation of women inherent to female foeticide. I don’t think it’s a fair reading of the show’s narrative to characterize it as complicit in such a conception of women and womanhood — to me, the show seemed to be saying that whatever the reasons for female foeticide, they all have one thing in common, namely an assignment of lower value/worth to women as opposed to men (i agree the show made the complex question an easy one by only showing women who had been forced into these situations; but however complicated the question and nuanced the decision-making of particular women who are NOT forced into these situations in the literal sense, surely the wider point — that we are talking about a patriarchal order where women are second-class, even if women can easily be the agents of that order — still stands).

    What I would certainly have liked the show to have done more of was to show how alternative ways of thinking about female children are commonplace even in the very Bharat Mata Aamir references. Thus, one doctor pointed out that her adivasi patients and their families in Alwar never seemed to be disappointed with the birth of a female child; Aamir made this a Doordarshan banality by saying “kitnja kuch seekna hai hum ko apne adivasi behen bhaiyon se,” which just sounds patronizing. i would have appreciated at least a few minutes about how the worldview of the relevant communities is different from that of “the mainstream” — that would also have helped rescue the narrative arc from the broader discourse of modernity (i.e. we do this because we aren’t enlightened enough; rather than, we do this because we are misogynistic and authoritarian in many ways).

    One thing I really liked about the show was the story of Mita Khurana, specifically, the juxtaposition of that story with the informal survey wherein all the respondents seemed to feel that some imagined mass of “un-educated” “villagers” were responsible for these sorts of things — the show did well to puncture some middle-class complacency balloons there. indeed, even more so than by means of the Khurana story, the brief interview with the young mother from Ahmedabad towards the end.

    • June 24, 2012 11:02 PM

      Nice reply, qalandar. love your opening lines. you don’t beat around the bush.

  30. Amreek permalink
    May 10, 2012 12:46 PM

    Can anyone please tell me the village name of Kurukshetra :: I wannt visit there cover more story on same issue

  31. Shohini Ghosh permalink
    May 10, 2012 1:19 PM

    Starpower can produce a deadly cocktail of adoration and amnesia. People seem to have forgotten that almost all newspapers, magazines and TV news channels have discussed the issue of Sex-Selective Abortions and declining sex-ratio before the arrival of Satyamev Jayate. The TV show has not “opened” the debate on SSA’s but replayed it. Several commentators have responded to my article by suggesting that I have “jumped the gun” in imagining that the show might have anti-abortion implications with (what I maybe imagining to be) a `pro-life’ rhetoric. I am not suggesting that SJ is initiating a discourse that is harmful for women’s reproductive rights, I am suggesting that it has fallen into an already existing discourse that is deeply problematic.
    In August 2011, Pankaja Munde Palve (BJP) and Jitendra Awhad (NCP) suggested in the Maharashtra State Assembly that that female foeticide be treated as murder and culprits booked under S.302 of the IPC. Reproductive Health Activists led by the Forum against Sex-Selection (FASS) consisting of a network of 22 organizations wrote to the Speaker and Governor) in protest and made a number of useful suggestions. They wrote: “Abortion should not be referred to as `Foeticide’ which has anti-abortion implications that we reject for we believe that all women have the right to decide when and whether to bear children. Making SSA’s (wrongly referred to as female foeticide’) a murder charge will only increase illegal abortions and also make access to safe abortion difficult for women who already do not have many choices regarding their own reproductive rights.”
    The letter argued that unless “we are able to deal with all those social and economic factors that are going into the culture of son-preference and daughter-aversion, the child sex-ratio will go on plummeting” and explained (as many others who shared this point-of-view did) that abortion was legal in India but pre-natal sex-selection was not and therefore in order to prevent sex-selection the government had to strictly implement that the Pre-Natal Diagnostic (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act. The Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act should be used to expand women’s access to safe abortion and PCPNDT Act to stop sex-selection and prevent discrimination against women.
    Over 50% of rural women still do not have access to safe abortion facilities. Very often skilled doctors and technicians will refuse to extend their services to patients for fear of being accused of performing SSA’s. When a woman comes asking for second trimester abortions – which can happen for a number of reasons- she is frequently accused of asking for SSA. Due to the misguided campaigns against SSA’s, the legal right of abortion has been curbed by a number of invisible restrictions. Ironically, those who passionately espouse the cause of the female-foetus show little concern for reproductive health of the adult female.
    Episode 1 of SJ has simply ignored this important debate and riding on the imagined consensus of the “jaadu ki chhadi”, Aamir Khan has already met Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot on May 9 asking for an expeditious trial against the doctors exposed in the Sahara Samay Sting Operation. Reeling under the twin intoxication of adoration and amnesia, Gehlot says: “The sting operation happened seven to eight years ago but it was Aamir who brought their good work before the country.” The irony is self-evident.
    A show like SJ has the potential to start important public debates but it will be counter-productive if on the basis of an imagined consensus, Aamir’ Khan’s stardom becomes an instrument to facilitate quick-fix remedial measures.
    Five new episodes down the line, it would be interesting to see how much passion lingers around the issue of SSA and declining sex-ratios because every Sunday will come with a new offering. The song that Aamir sings in one of the promos: “Sunday ki Sunday aana meri jaan…” sums it up.

  32. Rohit Kumar permalink
    May 10, 2012 1:36 PM

    There are several problems with this critique and frankly, many of her arguments are baseless and unfounded.

    1) The article seems to suggest that there is a weak causal relationship between skewed sex ratios and violence against women. This has not been backed up by data. In fact, a lot of research points to the contrary. As for her comments on the ‘shaadi ka bazaar’, let me just say that this is not a hypothetical scenario; this is something that is already happening:

    2) She comments: ‘Thanks to SJ, on those rare occasions that they are brought to the courtroom, sex-offenders could now take refuge in the “singlehood-made-me-do-it” argument and ask for their sentences to be mitigated.’

    This is totally unfounded! In fact, it shows a complete lack of understanding of how the law works. How should one interpret this comment if not as an attempt to sensationalize?

    3) A large part of the article is devoted to the issue of women’s ‘right to choose’ (read abortion). From what I recall, nowhere did the program try to suggest a curtailment of this right. As a matter of fact, the Pre conception and Pre Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex selection) Act, 1994 allows for abortion in certain cases; it only prohibits sex determination. These are two separate issues and should not be mixed.

    The author then goes on to talk about women’s ‘right to sex determination’. She raises the issue, but conveniently avoids suggesting a solution. From a policy point of view, what should the government do? Which right should it prioritize? Should the government allow sex determination when statistics clearly point towards its widespread misuse?

    I am not saying that the second right is not important. But, what is the solution? The author hasn’t bothered suggesting any. Some might say that we should ‘educate’ people and change mindsets. In all likelihood, this is going to be a long process. What do you do in the meantime?

    • Shohini Ghosh permalink
      May 11, 2012 10:24 AM

      I would like you to point out where I have used the phrase women’s “right to sex determination.” Misreading such as this shows how fraught the idea of women’s bodily integrity still is and how difficult it is to have a nuanced debate.

      The comment about “singlehood-made-me-do it” was meant to be a joke. However, it is also true that the argument “porn-made-me-do-it” has been a common excuse for mitigating a number sexual assault cases both in the west and in India. In fact there are judgments by highly respected judges mitigating sentences of sexual offence on ground that the person had been under the influence of “blue films.” in certain instances like the famous Auto-Shankar case there was an attempt to hold makers of such films responsible. Women who are sexually harassed are constantly told they “attract” harassment because of the clothes they wear. So it’s not such a leap of imagination.

      About how the law works – I can only say in very mysterious ways! :)

  33. rajiv bawa permalink
    May 10, 2012 3:58 PM

    the abortion scenario was changed by the great margret sanger’s programmes in the third world long long ago. most interestingly the inj Tetnas toxoid was started to be given to expectant mothers in the first trimester….later the practice became standard in medical education…

    ONLY EDUCATION and that too unbiased…can change things

  34. May 10, 2012 5:27 PM

    Reblogged this on Anshika Varma and commented:
    Another viewpoint on the much controversial Satyamev Jayate and Amir Khan

  35. May 10, 2012 10:57 PM

    Dear Ms. Ghosh, you said,

    “When a woman comes asking for second trimester abortions – which can happen for a number of reasons- she is frequently accused of asking for SSA. Due to the misguided campaigns against SSA’s, the legal right of abortion has been curbed by a number of invisible restrictions.”

    Can you please point me to some references and rigorous work on this issue ? Also, how would you propose to change the discourse regarding SSA to ensure that the legal right of abortion is not curbed ? My understanding is that the campaign against SSA has said almost nothing about the legal right to abortion.

  36. May 11, 2012 12:51 PM

    The issues that SJ has highlighted are well-appreciated, however a bigger concern seems to be the other issues that lead to SSA. What needs to be addressed to tackle SSA is illiteracy, women empowerment and its widespread social awareness (and subsequently gender equality), among a hoard of other solutions.

    I agree to the argument that The reasons why a woman will opt for SSA can range from her
    i) own son-preference
    ii) to a desire to survive safely in a hostile household.

    For point i, we probably need to propagate the fact that more than the son, it is a daughter who carries the lineage. I say this because of (correct me if I am wrong) my following understanding:
    1) A son does not carry any extra family genes than a daughter.
    2) Atleast in the neo-nuclear family setup, daughter-in-laws generally (or preferentially) follow their maiden school of day-to-day household management (for the simple reason that they may not have time and patience to take up and adapt to the new style); or create their own new style as per their convenience.

    Point ii, in my opinion will be taken care of if we empower the women so that they have the social and financial security to stand up against a hostile household.

    I would have really appreciated the show more if instead of simply superficially skimming the issue of female feoticide, they would have gone deeper to the roots and thought of nipping them in the bud.

  37. Ajai Kuruvila permalink
    May 11, 2012 1:21 PM

    The article itself is from a stand point of realization that an unqualified opposition to female foeticide seriously undermines the pro-choice argument that a woman has an unconditional right to her body since opponents of female foeticide can protest her killing female foetuses. In the very act of trying to mediate a Sex Selective Abortion (and not ‘Female Foeticide’… As Shohini conveniently thinks that giving it a different name abdicates her from all needed ‘guilt’) Shohini (and for this matter the ‘Pro-choicers’) confers personhood to the foetus … And here one is able to see the inconsistency with which these arguments are put forth in an air of nonchalance. That demeanor itself does not do any justice to the argument itself – something that surely weakens the pro-choice position. To put it differently, Shohini sees the inconsistency of being against female foeticide and supporting abortion at the same time… And distancing herself by putting two labels conveniently avoids the risk of being inconsistent herself.

    So in an interesting way, Shohini is highlighting the dangers of an unqualified anti-female-foeticide position since, applied consistently, it should logically end up with an anti-abortion position!!!

    Biologically, can women be more implicated than men in child birth and child rearing? This is possible only in an irresponsible climate of patriarchy or a non moral climate of ‘to hell with morality’. Is the moral just an excuse for lack of reason or is it actually reasonable to be moral??? It is in the context of the latter that Shohini and the civil society even finds its space to exist – to challenge the immorality of capitalism and its other bed fellows..

    Would you rather – if more men were prepared to stand by women in responsibly understanding sexual intimacy, and society be built around the cornerstones of forgiveness and grace, women wouldn’t need to adopt a pro-abortion position – because the pro abortion position may be distraught with inconsistencies and its proponents may find it difficult if not impossible to defend their position consistently across the board. Lets deal with the inconsistency of the Pro choice position and then it will consequently enable us to understand the context of deep seated gender inequity that I feel may only be negotiated from a Pro life position – how can a world view that does not value life and dignity in one context, value it in another? It will be an extremely difficult proposition that can only be held in precarious tension with a proclivity towards the immoral.

  38. May 11, 2012 3:28 PM

    Ms. Ghosh’s reckoning that of the several reasons ‘why a woman will opt for SSA can [be] …a desire to survive safely in a hostile household’ is a seriously problematic formulation, especially within the feminist discursive space the author aims to open. It inadvertently extends agency and thus a matter of choice to the women who find themselves in hostile environments. What does “desire” mean in this statement, and in this context? And why is this “desire” subtracted from the violence – physical, emotional and intellectual – pelted on women, especially in this context? So in Ms. Ghosh’s reckoning if a woman “desires” this violence, then perhaps it is not violence. And thus a woman fearing for her life decides to approach a doctor, facilitate the sex-determination and its abortion, per chance it is identified as “female”, without involving her in-laws who otherwise would have perhaps forced her into, is the authorthen, implying that this is somehow OK. The mothers, fathers, and their sons who have been “forcing” SSA have been precisely working towards instituting this “desire” in women.

    Secondly, emotionality – its performance and its populism – seems to be a serious concern for the author. Considering the leanings of the analysis is somewhat feminist in orientation, perhaps I can push it in another direction. Isn’t the blatant denial and acknowledgement of the political economy of emotions, a “characteristically” patriarchal and oppressive tendency such that to not allow the “intuitive”, experienced realities of women into consolidated bodies of knowledge? In affirming that this show, driven on star-power and emotionality, will not have the desired impact (and perhaps it will not) is the author unwittingly not according this performance a “femininity” which ought not to be taken seriously?

    Perhaps besides, or even within the matrices of the show, the important question to be raised is whether ’emotions’ can be engaged with as a viable and valid political and philosophical lens of inquiry. Or ought we to maintain the Cartesian, masculine, neat distinction between emotional/native: intellectual/colonisers?

  39. May 11, 2012 9:55 PM

    On your point about skewed sex ratios and violence against women, there’s an interesting paper by Lena Edlund et al on China where the authors find that increases in male-female sex ratio led to significant increases in violent and property crime. But they also conclude that their results are not driven by sex-related crimes like rape and abduction of women and children.

    The paper is available here:

  40. pallavi. permalink
    May 12, 2012 12:13 AM

    The analysis is spot on. But then the show is strategically targeted at the dil not the dimag because change or a hope for the possibility of a change here is based on an affective appeal. i like Aamir khan but i am not surprised that he or his team is not educated enough if at all in any sort of critical feminist discourse to be able to engage a non-gendered and non-heterosexist storyboard for the show. which is why perhaps reading this article as you hope may be useful for him or his team.

  41. jyotika permalink
    May 12, 2012 1:25 AM

    ma’am I really miss your lectures…..
    again the pulp is here.

  42. Salma Rehman permalink
    May 13, 2012 1:58 PM

    I totally agree with Shohini ma’am in the sense that being a part of the society we must understand the intricacies underlying crucial issues. We are educated and have the brains. In the era where media literacy is highly important to understand and follow..we must not act like ‘sponge audiences’ and absorb whatever is being delivered blindly. I think there are several other problems and issues associated with the matter. Arriving on a conclusion and haphazard intervention wont lead us anywhere.

  43. May 14, 2012 6:19 PM

    Reblogged this on newseditor.

  44. samreen permalink
    June 22, 2012 8:55 PM

    one rare piece on kafila i totally disliked and disagree to….being cautious should not turn us into a bunch of cynical critics …


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