Monday, July 16, 2007

Why Pooja got "mad"

The Hindu, Sunday Magazine, July 15, 2007


The Pooja Chauhan story has now become familiar to most people in India with access to the media — print or electronic. Virtually all newspapers flashed the photograph of this 22-year-old woman, walking in her underwear, in “conservative& #8221; Rajkot city in Gujarat. She carried a baseball bat in one hand and bangles in the other. Her destination was the office of the Commissioner of Police. She walked for one hour. On the way, people gawked at her. Some laughed. The photographs showed men riding by on scooters, craning their necks to get a better look, laughing at her. No one, it seemed, stopped her, or tried to find out why she was doing what she was doing.

For the media, this was a great story. When they finally did speak to her, Pooja told them that she had decided to resort to this form of protest because she was fed up with the police not taking her complaints about harassment and violence seriously. She said she was being nagged by her husband’s family to bring more dowry and that they made her life even more difficult because she gave birth to a girl child. She accused her parents-in-law of getting a neighbour to beat her up. A week before this incident, Pooja had allegedly tried to immolate herself in front of the police commissioner’s office.

Media cacophony

What a story! All the elements of a Hindi movie. Yet, although the first stories did report the reasons that provoked Pooja to act in this manner, later reports took a different turn. Pooja’s parents were accosted by the local media and asked whether their daughter was sane. “Is she mad?” they apparently asked. Others reported that the story was complicated, that her husband’s family had also registered complaints against Pooja. It was also reported that the girl did not live with her husband anymore and was on her own, with her infant daughter.

Behind this entire media cacophony is a real story and a real person. The story is a familiar one. Of women, thousands of them even if you go by official statistics, who are harassed over dowry or over the gender of the child they birth, particularly if she turns out to be a girl. Pooja survived such harassment. Thousands of women each year do not. At a time when India boasts of becoming an international economic giant, its women are being pushed to the brink for dowry, the giving and taking of which was banned in 1961 and is against the law. They also continue to be blamed for producing female children, something over which they can have no control. Yes, this is the same country where we celebrate a woman of Indian descent having been on a space mission — even if she is an American.

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1 comment:

mysterious_girl20 said...

I am really inspired by your articles and the issues that you touch upon. Being a journalism student of jai hind college i attended your talk in our college few days ago. I just want to convey that it was a delightful session.
bhupali gursale.