The Moral Policing Of Actress Samyuktha Hegde Isn’t About Protecting ‘Indian Culture’. It’s That Women Who Do Their Own Thing Make Us Uncomfortable
This one particular trope of ‘Things a man can do but a woman cannot’ has been used often in Bollywood movies, but the one that stands out in my memory is a scene from Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam. The women and the men of Nandini’s (Aishwarya Rai) household are arguing over gender equality. And it seems like the women are winning until Sameer (Salman Khan) arrives like the hawa ka jhonka that he is, takes off his t-shirt in true bhaijaan style, and challenges the ladies to do it too. The womenfolk run embarrassed and the men celebrate their machismo. Believe it or not, men parading their bare-naked upper bodies, no matter how hairy, or unpleasant to look at they might be, is so normal. But a woman’s bra strap peeks out and it is suddenly a matter of national debate. So naturally, when actress Samyuktha Hegde decided to workout in a Bengaluru public park in just her sports bra, pandemonium reigned. Or as I like to call it, Hum Moral Policing Kar Chuke Sanam.
On September 4, 22-year-old Hegde, who is an actress in the South-Indian movies, decided to go to a public park in Bengaluru with the intention of exercising with her friends. But before she got her hoola-hoop on, she took off the hoodie she was wearing, and began working out in a sports bra. This ‘obscene’ act massively offended local Congress leader Kavitha Reddy, who spotted this and began harassing the group of women. Samyukhta Hegde live-streamed the whole incident on her IGTV.
If you watch the 16.5-minute video, you’ll see how Samyuktha Hegde is constantly pointing out how she and her friends were simply working out, but were being harassed by the politician and the crowd that had gathered, even at one point locked in the park and not allowed to leave. Some abuses were also allegedly hurled in Kannada and things got physical. In addition, because now the whole movie industry is being seen as a collective drug-consuming party animal, even Hegde and her friends were accused of some debauchery, like ‘stripping’ and ‘consuming drugs’ by this crowd. Of course, the central argument, as is always the case, was about ‘protecting Indian culture’ because isn’t that tied to a woman’s clothing?
Also Read: Comments On The ‘Dolly Kitty’ Trailer Prove Women Exploring Their Sexuality Makes People Uncomfortable. Suck It Up!
Thanks to the outrage on social media, Samyuktha Hegde received tremendous support, and the politician, Kavitha Reddy even issued an apology video for the whole incident.
I have always opposed Moral Policing. I realize that my actions were construed as such. An argument ended up in me reacting aggressively as well, it was a mistake. As a responsible citizen n progressive woman, I own up to n sincerely apologise to @SamyukthaHegde n her Friends! pic.twitter.com/pM9UJkWESC
— Kavitha Reddy (KR) Jai Bhim! (@KavithaReddy16) September 6, 2020
In response, Hegde posted the apology letter on her Instagram and seems to have accepted it.
As is the case with every incident these days, there are those who support Reddy and those who support Hegde. Once the apology came in, some people were satisfied and requested both women to move on from the incident, while others pointed out that Reddy’s apology was more of a PR-induced damage control as opposed to a true apology. And going by Samyuktha Hegde’s recent Instagram post, she seems to feel that wrongdoers are hiding behind an apology? We’re a little confused, TBH.
But one thing that I’m not confused about at all is that moral policing merely wears a guise of protecting Indian culture. What these easily offended moral police are actually protecting are their own perverse mindsets. A woman felt comfortable working out in a sports bra in a public park. But if it made you uncomfortable, maybe it’s because your own thoughts ran in a direction you’d wish they wouldn’t?
Now let me tell you, sports bras are perhaps the least revealing of them all, because they’re actually meant to hold it all in for proper support, so that it makes physical exercising comfortable for women. Think of it like a sleeveless/backless blouse, you know, the garment we wear underneath sarees, which exposes enough of women’s midriff? And of course, it is any day better than when men wear only their underwear to go pray at temples or swim at public beaches, their hairy chests and man-boobs on full display. Even the typical lungi or dhoti is oft times so loosely tied or transparent that with just the right angle of light falling on it, everything would be painfully obvious and explains why a man would perhaps talk about how size does not matter ad nauseam.
And yet, we’ve never shamed any man for his questionable clothing choices. Why? Because their bodies on display in such a way don’t arouse women sexually? But we continue to call out women, telling some of them that they even deserve to be raped because they’re wearing revealing clothes that might lure men into becoming beasts enslaved to their lust. When male relatives are home, women must scamper and quickly put on a dupatta over their nightgowns or change out of those shorts because God forbid, our legs make it hard (pun unintended) for the men to focus on anything but sex. We garb these practices under the cloaks of ‘respecting elders’ or ‘respecting Indian culture’, but really, let’s tell it like it is, shall we?
I blame poor, no wait, scratch that, the utter lack of sex education in India. Education that if properly imparted to men and women from a young age, would enable them to look at every ‘body’ as human, as opposed to a piece of meat that arouses sexual thoughts. Women’s bodies do not get that respect unless clothed literally, or metaphorically with reminders like ‘ghar mein maa-behen nahi hai kya?’ Because they’ve always been a subject of taboo and fantasy, a mystery that must be unravelled, for men. Most men will lech for hours at a woman’s breast, but when it comes to uttering a word in their presence, will fail miserably. It is easy for them to objectify women because there is no other value attached to them other than sex, is there? Sex in itself is shrouded in such fantastical notions that even the Victorian act of a woman taking off a glove or a stocking can arouse a man!
The Indian culture, with its temples carved with bare-breasted women and the Kama Sutra in its past, is merely for superficial pride and now replaced with a regressive notion of our ‘sanskriti’ which choses to depend entirely on a woman’s clothes and of course, her hymen.
Isn’t it sad that a sports bra offers women more support than her fellow human beings?