Whatever the merits of the Preity Zinta-Ness Wadia case, it is the commentary around it that is truly troubling
First up, the disclosures. I do not know either Preity Zinta or Ness Wadia. I was not present at Wankhede Stadium on 30 May. I don't know what happened during the altercation between the two co-owners of the Kings XI Punjab franchise of the IPL. So, I can't find for either the defendant or the plaintiff (which is, in any case, a matter for the courts). But what I do find extremely troubling is the commentary that has swirled around this case ever since Zinta filed a complaint at the Marine Drive police station.
So, here in no particular order of importance, are just some of the reactions that have left me gobsmacked.
* Women who are rich and famous cannot be abused/harassed. And certainly, it would be impossible to humiliate a successful actress like Zinta in public.
Really? If you believe that, I have just two words for you: Zeenat Aman. She was abused and slapped in public by the irate wife of one of her lovers at a society party. Did anyone come to her aid? No, they looked the other way obligingly, pretending that this was not happening. And we all know this happens all across 'high society' not just in the glamorous world of the movies.
* At a time when young girls are being gang-raped and killed in villages, women of privilege should not file 'frivolous' suits like this one.
This is a bit like saying that I should not complain to the police about a burglary in my house because there are so many murder investigations that they are dealing with. The truth is that it is incredibly silly to draw some sort of equivalence between crimes, or try and grade them in a sliding scale of 'seriousness'. A crime is a crime is a crime. Each one needs to be dealt with appropriately and with the full force of the law. And maybe if all of us had the courage, the patience, and the energy to report the 'minor' abuse we put up with in our day-to-day lives, there would be less 'major' stuff to deal with.
What's even more offensive about this 'whataboutery' is that it turns crimes against women into an either-or category. There is no contradiction between standing up for rape victims in India's villages and standing up for the right of an actress to seek legal redressal for harassment. One does not negate the other, it just reinforces the policy of 'zero tolerance'. And I suspect that if this zero tolerance policy was applied in our villages as well, the incidence of rape would only decrease.
* What is the big deal if an ex-boyfriend calls you a 'f***ing b***h' or a 'w***e' in public? Get over yourself and sort it out with him behind closed doors. Or just give an interview to the media and get it out of your system. Why go to the police?
Because we all know what a breeze intimate partner violence – whether verbal, emotional or physical – is, right? Not like 'real' violence at all. And if you must air dirty linen in public, why not get some media attention why you are at it? After all, isn't that exactly what you are after?
Actually, no, it isn't. Sometimes taking a public stand is not enough. Especially if the harassment is consistent and ongoing. Naming and shaming is not enough. The only way to wrestle some control back is to take recourse to the law. And that is your right, no matter what your previous relationship with the accused.
* In any case, if you are currently in or have been in a relationship with the guy, harassment doesn't really count. This kind of thing happens between ex-lovers. Call it a lovers tiff, if you will. Or an ex-lovers tiff, if you want to get all pedantic about it.
This is the kind of language used by people who use the word eve-teasing to describe harassment and who think that stalking your ex is just a bit of harmless fun. No need to get your knickers in a twist about that! Perhaps somebody should explain to these people that today's stalking can easily turn into tomorrow's molestation, just as today's abuse can escalate into tomorrow's violence. This kind of thing needs to be nipped in the bud, and now.
* A beautiful woman of 39 years is an 'ugly, washed-up hag' who can't bear the thought that her ex – a very eligible bachelor indeed, at a mere 44 years of age – has a new, younger, hotter girlfriend.
Ah yes, the sexism and the misogyny! It's never very far away from the surface, is it? She has never gotten over the fact that he didn’t marry her. And now she's taking revenge because he has fallen in love with someone else. Her acting career is washed up, so she is trying to stay in the headlines by filing frivolous cases against her ex. Never mind that no matter how much of a 'has-been' she is, Zinta is still a far more famous and recognizable figure than Wadia. And that both parties have been in relationships after their break-up without this kind of ugliness surfacing.
In any case, just a cursory look at some of the pictures surfacing now will tell you that Zinta is still pretty darn stunning. In fact, even more so, because a woman never looks better than when she is standing up for herself – and by extension, for all of us.