She is the super mom, the guileless daughter, the eloquent lawyer, the nasty corporate climber, the austere judge, the super model and what not. Whatever the role, television, film and popular magazines are full of images of women and girls who are typically white, desperately thin, and made up to the hilt.
Over the years, and especially during the last decade, India has developed a fairly extensive communication infrastructure. The subject of portrayal of women in Indian media has drawn the attention of media critiques in the present times. It arises especially when our society is going through a period of social change. Women have been portrayed as men would like to see them- beautiful creatures, submissive mothers of their children, efficient house keepers, but nothing else.
Few questions for our consumerist society
Nowadays wherever we see we can find posters of women promoting some or the other product. I just want to ask one question that why is it that always we find women selling products and not men? Why is it that we always see salesgirls coming at our home selling things to us? The answer is straight-forward that women are portrayed as a commodity in Indian society. Didn’t you have a look at those magazines published from your place? Why is it that this is happening? The Indian media is going against ethics. It portrays women in the most improper form it could, just for the mundane reason that it wants to increase sales.
What sort of example is media setting?
The art and culture pages of the newspapers help to round out the portrayal through the reviews of exhibitions by women artists, performances by female musicians, critiques of plays produced or acted by women, but here too is the seductive Swapnasundaris and Malika Sherawats or the Silk Smithas and the razzle dazzle Kareena who the camera and the pen focuses on. Only the sports pages carry some positive news of the achievements of women athletes and players (Saina Nehwal, Aswini Ponnappa, Jwala Gutta, Krishna Punia, Geetha Satti). Yet even here, when women achieve positive or even spectacular results, men find ways of undermining or ridiculing their success.
Politics is said to be the staple of our newspapers but the irony is that here too, instead of aggrandizing the knack of the youngest and first woman Pakistan Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar, media has found out a reason to project the other version of the story i.e. her impeccable style sense. Now is this the correct way of projecting a woman? The answer is a big NO, well at least for me.
What does the Law say about it?
Now your inquisitive mind may be boggled by a question that where is the recourse for such acts? The answer is right here.
- Section 292 of Indian Penal Code which deals with the sale of obscene books, pamphlet, inter alia representation which shall be deemed to be “lascivious or appeals to the prurient interest”,
- The Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act, 1986, also punishes the indecent representation of Women , which means “the depiction in any manner of the figure of a woman; her form or body or any part thereof in such way as to have the effect of being indecent, or derogatory to, or denigrating women, or is likely to deprave, corrupt or injure the public morality or morals. It states that no person shall publish or cause to publish or cause to be published or arrange to take part in the publication or exhibition of any advertisement which contains indecent representation of women in any form.
But I am afraid to call it as recourse the reason being the meager punishment awarded on the commission of such acts. Under Section 6 of the Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Act, 1986 which Penalty, the words ‘and with fine which may extend to two thousand rupees’ shall be substituted with the words ‘and with fine which may extend to ten thousand rupees’ and the words ‘in the event of a second or subsequent conviction with imprisonment for a term of not less than six months but which may extend to five years and also with a fine not less than ten thousand rupees but which may extend to one lakh rupees’ shall be substituted with the words ‘in the event of second or subsequent conviction with imprisonment for a term of not less than six months but which may extend to five years and also with a fine not less than fifty thousand rupees but which may extend to five lakh rupees’. Until and unless the stricter punishment provisions are being incorporated, I doubt that this scenario will ever be changed.
The main aspect of media regulations is that media should not publish any story which may relate to libel and defamation of women. sometime ago, India’s First woman Additional Solicitor General Indira Jaising protested the use of words “keeps” and “one night stands” in the Supreme Court judgment on live-in relationship. The reason behind her objection was that such judgment would be published and telecasted in several journals and newspapers and news channels which will possibly tell the world that in India, women are regarded as “keep” . Rather than portraying women in such outlandish manner, it is a duty of the judiciary to keep a check on legal accountability of Media while publishing or broadcasting any story about women because it is the judiciary who has to decide that whether the acts of the other 3 pillars of the Indian democracy namely, executive, legislature and media, are in consonance with decency, morality and public order.
What should be done about it?
The continued projection of negative and degrading images of women in media communications – electronic, print, visual and audio – must be changed. Print and electronic media in most countries do not provide a balanced picture of women’s diverse lives and contributions to society in a changing world. In addition, violent and degrading media products are also negatively affecting women and their participation in society. In addressing the issue of the mobilization of the media, Governments and other actors should promote an active and visible policy of mainstreaming a gender perspective in policies and programs.
Women should be empowered by enhancing their skills, knowledge and access to information technology. This will strengthen their ability to combat negative portrayals of women internationally and to challenge instances of abuse of the power of an increasingly important industry. Self-regulatory mechanisms for the media need to be created and strengthened and approaches developed to eliminate gender-biased programming. Most women, especially in developing countries, are not able to access effectively the expanding electronic information highways and therefore cannot establish networks that will provide them with alternative sources of information. Women therefore need to be involved in decision-making regarding the development of the new technologies in order to participate fully in their growth and impact.
This is not a plea of literary writing for women to be scoured but to redress the enormous harm done by existing portrayals and images in print media. Women must resist being sold in this manner and it is time they took the power of this medium in their own hands to create truth in their idiom or the pressures of the mass market will make their struggle for change increasingly difficult because when girls change, everything changes. The sex-class bias simply invisiblises women. As we unite to struggle against sex oppression, we must struggle too for equal space in the media. We must make media work for us and not against us. Every human being is to be respected. The media which actually should guide us towards making this world a better place to live in, should not go against the ethics.
To end I would like to quote the poignant words of Margaret Sanger
“Woman must not accept; she must challenge.
She must not be awed by that which has been built up around her; she must reverence that woman in her which struggles for expression.”
 Media Law and Ethics:Readings in Communication Regulation, Edited by
 Times OfIndia,October 24, 2010.