18 September, 2013

Abused Goddesses and Domestic Violence - The Taproot India Ad

(Pic courtesy : behance.net via Google)
A lot has been seen and heard about the new anti-domestic violence campaign by the ad agency Taproot India.  Their “abused goddesses” ad has been making the rounds in social media websites, social networking sites and has received a lot of coverage in many newspapers and journals in India and around the world.  Many newspapers have tagged the ad as being “incredibly powerful”,  “controversial” and many more. 
When I first looked at these ads, the question that kept repeating itself inside my head pretty much in an incessant loop was “Are these going to be effective ?” “Are these going to make as much as a dent towards quelling a problem as endemic and widespread as domestic violence ?”. 
Admittedly, the ad agency, I guess, intended to implant the seed of thought which says women are like the goddesses you revere and worship.  They should not be subjected to violence.  Then again, if one takes a good look at the pictures, you see the goddesses, bruised, battered yet looking passive and beautiful.  I’ve cried myself hoarse and continue to do so in saying that the root cause of all these problems that women face in the Indian society lies primarily in institutions like patriarchy.  It lies in the idea that has kept filtering down generations over eons in our country that a man is more powerful than a woman and that a woman is meant to be servile, submissive and subservient.    These notions that have no basis but have been instilled in the minds of men right from the time they were children.  Does this ad not pander to patriarchy as well ?  Goddesses, who have presumably been at the receiving end of violence, have been beaten up badly enough for bruises to show on their faces are shown as beautiful ?  And passive ?  What subliminal message does this send out ? 
One of the ad posters goes to the extent of saying “pray that we never see this day”.   Is that it ?  Just praying that we never see the day when every woman is at risk of domestic violence is supposed to be a solution ?  How does that work ?  What is needed is a more substantive course of action.  The “Bell Bajao” campaign, for instance, tells people what they could do in the event that they see or hear someone being beaten up or subjected to domestic violence.  To me, that makes a lot more sense than displaying posters of bruised goddesses that do not really set out a concrete course of action.  If these ads are to work then one needs to assume that men who set out to beat their wives are sensitive enough to look at these ads and actually take a few moments to let the message seep in.  If they were men with that kind of sensitivity and sensibility to read between the lines and absorb the message, I guess they would have enough sense in them to begin with, to realize that wife beating or domestic violence is simply not acceptable. 
One of the main problems that is seen worldwide today, worldwide, is apathy.  People either do not have the time or the inclination or the energy to actually stand up for causes they believe in.  Once a feeling of outrage or empathy has been evoked in the general public, where does one go from there ?  What does one do ?  If there is no course of action that people can resort to, the initial tendency is to ask “What could I do ?”.  This initial reaction of helplessness or inaction, over a period of time, usually lends its weight in creating a culture of apathy and indifference.  Are these not fuel that further rage a fire as rampant, pervasive and widespread as domestic violence ?
Yet again, the other thing these ads do is focus or draw focus and attention to the affected women rather than the perpetrators.  It is not the women that need so many pairs of eyes staring at them.   The focus belongs on the wrongdoers, the offenders.  They are the guilty party here, not the woman who has been battered.  Also, glamorizing and portraying the woman as a “passive victim” does not really help.  Society needs to understand that the root cause of problems like these need to be tackled at the grassroots as well.  Starting from families that treat boys as “special” and girls as a “burden” to families where women are seen as nothing other than “receptacles for frustration” – attitudes need working on.
I honestly don’t think a bunch of posters depicting goddesses as bruised and battered (whilst looking serene, beautiful and passive) are going to do much in tackling a problem as rife as domestic violence and I, for one, do not find glamorising gender based violence tasteful or refined, in any way.  It doesn’t quite serve the purpose it was possibly intended for, either.

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