February 22, 2020
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An Unequal Music

Why is it that only women have to bear this 'culture' cross?

An Unequal Music
The media-triggered public debate on women and Tamil culture is depressing and distressing. From clothes to sexuality to social norms, why is it that only women are made to bear the burden of morality and what gets defined as 'Tamil culture'? The media abets the process by using women's 'honour' to sell newspapers and magazines. The same Tamil press thrives on splashing pictures of semi-nude women from all parts of the world to boost sales. They sensationalise any reportage concerning women. All this will only lead to increased violence against women. If tomorrow a woman walks out of a star hotel or a cinema, we should not be surprised if she is attacked for being 'amoral'. A jean-clad woman standing at a bus-stop is liable to be sexually assaulted, and such an attack would even be justified given that public opinion is being mobilised against women. Recipients of such violence would be seen as `deserving'.

As for Khushboo, in the 1990s she was worshipped as the very embodiment of Tamil womanhood and temples were built for her. Today, they display brooms and chappals against her and want her to leave the state. Suddenly it has dawned on them that she is not Tamil. The Tamil media is highlighting the protests against Khushboo led by Dalit Panthers of India (DPI). The same media never gave prominence to the role played by the DPI on issues such as elections not being held in the Keerippatti and Pappapatti reserved panchayats, when Dalits were force-fed human excreta in Thinniyam, and on the issue of double voting rights for Dalits.

There are major issues that concern women in Tamil Nadu—in Salem and Dharmapuri districts female infanticide is still high, there's a spurt in HIV positive cases and TN leads the country in AIDS, dowry deaths continue unabated, there's everyday violence against women. Of late, several incidents of child sexual abuse are being reported. Men are at the forefront of all these forms of violence. Somehow, these are not of concern to the media or the political class that claims to uphold 'Tamil culture'. Anyway, what is Tamil culture? In the classical Sangam poetry in Agananooru, every second poem discusses female sexuality. In Kuruntogai, scores of poems discuss pre-marital sex. What should we do with these canons? Should we brand them as alien to Tamil culture?

(Poet Kanimozhi, daughter of DMK chief M. Karunanidhi, spoke to S. Anand)
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