Television can help shape positive man-woman relationships and bring a critical awareness of rights and possibilities among women. But unfortunately, Indian TV serials dish out pulp, sop and sob stories distorting the image of Indian women. Stereotype western models are their staple. Nothing concrete is achieved in this field so far.
A report of the Working Group on Software for Doordarshan under the Chairmanship of Dr. P.C. Joshi says media has notably failed to fulfill its expected role in furthering the stated national objective of women’sequality. Worse, it has often been at variance with these goals, because its policy-makers, programmers, and producers have lacked a proper perspective of the issues concerning women and their implication to society. The report opines that the Government must, at the earliest, formulate clear-cut guidance regarding the positive portrayal of women on television so as to bring out various facets of their lives?as workers, significant contributors to family survival and the national economy. It must further endeavour to integrate women on terms of equality in all sectors of national life and the development process, it said.
The report particularly refers to the findings presented to a working group at the seminar conducted by the Centre for Women’sDevelopment Studies and the Committee on the ?Portrayal of Women in the Media?. It says ?Middle class ideologies of women’sroles as wives and mothers provide the underlying basis for most programmes. In a country where 36 per cent of the agricultural workforce is female, women continue to be projected as predominantly non-producers and as playing a limited role outside the home. Women are basically seen as performing a decorative function and as being nonessential to national growth and development. Their primary place is seen within the home and this value is reflected in the content and setting of most television programmes. The plural nature of Indian culture and the diverse roles that women play is neither acknowledged nor communicated. This results in the reinforcement of these stereotyped images and role specifications of women.?
These TV programmes are loaded with derogatory images of women and are usually explicitly or implicitly suggestive. They play a significant role in reinforcing negative stereotypes such as: a woman’splace is in the home, her most important and valuable asset is in physical beauty, a woman’senergies and intellect must be focused on finding the Mr. right and in keeping him happy.
The Centre for Advocacy and Research along with ASMITA (Nepal) and PROSHIKA (Bangladesh) conducted a minority research study of 101 episodes of prime time fiction on both satellite (Zee TV, Star Plus, Sony TV) and terrestrial channels (ETV and BTV of Bangladesh and NTV of Nepal) in 2002. The study was aimed at examining the representation of gender in TV fiction. It was divided into two parts: Quantitative findings and Qualitative findings. The first section finds out that the settings of the serials in the satellite channels are entirely urban. Regarding the action on the screen, the report interestingly reveals that interaction at home is the favourite activity on all the channels. ?This is centered on spending time with each other, brainstorming and last but not the least in stormy arguments and conflicts?. Mentioning the marital status the study found that more married women than unmarried ones were portrayed. It said: ?gender-based representations are interesting so far as divorced men feature more than women and among the widowed, women feature far more than men?. Thus one can question the extra-marital relationship attitude of characters in almost all serials. Which kind of modern Indian society are they portraying and which direction are they leading it to?
The second section, i.e. the qualitative findings, sampling nine prime time TV drama serials, (where approximately 50 per cent of the shows are produced by Ekta Kapoor’sBalaji Telefilms), seems to be the most interesting part. The report finds that though extremely popular with the public, these serials are exclusively about rich, joint families far away from the reality of millions of viewers. These families are primarily ?male construct?. The usual circumstance with the daughters of these families ?is that of marital discord or divorce and less of widowhood. The report observes that the serials reassert that a woman’splace is in the home. ?It is both her life and her domain. Among the women, about 80 per cent are confined to the kitchen, living room, dining room and bedrooms. They enter the professional space only when they have to save their spouses or family from the clutches of others?. It further says that most of the female characters are authoritative, even manipulative, seldom openly submissive. Their power may reside in the home? but these serials are almost a celebration of this power. The report terms this interesting and underlines that though these women’splace is in the home, they are seldom shown performing any household task. The report thus concludes that these female characters play pivotal role in the family, but only within the packaging of the family they have importance. ?They have no separate lives of their own, they belong completely to their husband’sfamily ? their strength derives its power from the assertion of tradition of the family,? the report concludes.
Working in this field, several activists have emphasised that it is also important to weed out the offending display of vulgarity and violence that regularly punctuate the commercial film formula. They strongly feel that on the television, women’sself-respect is hurt by a steady and subtle glorification of her consistent subordination and self-effacement, while, the other side of the coin is that the male is similarly unsuitably fed on a diet of aggression, violence and self-aggrandisement as a model of a ?he-man?.
NGOs working in the field also demand that there should be efforts to import programmes from neighbouring countries that could offer an interchange of experience and promote a shared understanding of problems.
The other problem, which many woman organisations identify is that the programmes catering to the middle class are largely confined to the affluent ?feminine? hobbies of beauty, flower arrangements, cooking and household tips, interview with successful women with the odd bit of health and social stuff thrown in. This, they term as an insult to woman intelligence. They thus opine that the women’sprogrammes must aim to widen the women’shorizon about her legal rights and opportunities in this modern world. It is felt that such programmes would get better audience if telecast during the afternoon hours.
Finally, the point that several women organisations, NGOs and other activists have repeatedly stressed is that the poor rural women who form the most disadvantaged section of Indian society and whose access to TV is limited, deserve to have a special effort to bring the benefit of TV into their lives.