It isn’t surprising that Atul Anjan, a senior CPI leader, recently said at a public meeting that advertisements such as Sunny Leone’s Manforce condom ad, could be responsible for a growing number of rapes in India. This comment is of a piece with the deeply patriarchal thinking that many of our leaders display. This is the same group of men who have refused to criminalize marital rape because marriage in India is a “sacrament”, and which frequently betrays its misogynistic mindset with comments things like, “boys will be boys”.
Women who suffer sexual violence are blamed for bringing it on themselves. A woman like Sunny Leone — beautiful, successful and, more importantly, confidently sexual — is a particularly easy target because to the mind that can say “boys will be boys”, a woman comfortable with her sexuality is a deviant.
Women are not supposed to enjoy or even desire sex, whereas it’s perfectly natural for “boys” to force themselves on women, should they be enticed by the likes of Leone. An erotically-charged but harmless ad for condoms is booed on grounds that it gives men ideas and leads to sexual violence.
At some point, we do expect our political leaders to acknowledge that sexual violence has deep roots in our collective mindset and we need to attack these roots if we’re to combat the problem successfully. Instead, our leaders choose to demonize a variety of other things – chow mien, cellphones, jeans, porn and now condom ads – because to really tackle the question of sexual violence, they would need to go deeply into questions of patriarchy and privilege. And once they go down that road, who knows but that the whole system from which they draw their power will be dismantled. So they rail against jeans and porn and women who accept their sexuality, ignoring the growing clamour of voices that is asking them to step up and find a place on the right side of history.