There has been quite a burst of talk on the sex tape involving two teenagers that was recently “leaked” in Shillong. According to some media reports, the young man in the video, who was reportedly also the boyfriend of the girl, was responsible for the leak. There was also suspicion that he had drugged her, although that was never ultimately proved. Various women activists had responded to the event by seeking State-intervention, instructing the police to arrest the culprit under the charge of cyber-crime. However, an interesting fragment of this episode is the social reception that confronted it.
The collective imagination efficiently weaved a variety of narratives of the episode, each filling the story with spicy details. Questions of who the teenagers were, where they lived, etc. were all uncovered by the threads of gossip all over the city. Although a heavy dose of disapproval flavoured public opinion surrounding this event, the swift and extensive circulation of the video is, on the contrary, indicative of the enthusiasm on the part of the people in viewing its contents. This interest is revelatory of nothing but the viewers’ voyeuristic pleasure, who through the act of watching, collectively participate in violating the privacy of the people in the video. Moreover, even if the claim that the young man is responsible for the leak is valid, people’s indulgence in it for whatever reason, marks their complicity in the culprit’s successful attempt to defame the woman.
General condemnation of the event, which was quick to arrive, revolved around the fact that the two individuals were engaging in sex and consequently made the video and not so much around the question of who leaked it and why. It is fascinating how commentary on the episode largely steers towards recognition of the general moral degeneration of youngsters and more so women of “our” society. Of course, the sexual engagement of the two teenagers can be critiqued when glanced through legal lens since the age of consent in India is sixteen (according to the Criminal Law Amendment Bill 2013) and the girl in the video is said to be only fifteen. However, if morality is the basis for people’s judgement of the two individuals just because they had sex, then the allegation could be read as biased and illogical. Sex is a natural human activity, which should not be viewed as something shameful and debasing. Whether pre-marital or otherwise, sex simply is another form of interaction between individuals, which as long as it is consensual and done responsibly, without causing harm to any of the parties involved, should not be irrationally censured. Thus, the response to the MMS that emphasized on the immorality of sex is naïve, if not absurd.
Another significant element of this entire episode is that like other social debates over “leaked” sex tapes, the woman’s character is being questioned. So even though it is argued that the young woman’s lover was responsible for the leak, she herself is not spared the hypercritical attention, simply because she is an unmarried woman who willingly participated in a sexual act. This sort of an argument which centralizes morality more on women than on men is symptomatic of a patriarchal rational that is complacent with the idea that women are supposed to be passive and obedient creatures rather than independent and free to make choices for themselves. The woman here is victimized not merely by the person who leaked the video but also by society, which now look at her as an “indecent” and “perverse” individual. Discrimination on the grounds of gender is thus evident in the manner in which the girl becomes the target of public excoriation. This is supportive also of the ridiculous opinion that it is “natural” for boys to be easily sexually excited but not for girls. It becomes understandable if boys act on the urge at any cost but if a girl does it, she immediately earns the name of a “slut.”
The MMS incident is indeed indicative of the fact that sexual activeness is a reality among young people but instead of launching missiles of moral judgement, society as well as various institutions should be more concerned about the provision of an efficient and non-biased sex education at the school and college level, and perhaps, even at home. This would enable people to have a deeper understanding of sex and its implications and be more informed about safe sex measures and the need to follow them. Since sex is ultimately a huge responsibility, confronting its presence would be more advantageous than shunning and repressing it altogether.
Furthermore, what should also accompany sex education is a gender sensitization program which would address the problem of gender discrimination as well as gender-based violence which this MMS episode is a product of. Rather than the sex, it is the deliberate leak of the video initiated by the young man that is an act of violence. The release of the MMS could have been motivated by the desire to defame the girl’s reputation. However, this intention on the part of the boy would have failed had the video not been widely (and should I say wildly?) circulated. The culprit here has the support of the public, who in their active participation in the distribution of the MMS, also partake in denigrating the young woman’s self-respect. Furthermore, although women activists approached the State Women’s Commission asking it to launch awareness programmes which would supposedly address the issue, it is sad to see that their argument still focused on the need for women to be the recipients of such programmes. According to a report in the Shillong Times, some women activists are of the opinion that awareness programmes would help young women be careful of “person(s) they move around with” (ST, June 17th,2014). This perspective is problematic because it still indirectly places the blame on the girl, who is on the one hand a victim and on the other, a “wrongdoer” for having made a “bad” choice which landed her in this disastrous situation. It is very unfortunate that there is no discussion about the need for men to sit through awareness programmes in gender, especially since they are the ones who perhaps need them more. This is a social condition that urgently needs to be addressed, and perhaps one of the strategies that could be adopted is by incorporating compulsorily a gender-sensitive pedagogical method in educational institutions as well as the house. This is essential in the struggle towards a social atmosphere which is gender conscious and one which is free from crimes against women, the MMS being one such example.