Commentary/ Vir Sanghvi
No NGO has the right to pillory Pooja for refusing to do what it says
If you have bought a copy of this month's Stardust you will know what the Pooja Bhatt controversy is all about. If not, here's brief summary:
According to the magazine, somebody
put photographs of nude Indian actresses on the Internet. A Stardust
reporter tried to download these pictures but was able to
get hold of only one -- which purported to be a nude Pooja
Bhatt. In fact, it was not even that. As Stardust reports, the
picture was a fraud; it had Pooja's head on somebody else's nude
When I first read the story, I was drawn to it by
the dramatic cover picture and headline (Actresses In The Nude
On The Internet) which
I found more than a little incredible. And sure enough, the story
conceded the pictures were bogus.
I felt a little sorry for
Pooja. It can't be nice to have some pervert morphing pictures
of you on the Net. And I recognised while the lurid headline
was probably factually accurate, it certainly promised much more
than it delivered.
That should have been that. But events over the last
fortnight have left me convinced we have become a nation
that neither reads nor thinks. The manner in which the Pooja picture
has been misinterpreted tells us something about the state of
For a start, large sections of the media merely looked
at the photo and didn't bother to read the article. I have lost
count of the gossip column mentions the story received from
illiterate hacks who appeared to believe Pooja had actually
posed in the nude.
Then the voyeurs got in on the act. If Pooja had
appeared in the nude, then it was probably a legitimate news story.
But considering she had been the victim of some pervert's
computer manipulations, it did not seem to be an issue deserving
much attention. Nevertheless, lots of other newspapers featured
the Stardust story. Because it gave them an excuse
to reproduce the morphed nude picture.
But this was nothing compared to what happened next.
By my reckoning, the Stardust cover was lurid
but it was not obscene. But 20 years in journalism have taught
me two things. One: obscenity lies in the crotch of the beholder.
And sure enough there was no shortage of those who demanded
the magazine be banned and its copies seized on the grounds of
It is possible to argue the magazine should
have had to explain why it violated Pooja's privacy on the basis
of a fraudulent picture. It is possible to go further and say
it should be banned because of the damage it did to Pooja.
But the protestors didn't say that. They wanted it
banned only because it was obscene. Never mind Pooja and the invasion
of her privacy.
The second lesson I have learnt as a journalist is
that no matter what the issue is, there is no shortage of self-righteousness
in this country. Nor is there a shortage of hysterical women with
nothing better to do than protest. Give them a cause and they will
find the banners.
By any reckoning, a women's organisation should have
taken up for Pooja. It should have seen her as the victim. But
exactly the opposite happened.
Assorted mahila mandals gathered outside her
house and raised slogans against her. Apparently, they saw her
as a shameless hussy who had posed for a semi-nude picture. And
so, they would turn up day after day and make a nuisance of themselves.
I can understand some confusion. Not everybody who
saw the Stardust cover would have realised the picture
was faked. You had to read the story to work that out.
But don't you think an organisation that gathers
its members and demonstrates outside some hapless woman's house
should at least read the article before setting off on its morcha?
I gather one of the organisations concerned
is now claiming it only targeted Pooja because she refused
to join its campaign. This is quick thinking
after the event. But even this explanation doesn't wash. It is up to her to decide how she wants to respond. No self-righteous NGO has the right
to tell her what she should do.
And it certainly doesn't have the
right to harangue and pillory her for refusing to do what it says.
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