Why do Indians Continue to Reinforce Ignorant Messages About Feminism and Gender Based Violence?

Feminism gone wrong

Recently a Bollywood film called ‘Mardaani’ was released starring the famous actress Rani Mukherjee. The movie is kind of inspired by the famous Hollywood movie ‘Taken’ starring Liam Neeson but with a female Police inspector. For instance, Liam Neeson shoots one bad guy in the end and says “it was all personal to me” that has been changed to “every war is personal” in this movie.


The film itself may be great for pure entertainment but since it has been promoted in the name of ‘raising awareness’ about human trafficking and inspiring girls to be ‘mardaani’ which means MANLY in English, it is a classic example of feminism gone wrong.

As a feminist and an author in gender based violence prevention, I am outraged with the widespread ignorance of the director, writers, actors and the media that is promoting the movie. Recently, the actress, two activists and a Police Commissioner were on a show called The NDTV Dialogues – The Business of Human Trafficking where they further discussed it and promoted other myths about rape prevention and feminism. Here are a few pointers:

  1. The title of the film Mardaani

Activist Ruchira Gupta pointed out the title of the movie in the very beginning and Rani defended it in a very lame and vague manner quoting ‘khoob ladi mardani wo to Jhansi waali rani thi’; a quote that was written in the honor of the Queen of Jhansi who was a leading warrior in the Indian Rebellion of 1857. In English it means, the queen who fought like a man was the queen of Jhansi.

The poet who wrote these lines considered the word mardani (meaning manly or like men) appropriate in 1857 because it was the age when women did not vote, barely worked outside homes, certainly were not self reliant and had no rights. It was brave of a woman in 1857 to go to war alongside male companions hence the comparison makes sense in 1857.

In the 21st century however, promoting a message to women that to survive in this world, you’ve to be manly is absolutely ridiculous.

To put it in the words of Allison Pearson

“Trying to be a man is a waste of a woman.”

But this goes beyond just the ridiculous title.

Promoting messages like this reinforces the misconceptions about masculinity and femininity in the society. These are the specific myths we are trying to fight against to teach healthy and positive gender images in the minds of young men and women. Teaching women to enjoy womanhood the way they like without feeling guilty and ensuring men break their so called gender box of masculinity and breathe free like a human being.

In the Western world we are fighting the ‘you throw like a girl’ mentality and what Rani mentioned about the title is exactly the opposite of that.


  1. The emphasis on Martial Arts as a method to prevent rape

Few times Rani mukherjee mentioned about her ‘research’ and encouraged women and men to take up martial arts to prevent rape. She goes as far as making it mandatory at schools for children since the age of 3 to learn how to kick and punch.


I can understand that she did some kicking and punching in the movie and the adrenaline rush in her veins is excited about it but sorry, Rani is wrong again.

I do not have a problem with learning any form of self defense. But mentioning self defense in the context of rape reinforces ‘victim blaming’.

It creates the false notion that if you know how to kick and punch, you can escape rape. Let me ask you a few questions:

What if the rapist has a gun or a knife?

What if the victim is a baby or a 70 year old woman?

What if the victim is physically challenged or mentally ill?

What if the victim is a dead body lying peacefully in her grave?

(I am asking these questions because this is the reality of rape)

In no case, anyone must blame the victim or make her feel that “aw poor you, only if you took those self defense classes I recommended when you were in high school. But don’t worry, now that you have been raped, you know better”.

This is a way of placing the responsibility to prevent rape on the victim instead of the rapist.

Research also suggests that one of the biggest myths about rape is that the rapist is a strange nasty man who comes in the dark and does his nasty and disappears in the night.

Acquaintance, date, and spousal rape is dramatically more prevalent than stranger rape. In a study published by the Department of Justice, 82% of the victims were raped by someone they knew. The Department of Justice also found that among victims 18 to 29 years old, two-thirds had a prior relationship with the rapist. 

These women are manipulated into love, promise and abused later. Where is the chance to kick and punch as Rani suggests? A ton of researchers also point out the impact of trauma on the human brain- the fight, flight or freeze response. Which means; no matter how much you practice kicking and punching, you may or may not have the same reaction towards a rapist when attacked. There is a whole lecture that I can offer you on the neurobiological impacts of trauma on the brain but for now you need to know that self defense is NOT the main tool to prevent rape. And also, all people have different reactions to trauma and attack.

  1. Being powerful can prevent rape and sexism

This also brings me to another myth about power and self defense. Men are supposedly more powerful than women, right? Yet men get raped too. Rarely do they report it because of the social stigma attached to it and our so called glamour of masculinity that convinces men to believe that they are not manly if they have been raped.

Excluding men from the category of rape victims is sexist and ignorant.


Please stop seeing and propagating rape issue as ‘men vs women’ issue. The reality is that rape and human trafficking impact both genders, although not equally. But as long as the community of men in general is attacked in the media, of course men will defend themselves and a wall between men and women is created.It is NOT about power. If you don’t believe me, go to any social media platform and read the comments underneath any political figure’s sexist remark.

It instantly becomes a gender war. It does not have to be like that. Women and men have to be friends, be allies in the war against gender based violence and only then these weeds can be uprooted.

  1. Failure to differentiate between voluntary sex work and human trafficking

Whenever there is a discussion on human trafficking, the subject of voluntary prostitution always comes up and it is crucial for every individual to know that there is a difference between the two.

Yes, there is a group of women who prefer to work as a sex worker out of their own free choice. The subject is highly debatable and there have been very strong debates around the world on it. You are entitled to your opinion and follow it with pride but making others uncomfortable about their choices isn’t right.


India is a country where prostitution is legal yet sex workers are treated like criminals.

The most recent case was the arrest of Shweta Basu Prasad, a young former actress who was arrested for prostitution. Why would a prostitute be arrested in a country where sex trade is legal? You can read the BS here about her case.

During the roundtable on the NDTV show, there was no mention of these voluntary sex workers and Rani even loudly defended that no woman wants to be in the sex trade. Clearly, another display of ignorance.

There are unions of sex workers in Karnataka and other states and the Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee is a collectivization of 65,000 of them.

The police, the law and Indian citizens that make up the society of India have acute double standards towards sex work due to orthodox religious and cultural norms. Probably this is why no one mentioned it in the talk.

Whether or not prostitution must be sold as a commodity is NOT the question here. When India legalized prostitution, this was already decided, so it is said and done. The issue to talk about is the criminalization of prostitutes and victims of human trafficking alike when neither is guilty.

If a country’s constitution guarantees the rights while the society and law officials fail to provide those rights, it is either ignorance or plain hypocrisy.

This roundtable was a good platform to discuss and differentiate between the two and encourage society to respect sex workers and accept them and inform practitioners and the society about it.


  1. Lopsided view of Human Trafficking

The title keyword of the movie promotion and the show was human trafficking. In reality, Human trafficking is when a person is forced, coerced, or manipulated to work against their will. This work includes anything from domestic servitude to sex trade and everything in between. The victims of human trafficking are young children, boys and girls as well as men and women.

Yet, when human trafficking is discussed in the media, sexual exploitation takes over. Specifically in movies (Umrao Jaan, Chameli, Chandni Bar, Mardaani) the emphasis is only on sex trade. Why? Simply because “sex sells”.

There are a huge number of people involved in the organ trade and migrant work. Hundreds if not thousands of migrant workers travel from India and Nepal (and other countries) to the Middle East in hopes of a better life but return home in coffins. But who would watch a movie with twenty dark skinned poor laborers packed in a tiny 5 by 5 dorm?

A migrant workers' labour camp, Qatar.

Just watch the trailer of the movie Mardaani and all you’ll see is nudity and a strong character oriented police officer (like millions of other movies). There is no raising awareness as Rani claimed in the round table because if it was, at least in the interview they would have discussed other forms of modern day slavery extensively.

This view is also sexist because it favors or rather sees only children and females as victims. I am a woman and all for women’s rights but I am a human first and from how I see it; human trafficking affects both genders and we must raise awareness and support to help both, not just the females. Doesn’t feminism protect men’s rights as well?

The movie reminded me much of Taken but Taken was way better because it was NOT promoted as a movie on human trafficking but rather as an experience of an extra ordinary cop and a father. There is a reason why documentaries and other movies don’t fall under the same category.


There are several other ways in which the roundtable and the movie could have been a highly rewarding and informational platform to shine the light on human trafficking yet it was nothing but an emotional outburst or a film promotion stunt in the name of raising awareness. When people say that thanks to the movie, the topic of human trafficking is at least in the mainstream media, they are just kidding themselves.

Just talking about an issue in the mainstream media is never enough. India has been talking about rape for years but rape statistics are still alarming because what the politicians, actors and journalists comment is not always informational. On the contrary most of their remarks are either sexist or filled with myths which reinforce the opposite of what needs to be achieved. It does more harm than good when words are chosen without thinking and research.

I believe the intent of the movie and the show might have been to raise awareness but half knowledge is extremely dangerous. Specifically when people speak on large platforms like this where each word they say is heard by millions of their fans who almost worship them, they must be more careful and make a genuine effort to actually learn about the issue first.


The deepest disturbing fact about India is not rape or human trafficking. It’s the prevalence of ignorant people with access to media who reinforce myths about these issues in the name of raising awareness.



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