The mobile conundrum

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Photo: AFP
Photo: AFP

Mobile phones have freed rural and small town women like nothing else in history. All feminist and spiritual movements, clothes, scooties, cable TV and movies put together don’t come close to what the cell phone has done in just a few years. It’s connected them to a world larger than imagination, more colourful and alluring than dreams. It has revealed to them how emotionally susceptible the other half of the species is. How at the drop of an SMS, it can start grovelling. It has empowered women but made men meaner. That’s why it may be time to put a stop to all this. Should she be allowed only limited, restricted, controlled use?

Before you think I am some uncouth khap chief, consider these. A video being liberally exchanged on the Whatsapp circuits shows a young, educated, semi-urban, fully nude girl pleading with five village bullies on a cane field somewhere in western UP or Haryana as the camera rolls perversely all over her body. She had been making out with her lover in the cane thicket when the bullies found them. She was made to undress fully for the camera and filmed even as she pleads calling them bhaiya, not knowing whether to hide her face or herself. No one knows whether she was later raped or continues to be exploited, but the MMS has added to the urban lilt. The phone used was her own.

It’s not the only MMS either. I am told there are literally hundreds — one even features a small town woman constable — and the weapon of use is the cell phone, the channel Whatsapp. Despite all the digital trace claims and IT cells, no one has been rounded up so far for making or posting such “realistic fun”. One reason could be that the perpetrators have mostly used the girl’s own handset or a pre-paid, easily disposable SIM card.

It’s not just about dirty MMSes. Apart from some community complaints and bans that have obfuscated the issue, there are other points to ponder. My semi-literate maid is in emotional shambles these days. Her boyfriend — they met through the mobile, of course — has left her for another and informed her via an SMS. She said she has already made over 1,000 unanswered calls and sent SMSes until she ran out of money. Meeting and breaking up have become so easy, a woman’s emotions are fast becoming a technology casualty. Small town girl has been invited to the big bad world, but does she have the wherewithal to handle it? The lack of education to handle stress caused by blackmail, break-ups and rejection could mean rural India will soon be filled with emotional carcasses. Whether this building emotional nothingness would be passed on to her children could soon become a research project.

From an urban, educated, liberal standpoint, which easily moves on from a DPS MMS clip, it’s difficult to appreciate the seemingly mundane concerns of a major section of our society. Why even the good Doctor Harsh Vardhan thinks we may not be ready for sex education in schools? Why several communities still try to control their women through religious scripts and strictures? Why there are frequent fracas over women’s clothes and Valentine’s Day celebrations? It’s all illiberal and regressive, of course, to suggest a ban on mobiles for women of a particular social and economic strata, but it’s an issue that needs resolution.

The counter-argument is that mobiles would logically have the same effect on the rural, semi-educated male, so why target women? Will it have the same chain of consequences for men? Ask mothers who are unable to fathom the speed with which their little daughters are changing every day. There are no easy answers either way. It has caused a deep chasm in the largely uneducated, technologically immature societies. It’s like the free rice scheme: necessary but comes with its own inbuilt evils. Essential ponderables: Should mobile SIMs be regulated in some societies like in schools where “no mobile” is the norm? Should parents control calls and SMSes like the child lock on cable? Should there be only special elementary restrictive handsets for them? The problem as well as the ponderables exist and need to be brought into national focus so that a solution can be found even if all the liberal ostriches agree I am a khap case.

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