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A Whiff of Scandal.

25 Jun

Dulle Griet, or Mad Meg, by Bruegel

An edited version of this post appeared in OpenDemocracy, here.

Five years ago, the Tamil actress Khushboo said something innocuous in the course of an interview. She expressed surprise that adult men expected virgin brides, and went on to say that it was prudent to use protection while one does the big nasty. I gather (the original interview was impossible to trace) she said so within the pages of a sex survey, a titillating cocktail of statistics, porn, and pop psychology that the news-glossies run in slow weeks in the hopes of drawing out a less repressed Indian. (Sample question: do you routinely participate in mixed-gender orgies with your spouse?) In a sea of salacious oh-no-you-wouldn’t content, Khushboo’s plug for protection and sex-ed appears (to me) remarkably level-headed.

Khushboo acknowledged people had sex outside of marriage in a survey based on that exact premise. The culture-warriors, of which species India has an infinite variety, understood that to mean she endorsed it. Of course, she might have added that people enjoy sex of every stripe, she might have recommended fornication fervently and described in vivid and scurrilous detail, and undoubtedly she now wishes she had. This might make her later fate slightly more comprehensible. Unfortunately for both of us, posterity has only recorded the most responsible of her comments, and has judged her extremely harshly for them.

The fracas followed a week later, a long time in news cycles; a flawless edifice built around the magic point where text starts to get flayed of its context for popular amusement. In the intervening time, Khushboo raised the ire of a fellow member of the Tamil film fraternity by successfully forcing an apology from him when he likened actresses to prostitutes. To the extent that actresses in Tamil Nadu are routinely sexually exploited, the noble hero was certainly right, yet I doubt his analogy was motivated by feminist concerns about equality of labour and the casting couch. This man had some politicos in his posse, as such men do, and they obligingly raised a ruckus on the flimsy grounds they were forced to work with.

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