Have you noticed that Bollywoodhungama always puts the really boring stories to the front with stuff like “You Won’t Believe!” or “Wow!” and then buries the really big ones? Well, Jeetendra’s rape accusation is that times a thousand. This has got to be the biggest story in the industry today, and everyone one is reporting it, but also burying it a little. Not just Bollywoodhungama, every website. I mean, they are reporting it, that’s good, but it’s not getting the kind of extra special obsessive treatment that Irrfan’s announcement-that-isn’t-really-an-announcement is getting.
Jeetendra and Rape
I went to Quint for background, because they are the most reliable source (I use Bollywoodhungama instead most of the time because they report EVERYTHING which lets me pick and choose, whereas Quint has already done a little of the picking for me). In 1971, Jeetendra (then 28 and unmarried, although seriously dating the woman who would become his wife) arranged for his 18 year old cousin, daughter of his father’s sister, to join him at a hotel in Shimla while he was doing a shoot. They shared a room, he came home drunk and shoved the beds together and raped her. She did not report it at the time, or over the next 47 years, because her parents were alive. But she sent an email to the Shimla police now and they are investigating.
There is a fair chance the investigation will come to nothing, for one thing because of the statute of limitations, but at least an investigation has been started and the story is out there. People are trying to tie it to “Me Too” in America, but it’s not the same really, not at all. This has nothing to do with film or the film industry, not the rape itself at least, although the way it is reported and handled might.
If you look at the details, this is not a rape that is related to the film industry in any way shape or form. If Jeetendra had been a businessman or a doctor or a government official, or a chaiwallah or a driver or a cook, he still would have invited his teenage cousin on a trip with him, still would have had the opportunity to rape her, and she still would have kept quiet for the sake of the family.
(Jeetendra was very handsome. Which also has nothing to do with this, handsome or ugly you might still be a rapist)
Rape is about power and opportunity. In the American film industry, there is a unique opportunity for powerful men to take advantage of women. And there is a culture of power and abuse which attracts men who want that kind of power over women.
Beyond that, there is in almost every culture (American and Indian included) opportunities for men to rape women they are related to without fear of any kind of punishment. And for some men that opportunity reacts with something dark inside of them and whenever it is presented to them, the take advantage of it. Once or twice or over and over and over again.
This particular rape is one that might, and has, occurred in every culture. A young female relative would be trusted alone with a male relative, giving him opportunity. And she would feel guilty and confused and therefore never report it, or only report it years later. In Indian culture, perhaps, it might occur more often, with the large combined families putting multiple young women within the reach of multiple young men.
(Remember the 19 Kids and Counting scandal when it turned out one of the boys had molested his sisters and a cousin? Do you also remember that some people raised in that same religious extremist culture came forward and said “yeah, of course it happens, your relatives are the only women you are allowed to be alone with, it’s unhealthy and unnatural”?)
I would not be surprised if this is the only time in his life that Jeetendra behaved this way. I would also not be surprised if it happened over and over again, and yet we will never find out, because his victims were similarly unable to talk. Not because he is a movie star or anything related to his fame, but because he is their cousin, or their husband’s best friend, or any of the other many many social/familial bonds which would keep you forever silent.
I’m reminded of the last big rape case, Shiney Ahuja’s. He raped the teenage maid of his house while his wife was out of town. Again, it had nothing to do with the film industry or his being an actor. If anything, that ended up protecting her. Because he was an actor, not just another middle-class man who raped his teenage uneducated maid, she was able to get the support she needed to report him.
Nothing here has anything to do with film, with the film industry, with a “lack of morals”, with anything that isn’t happening every day all over the world done by people from every level of society and every profession.
What is different is how it is being reported. As I said, Shiney Ahuja’s maid was “lucky” in that she was able to actually file a case and get noticed. Jeetendra’s cousin, his being a movie star has no effect on her life or her case. But it is interesting to see how this is being reported. It is being reported, there is no effort to hush it up, the Shimla police are saying it. But it is not being blasted around the web, if you google search “Jeetendra” this is not the first thing that comes up, his wiki page and other boring things are. It’s not the front page, it’s not headline news, no one is tweeting about it. I am not getting the feeling of a cover up, but more of a “well, will people be that interested in this?”
Perhaps if it had involved an actress, if it would allow people to shake their heads and feel superior to the fallen morals of the film people, then it would get the headlines and the big blast. Or if it were recent, involving some attractive young woman they could plaster around the page, or at least imply in the background. But instead it is, well, boringly every day. A man took advantage of a woman of his family because he could, and she kept it to herself for 47 years to protect the family honor.
(We all know that a growth in REPORTED rape cases is a good thing, right? It means women are beginning to trust the police and government and actually reporting things that previously they would have kept to themselves. So, yaaaay! India is registering more and more rape cases every year!)
The only thing vaguely film related, which I will be watching over the next few days, is how the flagholders for feminism in the industry deal with it. This isn’t an easy villain, Jeetendra did this decades ago and now he is an old man with a grandchild. And it’s not an “easy” rape, it’s not that stranger rape that everyone is always talking about and which almost never happens. Are you going to shun him, and shun his (very powerful) family? Or are you going to take the easy way out, believe the argument of “I was drunk, I was young, I was confused, I thought she wanted it”?