An open letter to Times of India

Subject: An open letter to Times of India
From: Some peeved woman on a Sunday morning
Date: 6 Mar 2015

Dear Times of India,

There are times when one should keep quiet. If most of the online world is lambasting you, even if you think you’re right it wouldn’t hurt to introspect a little and wonder why people are reacting the way they are. Your response to Deepika Padukone’s fuming tweet and post on Facebook against your article on her, or more specifically on her breasts, is both shocking and unexpected. You could have chosen to apologise. Or you could have chosen to keep quiet. But by doing neither and by misunderstanding the issue entirely, you’ve only dug yourself deeper into a hole.

You’ve started your article in Bombay Times (‘Dear Deepika, our point of view,’ Sept. 21) saying, “As one of the largest media houses in the world with interests in print, TV, radio and online, we approach each medium differently, as do our audiences. There isn’t a one-fits-all formula for either distributing or consuming content across various media.”

It’s true that across media houses each medium is approached differently but editorial values and ethics remain the same. There are still limits to what can be published online and what cannot. By merely brushing aside the problem by stating that “the online world… is chaotic and cluttered — and sensational headlines are far from uncommon,” you’re being unapologetic about your mistakes. ‘Yes, perhaps this may not be right but that’s how things are, so you must get used to it’ is the crux of your message. Indeed the online world is chaotic and cluttered but that should give you and every other media house more of a reason to be careful about the content being posted. Rather you shamelessly admit that you’re choosing to objectify a woman and be sensational.

It makes it worse that you are doing this — and being unrepentant about it — at a time when one of the biggest problems that plagues this country is its treatment of women. Sexist attitudes manifest themselves in different forms — leering, passing offensive remarks, gawking are all at one end of the continuum, crimes against women like rape are on the other end. You cannot cry yourself hoarse about the extreme form while believing it perfectly alright to engage in the more subtle ones. Did I hear you say hypocrisy?

You then ask: “Was Deepika’s hypocrisy for publicity?” Below the question (which you really seem to believe is not a question but the reason why the actor chose to lash out at you), you’ve printed a collage of photographs — photographs that show the actor’s breasts, her cleavage and her legs. The point you’re apparently trying to make here is that Deepika is consciously flaunting her body for photo shoots and other assignments, so why should she take offence when you’re so generously “complimenting” her?

No, TOI, there is a difference between zooming into a woman’s cleavage and making a story out of it with a headline that says “OMG! Deepika’s Cleavage Show” and posting pictures of her that she has posed for voluntarily. The first is a blatant invasion of privacy; the second is her choice. This is the same reason why Katrina Kaif was furious earlier when pictures of her in a bikini with Ranbir Kapoor in Spain were splashed across newspapers. It wasn’t the fact that she was in a bikini that angered her; it was that the pictures were taken and posted without her knowledge and permission. Consent or the lack of it is the issue you’re missing here.

Deepika’s body is her own — she can choose to do whatever she wants with it. By focussing solely on her body parts and commenting on them, you are doing exactly what women fight against everyday — objectification. Your response to her cleavage is no different from that guy on the street who whistles at a woman when she walks by — fully clothed or not — or the man on the bus who leers at a woman when her dupatta slips. What is the difference, really? They are zooming in with their eyes; you’re zooming in with your camera.

You also justify your act saying that men are objectified too. Shah Rukh Khan’s “8 pack” abs also evoke an ‘OMG!” response so what difference is there, you ask. That is not a great defence. Are you seriously saying “We objectify Shah Rukh too… we objectify everyone really… so what’s the fuss all about?”

Is Deepika doing this for publicity? I don’t know, but it can be safe to say that people are asking you the same question.

You don’t need a censor board TOI, but yes, perhaps a few editorial discussions before publishing such stories may not be a bad idea. It could save you all this outrage. Please understand that apart from ‘ownership’— the treatment of a person as an object owned by another — being a characteristic of objectification, ‘denial of subjectivity’ or the lack of consideration for the person’s feelings in question is another. The subject being discussed here was miffed with your post as well as initial response and made it abundantly clear that her subjectivity was denied. All you could have done was considered her response and feelings and apologised. Or really, just kept quiet.

Yours truly,

Some peeved woman on a Sunday morning.