The BBC documentary “Welcome to India” aims to show the rising superpower in a brand new light but just as the free market economy it applauds, the angle on gender relations equally promotes the same old, same old Western (capitalist, patriarchal) beliefs and values.
It starts off well enough, we meet Johora (in Episode 2*), ‘a back-street entrepreneur’ who “has built her home and a thriving business from sorting this stuff, what you’d call waste. She started out as a rag-picker here 23 years ago when she married her husband” (BBC 2012, 2:16-2:30mins).
To begin with, Johora is portrayed as a success-story – and rightly so – a woman who has made it out of the slums and into business. As the (male) narrator tells us, she ‘has built her home’ and ‘she married her husband’, giving her full linguistic and conceptual agency.
However, Johora does not remain an independent woman for long, soon enough the narrator not only puts her back into her place, but does so with a disturbing twist: “Johora has come a long way since she started working for [her now husband] as a young girl of 12. He was married with two kids but it wasn’t long before he succumbed to her adolescent charms” (24:14-24:40mins).
‘He succumbed to her adolescent charms’, ‘‘He succumbed to her’, succumbed as in submitted, surrendered, having no other choice but to. But wait a minute, Johora was not an adult woman, she was an adolescent, and more specifically a 12-year-old adolescent, and 12-year-old girls do not seduce, they are children – at least that is what we, in the ‘enlightened’ West, (believe to) hold true. So what exactly is this distorted vision of a female child doing in a UK-produced documentary?
A BBC Radio 4 discussion* on the Rochdale child exploitation case further unravels this seeming dichotomy. As one (male) commentator repeats, and goes on to affirm, the supposedly ‘commonly held’ view that: “men go[…] for white girls because they’re easy” (Radio 4 2012, 26:08-26:12mins), he neatly transfers the responsibility for the behaviour of adult men, just as above, onto the “women, young women” (27:50-27:52mins), suddenly no longer exploited children.
So as the language use in/by our public service broadcasting corporation confirms, whether (portraying) the East or the West, female children seem universally considered the (rightful) property of adult men. The question is: (when) will we ever name things as they really stand: as rape, abuse, exploitation?
Simple, when we have an equal number of female producers, presenters, guests, in short, public spokeswomen.
*Narratives taken from recordings.