These TV serials, which play on prime time and are extremely popular, depict the 'ideal wife' as a woman who puts up with all forms of abuse and humiliation.

A still from Telugu TV serial Karthikadeepam, where Karthik is seen slapping DeepaScreenshot
Flix Domestic violence Wednesday, June 23, 2021 - 18:05

Karthika Deepam on Star Maa is one of the most watched serials in Telugu households and enjoys the top spot in BARC ratings for Telugu TV programmes. The serial is the remake of Malayalam serial Karuthamuthu, and revolves around a couple —  Karthik and Deepa — whose marriage falls apart when the wife conceives although the husband believes that he has become impotent after an accident. The saga of the wife trying to prove her chastity goes on for years. In the serial, Karthik is portrayed as an ‘otherwise good and holy’ character and Deepa is shown as an ‘ideal woman’ who waits for her husband to change his mind, no matter how many times he humiliates her. In a recent episode, Deepa is shown to be dealing with serious health issues. However, she refuses to be treated until Karthik accepts her as his wife. To prove a point, Karthik slaps Deepa and asks who has the right to beat her, in order to confirm that as the husband, he can do so.

On the one hand, domestic violence cases are being reported across the country every day, sometimes resulting even in the deaths of these women. On the other hand, TV serials contribute to normalising domestic violence with problematic dialogues and plot lines that give the husband the 'right' to beat up his wife whenever he wishes. Despite the news headlines and discussions in the media, the scriptwriters and directors of TV serials fail to grasp the idea that nobody has the right to hit another person, whether they're married or not.

Apart from normalising such scenes, TV serials also glorify them as 'love'. For instance, when Karthik slaps Deepa in Karthika Deepam, fans of the TV serial were delighted because they understood it to be his love for his wife. Deepa, too, is shown to reciprocate by kissing him for his act. Two months after this popular episode, similar scenes have featured in Telugu TV serials like Gruhalakshmi and Guppedantha Manasu.

In Gruhalakshmi, the remake of Bengali serial Sreemoyee, a newly married young woman, Ankita, is shown opting for an abortion. Her reasoning is that her husband Abhi, a junior doctor, is not settled in his career yet and she feels they need to wait for longer to have a child. In a scene when her decision is revealed, Ankita starts the conversation by apologising to everyone. Abhi demands to know what has happened, and tension builds among the family members. Ankita's mother says that her daughter had gotten an abortion since she didn't want to have a baby anytime soon. In response, Abhi slaps Ankita and cries. When his mother questions him about this, he says, "I wanted to punish her more severely but I didn't know what else to do. I'm thus stopping with this slap." When Ankita's father questions him, he says, "Be grateful that I'm not manhandling you" since her parents 'allowed' her to get an abortion. Abhi further says that Ankita had killed the 'symbol of their love' and equates an abortion to 'killing an innocent baby'.

Watch Gruhalakhsmi promo here:

Though Ankita is subjected to domestic violence in this scene, and her right to reproductive freedom is dismissed entirely, she is not shown as the victim. Instead, the sappy, sympathising background score is reserved for the husband. The wife is stereotyped as a heartless 'baby-killer'. According to the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP Amendment) Act, 2021, a woman can abort the fetus up to 20 weeks of gestation with the doctor's approval, and up to 24 weeks of gestation under special circumstances. She does not need the consent of anyone to do so. The MTP Act was introduced in 1971, but there is still a lot of stigma surrounding abortion in India.

Popular culture representations, like TV serials, further demonise reproductive rights and romanticise it when women are denied the agency to exercise choice. It's important to note that while the storyline can stop short of murder or grievous injuries in these serials, that may not be the case in real life when the situation escalates. What such shows do is to validate domestic violence and normalise it, conditioning viewers to believe that there is nothing wrong when it happens off screen.

Also Read: When a woman is nothing if not a wife: Vismaya's death points to our shared guilt

Himabindu Chintakunta, a PhD scholar from the University of Hyderabad who was part of a research study on domestic violence in TV serials conducted by the Centre for Media Studies, calls such representations 'alarming'. "At a time when we're witnessing women ending their lives due to domestic violence, the depiction of such acts as a form of expressing love, care or concern is alarming," she says.

These popular serials are played at prime time, and they garner a lot of engagement on social media as well. Digital influencers and YouTubers also contribute to increasing their visibility, with troll videos and synopses of each episode being put up every day. Commenting on the influence of serials, Himabindu says, “The all pervasive nature of TV serials and their popularity is evident in the memes we see on social media. The social engagement that serials generate across populations of all ages, including younger people, reveals how wide their influence is.”

Not only do the serials have such problematic content, the channels proudly advertise such scenes. Slap sequences feature routinely in promo cuts for the serial in order to grab more eyeballs. Apart from glorifying domestic violence, the serials also present the 'ideal wife' as a woman who always 'adjusts' and 'sacrifices' her personal needs for the family, no matter what. That such ideas continue to be propagated and celebrated even now shows how little progress we have achieved as a society when it comes to women's rights.

Also Read : Vismaya's husband Kiran, accused of dowry harassment, surrenders day after her death

If you are a woman facing violence at home, call the national domestic violence hotline Dhwani - 1800 102 7282

Watch Karthika Deepam promo here:


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