Just four days ago, Ravali, a 20-year-old Telangana woman, died after she succumbed to burn injuries. She was set on fire by her former boyfriend for declining his proposal of marriage. Another 17-year-old girl was attacked by her stalker, Bharat, who stabbed her multiple times. Though she was grievously wounded, she managed to survive.
These horror stories see the same outpouring of anger and grief on social media and elsewhere every time they make the headlines. But there is little change in perspective about consent and a woman's autonomy over her body and life.
In the past week, those who follow Telugu social media would have come across a shocking audio conversation dubbed 'RX 200' by several. The 27-minute conversation is supposedly between an ex-boyfriend and the woman with whom he was in a relationship. We will call the two people concerned Prithvi and Meera to protect the woman's identity, as at this point, we don't know if the audio is genuine.
The audio has gone viral in the Telugu states, and is full of profanity and verbal violence. Going by the conversation, Prithvi and Meera are college-going students who were in a relationship for four months. However, Meera called off the relationship after Prithvi kept suspecting her fidelity. Angered by her decision, Prithvi asks how she could love someone else when he loved her "so sincerely". Prithvi keeps trying to push her to confess that she had cheated on him while she steadfastly denies having done so. He then says that if she's not in a relationship with someone else, the two of them should get married. He questions her about her morality, upbringing, and calls her names. He also threatens to rape not just her but also her future daughter.
However, Meera insists on sticking to her decision despite Prithvi's threats and he finally bids her goodbye, after belittling her saying she was no 'Katrina Kaif'. He also mentions his friends and says, “Eeroju nenu edisthe naa kallu thudavaniki naa friends unnare, neeku evaru osthare aa roju.” (Today if I cry, my friends are there to wipe my tears, who will come for you when you require it). These two lines especially have become popular, with social media users validating Prithvi's abusive behaviour as "sentiment".
The audio seems to have been uploaded on YouTube first and several channels and users have shared it, with some even creating remix songs out of the despicable lines. Others have lip-synced to the dialogues on TikTok and created their own videos. Surprisingly, there are women too who seem to find the audio amusing, and have participated in such re-creations.
Many titles suggest that Prithvi is justified in his behaviour and that he must be given "justice". The tag 'RX 200' is a reference to the 2018 Telugu film RX100 where the heroine betrays the hero. The film was heavily criticised for its misogyny but nevertheless went on to become a blockbuster.
Film critic Mahesh Kathi says, "Films, traditionally, from the times of Devadas and Premabhiskekam, have been about male self-pity. They reinforce the stereotypes of ‘social constructs’ and ‘morals’, and RX100 was no exception to it. Films have been perpetuating the idea about love - how it happens only once, with only one person etc. This is a dominant narrative in the society and filmmakers use these stereotypes extensively."
He adds that there have been very few films which have depicted premarital sex or the idea of moving on from a break-up.
It is, of course, unfair to blame only the toxic masculinity in cinema for such behaviour, but popular culture is often an accurate reflection of what is considered acceptable in society. It seems to have completely escaped "fans" of the audio that Prithvi's behaviour is, in fact, criminal - apart from intimidation, the acts he describes like stalking and rape are punishable under law. But despite this, and the recent brutal attacks on women by men who couldn't take 'no' for an answer, the eagerness with which social media users have embraced the audio proves how normalised rape culture has become.