Thappad: The Slap Is On Us

Contradictions constantly rush at one another in India where the most progressive and the most regressive trends co-exist at any given time. The context here is society and cinema.

It was Deepika Padukone and her film Chhapaak two months back. Now it is the turn of another landmark film, Thappad. The former was trolled and boycotted by those angry at Deepika’s expressing solidarity with agitating students and teachers at the turbulent Jawaharlal Nehru University. The latter faces similar wrath since its director Anubhav Sinha and many of the actors led by Taapsee Pannu were part of similar protests at Mumbai’s Gateway of India.

While Chhapaak reportedly suffered at the Box Office and bowed out of most cinema halls, Thappad is seemingly surmounting the boycott from quarters preoccupied with violence in Delhi and its aftermath. Taapsee has dismissed prospects of any damage to her film coming from “a few thousand trolls.”

ALSO READ: Deepika Chooses Conscience Over Caution

The basic argument of both the actors is that it is stupid to condemn and punish a film because those behind it have publicly expressed their views on issues that is controversial. But we are living in highly polarized times.

Coincidentally, but significantly, both films challenge set social norms and prejudices that presumably cause discomfort to the trolls, their allies across the social media and more importantly, their political mentors. Chhapaak, already written in detail in this space earlier, is about brutal acid attack on women who reject unwanted male advances. Thappad is about domestic violence and the impact on an individual’s sense of self-respect, especially when it comes from loved ones and life-partners.

Domestic violence afflicts all societies, but more so those where patriarchy rules, where men dominate, irrespective of their ability to earn and carry out other responsibilities as family persons, family heads in most cases. Inbuilt male supremacy boosts male ego.

ALSO READ: ‘We Rooted Out Domestic Violence’

One can argue endlessly whether it is prevalent more in traditional societies or those that follow Western norms, or whether it is in the joint family or a nuclear one. But the universality of it is not in doubt.

Conventional wisdom is that education (for all) and economic independence in the case of the woman help better relationship. But there is no rule of the thumb with changing societal values and perceptions and complexities of growing urbanization and the rate race to make it big in material terms. In India, dowry deaths and in-laws’ harassment may or may not have diminished, but a working woman’s autonomy to spend from her earnings does lead to domestic violence.

India’s Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 begins and ends with the issue of violence. But it does not, and cannot, touch upon long-set social norms where a woman once married is expected to leave her parental home and not expect any relief or help if she is in trouble. They could include dowry demand, ill-treatment by in-laws who often side with the son against the daughter-in-law. Not just the mother-in-law, but the sister-in-law could also play a negative role. A daughter-in-law, but not daughter, is advised to accept a flawed relationship, occasional violence, even the son’s cheating. These are the realities.

ALSO READ: ‘I Wash Thrashed For Dowry, Given Talaq’

Traditional social norms in India have ensured that women by and large live with injustice and violence for fear of losing ‘izzat’ or else, being socially ostracized. A million women complained of domestic violence between the year 2005, when the law was enacted and 2016. Yet, the rate of reporting such incidents to the police are still considered small compared to the Western societies. Though illegal since 1961, dowry demand, at times camouflaged, remains ingrained in Indian society. Data reveals that 72 women die every day.

The law works, but only to the extent the society evolves and the State helps. For instance, “honour killing” is the norm, if not so much in India then certainly to its West where in some societies, women complaining of rape are punished.

This is all in the public domain, while domestic violence mainly occurs within the four walls of the home.  In Thappad, it is a mix of the two. One tight slap falls on the cheek of a loving, caring wife from an equally loving, caring husband. It is delivered at home but in the midst of a party, before several guests.

A still from the movie Thappad

It triggers a mini revolution. After failing to reconcile, the wife is determined to preserve her self-respect, even if it means a divorce. Just everyone, particularly women, including her woman-lawyer, dissuade her. Your place is there, not with us, parents tell her. All this is when each of them has story of aspirations suppressed at the altar of family life.

Reconcile and move on, the in-laws advise. All relationships are flawed, the lawyer counsels. Much ado over “just one slap?” she is told. “Not even one slap,” she responds. It is a wake-up call, not one to revolt. It’s a thin line, though.

The most effective parts of the film are the ones in which we are shown just how women are always being told how to feel, how to keep their feelings in check, how not to give into them.

Indian Express film critic Shubhra Gupta sums up: “Thappad bears its message, more essential than ever, on its chin: Women are not property. Wives are not owned. Dreams have no gender, and everyone is allowed to realise them. And how all it takes, from a woman who just wants self-respect, is a decision to say no, Not Even One Slap.”

Sadly, films speaking out against dowry are passé these days. But like domestic violence, there is another ‘No’, as more and more women join India’s work force. Pannu was the lead actor in another remarkable film, Pink (2016), about consent in sexual relationship. Amitabh Bachchan played the lawyer whose baritone “No means no. Only no”, drew the Lakshman Rekha.

All three films cited here are well-written, diligently performed, are not preachy, yet convey their respective messages forcefully.

This is where, and how, cinema comes, as it should. Undoubtedly, it has its limitations. The society cannot duck its responsibility. Not even when political leaders attribute increase in cases of rape and divorce to women going to work. The society has itself to set acceptable norms armed with legal sanctions and follow it diligently.

The writer can be reached at

'I Was Thrashed And Given Talaq For dowry'

Akhtari was married to Rizwan in 2015. When her husband could not find work, he asked Akhtari to arrange money for a taxi. Soon the heated arguments turned into brutal physical torture. When her brother tried to sort out the matters with elders’ help, things only went worse. Akhtari’s in-laws locked her in a room without food and water for days as punishment. They also told Rizwan that if he divorced her, they will get him a new wife and dowry. Akhtari was kicked out of the house with her one-year old in arms. She waited outside the house, begged her husband to let her in. But it didn’t happen. She is enraged at how women in Indian families are treated like dirt. She wants justice and has approached UP Police:   I belong to Meerut district in Uttar Pradesh. My parents fixed my marriage in 2015 when I was 24. I was told that my prospective husband worked as a chhota doctor in Delhi. My family believed that he was probably a Unani medicine practitioners or maybe an assistant to a doctor. My parents felt lucky for me and spent beyond their reach on the marriage and dowry. But when I moved to Delhi with my husband, Rizwan, I found that he drove a taxi. He told me there was more money in this ‘business’ and soon he will be running a fleet of taxis. I didn’t believe his words but accepted it as my fate. Less than two years after the marriage, Rizwan shifted back to Meerut since he was barely able to make two ends meet in Delhi. I was pregnant at that time. Unable to find any work in Meerut, Rizwan began pressing me to arrange money and a car for him so that he could runs his own taxi in Meerut. Every time I told him that my family was unable to meet these demands because my father was no more, there will be heated arguments and he would beat me with fists. His mother, father and brother, instead of intervening, further incited him to punish me. They had little concern for my condition. I gave birth to a girl child in 2017 and my brother and sister-in-law came to visit me. When they saw the bruises on my body and heard about the torture I had suffered, they tried to reason with Rizwan. After several rounds of talks, when my brother realized Rizwan was not going to budge, he agreed to arrange the money for the vehicle. This cooled down things for several months. But, when my brother was unable to arrange the promised money, thing went from bad to worse. My in-laws told Rizwan that if he divorced me they would find him a girl which will bring enough dowry for a car. When I countered them, they locked in a room for days without food and ensured that I was could not speak to my family. They probably wanted to starve me to death. But with some outside help, I managed to convey my condition to my brother, who immediately arrived at our home with some relatives. The elders in both the families sat together and decided that the matter must be settled within the confines of family and there should be no domestic violence. It had an adverse impact on Rizwan. My beatings only increased and got more brutal. On July 18, there was another argument in the house. My in-laws began thrashing me up and calling me names for making the family matters public. Rizwan told me that he was leaving me for good and uttered the dreaded talaq word thrice. I was kicked out of the house with my one-year-old child in arms. I waited outside the house for several hours, hoping that they will accept me back once their anger subsided. All this time, I kept begging them to forgive me and let me in. Several neighbours came to my help but Rizwan’s family told them that I had been given talaq. The neighbours could do little after that but they arranged my journey to my brother’s house later in the day. My brother tried to speak to Rizwan’s family but they just didn’t listen. Some elders in the vicinity advised us to approach police. Some said the government has brought a law which makes verbal triple talaq illegal. We went to police to file a case against the talaq but the police told us there was no law against triple talaq. However, they filed a case against my husband and his family under sections of domestic violence. SSP (Rajesh) Pandeyji himself heard out matter and has assured us of safety and other assistance prescribed under law. I have studied only Urdu at a madrasa only for one or two years but I have heard Muslims women speaking against talaq on TV. My question to powers-that-be is not about religion, but justice. Hindu women are also troubled for dowry and sometime burnt alive. Muslim women also face such harassment but they burn for life. I want most stringent laws against those who torture their wives and daughters-in-law for dowry and leave them at will.

Also in The Series
Talaq Talaq Talaq… And I Was Homeless In A Second


Green Shoots III

Green Shoots III – ‘We Rooted Out Domestic Violence’

I am a farmer, so is my husband. Our two sons work as daily wage laborers in Varanasi. Our family is a big one –with 12 members, which includes my grandchildren and daughters-in-law. For the past several years, the women of my household (and majorly of every household in the village) have been following a particular routine. Every day, we work in the farms, toil all day at home, take care of the children and then end the day with a violent spat with our drunk husbands. I decided to put an end to this. Everyday beatings cannot be a way of life.

About six months ago, I came to know about the Green Gang operating in the neighboring village of Ramasipur. I met Geeta, the leader of the gang, and shared my woes. She promised help and visited our village the next day. Since, most of the men in our village have been chronically hooked to gambling and alcohol, she did not take long to convince women to form a Green Gang here in Deora.

The Green Gang is a movement of women vigilante, who have taken it upon themselves to fight domestic violence. And the root cause of domestic violence in most villages of Uttar Pradesh is addiction to alcohol and gambling. Every evening, without fail, my husband and my son joined the gamblers at our village adda and lose all their money.

Whatever little was left, was given to us -women -which was just not enough to run the household. Domestic violence was a daily routine, irrespective of whether they won or lost at gambling. If they won, they used that money to consume more liquor and create a scene. If they lost, they abused us and beat us up if we asked for money to run the household.

With help from Geeta, the Green Gang in our village started work soon. In no time, things started to look up. Wearing green saris, we raided the addas, and chased the drunkards away. We even involved the police. Occasionally the police arrested some of the men, kept them in the lock-up overnight and released them after a stern warning.

At the village temple, many young men are made to take an oath that they will not touch alcohol or a pack of cards ever. The movement is growing. Now even my grandsons and granddaughters accompany the Green Gang on holidays and reach out to other children and urge them to ask their fathers and uncles to keep away from alcohol and gambling. I am positive that in the next few months, we will be able to uproot this malice entirely from our village.

Now my husband and my sons have shunned alcohol. They are handing over a good amount of money to us. These days, every evening I go around the village and try and educate the youth about the hazards of alcoholism and gambling. As the senior-most ‘Amma’ (motherly figure), it is my duty to do so. Deora is changing and I am optimistic that we have better things in store.


It had come to the notice that the current legal system is beneficial largely for women, which leaves the abused men without any help from the police and the law. What India need is a strong legal system which is justified and useful for a gender neutral world. Since we live in a massively gender-unequal world, domestic violence is one of the biggest threats restricted to only the women’s lives.

How effective is the Domestic Violence Act: In 2005, The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act (PWDVA) was introduced, which takes into account all the types of domestic violence women experience and also empowers judges to implement restraining orders, requires abusers to pay maintenance to the victim and grant property rights to women rights to shared homes.

The progressive move covers couples in live-in relationships, so that women do not get a raw deal. For a long time, live-in relationships in India was considered a taboo and most women failed to get respect in the society and rarely hoped of getting justice if embroiled in a case involving domestic violence. A report in the Indian Journal of Community Medicine’s latest issue highlights that many women face sexual and physical violence from their husbands over disagreements about safe sex. The study, conducted by the departments of obstetrics and gynecology, and family planning at Delhi’s University College of Medical Sciences, also shows that several victims silently tolerate the abuse, believing it’s their destiny. Of the 500 women who participated, about 46 per cent said they could not use condoms because it was their husbands’ decision.

The study found forced sex and sexual violence in 39 per cent of the cases, physical violence in 23 per cent of cases, and verbal abuse in nearly 33 per cent of cases. Physical violence mainly consisted of pushing, slapping, punching, kicking, beating with a weapon, and even inflicting burns. Women in India face a slew of violence, such as sexual and physical abuse, dowry killings, and domestic assault, largely due to deep-rooted patriarchal attitudes.

According to a report published in the Daily Mail, the author of the study, Dr Nilanchali Singh, said wives are not allowed to make independent choices regarding family planning and have no “reproductive autonomy” in India’s male-dominated society. If the society wants to grow, then it needs to work towards formulating legal processes which helps in anyone irrespective of the gender get justice in the legal process.