The Public Secret of Savita Bhabhi: Jyoti Singh

This is a  guest post by JYOTI SINGH

In May 2013, makers of the erotic comic strip came out with the Savita Bhabhi movie, where apart from Savita Bhabhi doing what she is best at, she also helps the two nerds, who mistakenly teleport her into their Orwellian India of 2070, take their revenge upon the notorious I&B Minister who bans all online porn but engages in all offline porn. With this, Savita Bhabhi was back in our ever-so-fickle public memory after 4 years of ban, but yet not quite. Her resurfacing was not as resounding as her going away. One could ascribe this to the spoken language of the movie being Hindi instead of English, which is the original language of the strip and also the official language of all modern day revolutions of the middle class on social media. Perhaps they misjudged the ‘maximum reach’ bit, which rendered her an orphan. Nevertheless, that aside, why isn’t Savita Bhabhi missed enough anyway?

Savita Bhabhi’s ban was a case of preventive morality; Internet censorship meeting patriarchy (and the likes). The hushed Indianism of the bhabhi suffix had finally got out of the bag into the mainstream and hurriedly needed to be put back in its rightful place i.e. next to saali. She worebindisari, and to top it, even a modern style sindhoor, and a mangalsutra rested on her bosom. In a society where all transgressions must be justified in the end, a character without any rationalization and unapologetic about her sexuality, couldn’t be redeemed. (She was not in love with her men and nor did she have a bad marriage.) A character like that is beyond redemption and is dangerous and must be eliminated from our cultural narrative, especially when it is a woman, who must be the cheerleader and mascot of morality at all times. After bequeathing her with this trophy, the other sex ingeniously excused itself to take care of the more important matters. Since she was given something to stand for, she wilfully stripped herself off her human character and became an all-sacrificing beast, inculcating super-human traits. But now she is reclaiming herself. In porn, this change was reflective in the way democratisation and mainstreaming of Savita Bhabhi happened, and its subsequent ban within a year of its online inception –while child pornography goes unchecked– was reflective of the bizarre parameters of social acceptability and unacceptability we operate with.

What if instead of the housewife Savita Bhabhi, we had a Shambhu Postman who would go door to door playing paramour to his female patrons in the afternoons? One would probably chuckle and even find the image comic, or Casanova-ish, depending on what a postman conjures up, but would hardly feel morally indignant, and this is true of both genders. Savita Bhabhi is an outlier of a woman, and as a result- for lack of any other understanding- she is closer to a man. She is a reminder of that “loose” girl whom all good boys would give themselves to before falling in love with the respectable virgins. She made men out of boys. To add to that, for the first time, a mainstream Indian porn was not looking west. Keeping true to the genre, she was graphically aspirational, yet Indian. Its consumers were all English speaking urbanites and she spoke to them in their language. The Indian mythic character from the urban legend of sorts had now become approachable. She was in our neighbourhood. She was no more the boss’ wife, but the colleague’s wife. She was a face of changing morality of bulging, rich middle class; her womanly virtues of multitasking and compartmentalising were now being used to assert her individuality, even if sexually. Changes in economics are slowly pushing changes in the moral landscape of this class, specifically the huge middle of the middle class. Therefore, it is in this class context that Savita Bhabhi debate must be had, where pushing the limits of second-wave feminism is finally becoming affordable. Thus, in that, Savita Bhabhi was doing (sic) us good when she was snatched away.

Same imagination that blames women for rape bans Savita Bhabhi while letting other creativity afloat. To say that porn encourages rape is not far from saying sex encourages rape. Maybe we should really be banning sex instead of porn, to nip it in the bud!

The only area where porn ban makes a case for itself is where children are concerned. However, instead of taking on the challenges of the medium to protect the vulnerable, the outward arbitrary banning of choice content only reveals the lack of intent and logic; but then again, less thinking is always preferred to more thinking.Doing a little bit of research on the Internet, will turn up the website where she is available for a subscription fee. Now she is not freely available to you, you have to buy her. Bizarre as it may sound, but your government won’t let you have her on its own territory yet you can buy her from a foreign territory, with a reassurance that you are paying to consume Savita Bhabhi, which subtly puts her ambiguous character in her place, and you, in yours. Money is a great distinguisher even in its role as penalty.

Savita Bhabhi strip is a serendipitous accident without any sociological intent by some porn enthusiasts, but one can’t take away from that fact that she does point out to herself. The intent here is not promotion of porn but the promotion of accepting a reality. Porn and Savita Bhabhi, in that sense, are interchangeable- they are both real and high time we accepted them both. The definition of what is acceptable gets revised with every generation, and that generational window is rapidly contracting. Banning could be myopia or limitation of governments; it cannot be the way of societies. Societies are evolutionary entities, transient. The Internet is here to stay, and it is no more just a medium but a philosophy that could be slowly carving out its own belief system, like any society. The real and the virtual worlds will have to coexist, and there is no denying that they’ll both expose each other from time to time.

In the end, however, what matters is no matter how nuanced truth is, it still is truth, truth that reveals itself with or without our approval, and Savita Bhabhi’s is one such case, where a well-kept secret is in fact a well-known secret.

19 thoughts on “The Public Secret of Savita Bhabhi: Jyoti Singh”

  1. Aptly written !! It is indeed the narrow-mindedness of Indian society that has made sex talk a taboo… How can we expect them to be liberal in case of Savita Bhabhi ????

  2. Great piece. So true. Glad that someone thought about this and put it into words. These things just happen without us thinking about their real implications. Now we shall.

  3. this is one case where anti-anti-porn feminism activism is clearly indicated. Go ahead and torrent it (isohunt – the secure one https:// – fastest for searching torrents) if you are in India.

    Note if you were cybercop how would you frame anyone for ‘distributing obscene material’? Right, cops (cyber branch) often join in to see who’s completed what torrent. And since P2P involves uploading the fuzz hve a (weak) case that one is distributing porn… [possession of anything: there is a supreme court ruling – not overturned yet iirc – that possessing ‘software’ is not actionable…

    someone wants to try test case on P2P? Maybe instead of porn, the Roy/Kishen film ‘in which annie gives it those ones’ for example – would be a better option… would challenge regressive copyright law too as the copyright is held by Doordarshan who refuse to screen it — one or two laatenight screenings 1988, then they claim they’ve ‘lost the print’.- wtf!

  4. ” YOU JUST DONT WAKE UP ONE DAY AND DECIDE THAT YOU NEED TO WRITE ” You make sense………..I Like it.

  5. Jyoti, the most interesting thing about Savita Bhabi is her get-up… I mean, the class of people who are ready to come across something like this are people who can read/understand English, right? but, as you rightly pointed out, Savita Bhabi is not the woman who is a, well, a so-called “urban chic” but rather the woman one encounters in streets, home, and a “middle-class” society and yet she is the woman who is free from these so-called social “norms” of being an “ideal” women. so, know doubt, the English-equipped people who cherished the Mangalsutra-flaunting-“item girl” had no problem in accepting her. And who knows, if the main character is replaced by a male figure, how many will still be interested? patriarchy works in a deep and dark way in men and women alike. Nevertheless, it’s very nice of you to address these matters.

  6. Hi,
    An interesting post, however, I have some disagreements with certain points of this article:
    (i) You say that the ban was a case of preventive morality. I am not sure what exactly do you mean by the term ‘preventive morality’. However, don’t you think it is right to put a restriction to the freedom of speech if the content is indecent, and I don’t think that you would deny that the content was indeed indecent.
    (ii) The sentence – “But now she is reclaiming herself. In porn, this change was reflective in the way democratization and mainstreaming of Savita Bhabhi happened”, I wonder how you can relate the liberation of women to this pornographic adventure. Though it is true that the protagonist is a woman and is independently engaging in the acts depicted, yet the overall tone is of offering your body as just an object of pleasure. Also, men are depicted as always sex-hungry. They never deny the pleasure of enjoying a woman’s body. These images of men and women are very stereotypical and I am not sure how they help the cause of feminism.
    (iii) You say that child pornography goes unchecked. I will request you to please provide the links to the websites which have a host server in India and are providing a free access to child pornography. I doubt this is the case, but in any case, we can recommend the government to ban these.
    (iv) You say that porn should be banned in only those cases where children are concerned. So your argument is one of regulation rather than outright ban. However, can you even imagine how tough it gets to regulate internet when it is reaching in every nook and corner of the country. In such a case, won’t it be a good policy decision to ban such outright indecent magazines. And again, please note that if you are talking about changing moralities of this so called middle class, I don’t think that any such social group has accepted the morality of adulterous behaviour, either by men or women. Actual practices are a different thing, but to equate them to accepted behaviour is not correct always.
    (v) Overall, my disagreement is with the causal link that you have drawn between patriarchy and this specific case of banning. I agree with you that the Indian society is indeed deeply patriarchal, and in ways, that often go unnoticed, especially by men. However, not every act involving gender or sexual relations can be termed patriarchal. It should be termed so only in light of tangible evidence. The reasons for the demand of ban and the subsequent government action may have been affected by patriarchal attitudes, but does that make the action itself a bad action? I doubt that.

    1. Thanks for writing in, Siddharth. Most of the points you make are a matter of opinion, so I’ll leave them there. But I will quickly respond to a point about a fact: Savita Bhabhi was an anime porn and I speak of child porn not being duly tackled in that category. Hope that clears the ambiguity

  7. Totally apt,and you just kicked in the butt of this reserved thinking of the neo-patriarchal society ,awesomely written and well structured in each and every line,though my encounter with savita bhabhi happened when i started to attend my college(2008),it was then ,i came to know the indian mentality,i loves the openness and the way its totally “india”,and the comic portrays the hidden fascinations of we “indians” and to simply ban it–will make us all more to “want” it.

  8. That’s a nice piece. Though that’s too much thought on someone not too thought of. And while there is definitely a need for the society to be more accomodating, u just can’t get rid of the morons who supersede the law. Well written.

  9. Um, I just want to remind everyone at this point that whatever said and done, Savita Bhabhi is just another male centric sexist patriarchal porn cartoon.

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