As bye-election rallies get underway in Tamil Nadu’s Nanguneri and Vikravandi, the ruling party is pulling all the stops to attract crowds to its election rallies. At a recent AIADMK election rally at Nanguneri, this included women performing 'record dances' onstage.
Record dancing is a form of erotic entertainment that descended from folk dancing, and caters to the masses. It involves the female performers wearing clothes that don't cover the midriff dancing suggestively. It is this form of dance which eventually translated to the 'item song' in cinema.
Videos of the record dances which were part of the AIADMK's 'cultural programme' are being circulated widely and the AIADMK has found itself in a tough spot.
Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami, Health Minister C Vijayabaskar and former AIADMK Minister Gokula Indira were campaigning in Nanguneri at the time.
‘A traditional concept’
R Mani, a senior journalist with over 25 years of experience, says that these dances were a part of temple festivals initially before they became normalised in political rallies.
“Temple festivals of village deities, mostly women deities, will have a slot for such dance performances,” he says. Adding that such events provided entertainment for people living in rural areas, Mani says that over a period of time, political parties started appropriating the practice by funding these festivals and expecting votes in return.
However, after these performances, local honchos would allegedly try to sexually harass the dancers, leading to brawls. Since many of these performances ended up creating law and order issues in the locality, the police started clamping down on permissions granted for the dance events. The courts also started rejecting petitioners who approached them for permission to organise such dance performances in festivals.
“Over the years, such dance shows have decreased in number due to a variety of reasons and whatever we see now is not pervasive,” he says.
It isn’t just the AIADMK which has turned to record dancing to draw crowds to rallies. Mani points out that all parties are guilty of doing this at some point in time.
The DMK has historically had many prolific speakers at its rallies, but the AIADMK has never had that luxury, notes a young woman journalist on the condition of anonymity. As someone who reports from rural Tamil Nadu, she observes that these dancers help retain crowds though there is a cost.
“They are treating women as mere products. Politics is a male-dominated bastion even today. But I am not sure if it is needed for a political rally. The idea is to ignite the pleasure centres anyway, and that is why they give free alcohol and biryani to the men attending these rallies,” she adds, calling it a ‘cheap strategy’. She also points out that while the manifesto of such political parties push for women's empowerment and safety, such a practice only exposes the party’s hypocrisy.
MS Ranjana Kumari, a political scientist and the Director of Center for Social Research, says that using scantily-clad women dancers to draw crowds is a tactic used across the country.
“Firstly, the whole idea of making women dance this way is objectification, more so when women are equal citizens in a democracy. They vote and they have the same rights as anyone else. Using women as objects of entertainment, especially for political mobilisation, is totally not acceptable,” she says. Adding that this disrespects women’s dignity and promotes a culture of violence against women, Ranjana Kumari says that it contradicts the election manifesto of political parties.
Is ban a solution?
In Tamil Nadu, these dances are not illegal, but police and the court have still regularly cracked down on such events.
“The show under question in Nanguneri might have happened because the Chief Minister himself was going to be present for a speech and the party needed to show that they had a respectable crowd,” Mani says.
The woman journalist is baffled by the lack of interest in pursuing the issue by the DMK. “I don't know why the opposition is not even talking about this. This has to be called out. If the DMK is on the right track, they would have taken this case and challenged the AIADMK not to do such things,” she says.
For Ranjana Kumari, a ban is not a solution to address this issue since, according to her, people will find a way to circumvent it and still go on organising such programmes.
“A ban doesn’t work in our country in any case. Whatever gets banned will become doubly popular with the people. It is better that it becomes an ethical issue for the party and their morality which comes under question. How many things can be really banned? Because in any case people will find a way around it,” she says.