'Odds stacked against Indian women'
Men behaving like barbarians, the sex explosion in the media, humiliating judicial rules for women - it's all too much for Bollywood's Preity Zinta. She tells BBC News Online why she wants a better deal for India's women.
Preity Zinta: Expect a "tight slap" if you cross her
"An Indian girl is dependent on her father when she is young, on her husband when she is married and on her son when she is old! I don't want you to be like that. I want you to be the master of your own destiny."
This is what my father said to me when I was a little girl.
He made it possible for me to come this far by believing in me and making me believe in myself.
Today he is not there but I am everything he wanted me to be. I am independent, confident and master of my destiny.
If my life was a film, then my father would be my ultimate hero. He protected me by making me stronger.
Therefore, today I am the modern Indian woman. I haven't forgotten my culture or my values. Yet I am ambitious and work-oriented.
But there is a problem.
I do not feel safe on the streets, neither do a lot of women in India.
And why is that? It is because of a phenomenon we in India call "Eve teasing". It sounds rather biblical and innocent but "Eve teasing" can range from catcalls to sexual assault of women.
A lot of women in India have a story of "Eve teasing". Here is mine.
In life I have a "one tight slap" theory: it means if anyone makes me uncomfortable or treats me like a piece of meat, then they get a dose of my theory.
I remember shopping in a crowded area in Delhi a few years ago with my friends when I felt someone pinch my butt.
Since my reflexes are pretty sharp I immediately grabbed his hand, traced it back to his body in the crowd and gave him one tight slap.
I felt angry and humiliated. Incidences like these take away a woman's dignity, her space and her freedom.
Today I am privileged because I am a star and always surrounded by security. But what about the women in my country? Who is going to protect them from these everyday villains?
Who will protect ordinary women?
Sometimes I wonder why some men behave like barbarians. And why the state is so helpless in protecting the women.
Why should women feel unsafe in a country which had an internationally revered woman prime minister?
Why should men stalk our women on roads, tease them on buses and trains, and assault and rape them when five of our 29 states are run by politically empowered women?
For one, I think it has to do with a sex explosion in our media. There's too much smut on prime time television.
Even I feel embarrassed to watch some of the television in front of my family.
On view are videos where the camera zooms in and out of the girl's anatomy, accompanied by vulgar and crude remix music which single-mindedly murders classic Indian film songs.
There is one video in which a man on a train has a drink and sees a properly dressed girl morphing into a little sex kitten in a bikini top and a slit skirt. Then they begin a dirty dance inside the compartment.
Moving images influence people, sometimes adversely. People copy movies all the time: when Superman came out, kids jumped out of buildings thinking they could fly.
So when I read in the papers that a woman was assaulted in a train, music videos like these come to mind and infuriate me. I don't understand why the censors haven't even looked at the social implications of such videos on prime time television.
In India, ironies never cease, especially when it comes to women.
Traditionally, our women, though confined to a homemaking role, held a very respectable position in a society which was - and still is - essentially patriarchal.
But today when our women are becoming more independent and stepping out of their homes, their respectability and security is being threatened by men behaving badly.
It's all about men imitating all the dangerously sexist images of women that our media spits out day and night. I daresay that some of today's cinema is also to blame.
Unlike the Hindi film heroine of yesteryear, who was largely the epitome of purity and had a certain dignity, there is today an emerging "genre" of B-grade skin flicks that showcase "sexy" heroines in slinky costumes.
In one such film, the hero grabs his heroine on a smoky strobe-lit dance floor and orders her to stare at him till she goes weak in the knees and begins breathing heavily. All this in their first interaction!
Such distorted in-your-face sexuality on 24/7 television and mainstream cinema sends a clear green signal to the impressionable men in the audience, telling them that behaviour like this is justified.
So consider the odds stacked against our women.
A conservative society where most parents still don't discuss sex with children is leapfrogging from orthodoxy to in-your-face sex on television, films and the internet.
A victim of a sex crime has to go through the humiliating process of proving to our judiciary that she was not a "loose" character who consented to or invited the offender.
But I am an eternal optimist.
I believe that good will always triumph over evil. There will be more heroes in our society than villains. And, in jest, one day I may even be party to the creation of a new phrase called "Adam teasing"!