On the ethics of voyeuristic panty photo shoots by press photographers

After reading the article in DNA  about Yana’s ‘No Panty’ I responded to the writer on his piece with the following comments. His original article is also pasted below for quick reference. My questions are:

1. Whether Yana wants to wear panties or not is her personal choice, even if she may be a Public figure.

2. Larger question is: what moral right does any press photographer have to click any woman’s picture AFTER knowing the fact that her private parts are going to be exposed? Shouldn’t be charged with criminal intent? Would he do such a thing if the ‘celebrity’ was his family member? Better still, if that woman was, say, Carla Sarkozy/Michelle Obama, would those pictures ever leave the venue? In this case Yana has come out as a victim of voyeuristic chauvinistic gaze.

3. Perhaps an article on commodification of women in Indian society would have been more appropriate than focus one woman’s non (panty) issue.


Flash News: ‘No-panty’ Yana shows India is booming. Monday, December 6, 2010 14:44 IST Venkatesan Vembu

In the Vanities
No one wears panities
—Ogden Nash
, Theatrical Reflection

In the early 1990s, when the Indian economy was opening up to the world, foreign consumer brands, in the first flush of excitement, came tripping over themselves to sell to “one billion” Indian customers. But after all the low hanging fruit had been plucked, they had to work hard to ferret out ‘niche’ markets that they could sell to: and one of those hitherto-unexplored markets in India, which had remained outside their reach, was the market for intimate women’s apparel.

At that time, a market research agency came out with a well-padded (and, perhaps, underwired) report that claimed – presumably after surveying women in the most remote tribal belts – that nearly 98 per cent of women in India did not wear any kind of undergarments. It then claimed, on the basis of this titillating bit of statistic, that there was clearly a vast and unfulfilled demand for women’s innerwear. Predictably, it had well-established international lingerie brands all out of breast breath and pant(y)ing with excitement at the big market that lay tucked away – out of sight of prurient eyes – beneath the demure vestments that Indian women wore.

Curiosity about what lay beneath the outer layers of women’s clothing had by then become something of a national obsession. In 1993 was released the film Khalyanak, with its suggestive signature hit-song Choli ke peeche kya hai (fair warning: nothing explicit, but probably Not Safe for Workplace). Young men burning with the desire for illumination on this fundamental question queued up to see the movie over and over again – in some cases, up to 30-40 times – but, sadly, obtained no satisfactory answer.

The fact that many Indian women, particularly in rural areas, have a callous disdain for innerwear would, of course, have been stunningly obvious to a generation that grew up watching Zeenat Aman (again, probably NSFW) in Satyam Shivam Sundaram.

But it appears, from evidence that was made pubic public recently, that the trend of women unwilling to be confined in anything so constricting as underwear has reached epidemic proportions in India.

The model Yana Gupta recently had male hormones gushing when she uncrossed her shapely legs at a charity event in Mumbai and flashed the message – as in this Calvin Klein commercial from 1981 starring Brooke Shields that between her and her micro-mini dress, there’s absolutely nothing.

The sight that the ‘No Panty Girl’ Yana revealed has predictably acquired nearly as much jabber value as this other famous uncrossing of legs, by Sharon Stone in the 1992 film Basic Instinct, did. But it has also drawn the unkind attention of self-appointed moral policemen with a keen eye out for exposed female genitalia: a man in Lucknow who claims to be a social activist (but from all accounts is only a publicity hound) has filed a case against Yana and the eager-beaver photographer on grounds of obscenity.

But it appears that in his eagerness to enforce an imagined moral order, the ‘moral policeman’ has misinterpreted the message inherent in Yana’s sneak peek of her no-panty state. To understand Yana’s message, one has to be familiar with the Hemline Index, a whimsical economic theory propounded in 1926 that, from all accounts, is still valid. It holds that the hemlines on women’s dresses rise when an economy is doing well; and, inversely, when economic times are grim, the skirts get longer. (More on this enthralling subject here.)

In other words, the message that Yana wished to flash to the world – through the shortness of her dress and her disregard for innerwear – is only that the Indian economy is well and truly booming.

Now, picture this: to profit from that booming economy, somewhere deep in a remote corner of India, a lingerie salesman looking to tap into a “vast and unfulfilled demand” for lacy innerwear is probably at this moment trying to hard-sell the joys of the Wonderbra to a puzzled tribal woman…

[UPDATE: At the suggestion of a commentator (see below), I’ve edited out the name of the petitioner who filed the obscenity case against Yana. The suggestion that media outlets should deny him the publicity that he seeks appears to me to be sensible.]


Interestingly, the writer Venkatesh Vembu often responds to even silly comments and feedback on his blog. Although my comments were posted on his DNA blog, perhaps he was at loss of words to respond to my comments.