The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Talking doll

Everyone wants a piece of Gudiya. And the great thing about living in a 21st-century democracy is that everyone can have their say.

Arif, Gudiya's first husband, has a right to want her back. He'd been married to Gudiya for just a few days when he went off to fight in the Kargil war. He disappeared; it was assumed that he had died or perhaps deserted. Four years later, Gudiya married again. A year-and-a-half after that, she's pregnant with her second husband's child. Arif has returned, after being held as a PoW for five years in a Pakistani jail. Now that he's home, he wants his wife back. Not her child, who isn't his child, but under pressure he'll accept the baby.

Taufiq, Gudiya's second husband, has a right to want his wife to stay. It's his child she's expecting; and they got married in good faith, assuming that Arif would never return. He has rights as a father and as a husband.

The local panchayat has a right to decide what Gudiya should do. They're the ones who know how these matters reflect not just on the honour of a woman, or a family, but on the honour of the village, so much more important than the first two. So they made up their minds: Gudiya should stay with Taufiq. But Arif is a war hero and the tale of a husband reunited with his wife after years of absence is too poignant to resist. So they changed their minds. For the good of the village.

The TV channels have a right to put Gudiya's life on camera. They're representing you, the people, after all, and don't we have a right to want a happy ending' For the channels, televising Gudiya's decision equals higher ratings. For the people, sending an SMS to indicate who you think Gudiya should stay with is what's called 'interactive viewing'. Either way, that's a very happy ending, for the channels, at least.

Gudiya's child has no rights. The baby hasn't been born yet, but that makes no difference; it isn't going to be asked which Daddy it might prefer, its biological father or the long-lost army jawan. It's getting a prenatal reality check: what matters here is family honour, and the advent of reality TV, and the value of a good human drama. To think of its rights would spoil the show.

And what of Gudiya' She seemed to want to stay with Taufiq, but then changed her mind under the force of public pressure and has declared she'll go with Arif. Did she ever have a real choice' About marrying Arif, remarrying Taufiq, having a child ' was she ever asked what she wanted'

She told the truth when she said that Taufiq can easily remarry one of her many cousins. This may not sound good to liberal, enlightened Indians, but Gudiya knows the truth: she's replaceable.

Right now, she matters. Everyone wants a piece of Gudiya, and the great thing about living in a 21st-century democracy is that everyone can have their say. Except for the one person who's mouthing the lines everyone else, from her family to her husbands to the imams to the panchayat to the TV channels, are writing for her. Gudiya never had a say right from the start.

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