The Great Indian Confused Male
The Hissing Saint
This incident happened about a year ago.
I was on a train, making my way to work when I chanced upon this rather interesting conversation. A group of about seven to eight men, ranging in their ages from the early 20s to 30s, was huddled together in the crowded compartment and avidly discussing the Marine drive rape incident.
I watched and listened keenly as all of them expressed their contempt for the now incarcerated cop and proposed various methods of punishment that could be meted out to him for his crime.
Interestingly as the conversation proceeded it began to take on a different shade. Some of the men began to propose that the victim herself was partly responsible for her fate.
"...and what was she doing alone with two boys," said someone.
"Once she had finished her work she should have headed back home," chipped in another.
"Who knows...maybe she was wearing something provocative?"
Soon enough the conversation shifted to college girls and how "horrible and cheap" their dressing had become. Someone began to describe the "obscene" sights he had seen outside a south Mumbai college.
As the discussion continued, I began to wonder for some strange reason about the backgrounds of these men and the circumstances under which they grew up.
I could almost imagine them as kids, watching as their homebound-mother slaved over domestic chores, took care of them and generally did everything possible to please her husband.
When they would come back home bawling after a fight with friends or nursing a bruised arm or leg, their mothers would chide them for crying saying "Are you a boy or a girl? Stop crying! You should be a brave man" or "If you want to cry like this, become a girl, wear some bangles and sit at home."
As they grew they would learn to celebrate a festival called Raksha Bandhan.
Raksha Bandhan is a festival celebrating the bond of affection between brothers and sisters. The day when the siblings pray for each other's well being and wish for each other's happiness and goodwill. As the name "Raksha Bandhan" suggests, "a bond of protection", Raksha Bandhan is a pledge from brothers to protect the sister from all harms and troubles and a prayer from the sister to protect the brother from all evil.
Soon enough the boys would watch as their mother began to involve their sisters in kitchen activities and teaching them the various domestic chores while the boy himself was strictly forbidden from doing the same.
When it came to academics, perhaps the boy's performance would always be lauded while the girl's achievements would be given a blind eye. Money would be spent on the boy's tuitions and extra classes but no such importance would be given to the girl because "she had to be married off and what use was education to her anyway."
Sometimes mother would have other female relatives or neighbors at home and the boy would sometimes hear them talking about family issues and lamenting about the increasing cost of running the household. Of course there would also be the occasional discussion about some hen-pecked husband who according to them was being tormented by his wife because he was sometimes seen hanging out the washed clothes or helping his wife in household chores. They would all agree that a man must know how to control his wife or he would end up like this person. And as they laughed mother would warn the boy to be careful or he too would end up being a "joru ka ghulam" or a "Slave of the wife."
Even while the boy was at play the messages never stopped.
As the boy grew he learnt from peers that certain games were girlie games and not stuff that boys should indulge in. If anyone was a little craven he was instantly referred to as a girlie.
Even the media did little to contradict what the boy was "learning".
The typical Indian family movie or soap would portray the female protagonist as an all-good, all sacrificing woman who silently bore the oppression of her evil in-laws.
The female antagonist character on the other hand was a woman with a keen fashion sense, indulged herself in jewellery and other luxuries, participated in kitty parties and was generally found plotting and conspiring to divide an otherwise peacefully living family.
There were no shades here - just black and white.
Invariably many of these family drama movies would also feature for comic relief, a hen-pecked tormented husband who finally finds liberation from his tyrant wife with a tight slap and the clichéd dialogue - "I should have done this a long time ago!". And voila the woman sheds a few tears, "has her eyes opened" and is suddenly transformed into the "good and loving" wife who seeks forgiveness from her husband.
Other similarly intransigent women are also bought on to the "right path" by the tight slap.
In time I assume all these messages leave a distinct stamp on the mind of this person. He sees himself as the superior one, responsible for protecting and taking care of the women in his family. He probably sees women as entities that must be controlled for their own good. His idea of the ideal woman is probably someone who sits at home, takes care of the kids, prepares the food and serves her husband.
But unknown to him things are changing.
While there are women who accept the oppression or superiority of men (as the case may be) as a natural way of life and don't think twice about it, there is a significant majority that seeks freedom from this cycle. They see themselves not just as baby makers or housewives but rather playing a larger role in society. They are street smart, confident and do not need men to play the role of caretakers or protectors.
And in all of this our Indian man, with all his perceptions and ideas, suddenly finds himself redundant - a mere contributor of sperm. He finds himself being called insensitive, chauvinistic and many other not so flattering adjectives.
Every principle, idea and thought he held close to his heart is suddenly turned upside down. He finds it hard to accept this new reality and fights it tooth and nail, distorting reality to fit things into his own perspective.
The result perhaps is what I see before me.
The discussion meanwhile is interrupted by a group of women who enter the train and occupy a couple of seats a little distance away. This sight immediately attracts the ire of the group and they launch into a purposefully vociferous discussion aimed at heckling the women.
The General compartment (as it is formally called) of the train is more fondly referred to by the men as the Gents or Men's compartment, although officially no such exclusivity has been conferred upon it. Yet any intrusion by the women (who incidentally are offered an exclusive ladies compartment) is viewed with much consternation.
"These females have their own compartment yet they barge in here and take our seats."
"...and if that weren't enough...they get angry if someone by mistake also touches them...."
As I listen to their angry voices I wondered, perhaps this was a battle to preserve what these men perceived to be their last stronghold.
Meanwhile a couple of seats away another group of men breaks into the opening lines of a popular Hindi film song. A number of voices join in and in almost no time an orchestra of bathroom singers is in concert.
Everyone's attention is now riveted on the performance. The acrimony is shelved for a while.
Gender Equality, it seems, could wait for another day.
The Great Indian Confused Male
- » Published on April 27, 2006
- » Type: Opinion
- » Filed under: