For every man that doesn’t rape you or brush a little too close to you in the market or stare at you unblinkingly and lasciviously in India, there are more than a handful who do. But you wouldn’t think so if you read The New York Times’ ode to the ideal Indian man. I finally managed to read it today, on a day when the better part of India is starving to ensure the longevity of the perfect Indian man they have married. Yes, it is the day for regression, slimming and immortality – Karva Chauth. A day when the Common Indian Married Male is celebrated.
I’d like to state upfront that I’m sick and tired of the media coverage on India and how unsafe it is for women which repeatedly appears in the international press. Any article which portrays another side to India and its men is welcome. So when I heard that NYT had published this tribute to the wonder that is the Indian man, I was quite pleased. Till I read it.
Going by the article, the only threat to Indian women is not from urban Indian men. You see these men are attached to their families and not denied access to regular pornography. I’m not making this up or stretching facts – for once. According to the author, Lavanya Sankaran, “Indian cities are awash with feral men, untethered from their distant villages, divorced from family and social structure, fighting poverty, exhausted, denied access to regular female companionship, adrift on powerful tides of alcohol and violent pornography, newly exposed to the smart young women of the cities, with their glistening jobs and clothes and casual independence — and not able to respond to any of it in a safe, civilized manner. This is the world of women under siege, the medieval world of the walking undead, the rise of the zombies, targeting females rich and poor. For women, at least, winter is coming”.
It’s the Attack Of The Subaltern.
While this isn’t totally incorrect, going by the descriptions of the lifes and families of the murderers and rapists of the Delhi gangrape victim – this isn’t the only truth. But a glance through the NYT article is enough to make you realise that along with a few good men, there are only a few good facts in the article.
The author bases her admiration for Indian men on one flight which she takes. A flight which to me seems to be a flight from hell – peopled only with Indian men and wailing babies and highstrung mothers. But the men rise to the challenge. They don’t dash out the wailing babies brains. Sankaran is surprised and impressed that these men actually help their female co-passengers and hold the babies and comfort them. While this is most touching and seems like an advertisement for Mothercare, this doesn’t make the men paragons of virtue and harbours of safety for India’s women or any women.
This does not mean that “Indian men can also be among the kindest in the world”. It simply shows that they are well-mannered and considerate passengers. Also, while I hate bursting male adoration bubbles, Sankaran would do well to remind herself that some of the world’s greatest serial rapists and killers from John William Gacy to Charles Sobhraj and Peter Sutcliffe were also family men. Hell, Gacy was called the Killer Clown because his day job was to perform as a clown at children’s birthday parties.
Sankaran, after quoting her family and friends and their love for their husbands and father, gives us another skewed fact. “Strong familial commitment is not a phenomenon restricted to the urban middle classes. Migrant laborers care for wives and children, and still send money home to their parents. The young woman who was gang-raped on a New Delhi bus on Dec. 16 had a village-raised father who supported her ardently”. She forgets to mention that two of the rapists were also sending back money to their families (wives and children) in their village, while indulging in a spot of rape and murder in the city. It cuts both ways. An instance cannot be translated into an absolute.
And then, just when you feel that the article can’t possibly get more myopic, Sankaran takes a final stab at womankind. All you women who think that you’re successful because of your perseverance, hardwork and independence – think again. According to Sankaran even this is thanks to the Great Indian Man – hereby referred to as GIM. According to her, “…female success, in a place like India with complicated social structures and a tradition of the Old Uncle Network, doesn’t happen in isolation. A successful woman is very likely to have had a supportive male in her life: a father, a spouse, a friend, a mentor”. Too bad she doesn’t mention that it’s actually the Horny Old Uncle Network, members of which will grope you when your parents aren’t looking and introduce you to the wonder that is date rape. And to borrow her style of sweeping statements, this is an experience undergone by almost every urban woman I know. But therein lies my biggest bone of contention with Sankaran’s article. According to her, there are no crimes against women committed by urban men.
“For his part, the Indian male, when nested in family and community, is part of a domestic tapestry that is intricately woven and vital, it seems, to his own sense of well-being. Take that away from him, hurl him away — and a possible result is a man unmoored, lost, adrift and, potentially, a danger to himself and to his world. Disconnection causes social disengagement and despair — and the behavior that is the product of alienation and despair.”
She obviously hasn’t read the multiple news reports of men who rape their maids. Or of ministers who have raped and murdered their mistresses. Or of bosses who sexually exploit their secretaries. Or fathers in metropolitan cities who molest their daughters. Her world of sexual offenders and oppressors of women only emerges from the hinterland and the land of migrant labourers. Classist much? I would think so.
Thanks to this article, where people on foreign shores were earlier of the belief that all Indian men are waiting to rape them – now at least NYT readers will narrow it down to one demographic. They can now know that they’re safe with people who like flying in planes and they’re also safe with urban Indian men. It’s only the rural male you need to be wary of. And the migrant labourer. They’re the ones waiting to pounce on the female of the species. Sankaran like all good writers doesn’t let facts get in the way of her story-telling. But I’m not going to give her all the credit for the art displayed in writing this artless piece. I’m sure she’d like to give credit for it to the support of the Horny Old Uncle Network in her life. As she said, “female success…doesn’t happen in isolation in India”.