The Shame of the Indian Male

It is as if India is losing her humanity part by part. Coming close on the heels of the recent spate of reports on women molested in various parts of India is this horrific and tragic report from Surat about a brave man named Keshav Vishwakarma who tried to prevent a woman from being heckled. For being a good Samaritan, four hours later, he was doused with kerosene and put on fire. Incredibly, with 75% burn injuries he walked two kilometers to a police station to report the incident. Unfortunately, he later succumbed to his injuries at the hospital.

It is nothing new that women in India have a torrid time in public spaces. Even as a child I could not help but notice how careful my mother would be when she had to go out alone or with me to any public space, be it to the market or to the cinema or to drop me off at school. She would carefully wrap her pallu around herself completely so that no bare skin was visible anywhere between her face and feet. In the bus she always made sure that she sat as much in the front as possible, away from the men’s seats and on the road she would ask me to walk on the outer side so that I’d be shielding her from passing traffic (meaning the sundry Indian male who would not think twice about grabbing or groping a woman in public).

Later, when I was older, I’d listen in horror as my female friends recounted incident after incident about how disgusting and desperate the average Indian male is in public. I was ashamed and embarrassed that the freedom I took for granted came with so many reservations for them. To think that every time they were out in public they had to deal with innumerable snide comments which would range from ‘kya potti hai re’ to men in cars slowing down to ask ‘ati kya?’ showed me how different a world it is for an Indian woman compared to her male counterpart. They had to be on constant guard to not let men get too close in public spaces. For if men got too close more often than not their body parts would be groped, grabbed or pawed in the most obscene way. My friends often would not take it lying down if they were in a group and always tried to fight back. But they also knew that it was safer to keep quiet especially if they were alone. They knew from practical experience how unsafe it is for an Indian woman to walk on the street alone even in a big city like Hyderabad. And these were the so called elite upper middle class women who were confident, educated and unapologetic about what they wore or how they behaved and who therefore, according to some, are asking for such abuse by dressing or behaving unlike a ‘traditional Indian woman’. A male friend, upon listening to such incidents from my female friends, even had the gall to say that if they stopped wearing dresses befitting a whore they would be given more respect! If only the truth is so simple. Even women who wear ‘traditional’ Indian dresses are not spared such abuse. I recall a nonsensical dress code directive by Anna University along the very lines of such an argument about which I had blogged here.

So why do we Indian men behave like this? Many men would object perhaps saying that men are the same everywhere in the world. To a certain extent that is true. But I’ve observed how big a difference there is between the average European male and his Indian counterpart when it comes to women. Men defer to women here in public spaces. Although men do eye good looking women here it is limited to just that. There are no snide or obscene comments passed and in my four years here I’ve never ever seen a man behave obscenely towards a woman in public. Yes, there are occasionally teenagers who seem to tease women but they are more the exception than the rule.

So why this difference? Is it a question of education? Not always because a significant number of Indian men who are guilty of these offenses are educated. A classmate of mine back in school would think nothing of dashing into a girl on the road for apparently no reason except that it gave him a momentary thrill. No amount of reasoning would make him change his attitude. And this is a guy who came from an educated family and even had a little sister. So why is it that India treats her women so inhumanely even though Indian history and culture is steeped in worshiping and respecting the female sex? Is it because men are conditioned into believing that women are the lesser sex? Is it because there is a lack of education or awareness on how invasive and hurtful heckling or molesting a woman is? Perhaps Indian men are not taught that it is not harmless fun but a grave trespassing of another person’s privacy to do that. That the bodies of women are their own and not public possessions. Or is it simply because of the huge Victorian hangover that India still suffers from where sexes are rigidly separated and not allowed much interaction until they get married thereby leading to frustration and desperation? Perhaps it is all of this and more. But the one indisputable fact is that even as we speak gloriously of a ‘New India’ we still treat women as if they were objects, as things that can be felt up without a second thought.

And therefore it is all the more tragic that one of the few voices that rose in protest against such an inhumane act has been snuffed out in so brutal a fashion. It is unfortunate that the sacrifice and bravery of Keshav will be soon forgotten except perhaps for this beautiful but solitary elegy. We will just shrug our shoulders and mumble ‘yeh India hai bhai’ and continue with our lives while on the roads the Indian woman wages a daily and lonely battle for privacy and respect.

We need more initiatives such as this through which the Indian male is educated and made aware of so that there would be no need for this. We need more men with the selfless bravery of Keshav. Men who will not walk on by silently while a woman is being molested or teased. We need a police force who will not turn a blind eye to such offenses or offenders and will see to it that the latter are brought to justice. We need a justice system that is swift in handing out punitive punishment for such crimes. We need a society to change its moribund way thinking that it is always the fault of the woman and that if only they dressed more ‘modestly’ they would not face such problems. We also need a press that is more sensitive to these issues and instead of sensationalizing such incidents that do make it to the public radar commit to a sustained effort to promote awareness and eradicate this menace from the Indian public spaces and make them safe for women. Then and only then can the murder of Keshav be avenged.

7 responses to “The Shame of the Indian Male”

  1. Rafi ahmed says:

    i have lived a couple of years in hongkong and china, i have seen girls walking alone in shenzhen in the mid night. In my view, it is because of our culture. the more some thing is supressed, the more it likely to explode with out control.

    i see hundreds of guys looking for girls on internet, they claim they are software engineers, have money, good job, but no one to love them or share life with, I am 32, software engineer, single and unmarried.

    i have no girl friend , i spend my weekends at home and fed up with boring life myself. I want to spend few hours with a girl may be go out to drink a tea or cofee and make new friends.

    but the big question is where to find her. they are not found on streets, not in internet classfieds, not in work place. so what choice people are left with. just hang on streets and make comments.

    i know you will say get married. good enough. how to know whether the girl you are made to marry is have some thing in common with out knowing the person. we are made to blindly marry with out knowing each other and later get into affairs with office colleages and that never admitted.

    well do not blame on people who do it, blame on the society which made them to do it. people are not born thieves or rapists, society turns into them.

    if some thing is wrong in people, should try to find out why those people are doing that . we all know the problem, over protective brothers and dads.

    try to give freedom to your daughters and sisters, its their life. even they made mistakes, they learn from them. what the life with out having an affair before marrieage, life is not suppose to be perfect, if it is then it is boring.

    i can say a lot, may be some agree and some do not. its their freedom and choice. so let it be.

    we all can not eat daily same food, so why tie to one partner.

  2. Arasu Balraj says:

    spellbound to hear this news and to read anniezaidi’s elegy. felt the resolve getting rigid inside.

    //But this fight you’ve fought, I’ll fight to the death//

  3. Anil says:

    Rafi: I agree it is something of a Catch-22 situation. But even if society is to blame for its conservative mindset and the resulting frustration among men that should not be used as an excuse to condone molestation. It is just not done to grab or grope a woman. Can you imagine a woman grabbing a man’s crotch in public? So why should men do it?

    Talk to her and if you have the courage and confidence ask her out but please no lewd comments. Well, if not anything I’d say the situation in the bigger cities is a bit better than before vis a vis dating. It is not that difficult to meet with the opposite sex these days. And I don’t quite agree with you on the “what is life with out having an affair before marriage” part. It does make you any less of a man/woman if you are a virgin when you get married.

  4. bb says:

    Indian males are truly a bunch of repressed, cruel, repulsive schmucks. While I could have prefaced the comment with a lot of nuanced thought and apologies for breaking the bounds of political and civil correctness, my statement rings true plain and simple. There are some days I just refuse to leave the house so I don’t have to deal with them, or drive amidst them. The abuse transcends wardrobes as we all know because I can wear a loose, long sleeved t-shirt and jeans and get harassed, while a fat woman in a sari with her stomach and bra-less breasts hanging out in full view will be totally ignored.

    South India is comparatively less painless when it comes to daily sexual harassment, humiliation and completely lack of privacy as a citizen but this doesn’t mean that the scores of leching pricks on the streets of chennai, bangalore or trivandrum are absolved of blame. I don’t know what it is about the upbringing of the indian male, something translates cross-culturally to ensure that whether raised in India or abroad, indian men are vile manifestations of paternalism and sexism. No wonder they’re always de-sexualized in world media.

  5. Ambika says:

    I came across this article while researching cultural norms for my upcoming trip to India (I wanted to stay in keeping with what is normal and usually public behavior). I have to say that as I have been researching I come across a lot of information about this sort of thing going on in India.At first I could hardly believe it and thought it a rare occurence but I’m finding so much information about it I’m beginning to become uneasy about my trip.

  6. Dipanjali says:

    Hmm..I think this is definitely a combination of segregation of the genders, which allows dehumanization of a woman, and a manifestation of the status of a woman in India. Anil is correct in saying it is not just the uneducated who indulge in such shameful practices – I have met several educated, liberal men who don’t think twice before being sexist, and are unapologetic when it is pointed out to them. My mother was doing an article of portrayal of women in the media and she found in her research (not surprisingly) that most ads featured women at home, and as a wife or a mother, promoting cleaning products. Research that I did of Australian advertisements has similar results. Women were featured only in the capacity of a mother or a wife, and never in ads of, for example, insurance, banking products, software products (or other ‘important’ areas).

    The bottom line is that mostly, with a few exceptions, women are not taken seriously. At the work place, men would talk to my body parts rather than to me. On a celebration of International Women’s Day at work, we were asked to cook and bring in food or any ‘crafts’ that we made. Two of my like minded colleagues complained to our bewildered HR manager who saw absolutely nothing wrong with celebrating womens day with the very sterotype women were fighting against.

    In India, women are things – to be looked at, to be pawed, to be used and abused, to be married off, and to be married to. Men, no matter what status, education, or position in life, are ALWAYS superior by virtue of being men. My doorman at work would ignore me and treat me like he would not dare treat a male colleague. All because he was male and I female. I think that sums up the male mentality in India.

  7. SM says:

    Love this article. Tagging it on facebook for others to read. Thanks for writing this piece.

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