The article on NY times, by Lavanya Sankaran about how Indian men, contrary to the patriarchal misogynist pigs as they are painted to be, also are among the most witty, intellectual and caring individuals, has justifiably invited a lot of criticism. Perhaps, chief among the critique, is one that faults the article’s author for painting an incomplete picture. After all those from states like, say, Haryana will vouch for a strong culture of discrimination against girls in the country; which obviously is not very well touched upon by the article in question.
Not to be diplomatic, but the author and her critics are right in their own way. After all I have known and continue to many decent men who respect human rights, not as a pursuit of noble instinct, but as the most natural and easy thing to do. In the many decades since independence, the evolution in rules of evidence critical to make trials victim friendly, were advocated by judges who are men. On the contrary, I have on far too many occasions heard horror stories about women judges being more sympathetic to men than women, even when the facts don’t support it. India offers both categories of men and people in general. Heck, India offers all categories of men. Not only do we have the most diverse flora and fauna, but we also have the most diverse bunch of people in our population. I cannot lay this debate to rest. But what I can do is to share my own experience around working with rape survivors as also summarise the opinions of experts around the subject of sex crimes.
Yet, there are many reasons why we have a morbid culture of sexual violence against women. Chief among those reasons, no doubt, is the men who commit these crimes. At the end of the day, when the dust settles, sexual assault represents an individual’s choice to violate human rights. These individuals are motivated by the need to exert power and assert domination and control over their victims. They might have deplorable circumstances in their life and have less than pleasant background and upbringing. But so did a lot of other men out there, who went on to lead very respectable lives. Rape has no excuse and has no justification which is acceptable to civilised society and reasonable individuals. However, if we are to effectively combat the crime, then we need to understand the dynamics of it, if not the cause.
We know that sexual assault, is not so much an act of uncontrolled lust, as much as it is a form of violence where forced sexual activity (including intercourse) becomes the weapon of choice for the offender. Our understanding of these criminals have improved since the days of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, USA pioneering the techniques around profiling. We know now, that the concept of a feedback filter is part of the progression of the offender. At its core, a feedback filter involves the offender formulating a justification for the crime in his mind (Ref: Sexual Homicide: Patterns and Motives by Dr. Ann Burgess, Robert Kesssler and John E. Douglas). For example, it could be the victim’s apparent lack of diligence, social values that mandates that a girl in a short skirt is “loose” or as, we saw in the case of Ariel Castro, “Porn Addiction”. The law will of course reject such justifications. But when he speaks the language that some or most members of our society may sympathize with, then his trap and ruse has succeeded. All those people who focus more on the alleged shortcomings of the victim as opposed to the actions of the accused, are nothing but dumb idiots falling prey to the manipulation of a violent criminal.
(In his final summation to the court, Ariel Castro’s apology was anything but apologetic. Having been caught, the sorry he had to offer was a calculated move seeking mercy. How does one know this? Because far from taking responsibility for these crimes, he sought to rely upon porn addiction to justify the inexcusable act of kidnapping three young girls and confining them to years of violence. The statement was, “I didnt do anything wrong. Porn committed these crimes through me”. As John Douglas, the acclaimed FBI profiler has very often stated, such criminals are to be placed under suicide watch, for their attempts at it are reasonably forseeable given their desperate attempts to play victims. True to this model, Ariel Castro was found dead hanging by a bed sheet in prison.)
I feel that the culture of patriarchy in India, provides the feedback filter to our rapists. While it is no doubt one part of the problem and a significant one, but I suspect it is not the root reason why these crimes occur. The start of the assault in the Delhi Gang Rape case was an objection to the victim being accompanied by a male acquaintance at that hour of the night. Yes, the rapists in this case, began as crusaders of Indian values, the same values which do not approve of a girl if she was seen with a man, not being a relative, at that late an hour. Even our movies are no different. The rapist has proved to be the most underrated champion of Indian values in our bollywood scripts. From Purab aur Paschim to Bagbhan, the bratty heroine has a change of lifestyle and heart, transitioning to Indian traditions, after an attempted rape has been thwarted by a knight in shining armour. Until the rape attempt, she probably wore western clothes, hanged around men a lot, drank, perhaps even smoked and had scant respect for her elders. Post attempted rape, she is now the paragon of Indian virtues. The hero and the grandmother (as in the movie Baghban), are aided in their attempts to cure the heroine of her “immoral illness” by the rapist, without whom the bratty heroine would have never realised the error of her ways. For this charitable effort, all that the rapist receives is a beating or a slap. Talk of a thankless job!
However, even without this framework, a rapist will find other justifications. Let us not forget that the most successful sex offender in history, Genghis Khan, did not have access to porn films and nor did women in his day walk around in bikinis. So then the traditionalists will argue that if these crimes are anyway going to be committed, based on some other justifications, why blame society and the schools of thought that exist within it? To this question I answer that when we create and sustain this framework or this school of thought, which in turn forms part of the feedback filter of rapists, then we become complicit in the infliction of violence on victims and survivors. In this limited sense, as a society, we remain collectively responsible for the vulnerability that women perceive everyday.
Who is to blame for this framework? To answer this question, we need to first understand what the framework represents. The framework, first and foremost represents, a callous disregard for privacy.
-We are yet to become conscious of the right to privacy which means that what a girl is doing with a guy at 10 in the middle of the night, is quite frankly none of my business (unless the girl is a minor or if she is in distress at the hands of her companion).
-Secondly, it represents a judgmental attitude. “Having poked my nose enough to see the girl is in the company of a man at 10 in the night, let us judge her as a slut worthy of rape”.
-Thirdly, it represents our society’s failure to understand human rights as a way of life. Because if we had that understanding of human rights, then all men would be clear that anything short of a clear unequivocal yes from a girl is rape.
Seen in this light, how many of us have noticed that regardless of gender, men and women, in this country carry this intellectual rot in their mind? Heck, when I speak to women I know and hear them speak about girls from their class who led “promiscuous” lives which leads to the conclusion that such girls were asking for it, I am amazed at how much women hate women! This brand of harsh judgmental attitude is something that I find as often in the fairer sex, as I find in men. So, let us, in the interest of being honest accept that both genders have contributed to the framework and school of thought.
However, when it comes down to it, blaming patriarchy alone for the culture of rape might be oversimplifying the issue. The need to exert power, domination and control, in such twisted and violent fashion emanates out of a more individual experience in the offender. It could be a lifetime of neglect, conditioning, abuse or trauma of sorts. It is not a case where neglect, abuse or trauma itself provokes the dark passenger in an individual to emerge. But I suspect, and suspect only, that behind every such offender there is one such story. Even, if, as a child the offender has been exposed to porn or people in his home treating women badly or engaging in inappropriate behaviour (abusing each other, humiliating each other), it is very well a case of trauma. In India, we have such households by the millions, in both cities and villages alike, and among all classes of society.
This still doesn’t justify the commission of sexual assault, but it somewhere helps us understand that a solution is not too complex. And the solution, quite simply, lies in loving our children and acting in their best interests. This can be done regardless of money. I suspect that most kids, even the ones from the so called underprivileged circumstances, will feel cared for if their parents intentions are true. Acting in their best interests doesnt mean berating them constantly and pushing them to become super humans. Acting in their best interests means, we take the time to understand the psyche of our kids, their needs and balance them with the concept of discipline and help him/her achieve a sense of self esteem and individual consciousness in the process. Perhaps, if the offenders as children received a nurturing stable atmosphere, instead of the atmosphere they actually received, where exploitation, abuse and trauma was abundantly available, maybe they wouldn’t grow up to hate human beings and women as much. But that kind of sensitization can occur only when we decide to raise our kids they way they are supposed to be raised.
So I must conclude, that while we have a good number of good men and good women, they are one side of the India story. On the other side, lies darkness and violence. It is not one India, but many Indias. Yet, I must applaud the author of the article in question because, contrary to other news agencies, she took the time to highlight the good. No doubt, her article is more anecdotal in character, than analytical or fact based. But it is the first sign of a positive piece. The media highlights police incompetence and insensitive handling of rape cases, but the nearly text book handling of the Delhi case by the Police hardly found any commemoration, except the one within the judgement itself. Given the conspicuous absence of such positive articles in media, this is a start of a trend which I hope will lead to more balanced reporting. I say this because, in our efforts to bring to light the true extent of the rape epidemic, we are neglecting the good folks out there. While India is coming to understand the standard of evil, there is no standard of good that it is exposed to. How will be hold the evil men responsible, if we are not aware and conscious of the standards of good men in the first place? So while the critics have compelling points to raise in their own right, let us not outright discount Lavanya Sankaran’s article entirely. In her own significant way, she has managed to bring an important subject to light, one which I, as an Indian man truly am grateful for.