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  • When man is the problem

    Posted On January 23, 2004

    By Karan Thapar

    The facts are horrific. But even if you already know them pause for a moment to consider them again. Believe me, they bear repetition. According to the latest statistics, one woman is raped in India every 54 minutes, another is molested every 26 minutes whilst every 7 minutes – yes, I mean that, just 7 minutes – a woman is a victim of crime! I’m not sure if that exclamation mark is sufficient. !!! would be more in order if they did not also seem to trivialise.

    The catalogue of iniquity is, however, far worse. One out of three Indian households is the scene of domestic violence every single year. And it doesn’t seem to matter if the woman is your wife, sister, daughter or even mother. We, the men of India, treat them with similar disrespect and disdain. Actually, that’s an unwarranted euphemism. Our sadhus and bodyguards rape college girls, in cities neighbours molest the teenagers next-door and, worst of all, fathers satisfy their carnal lust on their own daughters. They couldn’t care less if the victim is 80 or 8 – actually, even 3 year olds are not safe. To paraphrase Shakespeare : “As flies to wanton boys, are women to us men. We beat them for our sport.”

    I must admit I’m shaken. I knew that Indian men are male chauvinists and that boys are brought up to believe they are superior to their sisters. But, honestly, I never thought that this was more than pampering. Adults grow up and grow out of the mistaken notions of their childhood. In your twenties you start to feel embarrassed by your mother’s undeserved attention. Sensible mature individuals behave equally and equitably. Alas, I fear I was wrong.

    “Men” Dr. Mohini Giri, a former chairperson of the National Commission for Women, told me last week “are often ogres.” She may have been smiling as she said it but she wasn’t exaggerating. She meant to use the word. “They look upon women as property. Worse, they use women to exercise their power.”

    For the most part I heard her in silence. The facts hit you so hard there is no immediate come back. Oh, no doubt, I could have argued that the calculation there is a rape every 54 minutes suggests a total of 15,000 (or less) rapes a year and that out of a population of over a billion (which, presumably, also means 500 million women) this was not much, but I did not make that point. It felt like a bad defence. It also did not counter the rest of the statistics about molestation, domestic violence and general crime. Yet after a bit I did find my voice. But when I spoke it wasn’t to question. It was to seek clarification.

    “Isn’t there a paradox here?” I asked. “On the one hand Indian society venerates motherhood. Remember Shashi Kapoor in Deewar? ‘Mere paas ma hei.’ But on the other hand it subjects wives, sisters, daughters and, of course, daughters-in-law to extreme discrimination. How do you explain this?”

    This time Dr. Giri did not even smile. I suppose she had heard this line of argument before even if – I repeat – I wasn’t arguing with her.

    “Ask the widows of Brindavan about motherhood and veneration. Ask the abandoned women in our cities about their sons’ devotion. I’m not saying that there isn’t some truth in this but it’s exaggerated. I often think it is a Bollywood image we like to propagate. It appeals to us but frequently we don’t abide by it.”

    I lapsed into silence. If you think about it, we see a woman’s identity not in terms of herself but how she fits into a pattern of relationships. A girl is born someone’s daughter, she becomes a sister, later a wife and then a mother and grandmother. But when is she simply herself?

    The paradox is we also transfer our attitudes to them. If you are male and adult, and capable of rational reflection, pause for a moment and consider how often the women in your life put you before them. Not just your mother and perhaps not even your wife. May be they do so out of love. But what about your sisters and daughters? Or friends and fellow guests at parties? Or even strangers you may never meet again? They defer to you as a man because that’s how they are brought up or, worse, because they instinctively feel it’s the safest thing to do.

    My reverie suddenly took me back decades in time. To Nisha, my late wife, who died in 1989. I remember she would rush to buy whatever I fancied because she was scared that her salary might give me a complex. She was earning six times what I was and her great fear was that this could become a problem in our marriage. It didn’t. But would I have behaved similarly with our money if I was earning and she wasn’t? Would I have been so thoughtful? Or would I have taken our relationship for granted? I think I know the answer. It lies in the following question : how often do husbands spend on themselves and cavil at their wife’s expenditure?

    I realise these are easy questions to raise when one’s conscience is pricked. Today I’m conscious of all this but the sad part is that tomorrow, or the day after, I will probably forget all about it or at least put these concerns aside. Life will move on, other things will gain importance and I will continue as I’ve always been: content with my lot, largely unconcerned about others and blissfully ignorant of what I’ve forgotten or believe I don’t need to know.

    No doubt Mummy and my sisters will continue to pet me. But now I’m well aware that I’m lucky I’m not an Indian woman!

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