Millennium Post

Why Indian men never get it!

When a young Indian woman is brutally gang-raped on a bus, travelling a route I often did when I lived in Delhi 17 years ago, I find it hard to stay silent on the subject. Because I knew Delhi well once and even loved it, I wish I could affect surprise and say, ‘How Delhi’s changed!’ The sad truth is, Delhi is still the perverts’ paradise it always was. Of course the perpetrators of this outrage are worse than perverts, they are monsters, but most perverts are monsters in the making. And if that’s a sweeping generalisation, so is the utterly outrageous, oft-repeated cry in defence of such monsters, ‘Did you see what she was wearing/doing/saying, she was asking
for it.’

I spent a year in Delhi in my early twenties working for a television company. It was the most fun I’ve ever had at work. My colleagues, men and women, were warm, welcoming and wonderfully creative. We were a large, happy family, working hard, partying hard and developing, as we went along, relationships that have stood the test of time. Outside the cocoon of our television office, Delhi was a different beast altogether. Finding respectable accommodation with limited funds turned out to be an impossible enterprise. One landlord offered me a room that could only be accessed through his bedroom, another one showed me around a tiny flat which he could enter from a door that only locked on his side. I took it but moved a cupboard across the door. I was asked to leave soon enough. Eventually, I gave up looking for a safe haven, and stayed where I could, at friend’s places or illegally in university dorms, and at work when I ran out of options.

Even striking up a rapport with the opposite sex outside work was fraught with danger. I was young, single and westernised, I was happy to be asked out, naïvely imagining it involved dinner and a movie and a peck on the cheek at the end of the evening. Watching Four Weddings and a Funeral wasn’t a barrel of laughs with a guy who thought that lights out was a signal for his hands to wander. Horrified, I hollered ‘Can I watch the film please?’ loudly enough to embarrass him and stop him in his tracks. Then, there was the man who gave me the occasional lift home. One evening he took off in an unfamiliar direction. Flabbergasted, I enquired where we were going to be informed he was taking me home as his family was away, providing us with this golden opportunity to become ‘friends’. I forced him to drop me at the nearest bus stop. Lucky for me the bus staff turned out to be more chivalrous than my ‘gentleman’ escort. Of course, this is everyday stuff compared to what some women have experienced. But that’s just my point; they happen every day to women from all walks of life in Delhi.

Within a year, I had hot-footed it back to my hometown of Calcutta, where I had never felt anything but safe whatever the time of day or night. It’s true, things have changed there too, but back then, we women journalists would be out at all hours, talking to and working with all sorts of men, without a moment’s anxiety. Is that because Bengali men are upstanding and virtuous where Punjabi men are not? I bet there are just as many Bengali pervs, but they are sneaky rather than aggressive. They will fondle you from behind in a packed bus but if you grab the offending hand and look them in the eye, they will wilt and die.

So, it’s not just the monsters who brutalised the Delhi girl, not Punjabi men or Bengali men; Indian male pysche is the problem. Don’t get me wrong, some of the people I love most in the world are Indian and male (my dad, for example). My Indian men friends are the best; bright, witty and warm but they, or many Indian men like them, are sexually dysfunctional. Oh, I’m sure their bits work fine, though I’ve never bothered to find out. It’s how they view women in the sexual context that’s dysfunctional. How can gadzillions of Indian men not see women as thinking, feeling, whole, human beings? It’s because as a nation we are so screwed up about sexuality. How can that be when we gave the world the Kama Sutra, Konarak, Khajuraho and more? Somewhere along the way, we forgot all that we knew about women being many things at once; mother, lover, friend, warrior, queen and yes, sex kitten. We value boys over girls and give them a better deal in life; along the way teaching them to despise women. We ‘arrange’ marriages; essentially forcing two people with no natural chemistry to sleep with each other. And we have created and then bought into the ludicrous Hindi filmy stereotypes of Goddess and Whore. If you are to believe Hindi films, there are only two types of women, the sainted, virtuous, maternal Goddess (with ne’er a sexual thought crossing her mind) and the lascivious, wicked Whore who lures men into sin with her overt sexuality. There can be nothing in between and never just a normal woman who’s a little bit of everything.

The Delhi rapists actions have been blamed on the corrupting influence of ‘item numbers’ by an Indian politician. I agree with him that there shouldn’t be any ‘item numbers. Why, instead of the heroine flaunting her sexuality alongside her other worthy qualities, is it left to lesser celluloid beings? Because in India, a sexually confident woman is a lesser being.

Shreya Sen-Handley is a writer and illustrator. She now writes for The Guradian and other UK newspapers
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