Of India and the stereotypes – do not criminalize all the men

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When I read Michaela Cross’, the University of Chicago student, account of her visit to India I felt a range of strong, conflicting emotions. I felt angry and sad and apologetic. I felt revulsion. I felt resentment to the men who had reduced our identity to a pervert nation subjecting women to a demonic hell. But as I read through the article, I also felt let down. By a view of Indian men that paints a unilateral photo of perversion an misogyny, reducing the identity of a varied nation to a nation of rapists and eve-teasers , erasing the many positives we see around us and making us all feel ashamed of our wickedness. Because it is not just the failure of the Indian men. It is of the women too. Who have raised them and taught them. Who have loved them. Of the entire country which lets a tourist, a foreign student be assaulted while we watch silently. Of a five thousand year old culture that evaporates to leave behind a dirty residue of lecherous men. While I do not wish to play down in any way Michaela’s experiences, I do wish to put my hand up and say a vehement no to the stereotyping. Yes I have seen foreign women being harassed but I have also seen my friends rushing to help them. I have seen rickshawallas taking the unwary visitor for a ride but I have also seen an honest taximan in a worn out uniform returning bags full of dollars and expensive laptops. I have read reports of unthinkable crimes against women but I have met excellent men who are warm, sensitive and respectful. If the rapist at the hotel defines India, so do the honest taximan, the helpful friends and the good hearts who go out of their way to help visitors find their way, trying sign language where communications break down. Crimes against women aren’t a peculiarity to India. And while this no way exonerates my nation, I have faced racial jibes and harrasments in upmarket London and the well-polished America. I have not painted those countries with a uniform brush because a group of boys threw a bottle at me at Belfast or I sat cowering in a late night tube at London while a drunk group hurled abuses at me. Instead I cut through these experiences and discovered the warmth of London or the expansiveness of America. Ofcourse India is a much more difficult to fathom place. The country lives in many centuries, in several layers. And hopefully Michaela will find the strength to cut through the layers and find the gamut of experiences which together make India. Else we would be doomed to be stereotyped by the actions of a few men who are by no means atypical of a pluralist, multi dimensional society.

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17 responses »

  1. *Very* well written! It’s true, women are subjected to sexual harassment and threats to their safety everywhere in the world. I agree with you to fight against the stereotyping of Indian men. I have experienced much kindness from men in India, mostly total strangers. My experience has been that people are mostly wonderful, and it’s a small percentage who are tarnishing India’s image and creating all the bad press.

  2. Very valid points. Much appreciated.

    There is no respect for Indian men at home or abroad. Conversely, an European/American (most of whom make Indian women get weak in the knees) can always get away with ‘non-consensual acts of …’. At most they are a victim of circumstance. Indian men can never be ‘the victim of circumstance’ and that’s because they are not fair skinned, they do not have the ‘looks’ or deep baritone voice, but mostly because nobody cares what they say. I wonder when we will stop Westernising ourselves, because the only reason we wear the suit instead of the kurta at 45 degrees centigrade in summer, is because it looks ‘smart’!

    • Dwaipayann- there is no forgiving violence against women anywhere. People and women abroad are more conscious of their rights. It is not that fair skin makes crimes less offensive to us Indian women- believe me it doesn’t. How can a sexual offenders be forgiven as a victim of circumstance? My point was not that at all. It was to say that all Indian men need not be stigmatized because of the crimes of a section of the society. However it still doesnot exonerate Indian men completely. The onus is still on them to make women feel safe and respected here.

  3. Sometimes, especially when you have been the object of derision, of humiliation, of misery, and of an attack on your very core, of an assult on your self respect, it is quite impossible to be able to sift through all the hurt and pain and indignation and tears to see very clearly, and resultantly we tend to generalize and spend our ire on not only defacing and paying back in our way not only to our tormentor, but also to those who love him, and those that he loves… therefore I can, like you relate to Micheala’s point of view. That being said, I am in complete agreement that India is much larger, and bigger and better than those groups that sully its name. Yes, we are in a state of transition from being an ultra ancient, if there is something like the words imply, to a fore runner of IT and a digita existence. We are masters of coexistence, with most of our cultures living in the wide spectrum of the old and the new. We have strongly tended to keep the orthodox structuring of the societal behavior, at the same time adapting to the new wave of thinking. This sometimes tend to confuse and cloud men into random acts of mindlessness. While in no measure can I condone violence or disrespect against women, I cannot but stand up and say that all men are not pigs.

    Let me also connect this with yesterday’s incident at Mumbai. Instead of talking about the criminals and the measures to be adopted to curb the animalistic instincts in men, our politicos have been mindlessly and witlessly been sermonizing women. Why should a woman think and devise of ways to avoid danger? She is as human, if not more and as Indian, again if not more as any man. Who and what gives the right to allow or disallow women anything?

    I first had the pleasure of reading your article ’50 reasons why a bong…’, which led me to this and other posts, and truly you have a fan in me. I respect your clarity of thought and the honesty with which you are willing to accept that there are two sides to every coin. It takes a strong character to accept the positives of a person, or a people, even though the same person or people may have tormented you.

    Thank you for being you, and thank you for blogging, and allowing me an access to a clear transparent human mind.

  4. You nailed it!!! it was revulsion, shame & a sense of letting down, when I read her horrifying experience in India and that too almost on a daily basis. Thanks for this impartial piece and when it comes from a girl, its a bit of relief.

    • Extremely valid point, and one I was definitely going to voice. When it comes from a girl, it’s a bit of a relief.

      Because you know what this incident is doing? It is giving people the goddamn licence to go all pseudofeminist on our asses. Generalize all men. Give them a reason to call men ‘assholes’ . I swear to god, are we talking about rapists or assholes?

      If this article had been written by a guy, I know at least ten people who would express unjustified outrage.

      • “If this article had been written by a guy…” whoa what was that? I sense you are actually justifying that ‘psuedofeminism’ you talked of. There are still a number of Indian males who would happily write rather impartially as well, without being feminist. I can’t cite anyone right now but myself. I couldn’t take kindly to that remark, that’s that. (although I get why you would write so)
        @Rimjhim kudos! words very well put. I only hoped it was bit longer like the other blog you posted about marring a bong lady. 🙂

  5. Difficult to believe that the person who wrote “Of India and the stereotypes – do not criminalize all the men” followed it up by gross stereotyping Bong women, men and Punjabis.

    Your account of Bong men & women seem archaic, almost written 50 years ago. Some of the jokes are repetitive. Suggest you get an editor and shorten it to about 30 crisper ones. Nothing on adda, alternative films? Good read otherwise. Thanks

    • I was thinking the same thing actually. The irony in the stereotyping between the two posts. However I will give the author this, that the current post is on a rather serious note while the other (’50 reasons a bong girl will not marry you’) is much light-hearted read. So all’s good, it’s all just opinions. Nothing is absolute, yes?

  6. Thanks a lot for having these convictions. I too have felt that stereotyping all Indian Men as misogynists is a pathetic trend, one that’s gathering more steam now due to the rapes being reported more frequently. While I feel that the widespread reporting of rapes is a good thing, I also hate the fact that it leads to most women being suspicious of all men. One can’t blame them either. Our country is in a bad bad situation and we need more level headed people like yourself. 🙂

  7. Well written article. However, as an Indian living abroad, I’d just like to add something to your point about incidents you encountered abroad (and very prudently did not form a stereotype about those countries, I must add). Such incidents do occur in the US and the UK, for instance, but they are isolated incidents (relative to their frequency in India) and even when they do occur, normally justice is speedily and effectively ensured for the victim.The problem with India is that these horrible things happen to far too many people and far too often and justice is often delayed or absent. On the whole this paints a very grim picture indeed and while I am against stereotyping and over-generalising, I can understand when people regard the entire country with suspicion.

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  9. I found your article very interesting as this was one of the rare article which tries to bring in a balance without getting biased….a fresh point of view without losing focus of the issue at hand! I would definitely love to read more of your articles that you spin out!

  10. Hiya – got turned on to your posts by Feminist India, and I’m enjoying them quite a bit. But, I am slightly shocked by this one though.

    I’m of Indian descent, but I was raised in the US. I also lived and worked in India as an adult. Having not had the “training” in deflecting harassment growing up though, I was definitely not prepared for what I experienced.

    While I enjoyed the expansive beauty of India like so many others before me, I also suffered similar PTSD. As a New Yorker, walking is a means of transportation for me. I figured I’d use that in India too. Within 6 months of being there, I’d completely given up on a life-long habit. I was in Bengaluru for most of my time there, and the harassment doesn’t stop. Or the random groping; the disgusting sounds and catcalls. But that can be chalked up to an under educated populace – similar to the racist experiences you’ve had in London or the US. But how do you deal with the fact that the middle and upper classes, men and women, are exactly the same? Just more polished in their delivery.

    There is a definite widespread issue of harassment of all kind against women, which is very apparent from the rest of your posts. I can’t tell you how many times I heard a woman’s advice to me: “oh, you just learn to deal with it.” The female friends I made had a clear penchant for their male sons.

    What I’m driving at is, there was a systematic process being undertaken to undermine women and their self-esteem, and it wasn’t as abstract as just harrassment in the street by strangers who never had many of the same opportunities as myself to be educated and progressive.

    The many strata of Indian society were all guilty of a system that supports the anguish ALL women suffer in India. There’s a problem, and Indians (by birth or by descent) are going to have to take the onus of it. Your blog is an important bit in that fight.

  11. Hey Rimjhim,

    I wish you had sent your experiences to Washington Post.

    The Western Man is hypocrisy incarnate. They behave as though they’re all angels while we are a bunch of savages.

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