Once upon a time, a monster ravaged a girl. Villagers searched for the beast everywhere but to no avail.
Fearing an infection, they locked the girl in a cellar. After more attacks, villagers imprisoned every girl to contain the beast.
They could have found the monster, had they searched the one place they had overlooked: the mirror.
Today the story is remembered; it’s the moral that has been forgotten.
The flurry of grotesque crimes against women has shaken the very roots of India in the past year. There is outrage. There are doubts, questions and condemnations. A wound that was not spoken of for years is now open for everyone to see, but no one really knows how deep it runs.
It happened in Delhi. It happened in Mumbai. It has been happening to working women, old women and young innocent girls. The truth is it has hitherto been happening across the country, but we have come to know just a few cases. Silent victims are forced to spend their time in oblivion due to the social stigma. The few, that come out and try to reclaim the life they once had, are almost always shunned by the society. Surveys over the last 25 years suggest that only 1-4% percent of the rape victims acknowledged the crime, (Source: Guardian). That means the real numbers are 100 to 400 times higher than the government statistics.
As if internal atrocities were not a sufficient reason for a serious introspection, numerous accounts of foreigners have damned the Indian society even further. The story of a Chicago girl created ripples on the internet. Her journey in India left her shattered. Her experiences of Indian men are harrowing. While no one could truly know the extent of her suffering, her example is far from isolated. There are millions of women in India, who suffer the same fate every single day.
Unsurprisingly we all are engulfed by a climate of distrust, suspicion and anxiety. No woman can roam around alone without a lingering fear in her mind. No matter how well lit it is, every street remains dangerous. The presence of hungry wandering eyes makes crowded places ghastly. No girl can think of fully relying on a strange man even the in case of an acute emergency. This situation is not a figment of imagination of a paranoid mind; it’s a despicable and disgusting reality of our society.
When one looks for reasons, one can find many. They cover a vast spectrum that consists of sociological and cultural aspects. A report on the Time World website states that crimes against women are related to the growing population of struggling youth, which lives without any prospects and hope, and which hence tries to assert its dominance over the people, and women in particular, who have it. The same report alludes to a class war and a reaction to rising population of successful women as well. Some feel that increase in crimes stems from the conflict between traditional ethos and increasing modernization of the Indian society (Source). While poverty could be one of the reasons behind growing crimes against women, it is extremely unfair to pin the larger part of blame on it. The affluent part of the society has quite a few skeletons in its cupboard as well. Unlike what a few might think, poverty is not a state of mind, however depravity most certainly is. And it is the depravity that is a driving factor behind all of it. Shuddhabrata Sengupta, in his article on Kafila.org, accurately remarks that rapes are motivated by the intention to humiliate a woman. It is a reaction of a patriarchal society that resents modern women.
While the academic research on rapes in India is scarce as compared to the western societies, one can find excuses in plenty.
Some of us blame it on the “evil influence” of the western culture, and conveniently choose to ignore the humongous amount of dirt that we have in our own backyard. Some blame it on Bollywood movies. Well, the entertainment industry in the world is not vastly different to the Indian cinema. Right from video games to the WWE, the general depiction of female characters is far from dignified. And more importantly they all create the content that sells. Its reflection on the taste of the audience is far more poignant than the product itself. Some of us blame it on short skirts, jeans and women’s attire in general. This is an atrocious excuse to begin with. If anything, it exposes the wafer thin moral resolve of our society. The thing is, for a hungry pair of eyes even the sight of female fingernails can seem very arousing. To twist the ancient wisdom of Plato, bait lies in the eyes of the pervert.
When we put all the pieces together, and look at the picture, the onus lays itself on Indian men. It has been reflected in the global perception of Indian men as well. We are not far from a day, when the first word the world would associate with Indian men would be “the rapist”. Being an Indian man myself, such a situation forces me to look around and more importantly to look within.
I know that just like every other guy, I appreciate it when a fine specimen of the fairer sex passes by. I try my best to remain dignified. However the effort in itself is an indictment, since the dignity should come naturally. It becomes even more dreadful in the current climate, as the conscience asks haunting questions.
Then I look around for more questions.
I see glances. Many of them are momentary and quite innocent. Then however I see glances turning into stares, and stares that seldom look directly into the eyes of a girl. In public places, I notice eyes similar to mine, but which are scavenging for something to satisfy their hunger. They gaze, and those gazes that are backed by plastic souls, and are fueled by vulturous desires. They are intentional and intrusive. They resemble to a sharp dagger that can penetrate through the heart. I have seen the pack mentality, which encouraged an otherwise wobbly pair of legs to confront and corner girls.
On interpersonal level, I have seen people, who thought stalking and eve teasing was a legitimate way of wooing. Aggression, abuse and coercion are also accepted practices for many. I see guys finding so called “signals”, where clearly there was none. In some circles, if a girl speaks to four boys, two of them fall for her. The third finds her openness quite inviting, and promptly spreads his insight. It leaves only one sane individual.
On such a backdrop, many instances and reactions explain themselves. The question, which I have heard many times “why these girls have to be so arrogant, and ignore us?” seems tragically hilarious.
Admittedly, such a population makes up for a small portion of the large sample pool. But its size is big enough in itself to make a strong soul nervous and anxious. And it is the very section that paints us all in the same stinky paint. We, as Indian men, are gradually being relegated to a horrible stereotype.
If these excuses point at anything, then it is the mirror.
We, the Indian men, are in a desperate need of a serious introspection. We ought to understand that our mindset is flawed in many ways. We have created a culture that encourages many of the aforementioned tendencies. Our concept of what it is to be a “macho man” is ludicrous. That concept has fostered a different form of misogyny, in which we don’t hate women but rather we want them. It is exactly in that “want” the problem lies. We have created a notion that it is obligatory to have a girlfriend. We have forgotten that relationships are not a matter of social compulsion, but it’s a personal choice, a beautiful one at that. This has led to the perception, where we look at girls as a trophy to boast of, as a conquest to be proud of, and the most demeaning of all, as a means of gratification. In all this mess, we ignore the simple fact that women are normal humans like most of us, but with just a few differences.
I admit that our behaviour is directed by instincts, some which are human and some of which are primal. However, trying to control those instincts is a big part of actually being a human. We need to hold our eggshell conscience together, lest our delusions break it into pieces. And “I am just being a human” is a far more responsible response than the quintessential lameness of “I am just being a guy, bro”.
And mere introspection is not enough either. It should be accompanied by two traits, which have been buried under the numbness of our society for eons: acceptance and responsiveness.
No more should a victim be shunned. The stigma that we harbour in our minds, we have to get past of it. Their rights to life have to be respected and protected. Secondly, if something wrong is happening in front of our eyes, then instead of becoming a bystander we have to take stand. Most certainly times are changing, and so are we. There are citizen groups that are standing up for the protection of women. This is a very welcome intervention. Because, no matter how many institutions we set up, they will never be able to contain the beast without our actions. No matter how many candles we burn in protest, they can never vanquish the lurking shadows. If we change a little bit as individuals, and if we spread the word, the society will change a lot. It is something that someone like me, who chickens out at the very sight of conflicts, has to learn and imbibe too.
Anyway, like I said before, I have no right to preach, thus I will not. Introspection is a choice after all. There is no way to thump it on anyone.
Personally, I can do at the least one thing.
It is to keep my own mirror clean, and to take further baby steps towards becoming a responsible human being.
(This article was originally published on isaidit.org on October 1st, 2013)