The Controversial Indian | Columns

From ‘eve-teasing’ to rape

No, I am not going to talk about rape. I do not think politicians are being honest when they ask those who are outraged at recent rapes in India not to “politicise” the matter, for these are the very same politicians who accused the Congress of turning Delhi into the “rape capital” of India when they were in the opposition. I do not agree with party supporters who offer ‘explanations’ for a heinous rape-murder, for no rape can ever be ‘explained’ away. I do not even consider those people fully human whose primary response to a rape is to compare it to some other rape.

But despite all this, I will not write about rape. Because, sad as it is, the ‘defenders’ are right when they note that rapes take place in every country in the world. Even if the political reaction to rapes in India is often either gimmicky or chauvinist (or both), the fact remains that most Indians detest the idea of a woman being sexually violated. It is not fair to associate rape only with India — or with any other country in the world.

Moral policing in India

I will not talk about rape in this column, and yet I have a problem. I have a problem when my female students in Denmark or the U.K. ask me about visiting India. Earlier, I used to enthusiastically suggest places to visit, experiences to savour, things to do. Now I say as little as possible. I have a problem when my older daughter, almost a young woman now, talks of travelling with her friends to India. In the past, I would have been delighted. Now I feel uncertain and nervous. I do not feel nervous because of the rhetoric of rape; I know that rapes are as much a crime in India as anywhere else. It is not rape — an extreme threat every woman lives with in every country of the world, alas — that worries me. What worries me is the rising incidence of moral policing in India. What worries me are the ‘good conduct’ and ‘good dress’ loonies who are getting louder and rougher, all those uncultured louts who can abuse or harm a woman in the name of ‘culture’ and get away with it. What worries me is the fact that men can attack, even molest, women for not wearing the ‘right clothes’, not being in the ‘right place’, not being outdoor at the ‘right time’. Such tendencies — tied to a growing intolerance of difference — have been increasing in India.

Let’s face it: India has never been an easy place for women to move around on their own. This fact does not strike most middle-class Indian men, for they are men and ‘their’ women are mostly escorted by men or protected by the social structure within which they move. But I have travelled with foreigners — and at least in north India, I have been shocked at the amount of vulgarity that unescorted women have to face. Some of it is physical and a lot of it is verbal, which, luckily, the tourists do not understand. We Indians have a deeply disturbing word for it: eve-teasing. It reduces a serious offence to light flirtation, in a country that claims not to tolerate even light flirtation.

Vulnerable to hectoring, abuse

So, honestly, when my daughter or female students talk to me about travelling in India, I stay silent now. I have the urge to tell them to travel in certain ways: stay in top hotels, use standard travel agencies, not go out in the evening, etc. But this is against everything I believe in, everything I have tried to inculcate in my children and in my students. I have done what I could to make them grow up with other people, not to live an elite life, engage positively with difference. Whenever they visit my country, I want them to meet other Indians — most of whom are not rapists or even ‘eve-teasers.’ I want them to see ordinary India, not to move from one air-conditioned bubble into another.

But I can no longer ignore the fact that they would be vulnerable to the sexual innuendoes and frustration of an increasingly legitimated minority of men. I cannot ignore the fact that they will be lectured, hectored, even abused by patriarchal louts who have no knowledge of other cultures and very little of their own. Yes, it is not rape that I am afraid of, or want to talk about. And yet, there is a direct line running from such male chauvinism and cultural jingoism, which is on the increase, to the threat and occurrence of rape. We are fooling ourselves if we pretend otherwise.

I am as proud of the richness of Indian cultures and history as any other Indian, and I have spent more time and effort learning about them than many Indians. And yet I no longer know what to say when my female students talk of travelling to India. If I warn them to guard against the worst, I will be unfair to most Indians and to India. If I do not say anything, they might come back and ask me: Why didn’t you warn us?

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Printable version | Sep 24, 2021 7:52:33 AM |

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