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Sunday, March 8, 2015

India's Daughter: Culture Of Shame

I so want to stick my head into the sand like an ostrich to show support for the Indian government's move to ban the BBC documentary India's Daughter. But I also want to stick my head into the sand out of shame, shame of having becoming such a reactionary and paranoid society that when an outsider tries to offers us a mirror which shows a very deep rooted malaise in our society we suspect it a conspiracy to malign India's global standing and despite being world's largest democracy we try to join the league of countries like North Korea, Iran, China, Saudi Arabia and other authoritarian regimes where the government decides what is fit for the consumption by the people. But most of all I am ashamed with the hashtag #NirbhayaInsulted.


How has Nirbhaya been insulted and why do we refer to her as Nirbhaya, that surely isn't the name her parents gave her.  Indian penal laws prohibit the name of the victim to be published. The rationalization behind it is that, once the identity is revealed a rape victim (law says victim so I won't say survivor) is stigmatized for life and has to live with shame and ostracism.  But then how can victim of such a heinous act carry the burden of shame ? Primitive tribal societies, which denied woman personhood, also looked at woman as prized possession sometimes more valuable than gold or land. The alpha male or the strongest and most brutal male always got the best food and best females of the tribe or from captured members of rival tribe. Thus a woman whether willing or unwillingly being possessed by a member of the other group was a direct affront to manliness of the males of the group.  It was very shameful.

Humans became more civilized with time but this strain of thought did not disappear rather it evolved into something more obnoxious. While the male members of family did feel sexual violation and even elopments of their women with men from other groups as attack on their manliness, the shame was now passed entirely to woman . Kangaroo courts in India have in some instance executed both the partners to keep to the code and wash off the stain. They see this as part of their cultural heritage but is it really ?  India's cultural  history is too colourful to be this dark. I daresay, it resembles Victorian ethics more than the culture where Sitaram means Sita's Ram and Radhekrishna means Radha's Krishna. As a matter of fact, after India passed under the suzerainty of British crown, where did the likes of Rani Lakshmibai, Begum Hazrat Mahal, Chanda Bibi disappear  ?
 Please note, I am not implying misogyny was not prevalent in India before that, it was present and in some ways in more horrific form but it was not the only culture nor was it unchallenged. During the Raj the misogynistic traditions were "reformed" (for administrative reasons) and worse homogenized, edging out the alternate traditions which were much more prevalent.  Furthermore, regardless of what the custodian of our cultures say, the present Indian society very much adheres to the ideas prevalent during the Raj even the laws that prohibit revealing of rape victim's identity is inherited.

Now, as India occupies an important seat in the globalization bus, it is but natural and right that it encourage women to take more proactive role in nation building. And as more women cross the threshold of their houses the idea of some of the male members of the community of their duty to  protect the women is threatened as in the message conveyed to them is that women don't really need patronizing protection. This becomes a bigger affront to their manliness, all gender-discriminatory shackles introduced all the time has been to prevent this final affront, it is hugely discomforting to some ranging from the alpha male primate to corporate board-members. In the documentary, India's Daughter, lawyers of the convicted rapists unabashedly speak of women being possessions that need to be protected from others and the sounds from it, it isn't really their own families they are talking about but all women ( not really all women but those belonging to their community/class/strata or else who to protect them from).


Tragically, the rapist in the documentary echoed a similar sentiment saying they wanted to teach the couple a lesson for staying out late and brutalized Nirbhaya because she did not submit herself ! It clearly points to the fact that rape is never about sexual gratification but about power and domination. The remorselessness with which he describes the acts, which makes me nauseous as I write indicated how deeply ingrained the idea of men having the right to control the lives of women is. And it is not just this rapist, the lawyers who make these rabidly misogynistic statements, the moral police roaming our streets, the leaders and people in general who object to women wearing jeans, boozing and going out alone, all reflect the same mindset but in different degrees. Perhaps the documentary may have made some people realize that the patronizing protection they offer women by limiting their freedom is not vastly different from their own ideas.

 However, none of this makes clear how Nirbhaya was insulted by the documentary ? Perhaps, it is because they revealed her identity. The documentary mainly presents her poor parents' perspective, the trouble they had to go through to educate her,get her admitted to a medical school and then find her in the state just when her internship was to begin and their aspirations fulfilled. It highlights how the large scale and energetic protest by the people forced the  government to act. The media named her Nirbhaya or "the fearless one" for her courage to fight her rapists, get inflicted by unspeakable injuries and hang to life to make sure her rapists were arrested, for such an act of bravery her name should be immortalized but because of a law ,she would remain partly anonymous. A law which prohibits naming because of the shame it accompanies but by now lot of people already know her name. The fact is, it is us, the government, the media, the civil society and we the people who should bear the shame. I do.

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