[Reader-list] mad men on indian street

Asit Das asit1917 at gmail.com
Mon Jun 9 04:57:14 CDT 2014

mad men on indian streets


Sun June 08, 2014

[image: 280]

Yes, they are back. They were never really gone. As the nation reels from
incident after gruesome incident of rape, murder and crimes against women,
one begins to wonder which medieval time-warp these sorry-excuse-for-men
climbed out of?

I guess they were busy with the elections, taking part in the process of
democracy and political activism, building a new “vibrant” India, ending
the culture of nepotistic politics afflicting our nation, indulging that
seductive will to power – these mad men, of higher castes and political
connections, these boys who will forever be boys. And what do men do when
they win, when the thirst for power has been slaked, when the banners and
the rallies and the chanting is a distant memory, you look for release, the
gratification born of dominance, subjugation and control, you claim the
spoils of war, your rightful booty. You rape.

I might be accused of being unfair. What is the connection, one might ask,
of the just concluded elections with the rape outbreak in UP?
[image: FrontPage]
A direct link between the rise in violence against women and the conclusion
of the elections may be tenuous. The audacity and spectacle like hanging of
the adolescent girls in Badaun might be interpreted as a sort of
reassertion of the categories of caste, patriarchy, politician-criminal
nexus that pervades the lives of the marginalized communities in most rural
areas. Election pundits strived hard before and after the results to
explain away the realities of caste and religion, they wanted us to accept
Modi as the messianic apostle of a post-caste, post-secular India.

The reality however has proven to be much more complicated. The media which
conveniently ignored several similar atrocities against Dalit women during
the frenzied election coverage days, has suddenly grown a conscience. Or
perhaps a selective geographical sense of moral uprightness with the
completely deserved focus on the plight of UP women and the simultaneous,
blithe indifference of gendered atrocities across the rest of the country.
Now that the euphoria of political triumph fades away, one would hope that
we do not revert back to the quotidian injustices that are symptomatic of
our society’s treatment of its women. One is also reminded about how rapes
do indeed happen in Bharat, and not just in India, as our RSS ideologues
would want us to believe. The nebulous glory of Indian Culture is no
deterrent to sex crimes.

 I had the time to watch a couple of seasons of the aptly titled American
show called “Mad Men” recently and I was struck by the parallels between
that American reality of the 1960s and our socio-political milieu. We are a
nation which is growing and getting increasingly comfortable with a global
influence, while America was grappling with the idea of superpower status
in the post World War 2 world. There are definite schisms in society in
both the countries – a liberal elite casually confident with modernity, in
touch with the wider world and a conservative majority which faces issues
of female rights, racism, caste and religion with an anachronistic lens.

Gender rights are a site of personal and public contestation, women are
increasingly finding their way into the workplace, sexual harassment is
rampant and unreported, managing a home and being a mother do not provide
the same teleological meaning to women’s lives as they used to. Female
sexuality and control over women’s bodies through societal taboos over
pre-marital sex, abortion, infidelity and notions of family and marital
bliss, define both Indian society and the TV show reality. What shocks the
senses is the nauseating sexism and the innocent ignorance which the
characters display. It is all regular, everyday, unquestioned truth.

Women are subverted into the over-arching idea of male dominance because
they play the same game. They adhere to stereotypes, behave in expected
ways and shun those outliers who dare challenge the status quo. We see
similar predilections in India today. Apologists for the status quo come in
different stripes, from the Ramdevs and the Imams, to Khap leaders, from
Mulayam Singhs and Akhilesh Yadavs to the purportedly liberal, educated
people who refuse to acknowledge workplace discrimination. Women are
complicit too. Mute acceptance, suffering in silence, ignoring someone
else’s plight, buying into male-dominated notions of family, sexuality and
imposing these obsolescent ideas on the next generation are signs of
defeatism that women might be guilty of.

One would hope that India finds its own courageous Peggy Olsons  and we
evolve out of this humiliating and deeply damaging cycle of sexual
atrocities. Watching the show is struggle enough, India doesn’t need more
Mad Men.

P.S.  – I realize that I offered no solutions. Simple, clean fixes are hard
for such a pervasive problem. But perhaps an energetic administration,
activist judiciary and responsible journalism can go a long way in
providing a temporary respite. Education and sensitization, gender
sensitive curriculums, exposure to feminist literature is probably the only
long term fix.  We need a movement of ideas.

*Ashish Kashyap graduated with a Masters in Computer Science from IIT
Madras. He spends his time wishing he could write like Milan Kundera.*

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