Friday, March 13, 2015

India's daughter - liberals miss the mark, conservatives continue to be blinkered

The recent banning of the documentary by Leslee Udwin has provided an excellent opportunity for India's chattering classes to get their K's into a T. Having run out of the usual banal routine within 2-3 days, the newscycle pressure has forced the gentlefolk of the media to up the ante to really wildly fantastically irrational territory.

Sample this from the liberal bastion, the Hindu. This is a classic

Some years ago, a friend confided in me that in a fit of rage her husband had shouted that he wished she would be gang raped because she deserved it. Then he paused and said, “No, I think I want something worse than that to happen to you. I want you to die.”
I watched India’s Daughter before the government banned it. As I listened to the rapist explain how he and the others thought about women, I realised there was little difference between them and this husband. But that’s where the similarity ended. He was an upper caste male, an IIT aristocrat living in Silicon Valley, studying at a top business school. The only other difference was that he never acted on his thoughts.
Our lady author friend is gagging with feminist rage and so she extrapolates extravagantly. The sentence "The only other difference was that he never acted on this thoughts" is so brilliant that I hurt myself when I fell from the chair laughing. It is a shame that no one in the editing team from the venerable Hindu told the author "But dear, that seems a pretty big difference to me". 
One one hand, a piqued husband probably says something in anger, on the other hand lies the most heinous crime India has seen (or at least heard of) in the 21st century. This kind of shabby equivalence argument is why Indian intellectual liberalism has not had a credible voice since Nehru.
Somewhere, the liberals have sought to draw a broad enough canvas so as to draw a link between a most gruesome crime and various shades of patriarchy that are present in our Country. This impulse from India's liberal media to simplify everything along pre-existing faultlines is ridiculous. A conversation on rape becomes about Patriarchy-is-the-root-cause vs. blame-the-victim schools of thought. That the rabid conservatives cannot go beyond the "India-is-great" koolaid is a given. That is no excuse for liberals to automatically occupy the diametrically opposite position. 
I am neither liberal nor conservative and if there is one thing that I want to scream out in this whole episode, it is this. I am saddened extremely that this crime against humanity has been perpetrated. I am shaken to the core that there exist people in this world who could commit crimes that are this gruesome. I am scared for women in our cities and our villages. This much is true. I must also say that I am not even a little bit ashamed . Sad, yes. Shamed, no. That my compatriot has committed this crime has not filled my whole being with shame. I feel as much connect with him as a present-day American would with the guy who dropped the bomb on Hiroshima. 
I concede that a feudal patriarchal upbringing has played a role in the way we view women. I also accept that I am posit somewhere on this patriarchal hierarchy (I would argue that I aint that bad, my wife believes I am more chauvinist than I would like to believe. Thats a debate for another day. Either way, I sit somewhere on this line). But no matter where I sit on that line, I refuse to be co-opted into this collective "I feel shamed by this" - this feeling that the liberals want me to feel and the conservatives are supposedly rebelling against. That the convict and I share the same nationality has no bearing. 
I even feel shamed by the Country's response, have a sense of helplessness about the state of our security, but I feel no shame in relation to the fact that an "Indian" committed the crime. 
All this talk of shame neatly brings us to the response from India's conservatives. This has been ridiculous. I could not even begin to wind my head around the ban. The policy response has been broadly "Throw a lot of mud. Some will probably stick". The primary issue has been with the producer's nationality. We still have this holier-than-thou attitude, which when mixed with colonial hangover results in "So, how are you any better?" as the built-in response to any issue.
On this front, the statistics on rape per 1000 people that has been doing the rounds has been very helpful to the conservative cause. The stats are wrong. They are absurdly, ridiculously, unspinnably wrong. The stats are all about "reported rapes" and these are miles apart from actual rape, especially for India. In the west they have come a long way on women's safety. Their rape cases are more a case of "pushing the boundaries" and date-rape. I would be shocked if any Indian woman who had lived in Delhi and New York claimed to feel safer in Delhi over NY. And we need to keep in mind that this is a very favourable sample point for India. If we had to compare, say, rural Bihar to Texas things might be far worse. 
Apparently more than two-thirds of rapes are committed by someone who the victim knows. About 0.1% of these will get reported in India. We must be wearing extraordinary truth-protection blinkers to believe that women are safer in India than they are in the west. I am appalled that so many of my friends shared links that showed these statistics. I would not accuse India's conservative media of Intellectual dishonesty (they can at best be called merely dishonest), but many who shared these links should have known better.
In the US, they are talking about the merits of a "No means no" vs. "Yes means Yes" legal framework. 80% of Indian women would not know where to go to complain if they were sexually assaulted, and this is from the educated class. If you are poor, illiterate and a woman, then God save you. One needs to watch only 2-3 episodes of "Savdhan India" to get a sense of the level to which poor in our Country are not guaranteed any of the freedoms that the middle-class is. 
I am bitterly disappointed that so many of my friends shared the statistics. I am ashamed that not one of them came and said these stats seem absurd. Far more ashamed of this than of being a compatriot of the guy committed the crime. 
We need to really stop this right-wing nonsense about how the west is out to malign us. Everything is not a conspiracy. If we did not view everything from the viewpoint of "Does this show my Country in bad light?", it would be that little bit better. We cannot look for any solutions if we continue to be in denial. 
There are many things to be proud of in India. Protection given to women, especially poorer and vulnerable women is not one of them. The sooner we come to accept that, the sooner we can try to improve our lot. 
Last time I re-posted an article on how women should take safety precautions, a group of my friends came down on me like a ton of bricks (Their peeve was that I was somehow blaming-the-victim). I am troubled by the fact even they have not called out this conservative statistic fudging.


  1. Liberals are supposed to be the voice of reason vs. the voice of tradition. We voice the unpleasant truths that conservatives on the right refuse to acknowledge. The example that you quote from the Hindu is apt: The difference between saying something so utterly unconscionable as wishing gang-rape (not just rape, but gang-rape) on one's spouse, and actually gang-raping someone is significant. It is clear that you blame the perpetrator, and not the one who merely voiced his desire for violence.

    However, by quoting this example, you have slightly distracted from our fundamental peeve. We shout so loud, and raise such extreme points simply because there are deaf dunderheads on the other side of the spectrum that refuse to acknowledge that raping a woman is bad. They believe that if the Ganges is shown filthy, it is anti-national. These statistics that they quote is their last refuge to pretend to be rational.

    I have to thank you, though, for sharing the article that you quote. I did not fall out of my chair laughing when she made that point. Or the other reasonable points that she made arguing against the ban.

    1. Point taken: I concede that liberals sometimes take to "shouting loud" in order to drown out the noise from the other end. We readers hold the liberals to a far higher standard only beacuse the other side has a fair number of 'dunderheads'. My suggestion to liberals would be to forget the dunderheads, and consistently appeal to the middle.

      The world has steadily become more liberal over the past many decades :-)

  2. Whatever may have been the reason for the so called 'right wing' nonsense that you have referred to, the fact that the country was not willing to be projeccted as a society of rapitsts, whether highlighting the nationality of the woman? who created this documentary, or for any other reason,is not out of place as it does not need any body outside the country to point out that this society is patriarchal in whatever shade. As an Indian we must hang our heads in shame for the lapses in the administration that allowed this filming of a matter which is sub-judice, the belated reaction rather than a response to this documentary, the lack of any really stringent law that will deter any h...y Indian from perpetrating this crime, rather than let trials go on at a snail's pace and in the end deliver justice in obscurity.Did the publicity or the ban bring about any stop to such crimes? the answer has been a BIG NO, as the latest eqdually appalling incident reported from Kolkutta shows. The real issue has remained untouched. If India has to act, it has to be to force acceptance of a quick and capital punishment to criminals of this kind, about which no body wants to talk or act, probably because of so called human rights organizations around, who talk about justice for the criminal rather than the victim who has perished.