India hates women. It is with this bald fact that I wish to begin—and end—my response to the horrific crime that occurred this week in Delhi, the rape, by multiple perpetrators, of a young woman on public transport in our capital city. She was raped by a gang of men, and she and her companion were both severely beaten, stripped naked and thrown from the bus in which they had been travelling. The young woman, to whom this response is dedicated, now lies fighting for her life, her uterus and intestines ruptured from the brutal attack, in a Delhi hospital.
If any Indian claims to be surprised by this crime and that Indian is a mentally competent, responsible adult, then he or she is lying. There are, of course, other, gentler names—ignorance, hypocrisy, denial. But let us call a spade a spade. Anyone who has experienced life growing up in India, who can claim the minimum level of education and awareness that should come with reading the newspapers, with a high school diploma or by simply keeping one’s eyes open, knows about India’s hatred for women. If he or she says otherwise, that assertion is false. In other words, he or she lies. And it is in those lies of ours, in that denial that persists in spite of India’s shameful record as one of the most misogynistic countries in the world—it is those lies that beat up and raped that young woman, that sent her crushed and bleeding, torn and broken inside and out, to that hospital where she lies now in her agony. Our lies made the attack possible, created a space for it to happen.
Every time we deny that India hates women, we refuse to accept what is staring us in the face. If we refuse to accept facts, we refuse to do anything about them. We cannot solve a problem unless we admit first that one exists. Our position as Indians who lie about the vicious misogyny of Indian culture is akin to that of a drug addict who insists, in the teeth of all evidence to the contrary, that he does not have a problem with drugs. As his relationships, his job, the happiness of his family, all crumble around him, he continues to float on his pink habit-induced cloud, continues to insist that he’s OK—it’s those other people who need to relax and let a fellow have some fun.
As a nation, if we deny the basic underlying fact that we have a huge, a gargantuan, an unavoidable problem with misogyny, then we are a nation of sociopaths, very like our individual imaginary addict. Every time we deny the misogyny that is as unquestioned, as embedded in Indian culture as neem leaves and pani puri, we strike another blow at yet another ravaged female body. In the circumstances under which women experience life in India, our denial constitutes a crime against humanity.
It’s time to change the record. The facts are inescapable—and none but a people mired soul-deep in denial would even attempt to escape them. The ways in which we hate women start within the womb when we abort millions of female fetuses every year. For Indians, girls are a burden; the desire for male progeny is as natural to us as breathing. We utter prayers, make vows, observe fasts, bow before this or that divinity all for the cherished, penis-laden offspring, all so that we may not remain childless or burdened with the debit side of the account—the girl child. For burden she is—practically every Indian, in almost every single region of India, barring a few areas where matrilineal systems exist—must be familiar with the idea that a girl is “paraya dhan,”—the treasure of another’s home. Exiled at birth, she already belongs to her in-laws, who are her “true” family. The word “treasure” should not fool us. We are commodities, chattel, goods. Why else would we have to pay a groom’s family for the favour of taking the girl child off our sinful hands?
Oh, and spare me the apologetics that a girl’s dowry is her “Streedhan,” her “security,” her own nest-egg to protect and keep her in case of need. That brand of bollocks is so old it needs a blow-dry and makeover, maybe even cosmetic surgery, to pass muster—not that anything can disguise its essential hollowness. How many Indian paternal homes will willingly accept a woman back once her marriage goes sour? How many will cajole, coerce, and often even force a frightened woman, perhaps in fear of her physical safety, certainly suffering from stress, emotional abuse and indignity to return to her marital home, because haaa, haaa, for shame, shame, puppy shame, what will the neighbours think? How many women have gone back, thus compelled, only to be killed, or at least to greatly increased emotional and physical abuse, for now her abusers can revel in the knowledge that she has no one to protect her? If you’re Indian, and you’re reading this, don’t even think of pretending you don’t know what I’m talking about. You could write a book about it as well as I could—as well as any Indian could.
But I will not elaborate on the ways in which we Indians hate women. This means you will be spared a four-volume tome, for such it could easily be if one were doing any kind of extensive research into the subject. To any Indian, that would be vieux jeu; to a non-Indian, perhaps, some brief adumbration might suffice. Very well, here’s stripping off that cloak of lies and hypocrisy and exposing the reality of Indian misogyny in all its hideous glory.
India’s hatred for women begins in the womb. I have already mentioned the aborting of female fetuses, known nicely as the practice of “sex-selective” abortion—no prizes for guessing which is the sex that gets aborted. There are fasts and prayers, mantras and priestly advice all for the getting of a male child. There exist none for the begetting of a girl child. The miserable wretches come along often enough as it is; who would be fool enough to pray for them?
If there are brothers, they inherit the property; very often, the daughter gets no share in it. Her nutritional and educational needs, like her emotional needs, are made subservient to those of her precious male sibling. Often the mother and the father are equally complicit in this discriminatory abuse. The male offspring gets the last glass of milk; he gets the money to study abroad; he gets the house. She gets the second-best, the dowry, and the push. He is Lord; she is vassal.
Her marriage is a gamble; if she happens upon in-laws and husband who treat her well, she is lucky; if not, too bad; she cannot return to her parents’ home without incurring disgrace. Even though there are now millions of Indian women who go out to work, many don’t earn enough to keep themselves and their children should the need arise to do so. And single women living on their own are not only regarded with suspicion, but can often be refused rental accommodation by prospective landlords. She could, you see, be a slut! No male owner; no male protector. Wouldn’t you be suspicious of such a loose wench? And getting alimony out of a husband in the event of a divorce is another Sisyphean task in itself, into which we need not go further.
And so it goes on. Indian culture, including Hindu culture, from the infamous Manusmrti on down, clearly views women as property, not as autonomous human beings with the right to their own decisions, an attitude that persists in spite of all the social reformers who have come and gone. We women often have no control over our bodies or souls; our hearts and minds, our brains and cunts are under the control of an intensely patriarchal, intensely misogynistic society and the only response to protest is more hypocrisy, more lies along the lines of “It’ll get better” or “These things take time.”
It’s not getting better. No, the fact of our having had a female prime minister, a female president, and several female state chief ministers does not one whit change the reality on the ground for millions of Indian women. It does not change the fact that in our country, the victim of a rape is often shamed into silence, because she, not the perpetrator, is blamed for the crime by Indian society, frequently even by the victim’s family and friends. It does not change the fact that a vast number of rapes go unreported in India for this very reason—victim-shaming. It does not change the fact that, as a male friend and fellow Indian feminist pointed out to me recently, talk about rape, fantasies of rape, are ubiquitous in the day-to-day talk, the chitchat, the coffee-chai banter of tens of millions of Indian men all over the country. It’s “maza,” fun. A source of amusement. A woman’s shame, her potential humiliation and tragedy, is a source of diversion. After all, she is the one to blame for having stepped into the streets in the first place. For having said “No.” For having dressed, walked, or looked a certain way. For having existed at all.
An Indian man who was offering me the usual patronizing bromides in response to my remarks about India’s hatred for women, asked, not very seriously I think, what “we” could do to “help” women.
Well, I said. For a start, we could stop lying.
India hates women. That is the ugly, unvarnished truth.
Take some of it to the woman in the hospital, instead of candy or flowers, and place it at her feet. I’m betting she’ll appreciate it. If she lives, we owe her the truth; if she does not, we owe it to ourselves. And to all the numberless victims of the crimes against women that are the inevitable, toxic fruit of our lies.
Take that first step away from the lie-drug; admit the truth. Admit we have a problem. Then change can begin. Hope can begin. Healing can begin.
No? Still hooked on the hokum? Fine; wait for the next rape to come along. I’m sure it’s happening already, right this minute, in some lost, shamed, unreported corner of India.
Pubali Ray Chaudhuri is an Associate Editor of Intrepid Report.