The facts: in 2012 a young woman was gang raped on a
moving bus in New Delhi. Six men were accused of her murder. They
reportedly hummed Bollywood tunes in court, listened impassively to the
testimony and gave monosyllabic answers on the stand. One of the men on
death row, Mukesh Singh, told BBC filmmaker Leslee Udwin during an
interview that the young woman invited the rape.
In Udwin’s film India’s Daughter he said: “A decent
girl won’t roam around at nine o’clock at night. A girl is far more
responsible for rape than a boy. Boy and girl are not equal. Housework
and housekeeping is for girls, not roaming in discos and bars at night
doing wrong things, wearing wrong clothes. About 20 per cent of girls
The documentary has been banned in India. An Indian
court issued a restraining order saying the film violated four Indian
statutes, including one against “intent to cause alarm in the public”
and another banning acts “intended to outrage the modesty of a woman.”
The absurdity of a ruling that suppresses the
statements of an unrepentant rapist ostensibly in order to protect the
modesty of a woman demonstrates the warped hypocrisy of India’s society
today. The shame was not that a young woman was brutally raped but that
now the world knows just how sexist the prevailing Indian view is of
women. Indian society secretly thinks “she deserved it.”
That’s the chilling hypocrisy. A diplomat recently
based in T&T e-mailed me. He was especially disgusted with a German
newspaper that reported that Mr Singh’s (the condemned rapist) lawyer
publicly defended and shared his client’s views.
“Not only that,” wrote the outraged diplomat, “Mr
Singh’s lawyer claimed that he, the lawyer, would douse any girl in his
family with gasoline and set her on fire if she behaved in a manner to
invite a rape and thus dishonour herself and her family.”
Like most children of India, and more so as the
daughter of an army officer, I was indoctrinated into its culture which
broadly translated itself into several things.
One: education as the golden key, the God of all
Two: patriotism. There was no country better than
India in every way. I asked a cousin of mine who never left India
whether he wanted to see the world and he was genuinely bewildered.
“Why? We have everything in India. Art, history, culture, science,
technology, beauty, music philosophy and religion. Why would I go
Three: respect for elders, for family. Every Indian
advert, even today, whether it’s selling money transfers or ready-made
meals taps into the ‘family bond.’
Four: shame euphemistically described as ‘honour,’
which tied together all the other strands. Yes. This was the elephant in
the room. No matter what happens in an Indian household, the family’s
honour must be kept. No shame must be brought on the family. Thanks to
my liberal, academic philosophical father, the fourth tenet, shame, was
replaced with truth. That was the most important thing to him and for
us. He taught us instead of shame, Gandhi’s Satyagraha, “insistence on
truth” or truth force seriously.
My father believes that because women are vulnerable
they must be armed with education, economic independence and an ability
to defend themselves, even more so than men. There are men like him in
India but they are the minority.
Like many immigrants I have idealised “my” India,
focusing on the largest middle class in the world of 300 million, on its
rapid economic and technological growth. But I have skimmed over the
rest—a third of the global poor live in India. The rich and middle class
live like westerners, in relative safety, with access to a staff (still
unfortunately called servants).
Millions of girls and women wear western clothes, and
in smaller, safer circles, exclusive clubs, in revealing clothes. There
is a general standard of modesty that is higher than that of the West,
but India eludes generalisations it being more of a continent than a
Shame in India is another word for ‘front.’ India has
idealised itself so rigidly, so beyond what it is to be human that it
has cracked. Women are split into Goddesses (mothers, aunts, sisters,
wives grandmothers relatives) and whores (anyone else).
Girls and boys in poorer communities in particular
are largely educated separately and rarely openly socialise together.
The irony is the greater the poverty, the greater the level of shame at
intermingling. The female becomes the “other,” and when you are looking
at poverty in such large numbers, dehumanised, dispensible.
The Indian national anthem always moves me to tears.
Today, I want to weep with shame at being born Indian. I am ashamed at
colluding with the idealisation of the ‘culture’ of ‘honour’ that is
oppressive and hypocritical, which attacks and dehumanises the disposed
and the poor.
It’s time to crush the ideal—the passive, cowering,
immobile, dependent goddess to release the humanity of us all. Women are
neither goddesses nor whores, but the wellspring of civilisation in a
country which my heart breaks to say, is losing its humanity.
The Indian establishments
were more worried about India’s image, India’s fake ‘honour’ than they
were at the rape of a woman. That’s true shame. Shame on India. Shame.