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Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Wife beating? why not?

This newspaper report, based on the findings of a recent UNICEF survey, draws attention to exactly the kind of serious and very unpleasant social realities that we Indians live with, and prefer strongly to shove under the carpet rather than discuss threadbare with a view to criticizing what is bad about us and replacing them with healthier attitudes and practices. In this day and age, 57% of male teenagers and 53% of their female counterparts are okay with the idea that married men should beat their wives now and then!

I, of course, differ strongly on the question of whether India is ‘rapidly developing’ as the editorial writer claims, as anybody who reads this blog regularly should know. Sanitary toilets, decreasing superstition, greater freedom of expression and increasing public awareness of rights and responsibilities are far better indices of development than cars and cellphones and shopping malls, and my worst critic cannot deny that we have made very little progress on such counts. But let us think for a while about all the possible reasons why such a fiercely atavistic attitude regarding what is permissible in marriage should still prevail so widely among our young, especially given that so many of them believe (inspired by Bollywood if nothing else) that ‘love’ should be the cornerstone of a good marital relationship.

First, the survey could be very small and based on too biased a sample to be reliable. I doubt it, though, because the UN is not known for superficial and shoddy work.

Secondly, (if we assume that the above is not the case) it may be that the young are so indoctrinated by both oral tradition and what they see at home that they actually believe wife beating is ‘normal’ and even right. If that is so, what, as the editorial asks rhetorically, are our young people being taught at home – what kind of parents are we? Do we need the kind of public regulatory authority of the sort that they have in countries like Norway, where governments can take away very young children from home and put them in professional care if their experts think that the parents are incapable of raising decent children decently? How many Indian parents are going to lose their children if that happens?

Thirdly – and I am being politically incorrect here consciously – shouldn’t we ask why such an attitude still prevails among so many? Let us grant the feminists what they have always shrilly claimed, that men are brutes, pigs, so they can’t think of anything better, marriage for them has always meant exercising crude physical dominion over the wives. Well, why aren’t today’s mothers (many of them ‘educated’ too) teaching their sons any better? This is one question feminists answer with a loud silence. Much more alarmingly, so many girls seem to find wife-beating okay too – what can be said about that? What is it about our females of all ages that they should still hold such a belief? Could it be – dare I articulate this question? – that too many women are aware, deep inside somewhere, that there is much in them that needs disciplining lifelong in the crudest possible way? Could it be that too many women, having seen how some of their highly ‘liberated’ sisters abuse their freedoms, have decided that most women cannot handle freedom responsibly? (I hold no brief for men, by the way – to my knowledge, most men cannot do it much better either, but the very ancient tradition that acknowledges their ‘superiority’ in this matter still seems to have very strong roots in many women’s minds!)

And what about the remaining 43% of boys and 47% of girls, those who apparently do not condone wife beating? Shouldn’t they play a more vocal, more active role in bringing about change for the better?

My daughter belongs to this set of teenagers. What her attitude in this matter is should be obvious to all who know – if only from this blog and hers – what kind of parents she has. But the fact that she is growing up in the midst of so many others of such a very different and ugly mindset is something I find most disturbing to contemplate. Will most of these girls be happily married if only their husbands buy them a lot of clothes and jewellery, and let them go to parties and malls and beauty parlours every now and then, even if they are occasionally beaten just to be reminded who is the boss? Is that all they ask from women’s ‘emancipation’?

An old boy was recently lamenting that his girlfriend of many years, having suddenly ditched him for a wealthier husband without so much as a by your leave, is now trying to get back to him, moaning about how badly she repents her ‘rash’ decision! Do such women deserve to be beaten by their menfolk, then, as disgusting creatures who have no real minds and feelings of their own? Remember, in our hoary scriptures, women have often been compared to various kinds of domestic animals…

Postscript: Critical comments are welcome, but for those who base their comments merely on the last line (because they have already forgotten the rest), let me remind them that if I have referred to a certain type of woman derogatorily, I have also called some men pigs in the same blogpost! I have written glowing tributes to women I admire, too. And if I see that most female readers prefer to stay quiet, I shall assume that most of them cannot see anything wrong in what I have written, only they are too embarrassed to say so openly.


Saikat Chakraborty said...

Dear Sir,

I hope the following link will be relevant to this post of yours:

With regards,

Dipanwita Shome said...

While I agree with you on your definition of progress of a country, I have to rise to what I think is a ploy on your part to extract a response when you say that Bollywood shows ‘love’ to be the necessary cornerstone of marriage.
Here I would like to ask the question: ‘What sort of love does it show?’ The women, barring some, are inevitably in the wet and white saree or worse, they are mere appendages in most films, crying, whining and screaming in fear/ecstasy of rape, raff and ‘love’, some don’s wife, or moaning, oversexed spies for the hero dancing in next to nothings before the villain (God knows how to differentiate the ‘hero’ from the villain) for ‘love’s’ mighty sake—they are really feeble excuses for love. On one end, you have these women and at the other end of the spectrum you have a Ladies vs Ricky Behl where the woman ‘tames’ the philandering hero with the inevitable Indian good heart or Jodi Breakers where vicious and wicked behavior is condoned as smart-thinking protracted adolescent behavior before the inevitable metamorphosis into the good and loving Indian girl-next-door. Agent Vinod is a good case in point—savior man, dancing/captured and victimized woman or Jannat 2 where the poster itself shows a naked woman’s back closely held by hairy male hands. So, this is Bollywood’s ‘love’ for you. God would be required as personal private tutor to those who derive lessons on ‘love’ from Bollywood.
What sort of children are we bringing up and how? A friend of mine was in town last weekend. She told me that she loves the Flipkart advertisement which uses little children. When I doused my flaring anger and irritation enough to let her know that this sort of involvement of children in the show business harms them and their young audiences greatly, she wouldn’t believe me. I told her that this does not harm children just psychologically, but that it harms them physically too. The pressure of adult behavior, the consciousness of audience and the ensuing pressure of performance have led to the premature setting in of puberty in little girls and boys alike across societies. Parental aspiration and conception of what is ‘attractive’ has me see little girls all dolled up with dress and red high-heeled shoes like choice animals in poultry farms. And I ask, what is this business of making yourself and your children ‘attractive’? I mean, have we forgotten how to look into a dictionary? Do we understand the difference between good, decent and attractive? And that too in children?
About why mothers do not teach their children better, well just a fortnight back I was travelling by the tube and I saw a grown boy of about thirteen slap his mother in front of his father. Both the ‘adults’ smiled—their son was spewing (incorrect) English before their gaping mouths and he had grown up enough to beat his mother. Kudos!
About our elder sisters using freedom recklessly which may dissuade us from believing that we are capable of handling freedom—well, I would say that it was a valid point except that I know that in any case, despite ‘education’ and ‘exposure’ we remain really one of the most damningly conservatives people. On the other hand, taking from what you have said in your previous post, we also don’t know how to handle our freedom with responsibility of any kind. But this also applies to the younger sisters’ freedom to criticize. No sense of granting personal space there either. So, this is a double-edged sword really.

Subhanjan said...

This is, unquestionably, one of the most important social issues that need effective and immediate interventions in order to set things right. It is true that many young boys and girls do approve of ‘beating wives’. But I believe there is a matter of concern in the report that UN has come up with. I want to read the entire report to understand their research methodology. Samples of different age groups would give different results. Here, the age group they had talked about was 15 to 19, not 25 to 30 which is the matrimonial age range of most Indian youth. Another important thing that I would like to know is whether the sample was from a single geographical region that has its own social rules and economic circumstances, or the analysts considered creating a diverse data base, that would be later subjected further analysis so that more hidden data can be found out of it.

The reason I am saying this is that the age range of 15 to 19 means that the respondents were teenagers. Now this brings us to the most essential issues of education that you have been constantly talking about for so many years. What, to many grown-ups, matters most in the education system is how much a student scores in Physics and Mathematics so that he/she can get into a good high-school, then in the IITs, and then gets the first break in blatant capitalistic environments (annually 80,000 crores waved off in Direct Corporate Income Tax for several corporations and HNIs, where as there is no money for rural credit), and then becomes eligible for marriage on the basis of ‘salary package’. Quite evidently, teenagers of today are those unlucky baby-boomers who are slowly growing up with the ‘ME’ culture where important human feelings/sentiments/emotions are not being taught to them as society’s expectation from them is very high in a short span of time.

Now human beings, I truly believe, are bound to have a natural urge to experience these innate qualities of love, lust and pain. When it comes to today’s teenagers, the situation is critical. Because, in case of most, access to a truly eye-opening and healthy educational environment (be it home or school) is almost non-existent. Consequently, the obvious source of experiencing those comprises of movies that have a lot of skin revelations, books that have become best sellers and TV episodes that have gained huge audiences by speaking of exciting tales of college/beach/workplace love, lust & fight, and fashion trends that focus more and more on optimum exploitation your own freedom (no better example of how the ‘freedom of expression’ is going to waste).

Thus, undoubtedly, teenagers now have distorted and complicated views about love, marriage and family. They have become more impatient, aggressive, and short-sighted. They have negative awareness of sexual issues, for example, most of them feel that extreme passion may spring from beating females; a concept which many females agree to silently in their own minds. Physical aggression for pleasure is becoming more and more common as there is enough provocation around, life style has been deliberately made tiring, and patience in relationships has become out-of-trend. Teenagers/youth are looking for quick satisfaction that come from short term physical excitements; and one of them is to enjoy the feeling of being a submissive female in the hands of a strong male hands.

I believe a survey of the current 25-30 will give different results as respondents belonging to this population still carry some important learning that they got in their childhoods days (which was during the pre-liberalization of Indian Economy). But the current 15 to 19 will surely give disturbing figures. But I am afraid to even wonder what statistics might say about these 15 to 19 when they reach 30.

Rajdeep said...

"Let me tell you frankly that I am now convinced that you have a great future in the work for India. What was wanted was not a man, but a woman—a real lioness—to work for Indians, women especially. India cannot yet produce great women, she must borrow them from other nations. Your education, sincerity, purity, immense love, determination and above all, the Celtic blood make you just the woman wanted."

Swami Vivekananda.

Very good topic by Sir.

Soham Mukhopadhyay said...

As far as I know, and as you have repeatedly pointed out that India is isn't really developing if we measure it in terms of the current system of education, the culture that we carry with ourselves, the way a typical Indian shouts and abuses in public and everything else related to this. Not only a husband beating his spouse is regarded as okay by the females, but offering dowry in case of a marriage, expecting a boy to be born rather than a girl- which are still prevalent in the 'cultured' families. And they show their 'status' by displaying cellphones worth forty thousand rupees, luxury cars while still pausing and spitting openly on the road and attending the'nature's call' in the public. Everything is 'okay' as long as he is an IITian or posses some degree from colleges of that kind- no matter how pin headed he is and thinks himself to be very smart using strong language, showing off his Ray Ban sunglasses, Fastrack watches and all such items. Everything is okay with our 'chalta hai' attitude.

Tanmoy said...

Alarming Suvroda!

I don’t want to critically examine the research but what matters is what we generally see around us. Without an iota of doubt, the degrading social framework is a reality today. As you know, I was in India sometime back for a few days. The kind of behaviour I saw in general amongst people were terrible. For some reason all the frustration about everything in life came out in the form of misguided anger to anyone who was next to us. That is what Calcutta was all about for me. In my trip after four years, I was abused by the rickshaw puller, the fruit vendor, the person managing the counter in a book shop in South City shopping complex, the taxi driver and the hospital receptionist. I am sure I actually did not do any wrong. It did not really matter what the age group was. Generally, people behaved as if they are struggling to survive in a world where they can only survive by being aggressive towards each other.

Now if these people would not support wife or even husband beating who would?

However, I reckon in other parts of the country the situation is equally bad if not worse. I for one have heard about some really violent families in Delhi. The treatment towards any sort of rebellion by a girl is seen as defiance and the punishment is quite severe. Indians abroad is notorious for domestic violence.

Whilst much of domestic violence is cultural, a large part of the problem these days is our impatience to forge ahead. Hence, it does not matter whosoever is stronger beats up the other. It does not really matter whether women are beating men or the other way round.

Like many other issues, talking about domestic violence is a taboo among Indians. Long back in mid-80’s I remember some film-makers and writers made conscious efforts to highlight it in their works but somehow those issue based films are not “commercially viable” any longer. We Indians never really like to see/talk or discuss our loopholes and thus we prefer to ignore them until it hits us or one of our own. However, I have heard Bengali films these days are touching upon some social issues quite strongly but I have not seen much of them.

Percipient Shameek .... said...

Dear Sir ,

I read out this post to my mother. After hearing this...she made a few observations :

Firstly , had the survey been conducted on the age group of 25 to 30 , the results would have certainly varied. The age group mentioned here is bound to bring about a lot of variation in the result.

Secondly , there are two major groups - one who are economically well-off , but would not protest or raise such social issues simply because they fear social taboo..!! There is the other group , who are not so well-off economically , have a strong mindset , want to protest and stand against such issues but cannot owing to their economic issues.

A lot of this , be it abuse of such kind or general habits of an individual , also come from their upbringing in their families & their overall social circle. With the typical "chalta hain " attitude , they learn not to protest. In a vast majority of families , the girl child is still somewhat looked down upon....this also accounts for such a social evil. ( Female infanticide is still very high in India - recent cases keep coming up regularly...!! )

Lastly , every person has his/her own individual views....and it is finally their own choice to be good or bad, to rise against such issues or keep mum...!! Everyone makes mistakes....but if one simply learns from one's mistakes , things would be better.

Regards ,

Suvro Chatterjee said...

I am not disappointed that there have been so few comments here; rather, it is heartening that a few people have written thoughtful comments. Such a sensitive and unpleasant subject, after all! And Shameek, many thanks to your mother. It is a pity that so few parents of my students read this blog and comment on it. I shall differ with you only on the last point by saying that firstly, beating one's wife is hardly a 'mistake'; rather it is an offence, a crime; and as for 'every person has his or her individual views', alas, not at all: haven't I told you a thousand times that the biggest problem with Indian society is that we all blindly follow the herd in all things, from watching IPL to sitting for the JEE to going wild at puja time? Why should things be different when it comes to wife beating? Few men who have anything called 'individual' morals, tastes and judgment, I dare say, would stoop to wife beating!

Aritra Chatterjee said...

Dear Sir,
I read your blog
regarding wife beating and I couldn’t help but write to you regarding a few sad memories that the topic brought to my mind. A distant relative of mine few years ago burnt herself to death because her sadist husband used to torture her every day. Unable to stand it
anymore she ended her life. Though we weren't too close I knew her
well and it was a really sad incident in our lives. Our very beloved housekeeper almost died 2 years ago because of the blows she received from her inebriated husband. She had been with us for almost a decade and it was heartbreaking when we saw her pathetic condition.
But at the same time sir, sometimes I see a very different class of women and wonder what they deserve. Dad knew a man who had to declare bankruptcy because his wife would throw tantrums if her expensive demands were not fulfilled. The woman would lock herself up in her room, shout and make life difficult for her neighbors. Ultimately the
man took huge loans which he couldn't afford and he would often come crying to my dad and his other acquaintances for money. Another time my girlfriend and I were having lunch in a restaurant while at the same restaurant few tables away from us another girl was cursing her boyfriend vehemently just because the restaurant supposedly wasn't
upto her “standard”. Kindly tell me Sir, do these women really deserve the love and care that we see women in our family being given? I know wife beating is a really inhuman crime but the kind of girls I see sometimes loitering around shopping malls and extorting money from boys and later dumping them, I wonder if some women really deserve any
better. My kaku who’s a lawyer talks of people he knows who’ve somehow ended up with a terrible wife they couldn't live with and have been paying large sums of alimony. Please forgive me if I’m out of line anywhere and I hope you’ll understand what I feel.
With warmest regards,
Yours sincerely,
Aritra Chatterjee

Rashmi Datta said...

Dear Sir,
Wife beating is indeed a derogatory and a disgusting act, an offence which is mostly ignored barring the occasional disapproving clucking of the tongue. Most women accept it in silence. As Tanmoy Da has mentioned, husband beating is also prevalent these days and it is equally disgusting. Domestic violence of any form is an offence deserving severe punishment.

I want to put forward my thoughts on wife beating in this comment.

I too am pondering over the reasons why such an attitude still prevails even in the ‘educated’ teenagers.
According to me, one reason is that children are never really given any education on important subjects like ‘What is permissible in a marriage?’ Children are considered ‘too young’ to discuss such things and so they imbibe whatever comes their way. Parents, of course set a very bad example for their children. So strange are our social values that parents fight and quarrel in front of their children but never make up or talk lovingly to each other or show any kind of affection towards each other in the presence of their children. So, when these children grow up enough to get married, they subconsciously start believing that the ‘love’ that is displayed so vividly in Bollywood movies is actually non-existent in real life. From what they have seen in their family, marriage is nothing but a necessary evil and anything is permissible as long as it is within the four walls.

As to why girls are mum, there can be many reasons.

One is an extreme low self worth among women and girls. Even though they say otherwise, deep inside, they too admit that they have done nothing substantial other than being obsessed with their looks ,image and their children’s marks and have done nothing for their family except spending huge amounts of money in the shopping malls.

Rashmi Datta said...

The second is the education that they get from their mothers. As I teach children, I get to interact with parents of children aged between 11 and 15. One lady came to me to admit her 13 year old daughter into my tuitions. Apparently, the lady was very worried about her daughter because the girl had this ‘unacceptable’ habit of raising her voice against unreasonable rules and restrictions imposed on her. Another day, she was explaining to me how her entire life revolved around her children’s ‘education’ alone! The irony of it is that the lady herself is a teacher of Humanities.

Another point that I want to discuss is the role of Indian mythology, especially The Ramayana on the building of an average Indian’s character. We are made to believe right from our childhood that Ram was an ideal son, an ideal husband, an ideal father, a ‘Purushottama’. But on examining closely, in the veil of terms like ‘Matru Vakya Paripalana’ and ‘Pitru Vakya Paripalana’, we have, in the mad attempt of aping him, turned all the children literally into the slaves of their parents and nipped in the bud any attempt the children might havemade in developing an individual perspective and not following the herd.
He sets a similar example by his relationship with his wife. After leaving his righteous pregnant wife in the middle of a forest to fend for herself, he justifies his action by saying that he had sacrificed his wife for the fulfillment of the ‘dharma’ of a king. Equally surprising is the fact that his wife, Sita never educated her twin children Lav and Kush about their father’s folly and never to become like him. Sita too is hailed for her ‘patience’ and her ‘sacrifice’ and her devotion towards her husband. I think it is these unreasonable and flawed ‘values’ that we are taught at home rather than poverty which holds back poor women to stand up to their husbands even though these women are capable of becoming financially independent . (The mashi who works in our home has brought up her five children single handedly on her income alone while her husband spent all his earnings in gambling).

The survey has only proved what you have been telling us for all these years. The education that prevails in India now can never lead to the true progress of the country and it only frightens me more. From your blogposts, I have been learning a lot about the truly important duties of a parent. Thank you for the post, sir.
Warm regards
Rashmi Datta

Nivedita said...

There're so many parts to this post, I'll only talk about the bit I disagree with.
I don't know that I agree to a blanket blaming of mothers for how their boys turn out. I know for a fact that maashi, our the house help in Durgapur, has a bully of a son who beats the hell out of his wife and kids often. Maashi does not support that, has turned him away on more than one occasion when he came asking for money and has even asked my parents and my grandfather to not entertain him at all, not even out of pity.
But when I asked her why they put up with him anyway, she said "koto aar oshanti korbo" and in some twisted way, I understand what she means.
A drunk is a drunk and the mom did not want him to turn out that way. But now that he has, she prefers to do her own bit quietly (she has a secret bank account that my mom runs for her. It provides emergency help to grandson and daughter in law, but son does not know), but does not confront the man because after a hard day's work, she is just too tired to deal with it. Similar problems for her daughter in law, who also works as a house help.
It reminded me of Bhutan, where they measure progress by Gross National Happiness, but I remember a Reuters story where it said in a poll that a large percentage (the majority, I forget the exact number) of the women there said they were "happy" but also thought it was ok for the men in their homes to beat them/burn them if they messed up dinner.
I don't know how to relate this to "modern, educated urban women." That is why I was wondering if the survey targeted any particular segment of society?
I guess one can argue that a rich, educated, independent mother does not have the constraints maashi has, but even then, how is it possible for a mother to keep track of her son or daughter all day long? I would think after a certain age, it really depends on the child to decide on what kind of person they want to become. I know some people just turn out bad despite really decent parents.
I have lived away from my parents for more than 10 years now. If I became an alcoholic, addict, or a thief, how would my mother be responsible?
And I had to say this-- I'm not a feminist, but I still can't see how it is justifiable for women to be compared to various kinds of domestic animals anywhere. I know and have met some women who are just bad human beings, and I'm sure they existed even back then, but then are we trying to say similar men were/are not to be found?
The scriptures should have compared those men to domestic animals as well, in the same way they do women. Instead, I find (and this is not just in scriptures) often for women, it is an added responsibilty to prove themselves worth it. If you are outstanding and you have proven yourself to be so, you'll get the respect you deserve. Otherwise, we'll just decide you are cattle?
If you're a man, we'll accept that you have dignity and are respectable, unless you go out of your way to disprove that. Unfair, no?

Suvro Chatterjee said...

I shall not respond to this comment, Nivedita, because I am now tired of drawing the attention of far too many females to the last paragraph of the blogpost. I shall be glad if you have something original to add. I do not carry a brief for male 'superiority' (though I'd like to see how many wives lend their husbands a hand either with changing car tyres or with children's math), and that is definitely not what the post was talking about.

And let's not start talking about unfairness, okay? It's unfair that millions of unemployed girls can look forward to a career called marriage, while unemployed young men can't. And I don't find it very fair that my wife pays less income tax than I do, and gets ladies' seats on the bus. That's just two out of 200 unfair things I could cite...

Shilpi said...

I've been having thoughts regarding this blogpost and following the comments silently and now not so silently.

Nivedita, I don't think you read the blogpost quite as carefully as it's required to be read. For one thing, Suvro da himself being an economist by formal training and not being entirely ignorant certainly hasn't missed the point that maybe class differences explain some of the results of the study.

As for the points you disagree with:
I don't understand why women should not take responsibility in bringing up their own children. Children do not suddenly become 13 or 15 or 18 year olds in a day, do they? There's much that goes in the bringing up of children and can you honestly say that women in India really think that 'bringing up' children requires more than a functioning uterus? And why should mothers not take responsibility in the way their very own sons and daughters are even in basic standards of not being brutal and not being greedy? Where do you think boys get the idea that they do not need to respect women or treat women much better than domestic servants or that they can, by the time they are teenagers order any female about and if not, establish brute force over her? And what about females who grow up thinking she can be an ornament in her husband's life - doing not much else apart from dressing up and going out (since she can't be held responsible for the way her children turn out to be). And what does it say when even an educated woman like you apparently "understands" what your masshi means 'in some twisted way' or not about "oshaanti". The man is beating another human being - that goes much more than mere "oshaanti". That man should be charged by the law for domestic abuse. This goes back to the previous post that Suvro da had written this year and the many ways the law is abused, but of course most females did not see it worthwhile to comment there either....

And let us talk of the educated rich woman of today? On an average - what does the rich educated married woman in today's India do? She doesn't do any housework, doesn't take care of other errands entirely on her own, doesn't bring up the children either because she mustn't be held 'responsible' for the way her own children turn out (seeing wife beating and being beaten up as both being alright) - then who must take the responsibility?

And yes, let's not talk about things being "unfair". It doesn't behoove middle-class women talking about fair and unfair. Better to look at what the average middle-class women does.

I shall comment again for this post - but for now this shall be sufficient.

Shilpi said...

I took some time to see whether there might be an in-between response - but that doesn't look likely, so here are the following bits.

What quite frankly alarms me about the whole thing (which also partly explains my silence) is why/how so many females agreed that wife beating is alright. The only thing I can think of is that females (no matter the class) have brainwashed themselves into somehow thinking that they deserve no better than to be treated like ornamental pieces while batting their eyelids and getting their free-ride through life while being hit around or that they are chattel who can be beat up. There's something that Suvro da has mentioned in his post too: if the idea of male superiority is present in the hoary scriptures and in our "patriarchal" mindset - then with very real females agreeing that wife beating is alright - should we not wonder, question, critique how far and why girls themselves have internalized this belief? And shouldn't we try to change this horrible mindset rather than hiding behind asinine off-the-context excuses, "it's 'sooo unfair'...men are seen with dignity and women have to prove themselves"? Shouldn't we actually wonder more as to the proportion of boys and girls who said wife beating was wrong and investigate some more as to the differences in upbringing that they must have experienced to have and hold a view? If as some commentators have pompously pointed out that "class" differences explain the study - well, that would hold good across the study, wouldn't it? What accounts and explains the differences there?

I'll go on to say that each of the evils that are perpetuated within societies against females are to a very great extent solidified because of the values and norms that females themselves have absorbed and because of a double sense of both apathy and indignation but of no commitment to question these norms even within their individual lives and even when they get the chance to open their minds, their ears, and their eyes. Where's the excuse really or the explanation?

Shilpi said...

Among other things, I'm thinking of horrors like dowry deaths, female foeticide, wife beating and marital rape to shopping, dolling up and partying. If females feel very strongly that these are criminal, brutal, wrong and unfair - as strongly as they see other things as being "unfair" - then these wouldn't be perpetuated for generations together. I very clearly remember a girl, now working in a fortune 500 company in the US who was irked that her dad would not pay the dowry to a male whom she had become infatuated with. She was irked because her dad (not her mom, let me mention) very clearly told her that he would not give a bribe to see his daughter getting married. And I've heard and seen of more such girls and women for me to look at middle-class women with nothing but a raised eyebrow. Yes indeed - they do have to prove themselves, otherwise I see them as nothing but dressed up mannequins who do nothing useful but simply "talk big" (what with the advantages that have come their way through women's rights legislation and the social awareness that has crept in about the need for political correctness) while talking of "patriarchy" and "androcentric norms". And as far as I can see even material independence does not make women any more emancipated in their actions nor within their minds. If there is one stark difference between the US and India - it's that female infanticide is not the norm (so the "value" of a female child is not curtailed at birth), and yet domestic abuse is a social problem in the US and rather hush-hush too. So what really prevents women here from filing complaints and moving out? As for middle class females who dress up and run around shopping and super rich females who really haven't done an honest day's work in their lives - that would have to wait for another time but I'm reminded with a wry smile of one "rude" rich man who'd laughed when they told him that his ex-wife's credit card (his credit card actually) was stolen, for he said, "Good. Whoever it is won't be able to spend more than my wife does in a day." These things of course are most improper to discuss or mention and yet the men must be more mature and kinder and more giving and more understanding, mustn't they?

Nivedita, your comment especially gives me reason to understand better why both a high proportion of the girls and the boys said wife beating is alright. You're an educated and a working woman yourself, and you see the matter of a male who beats his wife and child (!) as something that simply exists and something that must be put up with because his wife is too tired after working all day and so is his mother - so it's just better to put up with the beatings?! You must have read Khaled Hosseini's A thousand splendid suns, have you not or would you say, 'but that's just a story...'? What about this blogpost http://suvrobemused.blogspot.com/2011/01/liberated-women.html , and look at the little news snippet sent by one of Suvro da's students (Dipayan) and Suvro da's own comment and the other little links provided there. Also, you not only seem to have forgotten almost the whole post while writing your comment (and the fact that Suvro da already compared the average men to animals) but you also seem to have missed or forgotten what Suvro da says in the first line of his last paragraph in his postscript! Also, I'll tell you to read the old essay "Freedom and responsibility" that Suvro da has linked to one of his more recent essays - "Troublesome freedom". If you read it and understand it - you'll know why I told you to read it.

That should be enough for now after my long silence over this distressing and alarming post.

Suvro Chatterjee said...

There is a story titled 'Girls' written by Mrinal Pande (a woman) in the current ICSE English syllabus. I personally think that from the point of view of social awareness, it is the most important piece in the curriculum. The story is very unpopular with the teachers, especially the female ones, and no wonder, because it clearly shows how a girl child is humiliated and abused and forced to accept her inferior status by all the older females in the family. Tellingly, there are hardly any male characters in the story at all: the only two are the father, a shy, retiring man, and the old driver, a man who treats the child with kindly affection. Strangely, instead of pointing out the obvious message that women's emancipation is blocked or made difficult to a very great extent by women themselves, most teachers here tell their wards that it shows how women have to suffer in a 'male dominated society' (talk about mindless parrots)! Also, very tellingly, the protagonist is criticised in the harshest possible language by all her female near and dear precisely because she causes 'unrest' (oshaanti) by constantly raising uncomfortable questions and challenging rules that seem grossly unfair... her mother calls her a witch, and her elder sister says her death would be a good riddance. I am probably the only teacher around here who talks of these things, both because I believe in them and also because I can afford not to give a damn about what other teachers and my pupils' nyakaa mothers say behind my back. With the passage of time, as my girls grow up, I can see better and better where all the injustice is coming from. Women, until they change themselves, will not get the kind of liberty and dignity they want in a hundred years, even if all the men in the world became kind and caring and fair.

Suvro Chatterjee said...

And Rashmi, many thanks for the comment. It is always an unalloyed pleasure to hear from you - a woman who is not afraid to call a spade a spade. Yes, you are absolutely right: any show of affection between parents before children is 'oshobhyo', while harsh dealings are okay, and so naturally children, both boys and girls, get the message loud and clear. And yes, just as Nivedita's batch was doing ten years ago (and people far senior to her long before that), my daughter's batch, with very rare exceptions, are now busy doing little else besides dolling up and preening to catch the eyes of the boys when they are not trying to make one another jealous about looks and baubles, and I am quite sure that ten years from now most of these girls will loudly say politically correct things in public about how women are 'equal' to men in all respects, even while they privately let things carry on as before, dowry and beatings and all.

I understand very well about that mother obsessed with her girl's 'education', because I deal with hundreds of such mothers every day, mindless morons all, to whom a merit card from school matters far more than all the character in the world. Of course it is they who contribute in very large measure to inculcating all kinds of sick values in their kids: either that they must put up with all kinds of injustice to avoid 'oshaanti', or they must behave like viragos and poison family life to assert their 'independence'.

I am sure that you, unlike Nivedita, have read very mindfully my post on the Mahabharata, so you will know that I didn't need to be taught lessons about all the badness in our scriptures. I believe the Ramayana, in particular, has done enormous permanent disservice to the Indian psyche; Ram, as a husband, I can only call a cad. All our working women, from maids to CEOs, would be much better off without such ideals to revere. The pity is that there are so many who still do.

Aritra, thanks for having seen and commented upon both sides of the picture, both real, both intolerable. All my life I have fought for honesty and sanity and decency, and I see too little of them around me. It is obvious from the comments I get on this blog that I have failed to impress even the meanings of those ideals upon most of my students, let alone an urge to live up to them. Even the best and brightest of them, alas, are quite happy doing modestly paying jobs with no social value, and do not bother about the higher things in life at all, so long as there are fancy shoes or sunglasses or mobiles on sale at the mall...

Suvro Chatterjee said...

A girl who studied with me and is now going on 18 wrote an email saying she wouldn't mind if her husband beat her if she did something 'really wrong', such as 'ending up in someone else's bed... out of impetuosity'. This is a very 'modern' girl, getting what passes for a high-class education in this country, 'smart' enough to write comments on the internet in English, and I am sure she has a fancy phone and a car and cousins in the 'States', too. I am speechless. I shall wait for my readers' comments rather than say anything myself here...

Shilpi said...

I'm not sure whether to laugh or to cry or to vent. I've been wondering how many hundreds and thousands of girls from that same 'modern' class are roaming around. Sort of shows up the moronic middle-class values and norms for what they are - crude, crass, mindless, sick and utterly barbaric. And the horrifying insanity of it is that they'll say, this is what is "good".

Now I'm wondering whether most of the middle-class boys and girls pride themselves on thinking that this is the right sort of behaviour. Sex of course is an absolute no-no and and will be deemed morally reprehensible unless it's prescribed in the form of legalized prostitution (and then marital rape doesn't have to be seen as a violation) but being beaten up for sleeping with another man is alright?! It's "really wrong" to end up in another man's bed, so let the husband go ahead and beat me up?...so much for the sexual revolution and liberation of females. Have they simply degenerated into unthinking vegetables where sexual chastity is the top priority on their list of being a human being? They should be sent back to the age of Ram and Sita. They'd fit well there.

I'm wondering what will happen when these females get into places where they are actually responsible for other lives as well - they can't even take care of their own bodies and minds. Even if this is the trash that these girls are "taught" to believe in by their relatives and yes, mothers(!), one would imagine that by one's mid teens one would have already figured out some important things. I don't know whether it was this bad twenty years ago but it must be those females who are now parading as mothers.

...I'm actually wondering what it takes for an individual teacher to stay sane in the midst of such insanity and then to keep fighting for decency, honesty and sanity... One can only pray. So much for now.

Sayan Datta said...

What a strange way of thinking and what utterly idiotic logic, Sir! I have absolutely no idea why someone might think that she might end up in someone else's bed out of 'impetuosity' of all imaginable possibilities. It seems to me that she thinks this to be quite normal! Talk of the unutterable damage some Bollywood movies are doing! And then she goes on to say that its okay if her husband beats her up for that, of all the imaginably possible actions he might take! What does she think she is? Cattle? Does she have so little confidence upon herself and so little self respect? Are these really children in the veil of adults? How long will it be before someone comes up and says that I think its okay if my father beats me up for killing my classmate, but not otherwise! You are right, Sir. Nowadays people only make mistakes. There is nothing called sin or crime or offence. Is there anybody in the present generation who can say that - 'Yes, I take responsibility for my actions, society be damned, because I believe I did or said the right thing and try laying a finger on me for that?
To think that these people will become parents in another ten-twelve years time! Really Sir, what has education done for us?
Sayan Datta

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Well, Sayan, I can point to yours truly and say I have always done what I thought was right, and society be damned. And look, I have not only survived, but flourished! But of course this is not a prescription for mindless and spineless millions to follow, for all that matters to them is marks in school and pay at the workplace, all values thrown to the winds except what maa and maashi and paaraar kakima will say. My tragedy is that I have had to deal with such cattle all my life. I told a class 12 batch this evening that if despite everything I have tried to show them the light they insist on staying and preening as cattle, I might as well kick them out... one batch more or less will hardly affect my bank balance, and trivial as they are as individuals, I'll forget them within a month of their leaving.

Nishant Kamath said...

Dear Sir,

While I am more ashamed than alarmed that things like wife-beating, female foeticide and other such evils still exist, I am alarmed at the fact that there's such a big population which believes that such things are fine. I expect (because I have heard) such things from the lowest-income class because they are generally illiterate and they have been raised in an environment where such things are very normal, as unfortunate and deplorable as it might sound. I don't know how so-called educated people can think so though.

Forget about beating people up, I have never even witnessed an argument with raised-voices amongst anyone couples I know (friends or relatives). So, by extrapolation, I had assumed that people like us wouldn't indulge in such things and wouldn't condone them either. Such things are as far from my reality as is the presence of elves and hobbits on present-day earth.

I completely agree with you that our index for progress is absolutely messed up. There was an article on BBC a few days ago that more people have access to cell-phones in India than to toilets(!). Not too surprising really. My friend had recently visited Delhi and he said that he fears there might be a bloody revolution of some sort at some point in time since he found a mall in Gurgaon so incongruous: he realised walking just a few metres beyond the compound at the back of the mall that he could have been on a different planet. In a really developed nation, like Germany for instance, I have heard that a very famous actor lives in an apartment and not because he is stingy but because that's what he can afford in order to live comfortably.

Every time I read articles about social evils like the mess in North Korea or the one in which an infant girl succumbed to injuries (though she was admitted to AIIMS she died of cardiac arrest) or wife-beating and honour/dowry killing I lose hope and am reminded of Jonathan Swift for a while. But I don't really know what to do anyway. It seems to be outside my sphere of influence.


Nishant Kamath said...

I had forgotten to comment about the 'impetuosity' bit. I fail to understand how such a thing can be attributed to impetuosity. It might be possible though if the reptilian brain failed to evolve enough. The fact that she thinks that beating is the solution to this does seem to reinforce this hypothesis. I honestly hope she is an outlier.


Rashmi Datta said...

Dear Sir,
I have observed newly married ‘modern’ women many times. Most of them, I see, have a stupid, naïve, pampered look on their faces. I have wondered aloud if they were really fit for marriage. With your latest comment on this blogpost, I have understood even better that my doubts were not baseless. These women are mindless zombies, seven year olds trapped in the bodies of 18 to 30 year olds. For them, marriage is indeed only a lucrative career and getting beaten up by their husbands is simply an occupational hazard. It seems that the greatest achievement in their married life (as they have nothing else to call their own) is the fact that they have somehow succeeded in ‘controlling’ themselves from sleeping with anyone except their husbands. Chastity is the only achievement they can speak of. But if they ever ‘lose control’, of course never purposefully, only on a rash impulse, getting beaten up by their husbands is their ‘penance’. Disdainful though it sounds, that is the limit of their thought process.
Come to think of it, why don’t women ever object when they are traditionally forbidden to even look at any other male except their husbands in our country? Are they afraid of indulging in infidelity?
It is indeed a shock and a shame to know that girls about to attain the marriageable age in India harbour such ideas and are quiet unabashed about it. It seriously makes one wonder if the marriageable age bar should be drastically increased and saying that, I am not sure even if that will help.
The future looks bleaker with the kind of education and parenting 11 year olds are getting today. God save us!

Warm regards
Rashmi Datta

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Thank you, Rashmi. Note that educated urban middle- and upper class women by and large choose to live in denial mode, or at most hit back at us by saying we are oh-so-male-chauvinistic, and when the likes of me point out that they have no arguments, they either resort to abuse or simply fall silent! I keep saying I'd like to meet women whom I can admire, married or otherwise, and I have clarified time and again what sort of women I can admire: no 'modern' woman chooses to take me up on why she cannot be someone like that and yet expects to be respected. Cattle hate to be called cattle - can you beat it? Not one girl I teach (with the possible exception of my daughter) wants to grow up to be an IAS officer, a judge, a writer, a scientist, a moviemaker, a politician, a businesswoman or even a passionate teacher like me - and it's all the fault of the males?

Dipanwita Shome said...

I am quite at a loss about what to say to this girl of adult 18. I have been trying to write this comment since some time now, but I have been unable to write it everytime I sat down at my desktop. She has obviously not “read” Pande’s story even if she had it in her course. I have read it and I think it is a wonderful story. This girl reminds me of Beauvoir’s theory about the internalization of bad faith. She reminds me also of cattle-if you don’t plough the right field in the right way, you are liable to be beaten up for it. A. Would she have beaten up her husband had he slept with someone out of “impetuosity” or would she have avoided “oshanti”? B. Does beating eradicate memory/desire for such a union? C. Does anything justify beating a weaker human being?

Dipanwita Shome said...

Also, if she has to do penance then why take the easy way out, why take a quick fix solution? Because believe me, I have seen enough of this breed to know that about this beating up business they would just believe it to be a quick solution to alleviate personal guilt. If at all this “sin” out of “impetuosity” or more is to be assuaged, then why not either separate and let your partner live in peace or take it upon yourself to punish yourself if you see it fit to do so? Why come home, tell him, make him do the beating and feel purged? And, please for God’s sake, beating is the least of “punishments” to be meted out under such circumstances-we are human beings, what we do even with our bodies is controlled by our minds and hearts, and beating can hardly control these. I don’t know what else to say here-she needs education, major education and she is 18 already. God, I shiver for her and all those who will come in close contact with her. Hope she reads all this and sees her problem. For now, I will end here.

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Thanks for your comment, and my apologies for delaying a reply so long. Actually I was waiting to see if some more rejoinders come in. Apparently no more readers are interested in joining the issue. As for this girl (and I assure you from long experience that it's a very common type-) your diagnosis is perfect: she will neither face facts nor grow mature enough to adopt a healthier attitude; she simply wants to take the easy way out by a weird kind of atonement for her so-called 'sins' by way of wanting to be beaten by her boyfriend/would be husband. We live amidst a very great deal of mental sickness, and obviously the kind of education our young receive cures nothing. No wonder that most marriages end up on the rocks, even if they formally survive!

Notice, also, that there has not been one reply of any kind to the last line in my previous comment.

Abhishek Das said...

Dear Sir,
I read your post almost a month ago but decided to comment after discussing this issue at length with my friends, in the hope of receiving some valuable insights in this matter. Unfortunately, all of them were quite reluctant to pour in their comments; leave alone a healthy discussion- the reason of such reluctance to analyze our fallacies is quite incomprehensible to me. This makes me believe that we are quite oblivious of, rather comfortable with the societal evils, unless we ourselves are a victim of one of those.
I would like to ask all those girls who curse men for having turned this society into a filthy male dominated society – Aren’t the women equally responsible for this mindset? Haven’t they subconsciously accepted this fact that males are superior to them? Or else how can I explain the fact that in most of the households, the females earn less than the males. Will a high earning woman ever marry a man earning less than her? My female colleagues who are yet to marry say that they are unable to find a suitable match; the reason - none of the males they have met earn more than her or enjoy a superior social status. And when I ask these girls what they expect from their spouses, all that they say is “freedom”. As if earning a few thousand per month relieves them of all their duties and responsibilities.
Isn’t it obvious that a woman who marries someone of a higher caste, higher pay, and higher status is likely to be quite comfortable with the whole notion of wife beating, although she might oppose it vociferously in public and whine and curse the males for all that is going wrong with women?
Abhishek Das

Suvro Chatterjee said...

First off, Abhishek, thanks: I love to see readers commenting on older posts. Second, I must mention this as a very odd coincidence that an old girl was chatting with me only yesterday, and she was sneering at precisely this very common habit among modern educated marriageable working girls. Apparently they simultaneously want husbands who earn considerably more than they, and also the 'right' to be treated as equals by the husbands on whom they obviously want to latch on like parasites: a classic case of wanting to have your cake and eat it too. What can one say? Also, it is really funny to see that all girls in their teens write in their Facebook accounts that they are 'committed' (heaven knows what they mean by that), but as soon as they come of age and must contemplate marriage seriously, the first thing they demand is freedom. Alas, I am very dull as well as old-fashioned, so I can never be shaken out of my belief that marriage is far less about being free than about being committed and taking responsibility...

also notice, Abhishek and everybody else: there still hasn't come one response to the question in the last line of my last comment here!

Abhishek Das said...

Dear Sir,
I am also at a loss of words to explain your observation. I am not quite sure but in the backdrop of Indian middle class attitude, it might stem from the fact that by the time a girl achieves something (for example: securing a job in a software firm or a school or a bank), however insignificant it might be, she feels that she has reached the zenith since it can guarantee her a good (and good means a wealthy and higher caste) husband which is after all the main aim in life, as has been spoon-fed to her by her mother since her childhood days.
I forgot to mention one point in my last comment – these days even discussing such issues has become a taboo. I have a deep respect for womankind yet when I speak on such matters, irrespective of the reasoning which I pour in, people (male and female alike) term me as male chauvinistic. Incidentally, the content of my previous comment irked a girl so viciously (although in the whole conversation I never meant to slander any individual) that she said I should not marry. I could do away with a whore to satisfy my physical needs, employ a maid to manage the household chores and adopt a child to carry on my lineage. So much in the name of a proper discussion!!
Abhishek Das

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Abhishek, if you really want to continue the argument with this female, tell her what she said was nothing clever or original: a great man wrote long ago that while a rich man hires a cook, a waiter, a gardener, a chauffeur and a maid, the poor man simply marries! But I would counsel you not to talk to this type of creature at all (male or female); their egos have been grossly bloated by a little education and a little income, they have no idea about basic civilizational norms, and they are not interested in debating at all, they simply want to impose their own narrow, silly, rigid ideas on you! The only tragedy is that this country has filled up with creatures like this. Funnily enough, you will notice that all their vaunted 'independence' of mind vanishes when they stand before the boss: since he pays them, they are perfectly glad to cringe and fawn before him/her, as I'm sure you have noticed...

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Since this post has crept up into the list of the ten-most-read posts, I am trying to rekindle the discussion. Let's see: can someone suggest what kind of parenting we need (since I think parenting lies at the root of everything) to ensure that young husbands of the next generation will neither feel the urge to beat up their wives, nor the wives suffer in meek silence? Just by the way, none of the males in my family have ever beaten their wives. As for the women, my daughter has picked up a hilarious line from some Jeffrey Archer book in which the long-married woman says that she has felt, in relation to her husband, the urge to 'Murder, very often; divorce, never'! It is a safe bet that the wives in my extended family feel that way, or maybe even a little more charitable...