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Hiding Our Shame: Is There Room For ‘National Pride’ In A Debate On Gender Violence?

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By Mehernaz Patel:

Generalisation is a plague that affects our global community, mainly because of the fast paced nature of news – relevant today, not tomorrow, has created a culture where we remember the most convenient quips we hear. The matter is rarely discussed any further.

Among these, gender remains the most heatedly debated topic, to narrow it down even further – the question of women’s security in India. Are we indeed a country so thoroughly brainwashed by our own heritage that we refuse to address the issue openly? Or has the global media picked up on one of the current problems plaguing our society and run with it all the way to the bank?

This was the topic discussed by TV veteran Barkha Dutt and Leslee Udwin, the woman behind the banned documentary, ‘India’s Daughter‘, at a session moderated by anchor Norah O’Donnell as a part of the 6th annual “Women In The World” conference.

Two of the statements from the video above piqued the interest of viewers:

Society’s way of coping with the embarrassment, the shame, of what it does to its women is to marginalize [rapists], to try and pretend they’re just rotten apples in a barrel. It is the barrel that is rotten. It is the barrel that rots the apple. It is society that is responsible. We all are responsible.
-Udwin

As a woman who grew up in India and briefly lived away from it, I understand the emotional imperative to defend my home when it is criticised by foreigners. But after so many conversations about India’s treatment of its women—with Indians and also with non-Indians—I’ve come to the conclusion that my role in those two types of conversations is different.
-Dutt

The million dollar question that remains after the debate is- where does nationality fall in this debate, do we have an option or even a right to act in defence of national pride in the light of this debate? Is there even room for pride when it comes to the safety of women, Indian or not?

My own knee jerk reaction is a resounding no. There is never room for something arbitrary when it comes to gender relations, not just rape and women. But like every other knee jerk reaction, it requires a level of introspection.

Take for example the case of an Indian male student being denied an internship at a German university with the professor citing the “rape problem in India”. Granted the German ambassador in Mumbai replied to this in an admirable fashion, but still, that does not negate the fact that regardless of whether an individual has any personal history with gender violence, he or she be judged solely for being Indian. This isn’t so much a defence of our national pride as much as a defence of our own person. In assuming that “our barrel is rotten”, it becomes too easy to blame rape and gender violence as being part of an “internalized misogyny”. It dehumanizes both the victim and the perpetrator as part of “a larger problem”. Please note here, that I do not mean that perpetrators are to be excused in any way, what I mean is, the moment we cease to treat each individual case as its own, there can be no justice and no true understanding of motivation behind the heinous act.

To draw a simple parallel, it is almost as offensive as assuming “all Latinas are sexy”, “all Frenchmen are cowards” and not to forget “all Muslims are terrorists”. If you thought that was juvenile, you understand why it is never alright to generalize.

Udwin’s rebuttal –it is never alright to hide our shame, is correct. However, in an atmosphere where one biased idea can set back years of tolerance and understanding, we cannot ever afford to oversimplify. Racism, a topic that’s as hot on everyone’s lips as gender violence, flits in and out of this debate, but with relation to gender violence in India, it has a specifically dangerous connotation. Both abroad and even in India, the image of the lower middle class rapist remains strong – the uneducated working class male who is assumed to be of a darker tone of skin. This is the man spoken with in Udwin’s documentary. Not to negate what he did, but considering how easily associations are drawn internationally, we not only focus our bias on one group of subjects, but worse, we forget that it is an issue that cuts across class and gender – because as we all seem to forget, female perpetrators also exist.

The animator of the exemplary animated feature, “Sita Sings The Blues“, Nina Paley, said that she found it ludicrous that people claimed that simply because she wasn’t Indian, she would automatically possess a very superficial understanding of the nation’s myths. Something similar could be said of Udwin and her efforts to understand violence in India. It is legitimate, irrespective of her own nationality. But neither hers, nor anybody else’s efforts to generalize should ever be given any quarter in my opinion, which I understand could be seen as wrong considering in 2012, according to the NCRB 24,923 cases of rape were reported – that’s one every 22 minutes. And this is only accounting for official reports.

To finish my train of thought, I urge you to go read “The 5 Ugly Realities of Being a Woman visiting India“. Here are some choice excerpts:

For example, I was instructed to avoid making eye contact for longer than four seconds with a man… My wardrobe, under her tutelage, was to consist of long, flowy skirts and shapeless tunics. Keep in mind it was around 110 degrees in the summer

Now, I don’t doubt this happened, but might I add, there are Indians who laugh at this kind of behaviour too, but not for more than four seconds of course, egad!

There is an answer to Udwin, it is not national pride, or even pride at all. There is no room for it, but there is room for a better understanding of what sweeping statements like those mean for innocents abroad and in India as well. Because since there is rightfully no room for a nationalist defence, there is no room for a nationalist blame game either. Nations become obsolete when confronted by these issues, either we deal with them as a global community, or we point our fingers tirelessly at anyone but the one who deserves to be punished.

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  1. Batman

    You guys are all hypocrites, full of double standards. A man was falsely accused of rape in Nagaland and lynched, and yet it was not news, the media did not cover it, no discussions on TV channels, no documentary, nothing. People forgot about it as though nothing had happened, and the woman responsible walked away without being punished.

    In a survey, 98% Indian men were found to be victims of domestic violence at the hands of their wives.

    Men are not only abused physically, but also face mental, verbal, and psychological harassment at the hands of wives, but that is not included in the domestic violence statistics.

    1. swati

      So what you did for boys and men nothing. You are not here to advocate for men, you are here to shame women who dare to talk about their plight. You are here to shut them up so that people like you continue to violate women and children. You are here to tell how women are the biggest perpetrator.
      But you know what men are the biggest perpetrator on men. A Large number of men sexual abuse and rape boys and men. Men kill other men on name of war, money, anger but you won’t talk about it because your main motive is to shame women.
      Everytime I start giving logic you run away from post because you don’t have any answer. If you are really acting for boys and men then you have also appreciated and supported and even share the post posted by yka about a 20 year boys who was rape. But you won’t do it because in that case the perpetrator is men not women.

    2. Himalay Singh

      Well I would like to give You a befitting reply.
      Do you know a report presented by The Hindu in May 2014, that indicates 65% of rape cases involved are fake in nature. To be precise the relationship may have not go well for the girls, he may have rejected to marry her, she may have ran away with him without parent’s consent, involving the cases of jealousy, money, power too. All in all its men who get’s raped majoritily by law by society and no one feel wong about it, actually girls feels its their right to destroy boys, to be precise you are misandric. Had men would have been at mistake you could have simply not get all gender biased law passed.
      You can also take refernce to report of Delhi Commision of Women where it states to have 53.2% fake rape cases filed.
      And i have myself seen that in my school with my school teacher, inevitably he walked free as their was no medical examination proved correct, but he had to face social backlash from family, friends and students, which is still not restored.
      What about misuse of 498A IPC where 98% cases are fake.

      Do you still think women whatever the boudary of nation may be; can be trusted? When men themselves are ready to fight and die for the cause of women, is it not your resposibilty to remove distrust among the sexes.
      There is no shaming of women involved. It’s just an issue of mistrust among sexes that is involved. You took the discussion to whole new level by introducing ego in it.
      India has never waged war even if all the history is taken into account, exception when were made to face it.
      So if you are an Indian accusing the men for all the world suffering does not go well in the civillised society.
      I would like also to point that though men may be committing crimes against men sexually even female preaparators are invovled. Just read the crime statistics of child abuse in india. Crime of female preparators are rubbished under carpet as a small issue as a part of women may have felt lonely or it is child who may have been interested. And if we are following the policy of western culture I’m sure women will overcross that mark too. You can see statistics of female preparators in USA, Britain, Canada.
      And if you women have no guts to talk straight. There is no point to have discussion with you, however with all due respect to you your fraternity i would always repect you from heart. Because no man can ever succeed without love, which you have in abundance.

  2. Monistaf

    Ms. Udwin is a remarkable hypocrite. She starts her conversation with how the men and women of India rose up to this tragic and despicable incident, but marginalizes that very reaction in her documentary. There will always be both men and women who are victims and perpetrators of unpardonable crimes, but as the saying goes, it has never been about how hard we fall, it has and always will be about how high we bounce (after the fall). There were millions of men (more than women) who took to the streets to express their disgust and anger and protested until the laws were changed, by a mostly male parliament. A male judge handed down the death sentence and a male hangman will prepare the noose. Ms. Udwin makes an assumption driven by her prejudices and then goes looking for a story that reinforces those prejudices. As a journalist, you should tell the whole story, not avenge a personal vendetta. One of the easiest way to tell a lie is to not tell the whole truth. No society or nation can be judged by one incident, they can, however, be judged by how they react to that incident. That is the part of the story she conveniently “forgot” to tell.

  3. ItsJustMe

    It is true that national pride has no place in a discussion involving gender violence. But when a nation is accused of being unjust and intimidating to women, it does hurt the nationalism of at least a section of people of the nation. Ms Udwin was very much aware of this while she was making the documentary and she was hoping to reap in some popularity through it. On a wider perspective, the idea that society looking at women as sexual objects is responsible for rapes is as naive as saying murders occur because society does not value life. I am quoting this statistics here fully aware of its implication.
    India has recorded 43,300 murders in the year 2012 (a rate of 3.5 per 100000 people).
    The same year there were 24923 (a rate of 2 per 100000) rape cases reported.
    The wikipedia links for the statistics are given below for anyone who suspect I made these up

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_intentional_homicide_rate
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rape_in_India

    So do we not value life as well and see people as animals we can hunt down?
    The rapes as any crime are acts of socially deviant or psychologically deviant people. It is not the fault of the society or men. If anyone think that rape is because society views women as sexual objects, then he/sheshould also accept that society does not value human life, which majority of us know and will agree to be untrue.

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