The Chautala that lives in me / Meanwhile across the border / Newer headlines, newer issues

[ Kashmir Times, Nov 2012 ; Millenium Post, 21 Nov 2012 ; Echo of India, 27 Nov 2012 ; Frontier (web), 21 Dec 2012 ; INSAF Bulletin 163, August 2013  ]

If you thought that ‘ghairat’ and ‘karo-kari’ are linked together only in Pakistan, you are mistaken. The zone of ‘shame’ stretches far into the other side of the border. It has been more than a month since the serial rapes in the Indian state of Haryana shot to the headlines. Now that our eyeballs have moved to newer headlines of the year in this holy land, and the urban liberal condemnation brigade has moved on to newer issues, let me spoil the momentum and bring back the issue. Is it surprising that Haryana, the state that has a sex ratio of 877 (females per 1000 men in population) is also the place where the most elaborate public charade of protecting the honour of women takes place? Is it surprising that the same state also has had more than 20 reported rapes in the last couple of months? What does one expect the administration to do when this happens? Apprehend the perpetrators? What can the ‘hapless’ policemen do when the alleged men are  ‘absconding’? It is in this backdrop that Haryana’s principal opposition leader, junior ‘Tau’ Om Prakash Chautala’s recent prescription of rape prevention, of marrying off girls early, has to be read. That prescription has twin benefits – sexual needs of men will be satisfied within the approved confines of the family and the women will also benefit from an early protective (and sexual) cover so that they do not turn errant due to ‘modern’ influences.

The ‘boys will be boys’ idea is not new. Burgeoned by ideas of  ‘manliness’ other such self-serving hocus-pocus that clouds the very real human tragedy in Haryana. The complementary idea of ‘boys will be boys’ is of the woman as a receptacle of male needs, which otherwise can go unbridled and result in rapes. In these times, ‘science’ has come to the rescue. Khap panchayats are unelected councils of village eminents, predominantly from the landed-class and almost always male. Haryanad and western UP are where Khaps continue to be relevant in the daily lives of many people. A soul-less set of male elders of a certain Khap has stated that nowadays women menstruate earlier, hinting that they are ‘ready’ earlier. Information that is soul-less and tradition couched in self-interest can become very easy bedfellows.  Indeed they are ‘ready’; ever ready really, in a judicial framework that does not recognize marital rape. The idea of special ‘vitality’ of men has a long past and extensive currency. After Anton Van Leeuwenhoek discovered the spermatozoon, it was widely thought that a fully formed little ‘man’ (a homunculus) is present inside each sperm cell. In short, the man produces the ‘human’ using the woman as a receptacle. This was called the ‘homunculus’ theory of preformation. This idea is not explicitly taught any longer – something we call ‘scientific progress’.

As I sat thinking about Om Prakash Chautala’s formula for achieving the twin objectives of reining in passions and keeping women safe, I did feel that I was more sensitive, if not superior, than him. A woman friend of mine was with me. Later I showed her what I thought was a funny image on Facebook. It was titled “ The earliest known picture of Michael Phelps”. Michael Phelps is a multi-world-record holding swimmer. The picture showed nine sperms – one of them much ahead of the other eight. The suggestion was that the sperm that was swimming much faster, far ahead of other sperms, just like Michael Phelps went on to fuse with the ovum, thus producing Michael Phelps. I thought that was pretty funny. My friend did not seem amused. She asked ‘Does it occur to you that this picture actually says that Michael Phelp’s speed, his speed in swimming, his vitality – all comes from his father?’ I realized that while I cognitively knew that the homunculus theory was bogus, the assumptions implicit in my ideology of the world had the theory written all over it. While I could posture publicly as much as I could, it is this deep ideology that matters.

Calling a whole people ‘backward’, ‘feudal’, ‘medieval’ – condemnations such as those have a certain currency in the cities. Such righteous posturing can co-exist seamlessly with living in apartments built by women labourers to whom minimum wage was not paid. Talk is cheap. The harder task of engaging with grass-roots forces that live socially embedded in the community requires a kind of political organizing that has long become passé. This is because bottom-up politics itself is in a state of crisis. Those who are engaged in struggles against patriarchy but are socially embedded and hence live with the consequences of their resistances often have opinions and solutions that are quite different from those which are bandied about liberally from ‘liberal’ bastions. Patriarchy is a grassroots force. The struggle against it cannot afford to be anything else. Patriarchy is also in my home, in my head. The struggle against it cannot solely by lodged incessantly against ‘other’ people.

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Filed under Gender, Hindustan, Scars, Under the skin, Urbanity

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