Why does no one really talk about how men feel in India, and who is the real Indian male prototype?
In the balcony overlooking my writing desk, the housewife stands sobbing, alone; her cheeks stained with harsh slap marks. Her neck reddened, her silken dupatta precariously slipping off her bony shoulders. Her chapped lips are bruised and bleeding. Her sunken eyes tell the same story, on afternoons, such as this, her petite silhouette almost always hidden by the top heavy clothesline, that cover her, creating a fading shadow. We stare at each other… silence, a rare comfort. She knows what I will ask. She shakes her head, twice. It’s a sign, I know well. I raise my left hand. She raises hers.
I will not call the cops as I did the fortnight before, or the Sunday before that. I will not tell anyone. I will not raise my voice. I can’t. Till, she finds hers.
More than four in 10 women (41 per cent) in India experience harassment or violence before the age of 19, according to the latest ActionAid research. The four-nation survey conducted by the international women and child rights NGO also revealed that women experience harassment for the first time at a very young age, with six per cent of them experiencing it before the age of 10. The research adds that 73 per cent of Indian women experienced some form of violence or harassment in the past month.
I think of the time my college boyfriend grabbed my hair and threatened to stub his cigarette between my thighs. The way I sobbed. The way he kept calling the whole day, the next day, claiming how he loved me and how sorry he was. How scared I was. Not so much of him but, more, of myself.
The way I always took him back. Wanting to be loved, back, in some forever, fairy-tale fashion. The way I felt so guilty. And, yet kept giving in.... At a recent Ted Talk where I spoke of the stigmatisation of single women in modern day Indian society, a young man raised his hand and asked bluntly, “Sree, you are a feminist, but how come you write nothing about International Men’s Day. I mean do you think talking about men will hamper your image? Why does no one really talk about how men feel in India, and who is the real Indian male prototype? A rapist? A child molester? An absentee father? A violent lover?”
There’s no doubt that International Men’s Day is not as overhyped in India as it is globally. The theme for International Men’s Day 2016 being “Stop Male Suicide”, something that we here aren’t aware of, quite honestly, more so, perhaps, because mental health itself is a hush-hush topic in this country. Suicide is the leading cause of death for men under 50 in the UK. Men are more than three times likely to end their own lives, and this is a consistent trend over decades. Ironically, not just the UK, about 8,00,000 people commit suicide annually, of these 1,35,000 (17 per cent) are residents of India. Between 1987 and 2007, the suicide rate jumped from 7.9 to 10.3 per 100,000. The male to female suicide ratio has been about 2:1. Official data by the Government of India claims 1,34,600 suicides in 2010.
Honestly, I’ve myself wondered why so little is written about the Indian male psyche, apart from pinning most as misogynists raised on a century-old patriarchal mindset, whose notions of power lie in sexual intimidation and stereotyping women, raised to be second place, ever since our birth was considered a manhoos apshagun? Before we were silenced in the womb, or served a lesser portion of rice and dal, in contrast to our brothers, born after observing staunch vrats and expensive teerth yatras. Or taught dance, and never karate. Why we seldom talk about the women who raise these men, and how, in so many ways, they are the biggest mouth-pieces of misogyny? Why being considered desirable by men, marrying men and producing male heirs is still the highest validation of a woman’s fate? And how we are always searching for a father figure or a knight in shining armor in our romantic relationships? Why do we never encourage our men to be emotional or dress flashily, and how as women we snigger at effeminate men, and easily label them chakkas? How so much of our femininity is dependent on a man’s assertion of masculinity, and how we are always joking about being attracted to ‘bad boys’. How we seldom raise our voices in marriages when hit or screamed at?
Worshipping men, but, always from a distance?
Who are our male prototypes… I pause, now. And just when did we get so scared of the opposite sex? The time we were told that it’s unsafe to stay outside at night? The day we were followed by men on bikes, singing sleazy item songs? The day our hearts were broken; when we were cheated on, or dumped for someone prettier, richer? The day our wedding was fixed? Or the day it broke, because the dowry demanded was sky high. When our male boss asks us to sleep with him in lieu of a promotion. Or when I am gaped at and groped inside a crowded metro? The time I see my father scream at my mother, and call her moti bhains in front of his drunk, middle-aged friends? The time one of them hits on me, feeling me up? Fondling my breasts… the way he did when I had my first period, calling me ‘baby’. The way I sleep with the lights on in my one-room South Delhi flat. Or keep talking on the phone during my Uber ride. The way I don’t want to have sex on the first date. Or cover my cleavage. Or stop working after my first child. The way I felt the evening Nirbhaya died…I am not sure if men are our only enemy. If what I am, is how I’m seen in their eyes.
I want to know what’s troubling my father after he gets back from work? Or why my grandfather had two wives? I want to climb trees and be able to wear shorts, like my younger brother. To not be told to cover up, each time the electrician or plumber bhaiyya comes home. I want my boyfriend to use a condom. I don’t want to be forced into losing my virginity. I will, when I want to. I want to be able to say no. Work late. Be an air-hostess or a dancer. I don’t want to wear sindoor and have a baby. I want to be able to trust, and listen to a man. Not filmy heroes with glycerin tears, and make-up, but real men… the boy in my colony who beat up the others, every time he lost. The same boy whose father killed himself, one night. I want to ask him why he lied saying his father had cancer. I want to know what’s going on in a man’s mind when he’s not attracted to me, but the waiter serving us. And if he’s scared of being alone, inside. I want my husband to stand up for me, when my mother-in-law nags me about being childless. I want my colleagues to see me in the eye, instead of talking dirty when I get promoted.
The sex ratio in the age group 0 — 6 years plunged from 1,010 in 1941 to 927 in 2001. I know we are less, in more ways than one. Still. And yet, I hope, one day, the real Indian man stands up…
Sreemoyee Piu Kundu is the best-selling author of Sita’s Curse, India’s first feminist erotica and a leading columnist on sexuality in India