A woman police sub-inspector walked into a public park in Patna the other day and beat up couples holding hands or sitting together or, possibly but not really, kissing – the most obscene act you can do in public in India. In the villages around Patna, and even in its by-lanes, you find women standing around with bottles or small ‘lotas’ in their hand and waiting for dusk to fall. They then squat in a line, gossip and defecate. They have imported that non-obscene part of the culture to the by-lanes of Nehru Place in New Delhi. In the streets of Bombay, one used to see (though rarely of late, but quite usually till the recent past) men squatting on roadsides, their balls and dicks hanging defiantly, and doing the same thing. That is not obscenity because that is part of our culture.
When I was young, men squatted on the road sides, held their dicks with one hand while smoking with the other and piddled. “Unity among men is seen on the road-sides”, used to be a joke. Most of those men had the decency to build a miniature wall around their private parts with their folded knees. Modernity has taken away that wall. Now men stand upright and piddle in full view, some of them even showing off the enormity of their proud belonging. I have never read a report that a policewoman – or even a policeman for that matter – slapped a man for his display on the roadside. Hell would have broken loose if the same man had dared to kiss his wife, who would be patiently waiting for him by a scooter, or inside a car, or simply standing around depending on her status in the society (which is determined by the dowry her father was able to pay) to finish his task. What if pressure was building up in her own groin for a similar relief? She could (i) sweat it out (ii) hold on to the pressure till she reached home and or (iii) kneeled, spread her sari, or whatever she wore, around like a tent and do her job inside it. Even if a policewoman spied her doing it, her husband wouldn’t be made to do sit-ups. Pissing and shitting, you see, are natural acts. Kissing isn’t natural to us Indians.
I rarely listen to the divine discourses of Babas nor find time to attend their “stasang”. A pity, because I miss the pearls of wisdom that fall from their sacred mouths. Fortunately, I didn’t miss one that came from Baba Asa Ram, a man venerated by thousands in Northern India, in one of his regular discourses on a TV Channel. “They say that America is a developed country,” pronounced the venerable man. “What is development? You can’t find a single servant there. If you are in America, you will polish your own shoes, wash your own clothes, clean lavatory. In India, you can find any number of servants to do your menial jobs. In India, you are a master. In America, everyone is a servant.” Among those who clapped, I suspect, were some menial workers. Perhaps for a moment they felt they were masters. More probably, they knew, as their forefathers had known, that they didn’t count.
Class distinction is an important ingredient in Indian life. There are three major classes : Men, women and servants. It has always been, and probably it will always be. If I am to put it in the right order, it is Men, male servants and women. A servant can enjoy a quiet smoke, take a night off, needn’t wear the symbol of her de-virginity by way of a red spot on her forehead if she is married. Women have to. Juvenile male servants, even if they had been sodomised by their young masters, aren’t required to wear that humiliating ‘mang’ in the parting of his hair.
Think of those two teenagers who ran away to Lucknow from Noida, looking for an aunt who lived there. Perhaps someone lured them there. In any case, they were brought back home and shot dead by their first male cousins (“cousin brothers”). The whole village – even teenage girls who have had some schooling – said that the cousins had done the right thing. Servants who run away and get caught are never shot. The policemen practice a little exercise on them, take a part of the booty and let them off. In a worst-case scenario where the media had caught up, they might even arrest them and have them sent to jail. Not shot. Honour killing of girls is so popular and juicy news in our Country that when a man -a highly respected dentist – lost his loving daughter , murdered by unknown persons, the media termed it honour killing by the father. Senior Police officers swore by this juicy bit. That interpretation of events suited our culture best.
Our culture runs through our veins. Think what Bhagwan Ram did to Sita-mata. A demon called Ravan lived in Lanka. (Even today, Lankans are demons to many Indians – and in any case they beat us hollow in cricket). His sister lived in some part of South India. When she saw young and handsome Ram with his wife and his reasonalby handome brother passing by her village, young Tharka (I think that was her name) was enamoured of the fair youth and begged for their love. Either one of you will do to make love to me, she pleaded. The sex-starved Lakshman , restrained by the presence of his elder brother and his wife, decided nonetheless to derive some sadistic pleasure and cut off her breasts and some other parts with which a woman woos a man. When Ravan came to know of the incident, he seethed with revenge. He flew in, picked up Sita by force and took her away to Lanka. He didn’t think of cutting off Sita’s breasts, but kept her under arrest and twenty-four hour watch by buxom ladies. “If you agree to marry me,” said Ravan, “I will make love to you.” Or words to that effect.
Ram, being a god, managed to come to Lanka with the help of monkeys (not being a demon but only a god he couldn’t fly nor own an airplane) and recaptured Sita. Now there was a big question to be answered: was Sita pure enough for recapture? In our culture there is a simple trick to find if your wife remained chaste while you were away. Not for us the filthy Roman devices like chastity belts.(Imagine the stink when you returned and unbelted the belt!). You simply ask your wife to walk through six feet of blazing fire. If she comes out alive, she has been chaste and good enough for recapture, (but subject to further tests). If not, well not. You could try that every time you make that biennial trip home from your Dubai job. You can’t try it on your servant even if she were a female and you have a secret affair with her.
Well, Sita-mata (mind you, she is mata or mother because she passed the test.) passed the test with flying colours. She looked forward to happiness ever after and went home, jumping with joy by her husband’s side..
But Ramji believed in listening to public opinion. Not that he listened to it when he was going to the jungle for fourteen years to honour a ‘word’ of his father. Father’s opinion counts first, then public opinion. Obviously mother’s opinion didn’t count because she too had begged him not to go. Public opinion need not be the view of a majority – a single washerman’s view could do. Particularly if it coincided with his own lingering doubts. So Ramji threw his pregnant wife into the jungle and lived with a statue of her likeness. That statue, I suspect, was the first sex toy ever invented. There are many temples for Hanuman, the monkey-servant. None for Sita-mata because she slept outside the house.
You think that this horror story of Sita’s later life is an aberration and not really written by Valmiki, the great poet? Or that the attitude of men have changed? Ramanand Sagar decided for a moment to skip this part from his own television version of the epic. Men- those who went by the cast name of Valmiki, those who were washermen and those who weren’t, set off a riot, burnt buses and shops in North India till the Government-owned Door-Darshan persuaded the producer to hurriedly produce and telecast the parts.
The fire test (subject to further tests and gossip) is illegal today and can only be conducted clandestinely. When Ram Rajya comes, which surely must because Advaniji says so, the tests would be resumed. What is good for Ram can’t be illegal for his devotees.
Servants, incidentally are in great demand because so many of them went abroad and came back as non-servants. Some others, curse the bastards, put their children to school – English medium school, mind you, what cheek!- and the children became non-servants. (When Mulayam Singh comes back to power he would do away with English and computers so that this doesn’t happen again). But not so with women. Unlike servants, they don’t undergo transformation in stature. Actually, you find there are too many of them already, and you kill away the new arrivals (including on occasions those who arrived by way of marriage). Girls at home, they say – even women say – are parai Dhan – other’s property. Why breed and keep a girl until she becomes other’s property, while also taking away some of the family property in the process? So you know the real reason why those brave cousins shot dead their female cousins when they came back home.
You read about women in Muslim countries being whipped for being victims of rape. These primitive Sharia laws, you say. They don’t burn their women for not bringing enough money. Indian Muslims do, of course, because they are mostly converts and are learning the ‘Hindutva’ culture any way under pressure from Rajnath Singh.
I wonder why the Government has banned pre-natal sex determination tests. A girl gets killed in her early embryonic stage if she is discovered. Hopefully, the embryo is too underdeveloped to experience pain. Until scientific sex-determination came into prominence, a whole Punjabi or Haryanavi village – women, I mean – collected in the delivery room when a girl was announced. They put cotton in the baby’s nose, rice grains in her mouth and buried her alive while they sang a kindly song that meant something like: “ spin and weave this cotton, grow this rice when you are in heaven.” In many states in our beloved Country, there are doctors who would conduct a sonogram and announce the embryo’s gender for a hefty fee and a promise of keeping quiet. So female infanticide is not common. When all doctors in the Country refuse to pronounce the sex of an embryo not out of scruples but for fear of law, female infanticide would again be the norm.
In Asia, you might say, women were always held in great respect. Think of Sita-Mata, for instance. She is respected for bearing up with her fate and still bringing up her children. We have so many goddesses, one with her tongue hanging out and spilling blood; a chain of skulls around her hip. How can you forget Rani Laxmibhai of Jhansi who fought the British to save the throne for her adopted son? Wasn’t Indira Gandhi the strongest Prime Minister ever known? Isn’t Sonia Gandhi ruling the roost today? Isn’t Pratibha Patil our first woman President – a feat Hillary Clinton couldn’t manage in the United States? Aren’t we planning – and planning for the past several years – to give thirty percent reservation for women in parliament? Never mind the Yadav and Singh clan’s prediction that the leadership of all leaders will go to dogs if women came in such large numbers (30%) into the Parliament.
Not India, but the whole of South Asia have had women Prime Ministers and Presidents. You have had a Chief Minister in Rabridevi, who confessed, with evident honesty, that the only thing she excelled in doing was “making roti (bread) for Saab(her husband)”. In Sreelanka, you have had Sirimavo Bandaranaike, the Prime Minister and her daughter Chandrika Kumaratunga, Prime Minister and then President. In Pakistan, the male bastion where a woman’s evidence is only half worth a man’s evidence, you have had Benazir Bhutto. In Bangladesh there are Khaleda Zia and Sheikh Hasina, the only thing common between them being their gender. We have had Indira Gandhi and now a truly fair Sonia Gandhi. (Which Indian doesn’t like fair women?). What is common among all of them? They owe their place to men who ruled them in the first place and passed on the mantle because South Asians are great believers in destiny and dynasty. Golda Meyer and Margaret Thatcher might have come on top on their own steam, but we in India (and around, because we have a common culture) have a different view of things.
Let’s not forget that in civilized America, when Hillary Clinton went around campaigning for presidency, the greatest obstacle was her gender. “Wash my clothes”, said a poster from the crowd. I believe there were many such posters and derisive chants. In 2008, the Democrats had to choose between a woman and a black half-American with dubious religious leanings and a Muslim middle name. I have great respect for Obama and am an avid reader of his writings. I admire his forthrightness, love for his Mother (literally) Country, and the story of his birth and upbrining. I don’t think many Americans had all that in mind when they voted. Hillary being his rival worked out to Obama’s advantage. Hillary Clinton was a woman. Period.
One thought on “Not our Culture”