What Do Men Have To Do With It?: Rahul Roy

Guest post by RAHUL ROY

I have been sitting quietly trying to finish my new film and had promised myself that I would not get side tracked and concentrate on the task at hand. But enough is enough. I am shocked and disappointed at the way men high jacked a protest that could have been and probably still is the most significant pouring out of women who may never have thought in their wildest dreams that they would be facing water cannons and cops giving them a chase with iron tipped sticks. I am sure it is a coming of age moment for many young women of the city of Delhi.

I am aware that there has been a fair bit of cynicism about middle class women running up and down Raisina Hill and whether it adds up to anything. It damn well does. The next time they see adivasis being chased down by the police in Chattisgarh or in Orissa a penny will drop. It already is, today there is an article by a 19 year old student form Lady Sri Ram College narrating her brush with Delhi Police at the Parlaiment Street Police station and quite significantly she adds that if they are capable of behaving the way they did with a group of ‘well connected’ college students in Delhi then what must be happening in the more remote areas of non metropolitan India.Thousands of young women spontaneously gathering at India Gate and joined by their mothers is a big deal. The battle against patriarchy somehow has never been as kosher as the one against class and capitalism and quite conveniently what is forgotten is the direct and rather comfortable link between patriarchy and capitalism. The fact is that men decide what is kosher and what isn’t. The fact is also that the gender question has been largely ignored by the proponents of class struggle and this has haunted the socialist movement from its very inception across the globe. The patriarchy of the left parties and the NGO sector in India is an open secret within these organisations and on many occasions I have been told by young women members  of even left parties that are today at the forefront of the current protest about the kind of misogyny they face from their male comrades. I think the time has come for not only those that control the Indian state to do a quick rethink on their sexist, patriarchal and misogynist mindset but also for the party and non party left that create an impression that they are free of all patriarchal influence but are seriously infected by the virus and they are no different in their attitudes and thinking than any other political formation.

I am aware that this will not go down well with many of my friends from the left but I also know that silently a lot of women who are part of these organisations will agree with me. It may seem strange and inappropriate for me to raise this issue in the current context when the focus is on the shocking rape case that has stirred large sections of the Delhi population but I do believe that before we seek answers and demand corrective measures from the government of the day and the state we do need to look into our own homes and see how much disarray we keep smoothening over.

There are two kinds of reactions that seem to be gaining ground in the writings that are attempting to analyse the Delhi protests. One, that it is a bunch of middle class kids who have got incensed over what has happened to someone like them and the fear that this could have happened to any of them. And therefore it is about class solidarity and not really about a real questioning of patriarchy and all its ills.

The second opinion that seems to be floating around is that look we have been talking about rape in the context of Gujarat, Kashmir and Manipur and dalit women but there were never more than a handful to protest on these issues in Delhi and therefore the current protest is not truly about the hard reality of rape but a dilettante outburst with no clear focus and dangerous demands like the death penalty and mob justice.

What I have found disturbing for the last three decades of watching closely and often participating in what can be broadly termed the left politics of Delhi is the pompous moral superiority that we have carried and got buried under. Every protest has to be put through a scientific test of political clarity, correctness, class composition  and has to come out with flying colours otherwise it has to be confined to the dustbin of history. How does it measure on the class angle? Is it informed by all the reports brought out on the Gujarat pogrom and the mass sexual assaults carried out by the saffron brigade? Is it anti neo liberal policy? Are they aware of all the gender debates that have taken place over the last forty years in this country? And of course the inconvenient question of their own class position is beyond any questioning because they have washed themselves clean of all sins by discovering a religion that has all the answers to solve all the problems of the world.

To these opinions all I have to say is that you stand in real and grave danger of being reduced to the bottom heap of the fast thinning history of the left dustbin. Wake up and smell the coffee is the best advice that as a fellow traveler and friend I can offer. Patriarchy and its discontents are as serious an issue as the play of class and struggles associated with it. I am aware that some people will be quick to give me the standard left line that women’s oppression is part of capitalism and private property and that their ultimate liberation is linked to over turning the means of their oppression. My humble request to them is that while we wait for the revolution to occur what stops them from bringing a few changes in their homes and parties. Is capitalism sitting in their homes, offices or in their hearts? If fifty percent of human beings (much less in India!) are women why the hell do they have to wait for capitalism to disappear before they can breathe easy?

It may be provocative but I do feel it is worth examining why the question of women has always played second fiddle to that of class and why class itself is a euphemism for men in spite of all the nuanced understanding of it generated over more than a century. And I am also fully aware that there may not be a homogenous category called women and that they are divided through experiences of caste, class, ethnicity, etc but then what about patriarchy? While class, caste, etc divide women and pit them against each other patriarchy connects them and that is why while there is a plethora of celebratory literature that describe the moments of sharing and bonding of men across class, race and culture, there is a deep silence about the bonding of women. Men and women stand divided by class, caste and many other social stratifications but patriarchy unites women. The only social phenomenon that makes men come together in spite of all kinds of other differences is of masculinity. Across classes, castes, political thought and ethnicities, masculinity and its ills bond men like nothing else. Masculinity is the great celebration of male bonding and has produced a significant amount of literature and history extolling its great virtues and capacities. If the young protesters at India Gate are not kosher on the scale of their political awareness then I would not hesitate to assert that those who question them are hypocritical because neither have they been uncompromising in their commitment against patriarchy within the traditions they represent.

While we well know the sickness that is Delhi Police and how worthless it may be expecting them to be institutionally gender sensitive it is far more serious that those political fronts that promise to have all the answers to human liberation are liberated of sexist, misogynist and anti women men and thoughts. While the dirt of the state and the government we want to wash in full public view, the patriarchy of the left we want to discuss in private and behind closed doors and not even in the organisational forums. This hypocrisy makes me sick.

In polite and more academic terms we could define masculinities as a sense of entitlement to power but if I were to put it more honestly it is a pathological condition. For sometime it has become popular to harp about the crisis of masculinity especially when sexual assault or violence has a class nature as some commentators have suggested while discussing the rape and assault of the young girl and her friend in Delhi but the fact is that masculinity has always been in a crisis. There never was a period when masculinity was not in a crisis. It is in a perpetual state of crisis because it valorizes itself at the cost of the feminine, it is obsessed with the idea of controlling female sexuality, it takes for granted that being male guarantees you with a set of power. It gathers a range of privileges and then neatly divides them amongst men on the basis of class, caste, sexual disposition, etc.

Men fight with each other over the share of these privileges but also unite when it comes to the question of women. And this unity is across classes and political spectrum simply because just like the young men who high jacked the protest and took the centre stage by throwing stones at the police and smashing police vehicles, men from the left and the right, in homes, in offices, in organizations, in factories, in political struggles think and believe that they are the centre of the universe, each one a special gift to human kind and with special rights , privileges and this comes naturally, no need to think, no self doubt, no self criticism. They are special and natural born sources of power and authority. So what if they don’t even have an iota of sense of what it is to be a woman in this damn city and negotiate its public spaces, so what if their own parties and organizations are a dismal reflection of the discrimination and disparity women face. Men were born to be leaders and to lead and it would be impossible for them to even remotely entertain the thought that women should be leading this simply because it is fundamentally about what they undergo on a daily basis as a routine. The threat of rape and assault is real for women in this city and does not touch men remotely in the same way.

The disease of masculinity causes several related ailments, immunity and impunity being two main side effects. In recent past impunity of the state and its functionaries in the context of conflict zones has come in for sustained attention and examination. However, what seems to have missed attention is the fact that the training ground for impunity to be systematised and become part of practice comes from within the area of gender.  The early lessons of impunity are taught in most if not all homes to all the male members. The disenfranchisement of girls and women within the domestic sphere then spills into various other areas of our social life. Masculinities provide an ideological basis for impunity to be legitimised and practiced. It makes it possible for men to think that they are the repositories of power and when that is the essence they carry then not just crime but also the right to lead all demonstrations and throwing stones at the police comes naturally.  And crime against women comes that much easier because to be truly masculine men have to carry both a fear and hatred of the feminine close to their heart. Fear they say eats the soul. Women have been pointing out the toxic effects of masculinity forever, it is about time men too realised what they are doing to themselves by being defenders of systems that are not really concerned with their well being but instead use them as fodder to enforce discipline, punish errants, maintain status quo and act (in uniform or out of uniform) as front line protectors of all forms of injustice. In return for their services they get the right to subjugate and oppress women in the domestic sphere but then it is difficult to maintain these borders between the public and the domestic and women outside too become targets of an assertion of masculinity.

The last ten days have provided an opportunity of re narrating the sordid history of rape cases and rape trials in India. From Mathura to Soni Sori, from Kanun Pushpora to Manorama, from the daily humiliation and rape of dalit women across this country to Bilqees Bano, we have re read and re lived these horror tales. To me personally the only way to understand the nature of this phenomenon is to say that this is a war declared on women to achieve a range of affects that include masculine supremacy, communal revenge, caste subjugation and securing of national cartographic imaginations. Rape is not just about sex but it is an assault with the intention of marking bodies with a set of messages that can speak not just through the personal trauma of what the woman will go through but by what will be visible.

Rape is the memorialising of what can be achieved through the practice of masculinities. The inability of the phallus to live up to all its myth making capabilities requires then the use of phallic replacements, harder metallic instruments that are more capable of performing feats that masculinities pushes men to achieve through their phallus. The use of metal rods, guns shoved inside mouths, stones inserted into the rectum, knives used to carve the skin are all expressions that have rather erroneously being analysed as emanating from a crisis of masculinity. It is in the nature of masculinity.

Misogyny or hatred of women constitutes a critical building block of masculinities. Masculinity is a policing system that ensures the clock work functioning of all hierarchies. It comes in khakhi, it comes in saffron and it also comes in red and it comes with the threat of violence, always and without fail. It is utilised as much by patriarchy to punish errant women as by state authorities to subjugate protesting tribal populations in Chattisgarh and Orrissa. It is used to remind rebellious people of Kashmir that they are a subjugated lot and it is used by men on Delhi streets to remind women that they are transgressing. It is also used within the left tradition to dominate party positions, tell their women comrades what appropriate dressing is all about and when they reassure women that their time will come after capitalism is brought down. Give me a break! And tragically, even those who suffer under its influence fall prey to responding to this policing by setting up their own version of it and thus casting themselves as the mirror image of those who oppress them.

The current ongoing protest in Delhi has become an opportunity for a collective catharsis, a moment that is allowing for the quotidian violence that women face to get a voice, an ear. It is a cry for help, an angry assertion of the right to free movement, a life of dignity and freedom from fear of rape. But what will it change? The irony is that if it had been organised and controlled by established political groups or even sections of the women’s movement, it would never have achieved the sheer numbers and passion at display. However, its unorganised nature may also be its stumbling block though it is difficult to predict how these protests will influence individual lives. With media focusing on the radical demands of death penalty to rapists and castration, all the less sensational but more pertinent and creative assertions and demands being discussed and shared on the stretch from Raisina hill to Vijay chowk have faded into the background.

Irruptions are moments of churning when the establishment suddenly reveals its nature and for protesters the potential of political connections become that much more possible. However, we will have to wait and see if those connections were made by these protests. Did the dots add up to join the 23 year old student to Soni Sori and Bilqees Bano? It is when these dots join that the real nuts and bolts of injustices that function systematically become apparent, just as it did in the Mathura Rape case when it became clear to the women’s movement that law as well as the justice system were not factors that mitigate violence but become sites for injustice, gender discrimination and violence. It is then that the dots reveal why the saffron brigade targeted Bilqees and scores of other Muslim women in Gujarat because as their leaders believe after a rape women are nothing but living corpses, a permanent reminder that we subjugated and violated ‘your’ women. Rape in conflict zones like Kashmir and Manipur carry the symbolic message of reminding local populations of who the rulers are and who the ruled. When dalit women are routinely subjected to verbal abuse, sexual harassment and raped it is a reminder of their social position and that they should not even dream of stepping out of local caste restrictions. When the 23 year old student was gang raped in a moving bus in Delhi it is a reminder to all women in Delhi that the city belongs to men. Rape serves multiple functions within patriarchy but they all have one common factor – men out to punish women. It is probably the oldest patriarchal sport. However, even if the dots don’t merge, the young women of Delhi have a right to protest and remind men of this country that they are guaranteed equality by the Indian Constitution.

The young men and women at India Gate for a moment have provided a glimmer of a different order of things just like a carnival does, that it is possible to be men and defend the rights of women to be safe and to stand shoulder to shoulder with women against an indifferent administration. The protest until now has been significant because it has seen a large participation of young women who for the first time have taken to the streets in such large numbers and also for the fact that hundreds of young men have joined them in support and in empathy. However, many of these young men need to realize that they should learn to follow rather than assume leadership on the streets and at the picket. We can only hope that the protests have struck deep enough roots to make the public and domestic spheres of a country that throws up some of the worst gender indices globally, a more tolerable one. And in the immediate context we can pray that the protest grows in strength and also manages to isolate those who through their acts of violence are pushing the young women off the streets and back into the so called safe domestic sphere. The women’s groups and others have been quick to point out the problems of radical sounding demands like death penalty for rapists and mob justice, it is now for the protest to respond with a united front and a set of demands and assertions that will leave a much deeper impact as was shown by the women’s movement in the Mathura rape case. Slogans and protest marches coupled with the deepest possible questioning of masculinities in homes, offices and political groupings could still make the current coming out of young people the most significant protest in post independence India against gender based violence.

43 thoughts on “What Do Men Have To Do With It?: Rahul Roy”

  1. Could the author or the editor provide readers with a few links to articles from the so-called ‘Leftist’ critics of the movement? While there is so much that has been written about the rape — I haven’t yet come across any serious denunciations except perhaps from Arundhati Roy on the one hand and the politicians who I’d call the ‘painted-dented’ clan. It would be nice to have a clearer picture of their opinions and who they are since the above article provides none of this information despite its vehement (and justified) antagonism to the ‘cynical Left’.


    1. Oh dear. I wish I could give you links – I can’t, beyond the one I will link to shortly. But I assure you that a lot of us have been arguing over this with our fellow left-leaning individuals in search of purity from day one, in real life and on Facebook, Twitter. Here for instance is a comment on kafila itself: http://kafila.org/2012/12/23/police-violence-and-a-government-in-hiding/#comment-37128 The commenter argues, among other things, that the protest is ‘depoliticized’ – that “this protest has meant that issues like FDI in retail, corruption are dead.
      With focus having shifted away from crucial issues, the government and the opposition parties, all must be happy for this respite”, because evidently systemic violence against women is secondary to corruption or FDI in retail. Not ‘crucial’ enough. This is only one instance of the stream of commentary I have heard against the protesters – that they are not political enough, that they are not working class enough, that they are ignorant and unaware of, say, events in Manipur and Jharkhand. What I have not heard of? Engaging in dialogue with the same; channelizing their anger in left-progressive in directions. It is painful.


    2. @Curious

      If you want to know about, and understand what ‘cynical left’ is all about, explore Kafila archives, and make your own opinion about it.


      1. Couldn’t agree more. Kafila can boast of having the largest number of ‘cynical left’ bloggers under its patronage.


    3. Haven’t you heard the latest remark from Bengal on Mamata Banerjee coming from a former communist minister? There are more and enough left leaning men out there who will do anything to support patriarchy. They are all for class equality, oh , yea, but when it comes to gender equality they tremble and fight back. I guess the word “feminist” itself causes a lot of unwanted words/behavior from our comrades. It is sad. But thats only a percentage of them. Most of the sensible feminist men whom I have seen are communist/socialists. And I am yet to come across a feminist right wing party supporter. Not even one..mmm hmmmm….may be I havent seen enough of them. Anyway the fact that most of the progressive thinking men who support gender equality are communist socialist gives a hope that they will be taking up the feminist side of equality revolution along side women soon. It is good to have both genders fighting together against patriarchy and for gender equality.


  2. While I completely agree with this article and honestly believe that it is perhaps the resistance to hetronormative patriarchy which can perhaps not only consolidate the resistance to caste, class and imperialism, but also enable the fleshing out of the connections between each of these. I also have to confess that these last few days have been disturbing and conflicting for me. I feel a certain sense of being let down and even cheated by these masses of people who have turned out to protest the raping of this woman. Of course, this was needed to be done, and in spite of the varied nature of its adherents as well as the responses to this rape, I also really hope that this contributes to the radicalization of those who were present. What upsets be though is where was this mass outrage when Dalit, Adivasi and minority women were being raped. I cannot help but feel that the issues of Dalit and Adivasi women and men do not matter to the public, At one level it seems to me that some humans are of greater value for the Indian populace, and particularly those who would define themselves under the banner of nationalism. At another level, did it really need the rape of an urban middle class woman to open the lenses of perception of violence against women and how patriarchy operates in cohesion with caste, class and the state to dominate Dalit, Adivasi and minority women and men? Why does this have to be the occasion to open discussions of Soni Sori, Kanun Pushpora, Khairlanji and Manorama, Were those not horrifying incidents in themselves for which we all should have been outraged? Yes, I guess I am being cynical, but can you blame me? For it seems to me that some rapes are more important than others.

    What I hope for though is that this becomes a wider arena for the discussion of how rape has and is being used as an instrument of the dominance and control of the class, caste nexus? Radicalization and solidarity across caste and class lines can happen in strange and unusual ways, I cannot be one to judge how this movement will turn out, it will take its course, however, my desire is that it becomes the centre around which a wider discussion can be held. And that discussion cannot be held without the cynicism of those who are raising this question.


    1. “What upsets be though is where was this mass outrage when Dalit, Adivasi and minority women were being raped. I cannot help but feel that the issues of Dalit and Adivasi women and men do not matter to the public…”

      I agree, to a large extent. They were not there when Dalit, Adivasi and minority women were being raped. But they are here now. It is the task of Left-progressive forces to use this forum to engage in dialogue with them (as Kavita Krishnan has been doing, for instance).


      1. @Philip It generally takes a controversial event, such as this, to pave the pathway for others to follow. Hopefully this will bring justice to the Dalit and Adivasi women. Now as Swati mentioned, it is up those in power to see it through and bring about change.


    2. That its exactly the point @euphoria, was Kherlanji any less controversial? Why wasn’t that the spark for a larger debate on violence against women? Why did it take this to create rage? Public awareness? Appeals to nationalism?


      1. I am appalled at myself for committing myself to this comment. But after days of thoughts, I come to the conclusion this is not something that needs introspection.
        My Tathagatha moment comes from the thought that it is futile to see what triggered it this time rather than at any other time. It is a mild relief that it happened at all.
        I think it was the brutality, and the public’s awareness of the brutality, that was the source of such revulsion this time. I have said the same things you have said with regard to other incidents and I have questioned these do-gooders not raising their voices then. But I think we should be grateful that it happened at all, instead of being swept under the carpet as usual.
        I am an unabashed left wing supporter, of course with the caveat that I support no political party. I have vehemently defended the mainstream left parties at other times, for that matter.
        But, on this occasion, I feel that we should make this an example. If this is what it took to raise the awareness of the people, so be it. I am not sure what this will lead to, but I hope it makes the society wake up to the insensitivity that it has been accused of in all these years.
        I am not too optimistic of any sensible results in the coming days, but it is enough for me to know that some painful facts have been brought to the notice of the common man. I hope that this sensitization continues. Even though our trash media will forget it in another few days. I hope this will cause some kind of silent revolution. I was quite happy, for example, when those opportunists of all shade tried to use this as a platform for their own ends and were rebuffed by the protestors. I was appalled at the Kejriwal kind of hooplah. But this time, it gives me hope that there is yet a redeeming factor – the compassion of the people.
        I have no qualms in supporting your views, Philip. But I wish we could make this a platform for universal change rather than quibble about what the mindless herd did or did not do earlier.

        This article probably shamed me into changing my views. Surprising that an actor brought this change, but then that is another stereotype that I should not be following. It is not going to change my fundamental views, but it makes me a little more cautious about reacting to anything and everything.
        Hope this makes sense, even if I am a little confused myself at this moment in time.


  3. Thanks a ton for this Rahul. This hypocrisy has been making many of us sick as well. However, for the record, it should also be stated that there were actually two types of left responses in evidence this time. The first kind of response came from people who have actually engaged seriously with the politics of gender and have joined the movement with not simply to flow with the tide but to actually raise important issues of debate within. And I think with very positive impact. The fact that many who joined the movement out of a feeling of anger and helplessness raised demands of death penalty, hanging and castration etc, actually changed their position through these debates and arguments was an important achievement. At the very least, what our own experience revealed was simply that most of the young students simply wanted to act but were pretty much open on issues such as death penalty. The second kind of response was from those who you refer to in your post: cynical to the core, ready to brand anyone who dares to act without their permission as ‘middle class’, ‘elite’ and so on. This particularly bankrupt position came not just from the party left – indeed the party left perhaps fared somewhat better this time; It came from a kind of cynical, I would say brahmanized left intelligentsia, who’s fear of ‘losing their caste’ lest they touch something impure is now nothing more than a bad joke. These people hold demonstrations every other day – the same fifteen or twenty faces – and can only blame the times for not conforming to their wishes. No one heeds their call – even when the issues they raise are genuine – simply because they are heading towards what you have rightly called the bottom heap of the last (left) dustbin! Leftists of this kind are nothing but a motley group of moralizing creatures, completely out of sync with the times and one should not perhaps waste even a minute on them.
    I do want to take this opportunity, Rahul, to say one thing by way of a supplementary reflection to yours. When people responded in such large numbers, did anybody go to ask before that what the caste, class, community of the girl was? Where did our moralizing brigade get the impression that they were simply protesting because she belongs to their class? And perhaps to the right caste and community? After all, it turns out that the girl’s father is a loader at the airport. She might have been a dalit or a muslim and no one to my knowledge made these inquiries before joining the protest. Yes, they joined the protest, because in some strange way, whatever the caste, class, community of the girl, they saw her fate tied to their own. Secondly, what our moralizing lefties do not understand is that such moments of participation in mass struggles, braving police lathis, water cannons, tear gas and imprisonment and government lies about them – are not a picnic; they are hugely transformative moments. For many of them, this will be an experience that will teach them politics that no amount of lectures can. They have seen where and how the state acts, they have seen how they have been portrayed by the government and media, they have seen how the political class has come out with its dirtiest, misogynist face. This is what enables them to join the dots – as for instance in the piece by the LSR student that you mention. For many of us, it was such moments of mass struggles that taught us politics, way back in the 1970s. On the other hand, those who prefer to remain in the ‘purity’ of their small sects can never ever either understand or do politics in any serious way.


    1. @Aditya Nigam

      Rahul raised a few pertinent questions, and I mean it.
      And you felt, you need to respond. Then and there you gave it all, of course, quite inadvertently.
      You have covered the skin, of the TRUE left quite well, but just well. The fact that you have suddenly (I say this ’cause I never heard of it before, in any of your numerous posts) discovered a ‘brahmanized intelligentsia’ among the left. Hope someday you will discover among others; ‘Zionist’, ‘Islamist’, Christian, ‘Dalit’, ‘Tribalist’ intellegentsia among the leftist.


  4. With that said, we need an action plan in place. I have mentioned elsewhere that this is a learning opportunity for both sides. The magnitude of the protest is a first in many generations of women’s issues.The authorities are probably as surprised and out of options and fell to most familiar crowd control method.Women and supportive men from media, academics (sociologists, psychologists), security high ups, lawyers, etc. need to put their heads together and draw up laws against this patriarchal abuse of individual dignity (keeping in mind this maltreatment is meted out to young boys and girls too).
    Laws will need a department to follow up on the action plan and ensure safety on street or atleast justice meted out to suffering party post rape like behaviors.
    Like you said, such a huge participation in face of authority fumbling is the best live education, but the suffering family needs counseling and support to cope with such an experience to face their social milleu. Every drop inthe ocean will count to change the deep set patriarchal attitudes and erase stigma associated with rape(victims).


  5. The other side of symbolic violence, is timely and effective symbolic recuperation. This piece and the widely circulated one in Livemint on the need for looking at closer instances of gender violence in our lives (a move at un-Othering rape) made me feel the power of ‘words’ as magic.

    A marginalia is created to be constantly monitored and manipulated – through multiple nodes of destruction, recuperation, eulogisation and so on. Two issues here: 1) woman remains a historically fraught ‘marginal’ one whose physical, aesthetic and symbolic entity lends the most fundamental meaning to ‘difference’ in the world. The nature of this ‘difference’ lends many kinds of historical meaning to ‘nation’ and ‘polity’, not simply in the straightforward in paternalistic man instinct which circulates most often. Hence, the hullabaloo over woman-related violence gets at the kernel of a national anxiety at this time perhaps – one could argue that far more brutal violences occur on the canvases of caste, religion and so on why ‘women’ ; 2) Man (not just citizens who biologically identify as men) as a category has historically stood in the liberal democratic lens as the umbrella supporter for struggles of various little peoples – labour, race, caste, why are we surprised that the caressing arm of what seems like the ‘recuperating’ sovereign rises timely, to index the healing of the sobbing crowds and wounded women? My friend/colleague, Rani Neutill, writes about the filmic representation of the possibilities of male rape during Partition and the gaggedness around the visuals that veer towards ‘male rape’. The hurt/annihiliation/tarnish of the male body, resounding the male sovereign body is imagined as impossible narrative move in film. Let’s juxtapose this view to the supportive male voice that seeks to regather the shards of broken female body and stitch together a recuperative narrative, while such shards of its/their own body remains beyond imagination.

    Be skeptical of the ‘friendly, neighborhood’ (often eloquent and internet-happy) man’s empathy, I’d say. As also, let’s not unflinchingly pathologize and organicize the ‘brutality’ of the ‘profane’ man – whose masculinity exists beyond rights-bearing India-gate collectives – in our current fondness for indulgent nation-flagellation.


  6. Rahul: An excellent article! I wanted to add that the greatest contribution of a public demonstration is that it allows people to experience anger. The greatest crisis we face now is apathy, and there is something very encouraging about seeing people angry about any issue–whether its global warming or the impunity of crimes against women. As you pointed out, being angry enables you to relate to other movements and causes. My fervent hope is that people stay angry long enough.


  7. Male attitudes towards women are shaped from childhood by what little boys hear and see (of the adults) and they develop their sense of entitlement and resultant impunity the author talks about, well before any class or ideological affiliation can take hold. How much the mothers and sisters (who have the earliest influence on the raising of boys into men) contribute to the evolution of the masculinity malaise and its social expression is something the enraged women refuse to even consider and address in any discussion on gender violence and injustice. I wish the awareness that the current protests have raised will lead to the much-needed activisim at home, every home, which is where it would be most effective.


    1. Actually women have very little influence or control over their son’s psychological development. Please remember that the majority of Indian women live highly circumscribed lives, where their choices are shaped and controlled by husbands and in-laws.

      Few Indian families, natal or marital, encourage uninhibited self-expression and independent thinking in women.

      Women are made to fit into the little cubby-holes that husbands and families design for them. Be good wives and mothers. However good mothering is mostly about transmitting the family/community’s cultural and religious beliefs into the next generation. It’s not about inculcating the mother’s own value and belief systems.

      Also, a lifetime of repression and subjugation makes women idolise their sons. The son is the ONLY man an Indian woman can demand respect from and have control over. He is the woman’s great white hope, the only way she can access power in a rigidly male-dominated society.

      Her success as a mother is guaged by how effectively she raises the next generation to conform to existing soci/religious norms gender roles.


    2. In fact women have very little influence on family dynamics in India. Contrary to Ekta Kapoor serials, women in Indian families are expected to be seen and not heard.

      As the transmitters of cultural and religious identity, they are expected to uphold and strenghthen the very customs and practises that oppress them as a gender. An often quoted example is of women demanding dowry payments for their sons and harrassing new brides if they are found wanting in any sense.


  8. A great article to read, and learn. Nothing really to add other than to share a personal experience of about 15 years ago. In the earlier years of my daughter’s schooling, the Hindi book had pictures to enable understanding the meaning of words. The examples:
    “Ameer aadmi (rich man), gareeb aurat (poor woman), dhani seth (wealthy man), nirdhan stree (woman without wealth)”. This was a book recommended by CBSE/NCERT. It is pointless to blame anyone for the ill in their intentions, such has been our mindset, such has been our limitation. It will require a revolution of sorts to change this.


  9. Women, unite! Support each other.
    If you see a woman being hurt/humiliated/subjugated help her out.
    Because she is a woman and one of your own.

    To all the sensitive men who believe in and work for gender-equality – stay with us.
    We will make it worth your while.

    Everyone – stay angry, stay worried about the plight of women and our society.

    Rahul Roy, thanks for writing this piece.


  10. Reblogged this on shobasriaiyer and commented:
    Women have to unite. Across classes, castes, religions.
    Against patriarchy – which is destructive in the short-run and calamitous in the long-run.
    This point is articulated in detail by Rahul Roy here.


  11. This is, without a doubt, one of the more intellectually rigorous pieces I’ve read so far. Regarding the Left, I have very little to say other than the fact that the political left in India is intellectually bankrupt. The arguments on masculinity, on the other hand, I believe are more pertinent in the light of recent events. I shall try to limit my comments to certain aspects of the same.

    First concerns the use of the term “masculinity”. Masculinity, or masculinites, I believe are not a priori categories, as many popular discourses would have them, but are manifestations of patriarchy; a set of “entitlements” to ensure the domination and subjugation of particular classes, almost always, women.
    However, to pose a more inane question: who inhabits the category of the ‘masculine’? Is it those who are biologically male? Then what about gay men? Are they considered masculine despite of their sexual orientation? What about the cultural variation of masculinities?

    Here is where I find the concept of ‘hegemonic masculinity’ most useful. Masculinites are constructed in the milieu of the patriarchal moral economy; violence against women, against men who fail to conform to these standards of being-a-man, is the articulation of hatred, and misogyny.

    While this complex argument cannot be reduced to either capitalism, class (to disappoint the Left again), or race, caste, ethnicity, or nationalities, it is these identities that are united in the patriarchal political/moral economy, which creates these fissures in the first place. Nationality and race, or even caste, for instance, are complex networks of exerting power in a patriarchy; while they certainly are not reducible, pushing away from this intersectionality framework, too, I believe is inimical to the discourse of understand the nature of violence against women.

    Once again, this is a brilliant piece. And I certainly hope it get people thinking.


    1. I feel masculinity no longer has any set rules or boundaries. With the world as diversified and fluid as it is now, the rules of what masculinity represents have changed dramatically or even diminished completely. The Good Men Project had an excellent response article delving into this last year: http://goodmenproject.com/featured-content/the-myth-of-real-men-a-response-to-eliezer-sobel-by-quiet-riot-girl/ (The site as a whole is excellent)

      Though, I agree with you, cultural variation, at least on the superficial level of acceptance has much to do with what constitutes masculinity in a particular society.


      1. Thanks for the link; it’s a brilliant read, that. And yes, with society being incredibly fluid and fissured as it is today, our opinions on masculinities cannot be contained by any a priori categories.

        However, masculinity, perhaps even in the historical sense, has never represented any one set of ideas or values; which is something, I think, the early feminist critiques and theories have taken for granted. In a way, Zizek’s reading of the Lacanian object-imaginary-real trio is useful, precisely because there has never been one steady category of masculinity. In fact, it has been so entrenched in the patriarchal moral economy (a complex network of caste, class, race, nationalities etc.), that it is difficult to conceptualize masculinity outside a relationship of power (or the Foucauldian power/knowledge); that subjugation, domination and hegemony have become necessary operators for the articulation of masculinity.

        Theoretically, I lean towards the post-feminist wave; because, addressing the larger question of gender and gender equality/violence etc. requires the decentering of the gendered object, i.e. the female or the male. I concede that this does take matters in the level of abstraction, but in terms of insights, I am not entirely dismissive of the trade-off. That said, we do require a synthesis of lived experiences, of the life world of these gendered subjects – that are, at once fissured, fluid and yet possess an empirical basis to their experiences.

        Perhaps, that’s an ambitious enterprise. But one that, I sincerely believe, would be useful in what many of us are attempting to do here.


  12. Thank you for generating this discussion that is so sorely needed in the Indian community! There is much being said about the tragedy surrounding the rape and what actions need to be taken to bring about “justice.” But the larger questions of how it impacts the society as a whole and where we go from here are as usual being sidelined.

    I agree with much of what you have brought up in the article, and along with the ideas of masculinity contextualized with power and domination over women, I feel we also need to address human sexuality. As long as sexuality is viewed with a myopic lense and thought to be taboo, women will be looked upon as objects to be used and abused. A healthy approach to sex, which takes both partners equally in regard, may reform the way women are viewed and treated.


  13. I believe that both men and women should come together against a tradition that oppresses not just women, but as you mentioned, men as well (by refusing to accept a more egalitarian and progressive idea of masculinity). I however, don’t think that picturing women as the victims (or that they are a ‘special interest victim’) is how we should go about it. It is unrealistic to expect a gender egalitarian society without addressing the bigger issues of socio-economic class and cultural struggle in this nation. Did it ever occur to the author or for that matter, a lot of commenters here that the (upper, middle and lower) middle class in India is the most gender inegalitarian society in India? Have anyone actually experienced what the tribal societies (North East, etc.) are like?

    And how often, my articulate comrade, have you observed men unite when it comes to the ‘question of women’ in real life? As an avid people watcher and sociologist, who observed and studied the social dynamics across classes, societies and cultures in India; I have seen no such ‘bros before hoes’ tradition in the country. Mainstream India is feudal, one that carries across to an extent, even among the neo-liberal pseudo-capitalist populace.

    The fact of the matter is, gender issue cannot be taken out of the class struggle. I find it hard to believe that a rickshaw puller whose wife works as a housemaid shares the same idea about masculinity and the role of women, as compared to the corporate honcho with a stay-at-home wife. I can’t believe that a urban yuppie male with an HR professional spouse has the same expectation and attitude towards gender roles as the typical business lala with his stay-at-home wife.

    When you create a socially egalitarian society (if not an economically egalitarian one, which I personally believe is too utopian), where people see each other as humans rather than social units, gender inequality would be one of the many desirable outcomes. Civil liberties movements go hand-in-hand with women’s liberation movements, one nourishing the other. If you try to create one in isolation of the other, it will work on for those who are already in a position privileged enough to assert their rights.


    1. AI, based on my personal experience, while the rickshaw puller may not have exactly the same set of expectations from his wife as would the corporate honcho with the trophy wife, their baseline expectations from the female spouse stay much the same across castes, religions and class.

      I will not include communities because a Khasi tribe has a very different social structure and attitude towards women compared to a Rajput-dominated village in Rajasthan.

      However, across caste, class and religion, Indian men have very similar expectations from a wife. The expectation of deference and respect forms the core of these expectations.

      While the corporare honcho may “allow” his HR professional wife a career and insist that she be well-groomed and “suitably cosmopolitan” — befitting the social circles he moves in, he will nevertheless assert his dominance and superiority in a myriad other ways.

      When a lucrative foreign assignment is offered to him, the HR professional wife will be expected to smilingly quit work and follow her husband across continents. He will expect to be forgiven for his wandering eye at cocktail parties, but a similar transgression from the wife will be swiftly curbed.

      Similarly, the rickshaw puller will refuse to share domestic chores with his wife, nor agree to marital sex being a mutually pleasurable experience. He will assert his dominance by being the initiator and enjoyer of marital sex, with the wife expected to dutifully and silently comply.

      Men may have different interpretations of masculinity depending on caste, class or religion, but when it comes to wives particularly, these expectations are surprisingly static and uniform. A core demand would be for the husband to have the pole position in the marriage and occupy centrestage.


  14. Thank you, Rahul, for an INCREDIBLE piece of writing. I will be sharing this with many of my feminist allies, friends and students in the US and India. It needs to be read widely. It is brilliant, eloquent and unmasks what many of us have struggled with for years and years and years: within various “leftist” movements and outside of them too. And this is a GLOBAL experience with dominant masculinity and its pathologies. Let us not even start on US misogyny and racism!


  15. I was reminded of this post by Rahul when I came across Can Men be Feminists? by Gavin Thomson.

    There is a common misconception among men ‘of the left’ that they’re feminists because they understand how the system we live in relentlessly and unavoidably punishes women. That this understanding, this critique of capitalism, makes them a feminist. This is simply not true, and we need to challenge it. Unless you’re questioning your assumptions toward women, in both public and private spheres, your self-appointed feminist credentials are probably unfounded. Some of the most hateful misogynistic behaviour we’ve seen has come from men with solid lefty credentials (Arise comrade Galloway…). As a man, your feminist can’t come as a ‘Eureka’ moment when you’re reading an explanation of structural inequalities. It has to come every day, in every interaction.

    Most women I spoke to at the Summer School used the same word to describe the role of men in feminism: “supporting”. In other words, we definitely shouldn’t be the voices, but we can build and support the platforms (literally and digitally) from which women’s voices call out.


  16. “direct and comfortable links between Patriarchy and capitalism”.. and many more important and true things. Thank you for this article


We look forward to your comments. Comments are subject to moderation as per our comments policy. They may take some time to appear.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s