India is changing. It’s not changing in a small way, it’s changing fast. It’s doing what took centuries for western nations to achieve in decades. But this means that there is a massive dichotomy between the two faces of India. Fast moving development of cities is not and cannot really be matched by the countryside. The resources and the willpower simply isn’t there.
You are trying to create centuries of growth to people who do not have the centuries of corresponding education and cultural change to adapt to the new growthy. You are supplying Ghenghis Khan with a nuclear weapon. We should remember, India and Pakistan are not natural “countries” they used to be a massive area called “India” that consisted of different countries with ever changing borders courtesy of feudalism and medieval warfare. The culture of India and Pakistan and Bangladesh diverged under a century ago. People are alive today who were born before the partition and independance.
Part of progress is the change of demography from a agricultural society to a more urban one. Most of western society lives in cities. Roughly 5 to 10% live in the countryside while the rest are entirely based out of towns and cities. In India and Pakistan roughly 70% are based in the countryside. The democratic power of India is not in the hands of the cities or towns. The power lies in the village and in rural economics. Politicians often come from these backgrounds. The problem with this is what I said earlier…
You are taking rural often feudal attitudes to power and empowering people who should never have power and who only have power due to religious, caste and corrupt voting practices. You have people buying votes either with cash or with things like cows or blenders or televisions. And this shows it’s ugly colours when you are forced to fight any issue based on a progressive front.
Now here is something I disagree with PZ Myers. He is of the assumption that Islam is the cause of honour killing. It’s not. It’s Culture. Oh don’t look at me like that. Western society thinks the samurai are hot fucking shit despite being a similar culture that led to the rape, torture and murder of millions across Asia. Yet we still glorify it. Any society that values “face” or some mystical notion of honour as something to be accrued by fitting to an ideal does not give a fuck about anyone who breaks it.
This is seen in two different ways. Rape and Honour Killings/Mutilation. India’s “rape problem” goes hand in hand with “honour killing”. It’s been a fantastic week for this sort of bullshit. The culture of the region particularly the North West of India and Pakistan is a traditionally male dominated society where women have little say and a MASSIVE ONUS ON HONOUR. This massive onus is just as old and as ingrained as japanese bushido culture. This is just as romanticised as Japanese bushido culture or chivalry.
If a city or town was about to fall during a battle, Rajputana men would dress in their funeral clothes and fight to the last man. While the women stood and watched. If they lost the women would set themselves on fire. People from the region are proud of this, because at the time it was bravery. These were men and women who refused to be broken even when outnumbered and outgunned. Rajput bravery is legendary and with good reason. Honour made them brave. Their story is one out of the Mahabaratha or any western literature equivalent. There are rajputs who fought like Achilles. The story of Jauhar is the Hindu version of 300. The spirit of such bravery is still pervasive in Rajasthani communities. During the first and second world wars Rajasthani soldiers were considered some of the best in the world because they were often maddeningly brave. They were often more interested in their moustaches and looking good than the odds they faced often using inferior equipment to achieve goals that were considered impossible by just being an entire group of individuals who would be considered clinically insane because they were driven by honour. Remember, we still glorify the Japanese who did this. Tom Cruise is the last Samurai not the first person to call them a bunch of dicks.
All of this creates a very romantic view of the culture from which this misogyny is born. The way I told the story isn’t one where women were forced to leap into fires by tradition to avoid rape by victorious armies of pointless feudal warfare but one of romance where they died with their men who gloriously sacrificed themselves to win valour.
The rajputana treatment of women is equally sexist. The hindu equivalent of Burkha was practiced. Women often were expected and forced into committed sati. Honour Killing, Infanticide and the like were all widely present in this region. All Islam did was change the instrument to a song already being played for a millenia. Hinduism however has changed a lot more and is a lot less “spikey” than Islam. So we forget that it is just as deadly.
Fast forward to the modern day. You are basically seeing a dying breed. A dinosaur of honour beset by modern advances and the dreaded march of feminism. The south of India is relatively modernised. It’s society was a bit more quicker to grasp improvements and had a better cultural treatment of women. But the North is often still a mess of neofeudalism, serfdom and sometimes outright slavery. Women are considered a burden irrespective of your faith. And it shows. The north’s gender ratios bad compared the south’s. Gender is still skewed out here but it is a lot more progressive. But lest we forget, the progressives are heavily outnumbered. Tamil Nadu has 930 women for every 1000 men. It could be better but by Indian standards it isn’t horrid.
Haryana has 877 women for every 1000 men, it’s child sex ratio is 830 women per 1000 men. A massive amount of foetuses and female infants end up dead. I understand a fair few members of western society have the idea that if you leave this alone this will solve itself and that any attempt to stop the death of female foetuses is some bizarre attempt to supply every penis with a vagina. But that’s western culture talking. It’s a view born out of literature rather than reality on the ground. That doesn’t solve ANY of the problems faced. Women will not gain magic value if they are suddenly scarce. They will just be caged birds. The cage may be gilt or even gold but it is still a cage. There are Saudi women who are showered with the sort of riches which would make rappers weep, but they aren’t free. Your dog doesn’t care if the leash is leather or diamond encrusted.
Haryana’s local village politicians (headmen elected by the village to do basic government work and indeed act as a rough figurehead of government law) have blamed everything from fastfood (such as Chow Mein). That apparently the consumption of non indian food turns you into an animalistic sex machine that cannot take no for an answer. Which is a good thing I am all alone because I have been eating a Sub while I write this.
They aren’t the only ones. There are villages where women aren’t allowed to use phones or wear jeans because they cause men to rape them… I as a brown person have must be broken. I don’t turn into a lot more rapey version of Pepe le Pew when a woman wears jeans or busts out her Nokia (Those are still things right?).
The West Bengal Chief Minister (AKA The head of freaking West Bengal) who is the elected head of state of a population of 90 million people thinks that rapes occur due to the free interaction of men and women and Public Displays of Affection. Mamta Banerjee is a woman and it’s terrifying to hear something that bizzare from her. She has even gone so far as to blame the majority of rapes as some sort of criminal conspiracy to make her and Bengal look bad.
There are ridiculous urban legends such as 90% of rape cases being consensual sex or that women are lying about rape. Even in places like Rajasthan where rape report rates are abysmally low. Rape may just be so endemic that rape is not a crime. Certainly a lot of Indian mass media thinks sexual harassment is positively romantic (You are expected to follow your crush home repeatedly until she says yes. It’s weird, women expect it too. In India “No” may actually be “Yes, but you need to follow me around for a bit”) so rape isn’t really far behind as something often made light off in movies. Even in places like Chennai which are considered extremely progressive you see movies where the standard plot is “hero has to beat rapists up for trying to rape his lady who he seduced through the cunning use of sexual harassment and stalking”. Or it may actually be an indicator of honour too. A woman doesn’t just say yes to any man after all. This is probably some bizarre macho test (I don’t know what the cultural reason for this. My chat up line is of the “I FANCY THEE LIKE A DIABETIC REQUIRETH INSULIN, DOST THOU WISH TO RETIRE TO A PUBLIC HOUSE OR EATERY WHERE WE MAY DINE AND MAKE WITTICISMS” variety rather than the “I shall follow you around till you fear for your life or acquire stockholm syndrome”.
The idea in India is that women are to blame. Any woman vaguely attractive is causing men to stray. It’s everything else’s fault naturally. Not the product of a society that is slowly getting to grips with the first wave of feminism and doing it’s damnedest to win against it. It’s never “That Guy Raped Her Because He is A Fucking Rapist” but “That Guy Raped Her Because he had Eaten at KFC, Saw a Movie and She was Out Late Wearing Very Slutty Jeans”. The Bangalore Slutwalk actually got busted up by feminists and right wingers who threatened to attack walkers because they were giving women a bad name by dressing “sluttily”. Police actually halted the march and arrested the organisers “for their own protection”.
I had a friend (she moved to the USA, ironically to study at a Christian Uni. We don’t keep in touch anymore so I shall keep this vague…) who was once yelled at for starting a fight. Her crime? Using the open compartment on a train rather than the women’s only one. A man kept touching up against her. When another man stopped him, the first man insulted his “honour” not as someone who is telling him to stop being a pervert but as someone who would date such an easy woman. That started the fight… The end result was the entire passenger compartment telling her to get off because if she didn’t stand there pervert would not have rubbed against her and the good boy wouldn’t have had to get punched in the face for standing up to her… That’s the kind of social pressure you have here.
Again you have this often repeated notion where marriage is seen as some sacred bond that stops all this malarky. Oh yes, the increasing age of marriage was done to reduce India’s population growth and to stop child marriage. However marriage is just a paper after all. You can get religiously married without a legal marriage too. That hasn’t stopped people despite the government’s best interests. Many of the people against rape honestly think that the increasing age of marriage causes young men to lose all control and just rape things. This notion is disgusting because it doesn’t help ANY gender. It treats young women as nothing more than holes and it treats young men as complete monsters… or worse that rape is just “japes and fun” rather than something deeply tragic.
Rape is a weapon in the caste warfare of the north. Both low and high caste members use rape and the shame of rape to harm each other.
People like to think of there being two Indias. One modern and new and bright and shining, the other the reminder of feudalism and ignorance. There is only one India, we would love to forget that the other India exists. India is a darwinian and libertarian paradise where the rule of power holds. Money, Gender, Caste and Numbers, it doesn’t matter what, sufficient power can subvert the law. And the politicians who are often the public face of the old India think the problem is naturally the new India. That the solution is much like the Victorians. To place women back in the houses and far away from the sight of all. Nunneries and High Walls (Or Harems and Eunuch Guards).
Rape is common enough in Pakistan but reporting rapes are low because of another reason. Honour. In India, honour killings still occur but they are rarer. There are sufficient people in the system who think Honour can go fuck itself. Pakistan however has a problem.
You must be this Muslim To Ride the Democracy Train. This means you don’t get anyone really outside the whole viewpoint. You have two problems. A culture that oppresses women mixed in with a religion that oppresses women. The recent acid attack for example in Pakistan is news in the west. However the Indian case of Acid attack in Jharkhand didn’t even make national news. Why? Because these attacks are two a penny. It’s an epidemic in both countries. It’s done for the same reasons. Honour, Revenge and Anger. If you die you die, if you live you live forever scarred, a monster to scare children. It’s also hard to prosecute. There is no weapon, a man runs up and flings a cup of acid at you and then pegs it. From what I have seen most of the victims don’t even realise the damage they are taking till it’s too late. Some of the acids preferred do not “hurt” and many bystanders attempt to wash it off (Water actually causes more damage if not used to flush the area. You need a LOT of water often from a hose that can wash away the acid rather than trying to wipe it off with water from a mug or a bottle). Witnesses are often poor on the ground since the most pressing concern is the victim and the commonest weapon of choice is battery acid which is easily purchased or acquired. Tracing such a weapon is nothing short of impossible. Prosecutions only occur if someone captures the assailant. And even then they often are punitive with some people being released from prison in as little as four years.
It is estimated that in India and Pakistan these attacks are going up. Not down. Honour killings may actually be on the fall but we don’t know. We may be seeing a fall in incidence but a rise in reports. The scope and scale of these incidents is impossible to gauge.
I disagree with PZ Myer’s stance on this. The issue is multi factorial, not just religion. It is millennia of culture and oppression. Education and even loss of faith doesn’t’ change the demographics. Female foeticide occurs even in western nations where there is no reason to. There are papers indicating that one of the major groups involved in gender selective abortions are the rich and well educated. This is pure culture. Cultural pressure mixed in with a religion that doesn’t have a great history of treating women well. Hinduism’s flexibility may have improved the lot of women in India at a slow and painful pace but Islam is anything but flexible.
My aunt was subject to violence by her husband. The UK at the time didn’t understand what was happening and people really didn’t handle it well. She was beaten for looking or smiling at other men. Well she was beaten for any issue. Bit of a problem if you are a doctor… Even more of a problem if it occurred in hospitals. Cousins suffered at the hands of this man too. The courts had to forcibly separate them and even then the defence was “interference in culture”. Personally speaking? I am ashamed of my family. Honour bound their hands from interfering. This wasn’t a one off. This wasn’t a “Last Week”. This was a decade of constant and to me seemingly random abuse. If anyone hit my cousins (I don’t have a sister) or friends, I would interfere. I have interfered for friends who were mistreated in similar ways or in ways leading up to this.
There is no difference between this and honour attacks. My aunt passed away from complications of renal failure when her transplant did not take. Repeated beatings may have had a hand in that. I know for a fact if she was left in that situation she would have probably been killed for “honour”. It wasn’t religion. Nothing in Hinduism says this. It was culture. It was always culture. It was the inability of many people to realise that we cannot be the people who we used to be. That culture has to adapt or die. That technological development must come with social development. As long as the stupid petty politics of feudal beliefs (Oh don’t look so smug. The USA nearly elected a man who believes in magic underpants. This is no different from that.) exists in India, people will never vote for anyone who is well educated who can actually hammer out things to stop this nonsense.
That India will still elect people who don’t think that the demographic catastrophe that India is heading towards is a problem. That despite the bizarre notion that somehow the attempts by India and it’s myriad feminists (Check our Rita Banerji‘s work for 50 Million Missing) are to satisfy a male need for vagina, we need women on the ground to actually create a society where women are equal. You cannot have equality without fighting this fight. We need young girls and a balanced demography because you cannot create a feminist movement if people are straight up treating being female as a liability or as a commodity even within the most educated demographic.
And for equality to occur? I am sorry, the only way it’s going to occur is if a part of south asian culture dies. Religion, Culture and Society are all going to have to break parts of themselves considered intrinsic to their function for India to move forward. I don’t live in Pakistan, I know that their situation is worse because of the power of the islamic right wing. Fighting for the rights of women is often a terminal occupation there. But I know that a generation of India is going to have to simultaneously destroy what their parents think it means to be an Indian and change the culture.
Honour is the new Sati.