Last month, a survey came to the conclusion that India is hell for women and as if to underscore this, reports of rape and sexual molestation have appeared like a pox in the newspapers. A husband drilled holes into his wife’s labia and inserted a lock in her vagina (it hurts to even type this), a staged molestation in which there’s nothing fake about the woman’s trauma even if it was engineered to ensure it was properly captured on video, a girl gang-raped by students — this isn’t even the tip of the newspaper iceberg. Each time I see one of these stories — by which I mean, every morning — I think, “I should write about this.” Except, what’s there to write? These are heinous, disgusting, appalling crimes? Yes, they are. The men who behave like this are monsters? Yes, they are. You hear these words, the sounds of shock and outrage, the decibels that denote anger on every news channel. Columnists try to make the words that they write scorch into the conscience of a society that is tolerant of such crimes. For a few days, we wonder both aloud and in silence how to change the way people think and then there’s something new to horrify us, like the ethnic riots in Assam or the anti-Rohingya violence in Burma and the media response (or lack thereof, in case of Assam). Given this is the pattern, I don’t end up writing anything, largely because these are the kind of things about which I can only be super-serious and therefore super-hackneyed. There’s no sarcasm, irony or insight that I have; only a horrified, furious immobility, as though I’ve been zapped by a cattle prod. So instead of writing anything or blogging, I grind my teeth for a bit and then I turn to something that I hope will distract me, with a new nightmare if not anything else.
There’s something I read yesterday that has been stuck to a corner of my mind like lint. That said, I probably wouldn’t be writing this if I wasn’t waiting for a printout at work. Anyway, the article I read was about a senior Indian Forest Service officer, named Surinder Prasad, who has been detained by the police in Pennsylvania after a complaint of sexual assault was lodged against him. Prasad is one of 30 officers who are currently attending a training programme in New York’s Syracuse University. According to the news report, Prasad called the hotel reception because he wasn’t able to connect to the internet in his room. The hotel sent someone to his room — a woman — who ostensibly left when she wasn’t able to fix the problem. Two hours later, the police were knocking on Prasad’s door because the woman who wasn’t able to restore internet had accused Prasad of sexual assault. The news report ends with these paragraphs:
With the improvement in the India-US relationship in the last few years there has been substantial jump in the number of Indian civil servants coming to the United States on various mid-career training.
Those familiar with such exchange programmes observed that Indian officials before coming to the US are not given any orientation course in the cultural values of the countries they are travelling, as a result of which incidents like this are bound to happen.
An orientation course in the cultural values of the countries they’re visiting? Really? Because there’s something that’s permissible here in India that would be construed as sexual assault in America but would be considered innocent in India? It sounds as though Indian civil servants come from some secluded space, untouched by Western civilisation, rather than a country that has a vast amount of American mainstream entertainment on its television and in cinemas. My postcolonial hackles are rising. Really, we shouldn’t need “orientation courses”. It’s not like we haven’t learnt our manners.
When the young photographer Tarun Sehrawat died a tragic and avoidable death, it was pointed out that Indian reporters and photojournalists go to conflict areas with no training whatsoever. This I understand requires training. What exactly is this “orientation in the cultural values” of America supposed to entail? We see the films, we get the tv channels, we access the websites. What is it that we’re missing?
Clearly, a critical chunk, if the accusations against the forest service officer aren’t false.
It need not a misunderstanding or a cultural gap that made this Indian man appear to be a sexual predator. We seem to be abusing women and girls at the drop of a hat, but does this mean the men who rape, molest or even lewdly flirt with women are not aware that they’re doing something wrong? Surely they know theirs is not what would be described as ‘correct behaviour’, that one is not simply entitled to a woman because she’s, well, there. Surely it’s because men and conservatives know their behaviour is unforgivable that there’s always such a concerted effort to place the blame on the women. If she hadn’t asked for it by wearing the clothes she did, by going to a bar, by being outside the house after 8pm etc., then there’s no defending the man. Right?
This one news item is not more disturbing than the rapes and assaults that have been written about in the papers. But there’s something about it that’s pesky, persistent and ridiculous. An Indian bureaucrat tried to hit on a woman who came to fix his internet and got arrested for sexual assault. It’s like he thought he was in a private porno flick, which is uncharacteristic. The general reputation Indian men have is of jumping out of their skin if there are footsteps outside when they’re desperately clicking on the remote to find the adult channels. Is this the result of the self-confidence that the boom years of the early noughties has added to Indian men’s personas? Now male Indian bureaucrats think they’re Dominique Strauss Kahn?
A woman comes to fix an internet connection. What is the American thing she could have done that made him think she was ‘game’? What is the Indian thing that he did that turned what should have been an innocent exchange made up of harmless sentences like “I’m not able to connect to the internet” and “Thanks for your help” into sexual assault?
Screw the printout. (Yes, yes, I know I’ve written “screw”.) I’m going home now. This is why I don’t write about this stuff. It’s even more of a jumbled mess than my posts usually are.
On a completely unrelated note, I really like the new Balloons theme. Most tempted to change to it, but for the fact I just made two new banners for this template. Sigh.
There’s just no end to my woes, I tell you.