It may poison you, but never let culture die.

Manav Dharma Shastra, also known as Manusmriti is one of the most authoritative Hindu scriptures. Consisting 2690 verses divided into 12 chapters, it was written by a man who presumably used the “Manu” as his nomme-de-plume.
It prescribes a divine code of conduct that determines and dictates each person’s role and status in a society. Including women.

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As a Brahminical text it has been defended on numerous occasions by the community, often stating that this code of conduct propagates the belief that where women are given a place of honour there will be peace and prosperity.

This place of honour, according to this divine code of conduct is selectively applied and not arbitrarily awarded to every unworthy woman.
What, you may ask makes a woman unworthy exactly? Moreover, what makes them worthy is perhaps more serious.

“Swabhav ev narinam …..” – 2/213. It is the nature of women to seduce men in this world; for that reason the wise are never unguarded in the company of females.

Perhaps, that is why from the day a girl starts showing the slightest hint of becoming a woman she is given a few strict guidelines as to how she must deal with a man.
If we truly do not believe that it is in a woman’s nature to seduce men then why is it that we as children are told not to initiate conversations with men? Not to make eye contact, especially with a stranger in a social establishment? Not to be alone with a man ever if it can be avoided? To guard and cover our bodies because just by having breasts and shapely hips we have definitively proven that we are here for no other purpose but to seduce all the worthy and handsome men in this world.

Also, is it not in the nature of a man to seduce a woman? How biology has explained it to me is, men are overtly sexual creatures; predisposed to give credence to the physical and the visual long before they do so for the emotional and the sensual. To me, it seems like the creature with seduction on his mind is the man more than the woman. The creature with the advanced capability to seduce however, forgive the arrogance, is the woman.

But it all comes down to this, why is the Hindu propagating this text and why is the feminist so angered by this clause?
Is it unwise to warn a man against the seduction he may “fall victim to”? Is it really so wrong for a woman to attempt to seduce a man?
Or, for that matter to warn a man he ought to be guarded in a woman’s company?
Nails may look harmless, but they’re not.
The problem it would seem, is the way seduction itself is being viewed; as something illicit and wrong.

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“Avidvam samlam………..” – 2/214. Women, true to their class character, are capable of leading astray men in this world, not only a fool but even a learned and wise man. Both become slaves of desire.

The problem with this clause starts with the term “class character”. Just what exactly does the class character of a woman imply?
Could it be that this text believes that the class character of a woman is represented by her constant need to seduce men and therefore everything she does and believes must be a function of that?
So, Hinduism respects the diversity and dynamicity of each individual while maintaining that women are capable of only one train of thought? Or biologically designed to fulfill one function?
Silly of me, the function I thought I was put on this planet to dutifully fulfill was procreation.

Moving on from the “class character” of women, if we really even can, the rest of this clause seems more like a compliment that a derogatory statement to me.
Every woman can lead astray any man in this world (save for my gay brethren), just as this sacred text claims. What it forgets to mention is that sometimes, even though we just cannot get enough of seducing and destroying men, we like to work, shop, gossip.. Live, like a real person minus the curse of a class character might.

“Matra swastra ………..” – 2/215. Wise people should avoid sitting alone with one’s mother, daughter or sister. Since carnal desire is always strong, it can lead to temptation.

This particular clause might just be my favorite in the entire enlightening text; it seems to be more a statement on men than on women.
Since any actual statistics on rape are unfathomable, I will just say that upwards of 25% of incidents of rape (which includes a lot more that you might think under the new rape laws in India)are perpetrated from within the family. It might have been exceptionally wise of these men to have avoided being in the presence of their mothers, daughters or children altogether to avoid carnal desire.
It just confuses me that a religion that is often taught via the means of importance of family values would in itself sow the seeds for sexual discomfort between family members.
I know that as a race we have been uncivilized for a lot longer than we have been civilized but even ancient Australian tribes went way out of their way to avoid incest and incestuous activity.

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Another question I would like to ask is, exactly at what age should the father start avoiding being alone with his daughter? Are female infants, often deemed incapable of modesty by Indian courts, also capable of extracting the carnal desire from an unsuspecting man?
Because you know in this day and age it is getting harder and harder to afford help and this clause just seems like an excuse for a man to dump all the child-work on the woman?
But how can he? The woman is capable of nothing but seduction, or is she all of a sudden?

“Naudwahay……………..” – 3/8. One should not marry women who has have reddish hair, redundant  parts of the body [such as six fingers], one who is often sick, one without hair or having excessive hair and one who has red eyes.

Manu didn’t say it quite like we practice it, but we all know the bride-bazaar is full of men seeking beautiful, slim, non-redundant body part women.
But coming back to the actual clause at hand, I get it.
Reddish hair are a genetic defect. Why marry a defected woman?
Redundant body parts are just wasteful skin that cannot be used to seduce and may even require additional nourishment.
Falling sick often would cut down the seduction time, if there ever was a man so considerate.
Excessive hair would send the waxing bills through the roof.
And red eyes just indicate drug use.
Steer clear of these unworthy women, will you?

Just one question, where is the clause which advises women on what men not to marry?

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My fair lady, melanin is your enemy.

Sometimes I like to go through the “matrimonial” section of the newspaper. I suppose it is something we all did when we were children. The layout of the pages has come a long way since I first saw one. The level of segregation is high and there are specific sections for each caste, religion or community but there is one thing that has not changed.
“Bride wanted 22-25 slim FAIR beautiful caste no bar”

Open any matrimonial pages in any newspaper or any website and the demand for fair brides is endless. I cannot deny that there are women looking for “tall, fair, handsome men” as well, but they are nowhere near the number of men seeking their white angel. Many people have told me that this insistence on fair skin is a North-Indian trait. At first, it seemed like there may be some truth to that but having lived in the South, I would have to say the love for fair women is all pervasive.

I have a friend; she’s youthful, educated and a really fantastic person to be around. Her family is sensible, urban and realistic. Yet certain factions of her family have always reminded her that she is less fair than her sister and that makes her less desirable as well.
But that is not the end of it. A few months ago I was having coffee with another friend in Delhi. Now this young lady was talking to me about her parents trying to fix her wedding. Her sister had been married a few years ago and she told me that her parents would fortunately not have to pay as much dowry for her because she was fair and has clear white skin.

So it would seem that the colour of the skin is used to decide how desirable a woman is. To decide what her status in a family would be. To decide how much it would cost to send her off to marriage-land.
If it is a burden to have a daughter, a dark skinned one is even more so.
If it is a sound financial decision to get a fair wife, it seems like an even better one to get a dark skinned wife.

The one thing that is absolutely clear though, is this: how men view their prospective wives is scary. Who she is seems irrelevant in the face of what she is.
So, what is India’s obsession with fair skin?

The first thought that comes to my mind is that perhaps this is a macro sub-conscious reaction to being bereft of our British overlords. They assumed a social and political position higher than Indians while in India and once they left that was the status every Indian aspired to. That’s great. But somehow that is the pigment of skin that every Indian is aspiring to as well.

That alone, however, cannot be it. A college professor once told me of a very fair woman who took a bus in Chennai wearing a sleeveless saree blouse. She raised her arm for support while she was standing. A man continued to stare at her. Within a few minutes his stares turned to insanity and he bit her upper arm. Despite the many passengers in the bus who tried to stop him he would not let go of the flesh between his teeth. Eventually, he bit a huge chunk of skin right off her.
Is this how the desirability of a fair woman translates?

Or perhaps the Indian obsession with “whiteness” has to do with the Indian obsession with purity. As I understand it; white is peaceful, holy and pure. Black is dark, tainted and murky. A fair woman is more likely to seem pure and chaste.
Could it really be that we are naïve enough to think that something like the colour of our skin is really indicating our propensity to chastity?

Whatever the reasons may be, the consequences for this pursuit of the white woman are not subtle. Even young girls now understand what it means to be dark-skinned and how they will have to counter and tackle that their entire life.
Just as an experiment, I went to every apartment in my building (there are 8) and asked to borrow a tube of “Fair and Lovely”, I had five tubes by the time the experiment was over.
To me that seems like proof that everyone is trying to get fairer, whiter and more beautiful.
The scary and serious part of this premonition is that half the women in my building are not even what I would consider dark-skinned.
So is it no longer just a race to be white but instead to be whiter every day?

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In our  economy the fairness industry and trade may be thriving thanks to the superficiality we propagate. The “respect industry” (if it exists) is being rubbed out by every dollop of fair and lovely we apply on our pretty faces.

Girls and Women, Boys and Men.

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It is commonly believed that girls develop, both physically and mentally, sooner than boys do. 
A 12-year old girl could very well have started blossoming into a woman while she is still playing with dolls and sleeping with stuffed toys. 
What is important is that the young girl who is undergoing immeasurable changes in her mind and body be explained and guided through what is happening to her. 

It is not unheard of in India that a girl be treated by her family and male-authority figures as a child while society (and that mostly refers to male strangers) begins to view them as women and by extension as available “meat”.
This creates a state of disequilibrium. 
For instance, a young girl of 13, is told at home that she should play out in the streets with her friends, she is still bought things like bicycles and toys as birthday presents but when she walks in the street, all of a sudden she becomes a sex-object. 
Imagine how disconcerting it could be for a young mind to be subjected to the desires of men that she has no frame of reference to. 

As children, girls and boys are not required to make the distinction between genders. They co-exist peacefully and engage recreation-ally without any undertone of disequilibrium or sexual tension.
However, when we enter the early stages of adolescence the relationships and equations between young boys and girls begins to change.

If this change, which is really due to individual developments, is not properly explained to children, the long term ramifications could have a serious effect on the macro level.  
Firstly, a boy who does not understand the changes in his body and desires, and is discouraged from talking about them could develop a deep sense of loathing for himself. It is natural for him to think there is something wrong with him and that his desires make him alien to the rest of society. This would also hinder his relationships with women.
The notions of gender and sexuality at this stage would come from peers who would most likely be as misinformed; this leads to skewed view of the opposite sex.
Women, even young girls, are often shamed for their desires. They are unable to relate to their bodies because they are uncomfortable in them from a very early age.
It is not surprising that physical interaction between men and women often takes the form of rape because they are never told what natural interaction is.
Instead of allowing children to discover in a safe and guided environment, we either pledge ignorance or propagate lies or our own opinions.

 

The Curious Case of Indian Buses

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When it comes to inter-city or inter-state travel, I tend to rely on buses. They are convenient, reasonably comfortable, fairly quick and economical. Being a woman, a woman who travels alone often, I get regular doses of advice regarding safety. 
Make sure the bus is fully occupied. Make sure there are other women. Try to get a seat next to a woman. Travel only on credible buses. Takes Volvos, avoid other state roadways buses. 
So a few years ago, I took to booking my bus tickets online, and I noticed an interesting feature. Many online portals provide seating details and ensure women are allotted seats next to other women. 
At least, that is the appearance that is created. In my experience, each time I was told I would be seated next to a woman, I was invariably next to a man. That however, is not the point I wish to argue. Regardless of how detailed your planning, you cannot avoid the possibility of a woman being seated next to a man on a bus, but why are we trying to? We cannot deny the fact that a bus is a public space where men and women will be in proximity to each other, we cannot change that. What is interesting is what men are doing to exploit this apparent “opportunity”.
 
My first experience with sexual harassment on buses came from travelling on local buses in Bangalore. But the first time I really realized it was a problem was when a friend of mine told me what had happened with her on an overnight bus to Mumbai from Bangalore. Apparently, she was sitting in a window seat right in front of a middle-aged man, and right next to a woman. Once the journey was well underway, the lights were turned down in the bus and most people were asleep, my friend noticed that something was poking her in the back. She was startled. On investigating, she discovered that the man on the seat behind her had stuck his foot in through the crack of the seat and had proceeded to feel her up, with his foot. She got up and attempted to confront him, he pretended to be asleep, she decided to sit down again. And sure enough, his foot was back up there feeling her back and posterior. Finally, she complained to the bus conductor who explained that the man’s foot was just moving in his sleep but agreed to change her seat. I had the privilege of experiencing this phenomenon in person, on a bus from Bangalore to Gokarna. 
But an even more interesting experience came by on a bus to Goa, this was a “pretty spiffy” bus and I happened to be travelling with a bunch of friends on this occasion. I was in an aisle seat and fast asleep, it was 3 AM. On the bus, there was complete silence and abject blackness, when suddenly I awoke to see the silhouette of a man and his hand reaching toward me, completely taken aback and having just awoken, I hit him on his hand, he scurried away and was in his seat by the time I was on my feet. 
I searched the bus to see if I couldn’t recognize him and have him thrown off the bus, but I had no idea who he was.  
 
Ask any woman who travels on buses and she will have her own stories, just this morning, I was on a Himachal Roadways bus to Delhi and the man next to me insisted on rubbing his entire length up against me, some might argue that I may be misinterpreting accidental touches for purposeful harassment but I feel that any woman can distinguish between an accidental nudge and perverse touches.

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It is important to ask one question, why are these men behaving in this way? Surely one cannot be so starved for a woman’s touch that he has to sneak up on her in the dark while she is asleep.
While there is the possibility that some of these men may be somnophiliacs, and should either embrace their identity with a willing partner or seek the requisite professional help; these men would definitely constitute a minority. The rest of these men, differ from each other in many ways; socio-economic status, physical appearance, caste, religion, age, professional inclinations to name a few, yet they seem to have this need to forcefully explore a woman’s body in the most creatively secretive ways in common. 
Is it fair to say that a puritanical society has stigmatized even innocent touches between the opposite sexes to the point where it all is deemed taboo? 
Do Indian men have no recourse, no healthy channel to express their sexual identity or are they not aware that they have that option?

The Allegedly Rare Scheme of Things

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The Nirbhaya gang rape on December 16, 2012 caused outrage and became the putative ‘turning point’ in India’s culture of rape. Four of the five accused were sentenced to death and one borderline minor, the worst of the lot, was let off easy on a technicality. It sparked debates on capital punishment and the legal position of juvenile delinquents. What we all agreed on was that this case with its gut-wrenching details was ‘the rarest of the rare’. That hardly seems true though, Nirbhaya is the norm not the aberration. Just a few months before that tragedy, Kiran Negi, 19, was abducted from amongst four women near her house near Dwarka, New Delhi. She was gang-raped by four men, had a broken liquor bottle inserted into her, had acid poured into her eyes and then left to bleed to death over a grueling course of three days in a field in Rewari, Haryana.
The case has been in court for two years, but where is the outrage? Where are the protests? The allegations that this too was ‘the rarest of the rare’? Where is the justice for the victims of the 23000 pending cases in India?

The laws that govern rape in the country are so ambiguous and subjectively applied that it is no wonder trials last between five and ten years. The degrading ‘two-finger test’, for instance, that determines if a woman is ‘habituated to sexual intercourse’ allowed the perpetrators of Mathura, a young tribal girl to  be acquitted. The law alleges that sexual habituation makes it impossible to discern matters of consent; this is perhaps why marital rape evades criminal status. That, and the importance of protecting ‘the sanctity of marriage’. The clause of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) that governs ‘outraging the modesty of a woman’ makes no mention of what modesty is who it applies to. It has been used repeatedly to acquit men accused of child sexual assault claiming, for example, that it is not clear if a girl of four being molested by her school principal in New Delhi is capable of modesty.
If the laws were not enough, the authority figures are so hostile that it is unsurprising that only four out of ten cases are reported. A sting operation by Tehelka in 2013 exposed some of the misogynistic and derogatory views of the Delhi Police.
The public figures, often ones that govern the country are quoted making suspicious and hostile comments towards rape victims. The solutions they offer are as entertaining as they are shocking. Mamata Banarjee would have a ban on free interaction between men and women and Asaram, alleged rapist, would have all women refer to the men raping them as bhaiya (brother) as a method of escape. Our front-running prime ministerial candidate presided over one of the most heinous mass-rape incident, the Godhra riots, second only to the 100, 000 women who were raped in 1947 during the partition. Not even the army is exempt from blame; the 1991 incident in Kunan Posha where upwards of 30 women were reportedly raped by four Rajputana Rifles units is just one example, one that was later dismissed as a hoax.

The Indian society is puritanical and the Indian family is orthodox. Pleasure is treated with suspicion and open interaction between genders is discouraged. Sex-education is not mandatory, it is often taboo, after all, sex represents all that is evil. Both genders undergo sexual development that they are meant to be ashamed of.
Can men ever be expected to truly respect women when since boyhood they are denied opportunities to really understand them?

Reference:
Tehelka Sting operation on Delhi Police
Kiran Negi rape case