Why are most Indian men such louts and boors?
For all that the RSS-BJP talk of Indian values and culture, feeling up and harassing women, Indian or otherwise, under the guise of Holi isn’t amusing
Mills and Boon was the staple romance reading for my generation of teenagers. As I grew into my 20s, I gave up most of fiction reading and stuck to those books on geopolitics, Indian and world histories that would edify my knowledge and understanding.
Then, at a loose end during the Covid lockdown, some Chinese romance apps began to offer lures on my Facebook page. Since I was against all things Chinese by then, I decided I might as well see if my teenage favourites were on the Internet now.
As I read some of these modern-day romances, there were somethings that stuck in my mind: the romances had, of course, evolved from the Victorian era to post-Internet times and read more like Harold Robbins of the 1970s than sweet, clean romances. Which was okay given they were catering to a post-Internet generation.
But what really made notice was that while Mills and Boon had gone global, moving away from merely concentrating on white Commonwealth heroes and at best the US, there were now Russian heroes, South American, the expected Mediterranean men (overwhelmingly so), East Europeans, Black, even Chinese men romancing not just British girls but women from all ethnicities, including Indian women with distinctively Indian names, customs and festivals.
Very politically correct, I thought. But sadly, there was a gross lack of Indian men in these romances.
As I casually mentioned this to a female friend, she had no hesitation in saying instantly, “Oh, that’s because the Indian men, including the NRIs, are all such louts and boors. They are unchivalrous, sexual predators, particularly in close proximity with white women, they do not believe in equal rights and sharing duties and they essentially believe women to be chattels. How can they make heroes when they are such villains globally?”
I got thinking and realised she was right. There are Indian authors writing romances about Indian men but the heroines also are very much Indian in Indian settings like Bollywood or Rajputana palaces.
For, as my friend said, “It would stretch the imagination to write about an Indian alpha male (which is what M&B romances are all about) who is not in addition a sleazeball, a louse or a rat when it comes to women (does that remind you of someone?). And that cuts across classes and communities.”
I thought that was a very harsh indictment but seeing all the videos from across the country coming out of Holi this year wherein Indian Hindu, yes, Hindu men have harassed and perhaps, under the guise of Holi, molested not just Muslim women but foreigners as well as their own minor relatives (in fact, a man was seen trying to kiss his young sister-in-law even as she shouted out for her mother to rescue her), I cannot but endorse my friend’s opinion on Indian men generally being louts and boors.
For all that the RSS-BJP talk of Indian values and culture, feeling up and harassing women, Indian or otherwise, under the guise of Holi isn’t amusing. And this has been happening to us for years. That’s why most Indian girls and women do not leave their homes on Holi, or if they do, play colours in a limited fashion among known family and friends. Not even with men in the society building.
When, while on a mid-career course for journalists in France, I was wary of travelling to Turkey on assignment, my Australian classmate who had just arrived after touring India during Holi (and a lot of bottom-pinching by then), told me, “You bear up with Indian men on your streets, don’t you? You have nothing to fear in Turkey. For they have women police there. The moment a man tries to accost you, you raise an alarm and the police materialise miraculously from the woodwork. They simply handcuff him and ask questions later.”
I found that to be true when I was accosted by a man who was insisting I had to be a Sri Lankan, but was refusing to acknowledge my origins. When he got too bothersome, I raised my voice and the police were there in seconds. Since he had not molested me in anyway, I told the police – but they still looked at him suspiciously for insisting I was a Sri Lankan.
I left the site and do not know if he was hauled up but I had never felt safer than in my own country.
Why are Indian men of today such louts and boors? And by that I mean our fathers, uncIes, brothers and contemporaries were not so. In fact, they were gentlemen every which way. It is my personal belief that that is because they were fresh out of the British traditions and values, so knew how to stand up for women, hold doors for them, seat the women first and never manhandle the fairer sex.
By contrast, the last decade, particularly social media has been full of a certain kind of Hindu men who can call a journalist who has just been killed by Sanatanis a 'kutiya' with impunity, simply because she espoused a different ideology; threaten to rape women journalists, describe their parents as pimps and prostitutes, put up Muslim women for auction—and if they are in close proximity to women, Western or otherwise, you can imagine the molestation that will ensue.
And I believe this comes from the very top. From the RSS who do not have any women of consequence in their ranks, use women only to wash or press their feet, believe they should never compete with men, just serve their husbands. And if they defy all these diktats, well, they are up for some game and sport by the men. Not a very attractive society, I must say.
Look at Narendra Modi, the prime minister of a country he believes is steeped in ancient culture but who can call a woman a 50-crore girlfriend simply because she is rich in her own right, or label the respected woman leader of a major political party a Jersey cow simply because she is not born in India.
But there are contrasts even among our leaders. Since this is also Women’s Day week, Sharad Pawar of the Nationalist Congress Party, needs mention. He brought a law that enables women to shut down liquor shops in villages after a referendum in case those outlets were destroying their family lives.
With just one daughter, he was sensitive enough to inform me very clinically that I should use his bathroom just before boarding a helicopter on a campaign that might last six hours or more in the villages and we might not encounter civilisation before evening. So, I should not be in trouble before then.
Then there was Gopinath Munde of the BJP who invited me and another woman reporter to cover his campaign and kept us on the road from 6 am to 6 pm in the winter months. When we could stand it no longer and asked for a bathroom break, he sent us into the sugarcane fields. We refused and he said, rather unfeelingly, “We go like this only.”
We preferred to suffer the discomfort rather than the indignity. And he was the father of three daughters.
So, I believe, men must lead by example, as our fathers and uncles did. Our brothers and cousins are better men for that and so are their sons. But with cultural values decaying under the current regime, I wonder how long it will be before most nations, and not just Mills and Boon, will begin to take note of the fact that most Indian men are nothing much to write (home) about.
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