What stripping of Tanzanian woman says about the Indian male

Misogyny and a psychosocial, plus religious sanction for 'fair' skin were at play in the Bangalore incident.

 |  4-minute read |   04-02-2016
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A Tanzanian woman was assaulted, stripped and paraded by a mob in Bangalore. Apparently, the mob mistook her for the Sudanese who had run over a local woman, and brazenly “vented” out its rage on the hapless 21-year-old. Whatever the catalyst(s) for this mob fury, what does this shocking incident tell us about the Indian male? Or, broadly speaking, what does it tell us about male psychology in the subcontinent?

I will make a digression before I take on this question.

In 2013, the deputy consul general of the Indian consulate in the United States, Devyani Khobragade was indicted and then arrested for visa fraud. The incident not only led to a diplomatic standoff between India and the US but the country’s media was up in arms.

Outrage was directed at the US and charges of “racism” were spewed volubly by all and sundry. How the Devyani case panned out need not detain us, but what is significant here is the selective moral outrage that the incident elicited from all sections of the society. Now, if a comparison is drawn between the Khobragade incident and the one involving the hapless Tanzanian woman, what does it reflect?

Also read - India's ugly racist face exposed: Bangalore mob assaults and strips Tanzanian girl

We are a bunch of squeamish hypocrites is the answer.

Now let me address the core question that I had posed: what does the Bangalore incident tell us about the Indian/subcontinental male?

Admittedly inferential, the conclusion about the typical subcontinental male that can be drawn is that he is a frustrated misogyne and a frustrated racist. There may be psycho-social and historical reasons for this misogyny and inverted racism, so to speak.

Also read: Yes. Attack on Tanzanian was not racist, but casteist

Women historically have been objects and subjects in the subcontinent; it is only with the percolation of education to many sections of the society that women have been seen as sentient beings and not merely as chattel with a role broader than the instrumental and functional ones to play in society.

But alas, viewing women as equal members at par with males with rights inhering in them as human beings still remains an ideal in the subcontinent. The deep and wide perspectival change that allows men to view women as dignified and beings bearing rights has not really occurred in the subcontinent.

At another level, Hindu iconography portrays and depicts almost all the deities of the Hindu pantheon as “fair”. Almost all the deities are “white”; the aura and halo around these deities is depicted in white, and black is almost invariably associated with “evil”. This is not an idle point. Iconographies denote the deep psychical world of a people and inevitably colour their world view and perceptions. (This may, to en extent, explain the fascination with “fair" skin in India and an aversion to “dark” skin).

Both these points - male chauvinist misogyny (which is also reflected in the subcontinental preference for a male child over a girl), and a psychosocial, plus religious sanction and approval for “fair” skin - were at play in the Bangalore incident.

The hapless Tanzanian woman was black and a woman - a foreign black woman who had apparently run over a local. She was then the “natural” victim of the mob fury. The misogynistic impulse coupled with the passive-aggressive personality of the typical subcontinental male, the “need” to demonstrate and assert “power” against a hapless female victim all must have come into play. This is the prosaic but grotesque psycho-social attitude and orientation of the subcontintental male.

This incident and the “disease” that it reflects also calls into question the nature of modernity in the subncontinent. If modernity is a temper, which besides connoting rationality and a certain outlook by which the inherent equality of individuals is ingrained in the collective consciousness of the people, the subcontinent is far away from modernity. We are then an irrational, somewhat primitive peoples who wear a patina of superficial modernity on our sleeves. That is, while we may be modern in form, the spirit of modernity eludes us.

The Bangalore incident then calls not only for sincere apologies to and compensation for the female victim, and reaching out to the small African community, but also deep introspection. The attitude and orientation of males in the subcontinent hark back to an age of ignorance and superstition. These need to be discarded and replaced by a more enlightened attitude in which equality of and for all becomes the norm and not the exception.

It is only then can we claim to be emancipated and modern. In the meantime, let the perpetrators, participants and bystanders to the incident be meted out stringent and disciplinary punishment. Perhaps one mode of this punishment would be to enact a psychodrama with these brutes in which their sisters and mothers play the role of victim!

Writer

Wajahat Qazi Wajahat Qazi @wajahatqazi

He is former senior policy analyst, government of Jammu and Kashmir.

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