Why Indian men are confused about sexual harassment

Prabhu Ramamoorthy is not the first Indian to be put behind bars in the US for alleged on-flight misbehaviour.

 |  4-minute read |   10-01-2018
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The new year began on a rather bizarre note for the Indian male libido. Prabhu Ramamoorthy, a 34-year-old project manager with a technology firm, is now behind bars in the US on charges of aggravated sexual assault, for allegedly shoving his fingers in the gentials of a 22-year-old female co-passanger, on an overnight flight from Las Vegas to Detroit. The woman, who woke up midway through the assault, claimed that she found Ramamoorthy’s hand inside her pants and her shirt unbuttoned. While the accused was arrested immediately after the plane landed, what makes the case stranger is the techie’s weird defence of his antics.

He claimed that he was in deep sleep and was not sure where he kept his hand on the passenger. (Apparently, the aggressor’s wife too was sitting next to him when the assault occurred.) If that is the case, then this man is a danger to the society and must be watched vigilantly. His every yawn is a signal for women to run for cover, his every nap is a warning for others to stay away from his wandering hand. But the deep sleep defence, in all probability, is not meant to be taken seriously. It sounds more like a desperate attempt to get out of the mess with a brazen, “okay, I admit, I groped, but I was sleeping”, shrug. 

Ramamoorthy, incidentally, is not the first Indian to be put behind bars in the US for on-flight misbehaviour. In 2013, another Indian techie was imprisoned for nine months, for sexually assaulting a 62-year-old American woman mid-air, in Washington.

odess_011018051353.jpgImage: www.theodysseyonline.com

What makes Indian male libido such a brute force that men senselessly risk their reputation and future with such brazenness?

The honest answer is we don’t know. While the rise of feminism played a major role in liberating and understanding the complexity of female sexuality, the phenomenon of male libido still remains more or less elusive and unexamined both at the intellectual level and in private life.

Gender studies programmes in India rarely talk about issues that affect men. Even within close friend circles, men rarely communicate their intimate issues with another man. Men I know don’t talk about their masturbatory habits/fantasies (almost all men masturbate) or how they experience temporary cognitive decline in the presence of beautiful women. Such conversations are often met with laughs or snide remarks. Yet, these are important issues that need to be taught/discussed in a classroom setting to understand the nature of men and their libido.

A healthy sexual existence requires education. When we educate people about the issues women face, we help women. When we educate people about the issues men face, we help both men and women. But a patriarchal society like ours, controlled by the toxicity of organised religion and religious groups, prevents any discourse on the subject at any level.

There is no meaningful sexuality education for boys in schools in the country at any level. As a result, they grow up as men with patriarchal, religion infused, notions of masculinity that clearly regards women as inferior creatures.

All major religions in the world are guilty of perpetuating this bias. Christianity, the religion I grew up in, is notorious for this. According to the Bible, Eve, the first woman was punished by God for her disobedience at the Garden of Eden with a divine decree that her husband would rule over her. The decree applied to her descendants as well. This and several other Biblical strictures are selectively used by priests even today, to keep women in line and to propagate the narrative that women are inferior to men.

There are Catholic priests in Kerala who quote the Bible and tell women what to wear and what not to, lest they arouse male libido. (Kerala’s so-called Left liberals are notoriously blind to religious hooliganism by minorities.) The result is men are forced to grapple with their nature in isolation and confirm to traditional notions of masculinity without showing any signs of vulnerability. Which is why we have ended up where we are today: having a public conversation about male sexual misbehaviour. It’s not morality but sexuality - understanding the nuances of male libido and coming to terms with it - that can save us. Help us become better men. 

As Hugh Hefner, the late Playboy mogul, would put it, “the major civilising force in the world is not religion, it is sex".

Also read: How women in India are programmed to remain silent about sexual abuse



Sangeeth Sebastian Sangeeth Sebastian @wickedvox

Assistant Editor, Mail Today

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