Chauvinism that is both male and Indian

IN Opinion | 13/10/2005
Chauvinism that is both male and Indian


Letter to the Hoot: the sub-text in this "us versus them" that attempts to score political points at the cost of human suffering is reprehensible.


There is an air of smugness in the manner in which the Indian media has gone about reporting General Musharraf’s coarse, insensitive and tasteless remarks that the road to riches lies through rape.  For instance, Chidanand Rajghatta the US-based correspondent of the Times of India, while agreeing with the general that rape happens everywhere in the world also echoes the view that "nowhere in the world are men, particularly men in uniform, given virtual immunity from rape charges by medieval state laws as happens in Pakistan."  (Times of India, Delhi edition 18.9.2005).  The sub-text in this "us versus them" that attempts to score political points at the cost of human suffering is reprehensible.  The brutal fact is as Lord Acton once said power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.  Men in uniform wield such power by virtue of being men and being in uniform.  It matters little whether they are Pakistani or Indian.

Perhaps Mr.Rajghatta has been away from India for too long and is oblivious to the absolute power our own security forces enjoy under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA).  According to the Delhi-based South Asian Human Rights Documentation Centre this is one of the more draconian legislations that the Indian Parliament has ever passed. Under this Act, all security forces are given unrestricted and unaccounted power to carry out their operations, once an area is declared disturbed.  The AFSPA gives the armed forces wide powers to shoot, arrest and search, all in the name of "aiding civil power."  It was first applied to the North Eastern states of Assam and Manipur and was amended in 1972 to extend to all the seven states in the north- eastern region of India.  The enforcement of the AFSPA has resulted in innumerable incidents of arbitrary detention, torture, rape, and looting by security personnel.  Last year in July, Thangjam Manorama, a 32-year-old Manipuri woman was found dead, widely believed to have been raped and killed by the Assam Rifles a paramilitary force deployed in the state.  Despite widespread protests no one was brought to justice and the Act still stands. 

Unfortunately, views such as Mr. Rajghatta’s are common in leading Indian papers such as the Hindustan Times and the Times of India where reporting on Pakistan is dominated by negative stereotypes.  Thus, one gets to read very little about everyday life and events in Pakistan.  Most of the stories are Kashmir-centric or about the arms race or the diplomatic tit-for-tat our leaders are engaged in.  If non-political stories are reported at all they are patronising and pejorative such as that on Musharraf’s statement on rape.

The real issue is that gender discrimination is rampant in South Asia and not the sole preserve of Pakistan (or by implication Muslim society).  Its manifestations range from the criminal (rape and murder of female foetuses) to insidious everyday acts.  Thus, while much is being made in the Indian media of the fatwa against tennis player Sania Mirza for wearing skirts (the sub-text being Muslim obscurantism), a college in so-called liberal Delhi University wants a dress code for female students from the north-east.  More serious are barbaric practices such as bride burning and killing of female foetuses common in north India.

And it is not just poor South Asian women that are vulnerable.  For those who are better off only the forms of exploitation and domination become more subtle (if at all).  The tambola playing, western-educated woman at Islamabad Club or Delhi’s Gymkhana is as much a part of an unequal male-dominated society as Mukhtaran Mai and Thangjam Manorama.  What we need to understand is that men are the same whether Pakistani or Indian, whether Muslim or Hindu.  So go ahead and be smug Mr. Rajghatta but only because you are male and not because you are Indian or Hindu.

Shreekant Gupta
October 10, 2005

Delhi School of Economics,
University of Delhi

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