Why We Must Watch India’s Daughter (an Indian man’s perspective)

I cried when I watched this documentary.

I did not cry because I was shocked by what the rapists or their lawyers said or from shame, based on their views about women (they did not say anything India and the world does not already know), but because of the dignity and grace of Nirbhaya’s parents and because of the glimpse we get of a truly amazing young woman, who would have made us all proud. The BBC was wrong to market it in the way they did; they decided, like most media institutions today, to pursue a path of cheap publicity to gain views through sensationalism and controversy by focusing on the rapists. This film is not about the rapists.

I cannot even begin to fathom the enormity of her parents’ loss or the depth of their suffering. Yet they have presented themselves with an élan and dignity rarely shown by world leaders or royalty. Their wisdom, stoic demeanour and perspective prove once more that being rich or poor has nothing to do with human dignity and grace. I know a lot of wealthy and well-educated people who have far more medieval and regressive attitudes toward girls. Nirbhaya’s father and mother not only celebrated the birth of their daughter with the same fanfare reserved for boys, but also gave her everything they would have given a boy.

Unlike most of us in India, they realised that their child’s happiness had little to do with what they might want for her or what our society’s minimal and ambitionless expectations are. They decided that the greatest gift they could give her was to nurture the independent spirit with which she was born, and do everything in their power and limited means to help her realise her dreams; not their dreams. So when she asked them to invest the money her father was saving for her marriage into her education, they not only obliged but also sold their ancestral property to help.

Instead of forcing their child down a path of marriage and throttling her ambitions, they lauded and supported her choices. It seems like they gave her a strong value system, taught her to differentiate right from wrong, instilled principles and then let her fly. They allowed her to make her own choices and mistakes, but were there to help and support when she asked for it. I think many parents today feel that they need to protect their children from the world, when they really need to give them the values and skills that will help them take on and face the world.

I was also moved by a story about a boy who tried to steal Nirbhaya’s purse. A policeman caught the boy and started to beat him until she intervened and asked the cop to stop. She told him that beating the child would not help him learn his mistake. She took the boy aside and asked him why he tried to steal her purse. He told her that, like her, he too wanted nice clothes, shoes and to be able to eat hamburgers. She bought the boy everything he asked for but also made him promise never to steal again. Wow. Her actions are again a testament to how her parents brought her up. And it makes me think about how we are busy building statues for Mayawati and temples for Modi – boy, do we have our priorities all wrong.

Yes, the film also interviews one of the rapists and the defence lawyers. But it neither glorifies rape nor gives these men a platform for self-aggrandisement; in fact, it left me feeling the opposite. I felt sorry for these sad and lost men who are clearly trapped by their small minds and their medieval misogyny. But the thing that struck me most about what the rapists and their lawyers said was that it sounded like the same things our politicians and leaders have been saying for years (See: Why India’s Daughter Holds Mirror to our Society”); their attitudes about women’s place in our society and their indifference towards women was no different. This, I believe is the reason, our leaders have had such a violent, vicious and fearful reaction to this film. They cannot bear to look into this mirror…

The reason I believe that every Indian MUST watch this film is two-fold. One, rape is a global problem, not just an Indian one, and monsters exist in every society. Let’s use this as an opportunity to begin an honest and public debate about our demons. This way we can start to change the attitudes of the next generation of men, empower women with self-worth and give them equal rights from birth. If we refuse to confront the ugly truths behind its underlying causes, we will only ever treat the symptoms; much like our government does with hastily passing new laws banning lingerie on shop mannequins or by banning Uber.

The second reason is to honour the memory of Nirbhaya. She wanted to live; even after everything that happened. Nirbhaya wanted to be a doctor, she called it the most honourable profession – being able to heal people and save lives. Let’s use this as an opportunity to make India a place where a “girl can do anything,” as she used to say.

If we do this together, not only can we create a stronger and more powerful India, but we will honour Nirbhaya’s memory and ensure that she lives forever.

Before Tejpal and After Tejpal by Priya Mirchandani

Seconds later, a silky voice answered and I told her what was on my mind. ‘

I understand you can help me set up an hour of good chat,’ I said.
‘Sure, honey. What do you have in mind?’
‘I’d like to discuss Melville.’
‘Moby Dick, or the shorter novels?’
‘What’s the difference?’
‘The price. That’s all. Symbolism’s extra.’
‘What’ll it run me?’
‘Fifty, maybe a hundred, for Moby Dick. You want a comparative discussion — Melville and Hawthorne? That could be arranged fora hundred.’
The dough’s fine,’ I told her and gave her the number of a room at the Plaza.
‘You want a blonde or a brunette?’
‘Surprise me,’ I said, and hung up.

— Excerpt from The Whore of Mensa by Woody Allen

There are three kinds of men on this planet: those who are unabashed about their lust for women; those who lust for men; and lastly, superior beings who claim to have trained their refined intellect to take over the reins from their not so-refined hormones. The last variety is fairly evolved, calls itself the sapio sexuals, aroused primarily by intelligence (while the rest of us dumb mortals feed off stupidity). A shapely breast can never be the object of their lust. But, a heated discussion on Ezra Pound can hit the spot, and how.

The character in Woody Allen’s brilliant story, The Whore of Mensa, is an intellectually unfulfilled man who has one night stands with women who can fulfill the cerebral needs his wife can’t. It is irrelevant that the man is sated only by paying for and owning the woman’s intellect, even if for an hour, and doing with it as he pleases. While most men feel this story redeems the one-track-mind reputation they’ve notched up, to me, it simply reiterates the innate masculine need to overpower and control. Isn’t there more to an individual than his or her libido, intellectual or sexual?

Profile: male professional, 30 to 55; marital status: not relevant. Symptoms vary from sudden nervousness around the opposite sex, inability to hold eye contact with female colleagues and clients, compulsive need to keep hands occupied with props such as cell phones, cigarettes, pencils or coffee mugs. And, an almost delirious repetition of, “This is not intended as an inappropriate overture. If you find it offensive, I apologise. It will never happen again. Please, don’t sue me,” accompanying every banal gesture made around a woman.

Yup, Disclaimeritis is raging through the corridors and cabins of urban India. The good news is that frisky men with roving eyes and wandering hands will soon be the dinosaurs of the professional world. The not-so-good news is that it isn’t just the crude cabinet minister or misogynistic government servant who’s talking about reviewing his HR brief. Erudite CEOs of multinationals, known for their erstwhile keen sense of judgment and fair play, are re-evaluating, too. The risk factor on female human resource investment has just shot up exponentially post the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act 2013, particularly after a suave CEO shed his urbane skin and flashed us with his reptilian brain.

The rumblings are palpable. It’s not so much about the new female hires, they claim, as about the many males who pre-exist in the professional environment. “Give our boys a little time to familiarise themselves with what is now kosher and what is not.” This could take a while, ladies. Should we stash away our well-endowed resumes and start baking cupcakes? I don’t have to froth at the mouth to know how long, arduous and soul-sapping a journey it’s been for us to get within touching distance of that glass ceiling. Question is, is it all going to be for naught just because you gentlemen are incapable of keeping it in your pants?

In fact, the recent brazen breach by Tarun Tejpal has resulted in the drawing up of a whole new timeline in the man-woman dynamic in India, i.e., Before Tejpal (BT) and After Tejpal (AT). While BT was clearly a time of free flowing testosterone, zero risk and, therefore, zero reflection in the male mind scape, AT is attempting to usher in restraint, gender appropriateness, and all the stuff that mama hoped would take root in your mind, but didn’t quite.

Ah yes, distractions. So difficult to keep it together when you keep getting wracked with Guilty by Gucci, every time that lissome intern walks past. How are you to keep your mind on P&L when the M&S lingerie haul is being discussed so ardently within earshot? Not easy, we get it. Maybe, you’d prefer a whimpering infant pawing at your chest demanding lunch, as you attempt to finish the last two slides in your presentation. Or, perhaps, you’d like to plan the homicide of that feckless maid who bails out of babysitting the very evening you have to play host to the team from London headquarters.

Such a bummer. We girls were just about getting comfortable in those big boardroom chairs and those sky-high barstools, and bam, we’re being yanked off, right back to square one, at least mentally, if not yet, physically. So, here we are again, girls and boys, back in the old schoolyard, sworn enemies who can’t seem to see beyond our nu-nus and pee-pees. Rumour is that somewhere north of the pelvis, lies a throbbing bundle of nerves that’s the real McCoy. It’s the potent stuff that makes me uniquely me, and you singularly you. The sapio sexuals we spoke of earlier seem to know it, but, I’m not sure they’ve quite got it yet.

Because the cerebrum knows no gender. The intellect, therefore, becomes our most abiding personal signature. The next time you high-five or air-punch that dude who totally gets you because it’s a guy thing, you may want to double check if there’s a sell-by date on his testosterone reserves. Aw, am I being a bitch?

The issue simply boils down to whether men and women can work together without turning the office space into a battlefield, or, a bonkfest? Undoubtedly, we’ve been here several times. Yet, intriguingly, it’s like laying snakes and ladders, a case of climb-sting-slide in perpetual motion. Ouroboros, in a linear format.

Can a man appreciate a woman for her skills as a professional, her intellect as an individual and her qualities as a human being without being influenced by her pheromones? And, vice-versa, with women? Since corporates and marriages are still alive, despite the fact that most extramarital affairs happen at work, I’ll say that we can function without tearing each others clothes or heads off, by and large.

It’s interesting that most, or, all sexual harassment cases in the media glare invariably involve married men. Do single men not feel the need their attached brothers do to harass? Or, do their overtures not qualify as harassment because they are unattached, and, therefore, potentially available to the women they come on to? Ladies, are we labeling an overture depending on the marital status of the individual making it?

The law has woken up a bit late and gone into overdrive on this one, leaving swathes of irate men fuming all over the country. But, boys, you know what? Like marriage, nothing’s perfect. We’ve put up with 40 years of being groped in trains and buses, accepted it as a given, even taught our daughters the fine art of elbowing, just as our mothers taught us. Give us a break now. Can and will the new rape law be abused? Possibly. Just like every other law can potentially be.

Maybe, it’s time for us women to take a leaf or two from you, sit with our legs spread wide apart, scratch our privates in public, breastfeed the baby on an as-is where-is basis, without a care in the world. And, for those men who have had to lump their share of lascivious female bosses on their way to becoming CEO, I can only say, make some noise, desi boys. Speak up and be heard. It may take about a hundred years, but, don’t you lose hope. We’ll be right behind you, groping those worked-out glutes, having the last law.

(Reprinted with permission from Man’s World magazine; originally published January 2014)