The Cultural Suicide — An Unwarranted Eventuality of the Closing of Indian Mind
Original authored date: 13 March, 2015
The presented article is in the wake of our, we the people of India, reactions to the BBC documentary ‘India’s Daughter’. I would like to start with something in self-defense: I am currently living in the United States of America and am not writing this piece as a feminist at large, or as an expat who glorifies the western culture and is unaware of grass root realities of homeland. On the contrary, I am a witness to and am fully aware of the fallacies and struggles that western societies are muddled in. Yet chances are that opinions expressed here would still be labeled one way or the other, but that fear doesn’t daunt me. I write this piece as a humanist and as a woman who is enamored of her nation’s history, its grandeur, its cultural heritage, its classical arts, its visionaries, and its philosophers. However the multitude of reactions to ‘India’s Daughter’ has unnerved that pride and confidence. Further evaluating these reactions has revealed four major variants of the modern Indian psyche.
I chuckle when concerns are raised by my fellow indian citizens that a foreign filmmaker is revealing our dirty laundry and therefore ‘India’s Daughter’ must be dismissed as a propaganda ploy. This argument cannot be more misplaced than now! I do share the sentiment that India still continues to be portrayed in inferior light by the race supremacist who take pleasure in sneering at every difference, let alone crimes, of nations and cultures of people of color. Irrefutably, this sort of cultural and racial victimization deserves its own fight, its own awakening and its own justice. However today, for many Nirbhayas, that victimization seems less crass than what happened in December of 2012 and continues to happen till date. It’s never in any civil society’s favor to digress and overshadow the fight against the carnal, brutal, and savagely treatment of its own people at each other’s hand. Because when that happens, the society in itself is dead and what’s left of it is just a carcass for rest of the world to mock on.
Similarly, misplaced is the argument that ‘India’s Daughter’ humanized the criminals. Further analysis of this theory, just for the sake of argument, only weakens it. In the world of storytelling techniques, when horrors are recounted into a tragedy, they do so with the end goal of further understanding the human nature by the means of downfall of the protagonist. Granted, ‘India’s Daughter’ did shed light into afflictions that make rapists of the men in question; however the portrayal of the rapists was a far cry from a protagonist projection. Far from glorifying the criminals, the filmmaker made them even more repugnant in the viewer’s eyes. As a storyteller Leslee Udwin managed to tell a tale through a medium which we at home are using to its full potential to churn out more and more item numbers, but were quick to jump at critiquing the mediums rare and constructive use in stimulate nations minds and not sex drive. In fact I question if the documentary film was derisive at all? The derision happened at our own hands first.
The first step of any activism or reform is to tell the truth. And regardless of who the messenger was, in the film I saw nothing but the stark and ugly truth! The voices against rape brutalities have been stalled for long; but let us not let the side debates undermine and get in the way of a fight for which the time had long come.
Another cause that gained momentum with the critique of the film is the questioning of the judicial decree itself. A very polarized debate has been raged worldwide for about two centuries now. While the abolitionists argue that capital punishment is unconstitutional and inhumane, however the proponents do convince us that we need stringiest of deterrents in a civil society for capital crimes of murder, terrorism, and other severe offenses. Granted that the alternative, i.e. the lifetime sentence, isn’t amnesty by any means; but proponents argue that by inflicting death on those who deliberately inflict death onto others, the capital punishment (which is in proportionality of the crime) ensures that the victims have recourse and the society has confidence on law as a moral imperative. For cataclysm seen in Nirbhaya and other similar case, I do advocate the cause of capital punishment, as any deterrent in the retribution further becomes a vehicle for continued and fearless carriage of violence.
The reactions in December after the rape and now after the release of the documentary film, drew attention to another faction that in my eye is as fallen as the rapists: the theorist whose premise is ‘It’s the girl’s fault’. This faction is so misguided that they turn a blind eye to the brutal facts and statistics of rapes being an epidemic: the victims are from all walks of life (even elderly nuns), the crime strikes at all places (even schools, hospitals, places of worship), it occurs at any hour of the day (even in broad daylight) and the perpetrators too are from all walks of life (often come from the supposedly educated citizenry). Where can a nation head when a majority of it so misguided? Even more important of a question is: are they really misguided, or is there a more sinister mental landscape behind it? Like many other nations, patriarchy and misogyny has a long history in India. I am not being heretic here; the scrutiny here is not of the institution; however of the people it’s in the hands of. The scrutiny is of how we got to such a loath-able and abject low that a rapist be the judge of a woman’s morality? Today’s patriarchy has a new brand, the one that is more resilient, more relentless and more endemic than ever. This inherent misogyny within Indian society has more egalitarian forms today and is demonstrated in the ghastliest of incidents.
Apart from female oppression, these incidents are symbolic of a more fundamental issue that modern Indian needs to tackle: the sickening brazenness that has taken over the mental markup. The horrifying hooliganism and callousness has taken the civility for a hostage. The lynching of the Nagaland rapists was just as bloodthirsty as the original crime; it exhibited the same barbaric instincts that transpire in all of the rapes. The horrid reality is that the same hooligan and rowdy conduct is seen in assumable safer quarters of society: offices, schools, shops, roads, hospitals etc. Most of the ills of society are not the work of a few criminals, they are the work of unthinking ideologies that permeates through system, and nothing is more detrimental than that.
So if we have become the breeding ground for such loathsome brutalities against one of our own, who’s at fault for this debacle? The undeniable answer is that it rests on our shoulders. Each one amongst the 1.25 billion of us — the intellectual or the simpletons, the artists or the rioters, the corrupt or the socially responsible, the guiltless money hoarders or the troubled poor, the sell-outs or the activists, the fierce feminists or the resilient patriarchs, the law makers or the lynching mobs — all of us, in some shape and form, are the breeding ground for such horrors. The worst is already in all of us; it’s the ethical framework and inhibition that becomes the distinctive line between a civilian and a criminal.
Sadly enough, there are a variety of ways in which we are hurting that ethical framework. Primarily, two institutions instill that framework within us: family and society. The most apathetic crimes have extremely complex origins; often crime and poverty is a vicious cycle. Just by virtue of being born into poverty some men are already on a disadvantage. The problem of corruption and poverty is more systematic and grave; it also, like many other issues we face today, is in need of a revolution and social reforms. However, once born into adverse circumstances, these men don’t have much to draw from the rest of the society either. Even worse, modern Indian society is also instrumental in creating another class of rapists — the ones who are born into utmost normal circumstances. And this is where you and I have blood on our hands too.
Why do corroding materials full of ribaldry and debauchery have such unsurmountable levels of success in our society? Why does our most celebrated array of modern work include the likes of Dabang, Munni Badnaam, Sheela Ki Jawaani, etc. Media is simply obliging the worst in us, which seemingly cannot be satisfied unless more hogwash is presented to us. Media singularity, next to non-existential alternatives, and mass-produced cerebral junk that commonplace populace is being served today is emblematic of an assault on our collective cognitive dignity as a nation. As a consequence, the underclass takes this rubbish with them to their homes and brings it back on the streets. Democratic society is an extremely complicated machine, and culture is at the heart of it. Media literacy, which is absolutely fundamental to a democracy, is either being neglected or isn’t even an option in some cases.
Similarly we, the women of India, are inadvertently ministering our perpetual oppression and undermine. Each household which chooses sex-selective abortion , each household which favors a son’s ambitions over a daughter’s dream, each household which doesn’t instill respect for women in their sons, and each household which serves up second-rate treatment to daughter in laws, is a bastion of the patriarchal bigotry. It is obvious that women, who resort to all of the above methods, are also victims of the intrinsic structure. However we women absolutely have to be the first ones to stop internalizing the misogyny. We have to empower every mother in the nation to never again nurture and raise another rapist.
In midst of dejection, cynicism, and self-criticism, there still is a silver lining. We do have a few means to this end: education, philosophy and culture.
Proper appreciation needs to be placed on education as a tool in delivering a moral, just, and more importantly, a civilized society. It is education, and education alone, which is the foundation to a fully fulfilled society. Therefore in order to coalesce the benevolent side of human nature to the conscious mind, the education itself cannot be divorced from moral guidance and ethical framework. For centuries, Indian populace has been guided by scriptures (of diverse faiths); in contemporary India however, culture is replacing scripture. The question for contemporary India is — are the ones educating us also preparing us to create a good culture? The answer may not be as elusive. The answer lies in the people who are interested in the care of the soul. Sadly often the believers and thinkers are lone practitioner and fragmented. It has never been more crucial for India to connect the intellect with the sensory. And it has never been more critical to popularize the philosophy to generate a collaborative and all-permeating intellect. Philosophy needs to step out of ivory towers and needs to connect with the grass root and the sensitivities of millions. It is not good enough to be ideological; those ideals need to be popularized.
We are not only influenced by culture, but also influence it. Our ideologies may not reach the perpetrators directly, but do generate the culture they consume. It’s our ills which are often implicated in the sins and wrong doing of our weaker sorts, mostly the unluckiest members of society. We, the individual culture machines, have got to leave a better cultural legacy for all of the strata of the society to consume in, grow in and pay it forward.