The Pathology of Culture

Two phenomena have captured the frenzy of the media lately. One would be the Slutwalk being organised in New Delhi and the other is the unfortunate assault on an IT professional from Kochi called Thasni Banu. Both very different from each other but interrelated to an extent where it becomes imperative to understand one to understand the other. What I want to do here is not writing about moral policing alone, as such, but about how these two are connected and ask some questions.

First off, there are the similarities. One, we have a girl and a guy, traveling alone at night and slapped around for not having a ‘Kochi culture’. The other, we have millions of women in India, who walk the streets every day, being taunted, teased and being the victims of ‘Indian culture’. Two, there are questions raised on the character of Thasni Banu. After all, what Malayalee woman would travel alone at night with a friend! On the other side of the coin, victim blaming plays a very important role when it comes to all those cat calls and vulgar comments passed at women, those skillful hands groping your back. The major facet of victim blaming is always the dress. Yeah, she asked for it alright. Look at her hips go in those tight jeans, aren’t they tantalizing? They seem to be asking men to grab them. Never mind the fact that curves are accentuated more in saris or that the tissue thin blouses show every heave of the breasts. That is accepted cultural vulgarity, I suppose. Never mind that even sari clad women are subject to eve-teasing and rapes. Three, Thasni Banu and these millions of women do not walk on the streets or travel because they want the exercise. They do it because they must, in order to feed themselves, to cloth and shelter themselves. Those are human rights (The statement is made assuming that the reader considers women as human and not as cattle, as many do. If not, yes, women are human beings, i.e., Homo sapien. Look it up if you don’t believe me.). Not a privilege.

But the similarities end there. We could include the Thasni Banu incident as a subset of this rape culture and victim blaming phenomenon. Though I disagree with and disapprove of Slutwalk on many fronts, I cannot but offer my solidarity to the basic philosophy behind it that no matter what we wear, nobody has the right to touch us or even ogle at us. This rape culture aka Indian culture or Kerala culture or whatever we call it, is quite literally a disease. It is like AIDS. It ineffective in small doses. But once the number grows, the immune system fails. An attack here and there may not seem like a big deal. We might be thinking that it is only one Thasni Banu. But the truth is, Thasni Banu incident is a symptom of our society’s dysfunction.

Image Credit: Flickr@ nycmonkey

A question which might arise in your mind is-hey, but this is not restricted to women. Remember the crack down on low waist apparel worn by men? Then how can it be a rape culture? The answer is, it is not. Both are moral policing. Both are extremely derogatory and unwarranted. It seems as though our society is more concerned with how goes on under our dresses rather than how our brains can be used for the betterment of the society, a society which focuses on the culture below our waist. But there is a difference between the moral policing of women and men. When it comes to men, it is about impressing upon them the idea that they, as the dominant sex should uphold the virtue of his mother, sister, wife, daughter and friend. On the other hand, when it comes to women, the idea is thorough oppression. A slap to put Thasni in her place, to tell her she should obey the social norms of the superior sex. A vulgar comment to a girl on the street to tell her that she isn’t allowed beyond the four walls of her house (her father’s or husband’s house, not hers.) and that her every private part is open to public inspection. Where is culture in this? Culture is a part of civilization. I don’t think we can find any civilization in what is happening in our society. Even the dogs which approach the bitch when she is in heat has the permission to smell up the pheromones.

Now the argument maybe that we need certain restrictions on the movement of the individuals of the society for it to function smoothly and that the individuals who perpetrate such violence are merely being the guardians of the fabric. As I said to a friend, there is no such thing as restrictive freedom. There simply cannot be, when human beings are designed to always move forward in a direction which will maximize the chances of his/her self-actualization. A society which holds people captive in restrictions and says that we have the freedom to do whatever we want within those restrictions is by any standard regressive. True, primitive tribes were much more equal and non-restrictive in that sense. But the fact is, they moved forward to new ideas of freedom. Progress is always about freedom, even personal. But the gender aspect still lags eons behind the economic and political freedoms that we enjoy.

Coming back to the issue at hand, can Thasni stop traveling at night? No. Will all the women who work at night or even day be safe? No. We seem to have arrived at a bottleneck here. In either case, women suffer. Going by the usual rhetoric, it is necessary that the democratically elected Government of our nation and right now the State does something about the safety of the ever increasing work force of women, especially those who work late at night. But it is simplistic to say that just the Government or the women alone are supposed to fight against such oppression. It is the society’s responsibility as a whole to come out of the dark ages if it wants to move forward. It is ironic that if a woman wants to contribute to her society, she has to overcome the hurdles set by it first.

But suppose that Thasni Banu was going with a man late at night, not to work but somewhere else. Suppose that she was wearing a mini skirt. Suppose that she had her arms around the guy while riding pillion. Suppose that she was whispering naughty things to him, just to him. Still, who gives you the right to interfere? Unless, that repressed culture below your waist is suddenly agitated at the power she has. That culture, dear sisters, can be thoroughly subdued with a good kick at the orbs of their supposed power. Start wearing the high heels of resistance, girls.

*This was originally published in the author's blog.