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Violence begins with ‘the male gaze’

Why does violence against women happen in the first place? Can one hold social and economic backwardness responsible? And what role does one’s upbringing play in creating the ‘Indian male?’ In her third blog in the series, Dr. Kanchana Lanzet speaks about how the male identity changes when a person migrates from his village to a big city like New Delhi.

You can read the two blogs published earlier in the series here and here.

The northern states of Rajasthan, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh are among the socio-economically backward states and surround India’s capital, New Delhi. The fast and ever-growing metropolis is a shining beacon which attracts people from the rural areas who flock to the capital to seek their fortune.  Jyoti, the 23-year-old victim of December’s gang rape, was also a member of such a family. Her father migrated from his ancestral land to Delhi and in order to do so, he sold a piece of his ancestral property.

The brutal rapists too had migrated from rural villages. They were all farmers with very small land holdings. Their families could not eke out a decent living through farming alone. Once in the city, the only place they could find to live on a shoe-string budget were the slums, which have no infrastructural facilities such as paved roads, water, drainage, proper toilets, or electricity.

No security

Traditional social security available in their native village is absent in the slums. Slums have their own Dadas (Dada means elder brother in Hindi). A Dada in an Indian slum is similar to a mafia godfather. He controls who can live where and also acts as an employment and tenancy agent.

Men and women who have small shops in the slum often pay protection money. Most of the youth, who migrated to the Eldorado that is Delhi, soon get frustrated. There are no jobs waiting for them. They get attached to strange men in the hope of getting a job and are ready to cater to the whims and fancies of the ‘strong’ men.

Time hangs heavy on the hands of these men and the adage “an idle mind is a devil’s workshop” is nowhere more appropriate than in a slum! Drinking, playing cards and gambling (satta in Hindi) are common ways for “timepass”. Timepass is a purely Indian term which means to while away time doing something which is not meaningful and useful, such as loafing with one’s friends or hanging out in street corners or shopping malls.
Eve-teasing or making fun of girls passing by is also considered as timepass. Eve teasing is molestation and harassment of women including threatening and intimidating. It is punishable by law, yet women rarely complain. Those negligible few who dare to talk back meet with comments such as “you seemed to ask for it” or “you should dress properly!”

Studies and research findings by social scientists have established the link between idleness and the propensity to commit antisocial behavior which also includes crime. It is also an established fact that there is a very strong co-relation between unemployment and crime, even violent crime.

Before taking the joy ride on the bus Ram Singh and his cronies where drinking and eating. The joy ride, turned into a horror ride for Jyoti and her companion.

Perceptions of masculinity and violence against women

Someone recently wrote ’violence against women begins with a male gaze.’ The man is the head of his family and his household. As such, he exercises his authority over his wife and children, his workers (men and women), his land, his cattle and so on. In a village society, men from the higher castes have precedence and authority over men, women and children from the lower castes. Generally, Indian men have a privileged social standing in society. Women are expected to treat men with respect while speaking, for example.

Women have to defer to men. A woman who dares to question a man, challenge him in any way or rejects sexual favors is an affront to his masculinity. The community perceives men who cannot control and exercise their power over their women folk as weak and soft. This perception of masculine superiority has similarities with the “machismo” of Latin America.

A man standing, slightly leaning on one leg, with one arm on his waist and the other twirling his moustache with a superior grin on his face is the picture of an Indian male that comes to my mind. The moustache is the symbol of the Indian male. A phrase used commonly when two men quarrel (quite common in slums) is, “Come into my terrain and I’ll shave your moustache” or “I’ll pull your moustache down!”

Gender, sociological, anthropological and feminist studies have pointed out the connection between the perceptions of “masculinity” and violence against women. To illustrate, men who feel inadequate because of being jobless or feel that their job is not in keeping with their social status determined by their caste may feel economically deprived. Failure with women or their family may be taken as a slap on their masculine identity. The ensuing anger and frustration can boil over to violence against women as well as result in other violent crimes.

Author: Kanchana Lanzet

Editor: Manasi Gopalakrishnan


11.03.2013 | 15:37