WickedEye's Quotient

1/26/2014 at 01:04

Subcontinental Gang-rape & Gay Rights

In 2002 Mukhtaran Bibi was gang-raped on the orders of her village council in rural Pakistan, in retaliation for her brother's association with a woman from another tribal group.

My 2007 essay on her can be found here. I wrote not about the problem of sexual violence against women in India & Pakistan, which I'd addressed the year before (my 12-year-old-girl learning curve is detailed here), but about Bibi's heroically humanitarian response to the verdict against her rapists: She used the money to open a school in her village...a school in which she first enrolled her rapists' children.

I bring up Bibi's case, and her extraordinary selflessness, not only because her 'crime' and 'punishment' parallel those of the Indian woman who was gang-raped on the orders of her village council last week, but because of Bibi's wise and apposite response.

Mukhtaran Bibi opened a school. She did that because the real problem with the treatment of women and non-straight-male persons on the Indian subcontinent isn't just--or even mostly--a lack of statutory protection. The reason women and other "minorities" are mistreated on the subcontinent is the rampant bigotry, born of insular and determined ignorance, that pervades the culture there.

That bigotry--against women, against homosexuals, against anyone who transgresses sectarian boundaries or other cultural taboos--is a Stone-Age norm across India (and, one can conclude from Bibi's ordeal, Pakistan).

Yes, Stone-Age. A woman from the most recent gang-rape-victim's village (I hope every human reading is cringing at the words 'most recent') justified the council's punishment by stating that the woman is "a bad character" who "was going around with this non-tribal man." This, in Stone-Age logic, justifies gang-rape: People from other tribes are, just as they were 10,000 years ago, threats to the village's food supply and lands and survival as a tribe. By that logic, fraternization should indeed be punished extremely--by gang-rape, at least; and stoning might not be out of the question either...

But civilized people don't act this way.

And that's the problem with the Indian subcontinent. That's the reason why women, Indian or not, aren't safe in India, and neither is anyone transgressing those Stone-Age norms: Vast swathes of the Indian subcontinent aren't civilized.

And contrary to the shrieks of outraged Indians at home and abroad, those vast uncivilized swathes aren't just located in West Bengal, or in backwards villages. (Or in Pakistan.)

No, many of those swathes of bigoted, backward, uncivilized, determinedly ignorant, Stone-Age thinking cut straight through the likes of Mumbai and Delhi, where Indian women are--less than their South Asian peers, but still increasingly--choosing to delay marriage because it spells unremitting, full-time child-rearing and the end of their careers, no matter how educated or successful a woman may be.

That bigoted, backward, uncivilized, determinedly ignorant, Stone-Age thinking also cuts straight through the Lok and Rajya Sabhas, the two houses of the Indian Parliament, who are consistently embroiled in sectarian bigotry of the most pernicious, and often fatal, kind--see Narendra Modi, leader of the minority BJP party, for just how deeply involved in this sort of bloodthirsty thuggery Indian politicians can get (apparently without repercussion).

And then there is the institution re-conceived in the Enlightenment, the common man's last defense against bigoted, backward, uncivilized, determinedly ignorant, Stone-Age thinking: the high courts. In this case, the Supreme Court of India.

Which means that that Court's re-criminalization of homosexuality last month was not only a blow against the human rights and civil liberties of a large portion (approximately 20%) of the world's LGBT population, but also a complete failure of the SCI's mandate as an institution.

As of December 2013, any homosexual sexual activity in India is once again punishable by a 10-year prison term. That's right, it's again punishable...because the Supreme Court of India, in order to purvey its own bigoted, backward, uncivilized, determinedly ignorant thinking, had to overturn a High Court ruling and uphold a law from the 1870 British Penal Code.

That's 1870 AD, ladies and gentlemen. A law imposed by India's British colonizers 143 years ago is once again the law of the land.

Not quite Stone-Age. But in this day and age, quite definitely uncivilized.

Personally, my view of the bigotry of Indian culture has been jaundiced in the extreme since I was 11 years old--when my mother, brothers and I were reviled for more than a decade by the Indian community in Nashville (while they welcomed my 'respectable' surgeon father) because my parents had divorced.

I learned first-hand about the hypocritical blindness of which the Indian community is capable when protecting its cultural norms, and in that awareness I chose to be American by acculturation as well as by birth. Only later, because my extended family--and living rough in India for a year--showed me the positive side of Indian familial culture, did I choose to adopt some of it (if in a decidedly piecemeal fashion).

So I'm biased both for and against, now. All of which allows me to see bigotry on the subcontinent with a clearer eye than most.

Indian technology has evolved over the past three decades, and via India's youth has begun to drag the culture (inch by inch) with it. And India's children are, just like India's geography is, a patchwork of truly high-minded, humanistic thinking scattered throughout the bigoted, backward, insular traditional gender and community roles--roles enforced by family 'elders' as well as by many of the younger Indians (largely male) whom those traditions benefit.

My cousins--from India to Australia to Singapore to Montreal--are excellent examples of India's evolution. They are, very nearly entirely, caring and high-minded human beings, and they're a large part of the reason I came to value being part of a wider Indian family. Many work for justice and equality in their day-to-day lives; most exemplify it to some degree or another.

Not everyone from an Indian family is so lucky. But lucky or not, those of Indian origin with high ideals and open hearts need to speak up against the bigots, both in India and abroad. Here's the key--an idea that, despite its logic, most of India wholly rejects (and America struggles with, especially post-Bush and post-Ed-Snowden): Being anti-bigoted, backward, uncivilized, determinedly ignorant, Stone-Age thinking doesn't mean being anti-Indian.

And if it does mean that to you, consider seriously what that means about your idea of being Indian.

Indians of conscience and humanism and goodwill need to speak up in the face of oppression instead of simply ignoring it (or even opposing it quietly) lest they offend their elders and those who raised them--who, in India, are nearly universally less open-minded, less humanitarian, and less conscience-driven than those who grew up with a wider view of the world and of themselves.

Respect for our elders is a worthy tenet--but as with any worthy tenet, when embraced unthinkingly it can be carried too far.

Back to the 1870s, for example. Or the Stone Age.

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Blogger tonyl said...

You’d think by now I’d have learned. I just spent a good thirty minutes thinking about and writing a comment which, as I was perusing, proof-reading, Blogger ate. Just like yesterday, on a different blog. It is mind-numbing. I’m now writing in an editor, and will copy and paste. At least, when Blogger deletes it, I’ll have a record to update and attempt to repost! Now to try and recreate what I’d thought of.

It’s hard to argue with your seeing the excesses of your ‘homeland,’ if you even think of India that way, as being different. However, while the atrocities we see daily in, for example, the US or that bastion of the Common Law, the UK, may not be as egregious—or egregious in a different way, perhaps—they are atrocities nonetheless. More importantly, they are rooted in the same earth: traditional, faith-based, protect the tribe beliefs.

As you point out, education is the cure. Fact-based education rather than fantasy- or belief-based education. Education available to all, no matter their gender, skin color, family wealth, orientation, whether they live in India or the Middle East or the estate slums of the UK’s big cities or the American Deep South (or one of the regions where inhabitants wish for the Deep South in philosophy if not weather).

This is not a suggestion that you keep quiet; far from it. Illuminating problems, recognizing and identifying them as problems, those are the only ways to improve the situation. Don’t submit to the nay-sayers, the uneducated no matter their degrees. Keep shining the light; not all vermin are hiding in the corners or under the rug. Some are in plain sight, in our governments, in our churches, in our schools.

Thank you for one bright lamp!  


Blogger Scientiae said...

Tony, I certainly didn't mean to imply that we don't have our own problems here (and in the UK, and France, and...) with bigotry, wildly irrational sectarian/religious thought masquerading as major political parties, etc. Anyone who's suffered through the American political scene in the last 15 years knows better.

The difference between the US and India is that here in the US, when something is identified as bigotry, that label is at least a little pejorative. Bigots can't be blatant about it here and retain general public approval. In all but the most cretinous of families, the dinner table isn't filled with observations on how thus-and-so-group are so much worse than 'we' are, complete with slurs.

That's not the case in India. Perfectly 'respectable' people feel free to be as racist, sectarian, or otherwise bigoted as they like--at length, and in public. And because of 'respect for elders', no-one ever contradicts or cuts off these mental midgets. They're alllowed to spew their poison wherever they like, with no consequence. To those of us revolted by the kind of small-minded, insular bigotry that produces this 'thinking', it's nerve-wracking if not nauseating.

And no, India's not 'the homeland.' Nashville is. I was born in the States, and raised here, and acculturated here for the most part--the exceptions are things I took on deliberately, as an adult. But my parents are Indian, and many of the people I love are Indian, and are also wonderful human beings; and I love Indian art and history and pop music. *blushes* In the year I lived there, I found it an incredible place, beautiful and fierce and overwhelming in every possible way, both good and bad.

So I'm emotionally invested in India. However few the pieces of my identity that come from there, the ones that do are deeply rooted. (Like my cousins, whom I honestly both love and admire. It's one thing to grow up fair-minded in the States; it's another entirely to grow up fair-minded in India.)

And even without all that, I still couldn't but help want India to be a better place for the people who live there--because other humans' suffering diminishes us, and dims the light everywhere.  


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