Obsessed with serial killers since she was a teenager and calling herself a natural-born feminist, Tara Kaushal, a 34-year-old media consultant, has recently launched a project called Why Indian Men Rape. While Twitter trolls have already taken offence at the title, labelling her as anti-nationalist, Kaushal is unfazed. In an attempt to decode the Indian male psyche, and examine sexual violence in India, Kaushal's research will engage with Facebook users and the wider virtual community over the next two years.
Two books, one in 2017 and another in 2018, and a documentary are part of this project, which you can check out on Facebook, and, if you wish to fund, on Ketto.org.
We met Kaushal last week at her Juhu home and asked her if the Indian patriarch is really all that different from those anywhere else. Edited excerpts from the interview.
The title of your project sounds provocative. Why have you chosen to focus on Indian men specifically?
The word I am going to latch on to from your question is "specifically". I could have called it, 'Why men rape' and that truly is the subject of my study, but that way, I would end up with platitudes. The way you respond to things is culturally, and is learnt behaviour. You have to understand the Indian environment to understand what's leading Indian men to behave in a certain way. There is a cultural slant to sexual violence.
That said, I have never once proposed that it is only Indian men who rape, or that all Indian men rape, or it's only men who rape.
How would you distinguish the attitudes of Indian men from that of men elsewhere? Do you think that makes other countries safer than India?
I don't want to make sweeping statements, but, when you travel, it does seem that some cultures feel safer than others. In Thailand, for instance, I was running around lonely hills at 3 am and was never accosted. A friend once told me that she had attended a rock show in the Netherlands, where she was surrounded by big burly men, and yet she felt safe. She said she wouldn't feel so in India. In India, if I was out on the streets, an incident could soon remind me that I have to protect myself.
In India, the privileging of the man begins very early. The male child being fed first, or being told that he is a protector of his sister, challenge the notion of equality from early on. It becomes easy to dehumanise women because you don't think they are equal, and then it becomes easy to rape. We need to humanise the female form again.
Countries in the Indian subcontinent do have a few similarities when it comes to this, but that would be painting with too broad a brush. Nepal and Sri Lanka are very different culturally.
Do you think that Indian women are led to believe that other countries are safer than India?
I am aware that violence against women exists world over. [Some countries] are known to have high incidences of domestic violence. But, when you look at the statistics, the rates are high because their definition of violence is broad. Here, in India, we have a narrower understanding. Also, the higher stastic is because women report domestic violence as they have a sense of self.
You have said that there are many Indias. Within India, then, do you think there are different attitudes towards patriarchy?
Take New Delhi and Mumbai. I grew up in Mumbai and later moved and lived in six different cities, but Mumbai was the only city I wanted to come back to. It feels safer and I suppose the reason in economics. Because Mumbai is such an expensive city, both husband and wife have to work. When the woman is working, she is seen in public spaces, she is in your face. In Delhi, there is a tendency to reduce the quality of a woman's life for the sake of safety. Your wife, no matter what your social strata, might prefer to sit at home after a certain hour. In Mumbai, if you don't "let" the woman work, you starve.
Do you think class plays a role when it comes to gender-based violence?
A friend was once molested and her well-intentioned friends got hold of the man who molested her. There seemed to be a clear class difference between my friend and the alleged molester. The friends asked him, "Teri aukad kaise hui?" It seemed to suggest, "How dare he touch a woman who is out of his league?" This idea of class division and who owns a woman seems to exist. The truth is, she is in no one's league except the one she chooses to be with or f**k with.
What do you think are the solutions for changing patriarchal attitudes and curbing gender-based violence in India?
I am not fully onboard with the idea that legality is the only way to go. You need strong laws but you also need to start having conversations about rape with the men in your families. And, for women, to stop ascribing to the patriarchal idea of protection - a brother, male friend, boyfriend, driver. We have to shift the focus from protecting women to asking men not to rape.
One of the reasons I don't hesitate to wear short dresses is because I think this [the idea of freedom to do so] must be normalised. You have to get used to seeing woman in your space wearing clothes that they want to wear without thinking that it is for you.
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