Monday, September 28, 2009

That huge sense of entitlement

Guest post by Apu of Apu's World.

Excuse me for being a little angry here but what is it with (some/many?) Indian men and their huge sense of entitlement? Perhaps I should add a caveat here. You may (if you are a man) jump in and say, but, not all of us are like that. True, true. But, here’s the thing - there are enough such scum around that incidents like this one are only too common - a 25 year old woman in Mumbai, a mother of two, was gang raped and then burnt, it appears, simply because one of the assailants had been rejected by her a few years ago. Acid attacks on women who have turned down a man or broken off a relationship are only too well known.

It is a normal human tendency to feel sad when rejected by anybody. But, where is this sense of entitlement and anger coming from? Why this feeling that she must like me, I am too good to be rejected, I cannot possibly be turned down?

In my opinion, this starts out with the preferential treatment that many boys receive at home. Let’s start with simple things like the traditional Indian style of eating where the mother cooks and keeps serving while others eat, and then has her meal once everyone is done. The girls in the family too are roped in to help mother in the kitchen, as soon as they are old enough. The boys? The boys sit and eat their hearts’ fill. Perhaps this is why I’ve often seen men help themselves and even empty the vessel without any thought of whether the women who will eat later will have enough. When the message is that everything revolves around you, why bother to contradict that?

Food is just one of the many ways in which boys are subtly and un-subtly told that they are better, that they deserve the best, that in fact, whoever denies them what they want is simply wrong. In case you think it is only a few backward people who behave like this - unfortunately not. The scale of discrimination may be smaller in urban families but it is still there. Boys may be allowed to set the table, for instance, but in South Indian households, they will still rarely be allowed to clean up after meals the traditional way, where you sprinkle water and use your hand to clean. This is demeaning to them you see, although its perfectly ok for girls. Ecchal Idardu is what we call it in Tamizh, a concept difficult to translate into any non-Indian language, but would roughly correspond to jhoota saaf karna (झूठा साफ़ करना) in Hindi. I remember once going to a relative’s house, where after lunch, their two boys were excused while I, the guest was asked to clean up, because, that’s what girls are supposed to do!

It goes on in many other ways, including the amount of freedom girls and boys are allowed. (Girls are told that this is for their own safety, while the truth is that many crimes against women occur at home and are perpetrated by relatives and so-called friends). Of course, while every other Indian household is this way, not every boy raised this way is going to become a killer or acid-thrower. We can’t deny though that such conditioning is a great way to make boys (and the men they become) think that the world owes them everything. It develops a false sense of manliness based on others kow-towing to you rather than on reciprocal, affectionate relationships.

Movies too have a role in promoting this ideal of manliness. Mainstream South Indian movies have taken this to an extreme with the Cult of the Eve-Teasing Hero, who mysteriously, gets (often, more affluent and educated) beautiful women to fall for him because of or inspite of the tactics he uses, which the more sane among us would only call sexual harassment. Great role models for boys in this country! Should we wonder that some among this lot aspire to darker versions of what their heroes practise on screen?