By Aakar Patel
Despite being in the land of Kama Sutra — which few have read — Indians have no polite word for sex. Drawing-room conversation on the subject is couched in allusion. The middle class lean on English to express themselves, but cannot do it in their mother tongue.
When it advertises contraception, which it does heavily, the government of India clears its throat and mumbles ‘yon-sambandh’. This is a phrase that only the government uses. Literally, it means “relationship with female organ”. For the generations that grew up when India was a one-channel nation, what followed these advertisements was loud conversation to drown out the television and the blank look that came naturally to faces. Now the channel may be changed.
Since the woman-man relationship and its dance is played out only in the shadows, Indian men have no training or exposure to how a woman must be wooed. In a situation where he must attract an unknown woman, the Indian man will show his crudeness through what is called eve-teasing. He’s actually trying what he thinks is romance: the aim is to get her to turn and acknowledge him, not for her to walk away. But that’s what she does, because he’s an irritant.
Though he is rarely successful with this technique, he persists with it in his frustration, and the satisfaction that she’s helpless to prevent his lewdness. Evolution has made woman a better judge of character than man. He is the perennial suitor, sensing for opportunity in every woman. She must assess whether or not she wants to let a man in. It is the woman who decides whether or not to mate.
Because he is driven to spread his gene as widely as possible, man moves on quickly after the act to other, more pressing matters. The woman expects a demonstration of his affection and commitment by showing warmth and generosity in love. But that is hard to come by — there is no sex education in India — and she tires of his unskilled fumbling. And of course, she lacks the vocabulary to tell him what he must do.
The Indian man is conditioned by the patronising way his mother and sisters are treated at home. Therefore he is troubled when he encounters working women in office. It is difficult for him to reconcile with the idea of a woman as his boss or even as a competent manager.
But along with judgement, evolution has given woman the great ability to seek compromise. This makes her a good manager. Man, always on the hunt, and driven to finding solutions to new situations, is better at tackling abstract problems. But her talent for managing is used in India mostly at home. Though increasing numbers of urban women are going to white collar jobs, women are India’s most underutilised resource.
In the office, she’s easier to get along with because she’s not anxious to protect her ego at every meeting. Her diligence comes from being naturally equipped to being careful — a necessary trait for raising children.
In India, Darwinian evolution is intercepted through the arranged marriage, and the quality of the suitor’s gene is assessed by the father rather than the girl. Evolution is also more universally interfered within society through human morals.
The natural state of the mammalian family is polygamy. It gives the woman a wider option of men whose suitability for protecting her offspring she can assess. But this is denied to her by society, except for some religions, because it results in many males being left partnerless.
Monogamy is a man’s law. It restricts supply to women and is anti-evolutionary. A scientist might observe that the best gene is in fact not spread in a monogamous culture. Polygamy was not uncommon in India, but the British frowned on it and it was made illegal for Hindus in 1955.
Inside the family, women are treated with love and affection and are consulted on major decisions. On many issues, their opinion will hold sway. But they are rarely equals.
Women are property in most Indian societies — zar, zan, zameen — and our daughters are our property only so long as they are unmarried. Since they will belong to someone else soon, there is no need for us to invest in them. That is why girls have less spent on them for education or health than boys in India.
The idea that they are possessions is strong and spurned men disfigure women in India so that they become undesirable for another man’s possession. This cruelty is unique to our culture. Family honour is reposed intact in the body of the woman. Any violation makes her unfit through the loss of honour.
In India the demand is to make the punishment for rape the same as the punishment for murder: death. The message to the victim of rape is: what happened to you is as good as death.
Not all Indian cultures attack the woman internally. Urban Gujarat, because of its mercantile nature, puts no premium on honour because its code is that of compromise and not martial rigidity. The female there has a position which is stronger than in most other societies. There is also a playfulness about Gujarat’s male-female intermingling that is rare among Indian cities, but not unique. Bengalis, at least those observed in Calcutta, also have an easy mixing of the sexes.
Gujarat’s position is undone in its villages by its peasant caste, the Patels. India’s second worst sex ratio is among the Patels of Gujarat who decimate their girls through infanticide. The worst ratio in India is in another peasant caste, the Jats of Haryana.
Our view of a woman is that she must be attached to a man. She cannot have business of her own. A single woman standing on a Delhi road will have to swat off any number of men — of every age — who will proposition her relentlessly on the assumption that she’s available or soliciting.
However, this is not the culture universally in urban India and Mumbai and the south of India generally do not have the same aggression towards the female that the north has. It is natural for man to promote chest-thumping nationalism and crow about honour because he is driven to that through his code. Reason and his intellect give him the capacity to draw back from extreme positions that could hurt him. However, women are not driven to ultra-nationalism and to war.
Women naturally have a capacity for compromise and therefore something feels out of place when we read columnists who are women, take an unbending position on honour or on war.
Man fought for zar, zan and zameen: this is why he waged war. Since he cannot do it in the modern world, he finds other ways of venting his instinct to defeat other men, and one is in the closed arena of sport. Here it is strange to see women cheering madly at a match. They are the prize the men are fighting over.
The writer is a former newspaper editor who lives in Bombay. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org