Posted by Ritwiza Asthana
The upper caste, angry Hindu nationalist male is everywhere. When we are out on the roads, they stalk us. In our bedrooms, they demand to be allowed to rape us with impunity. In our workplace they harass and dominate us into silence. Even when they have put a bullet in our skull, the taunts continue. The motive is to show you that you have failed them, and thereby also failed the nation that brought you up to be respectable secondary citizens. ‘Modern India’ is a special beast, and the consequences of this alleged freedom of choice have left men feeling particularly short of choices: unable to keep pace with the evolving social and cultural schema of the new India.
Fear, irrational as it often is, is abetted, in the case of Indian men mourning the women they can never have; by a goal that seemingly is bigger than me and you: the goal of ‘saving’ the nation. To stand there on guard, not letting any ‘corruption’ – personal or societal – seep through, is their self-appointed goal.
But why are some Indian men so angry? Where is this anger coming from? Is this new, or has it always been simmering inside them? Is this all a confused reaction to the loss of a masculine ideal? Is it, in fact, grief that seeks to vent their frustration? India has changed swiftly. Post-1991, India is an outward looking entity that has a new agenda: it wants to charter a new course and is excited about the multiple destinies it can have. We now live in a culture that seeks to expand, drawing and creating our own form of unique modernity.
But for others, this has been a daze – a sudden loss; a loss not acknowledged but acutely felt. As is the norm, resistance to change comes most vociferously from those with the most to lose. In this case, it is the angry Hindu nationalist men. They are not shy of showing you their wrath either. They are now the self-appointed national protector of ‘modesty’. It doesn’t matter how very irrational some of their actions might seem.
They will tell a grown woman why her falling in love with a man from another community is all a giant conspiracy. They will occupy public space in a way designed to cause maximum discomfort and fear. If they decide that a cow is their mother, they will rush to kill to protect this exalted female form. The female sex is one that is to be shielded, even at the cost of human lives. This selective desperation to be useful; to be seen as the saviour; to protect you against your very instincts; to help you realise you can never be as perceptive as them in deciphering the (non-existent) love laden jihadi signals; emanates from the feeling of failure to know what their position is in this new equality-aspiring cosmos.
It is not hard to see why this is such a challenge for men. I grew up in an India where Govinda and Akshay Kumar thought nothing of touching women inappropriately, following them around, basically being total and utter idiots. In fact, this was inevitably shown as a step that leads to a great love story. And impressed we were. Although Akshay Kumar continues to stalk onscreen as nonchalantly as always, but now he has to defend himself because there will be criticism – albeit quite short-lived.
My own first stalking story involved a young man who worked at a photo studio who followed me around every time I went past his store, sometimes with his friends. Although I hated it, and felt embarrassed by it, I often wondered if I would one day fall in love with him. Now, if I, as a mere subject of these depictions, could feel this confused, imagine what it would be like for men whose life trajectory has suddenly been taken in unlikely directions. Machismo doesn’t seem to be cutting it anymore. Amitabh Bacchan is now happily constipated, owing perhaps to the long time he spent on being The Angry Young Man. The icon is failing to stay hyper-masculine.
As is the norm, resistance to change comes most vociferously from those with the most to lose.
Women now want something different from what we were told as children. They don’t like being told whom to love, they don’t like being told when to go out, they don’t like being told what to do with their lives. The pushback to this ‘demanding’ woman has been nothing short of punishing. On an overcrowded bus when they push into you, when they make you apologise for being out with a man, when they fix you with a gaze that demands submission, when they stalk you to scare and punish you for being out late at night. The goal is to make you feel helpless: you want to shout and scream, but you don’t. Leaving you with that silent anger emanating from shame that only a woman can feel for their own helplessness in the face of this angry nationalist male.
But what do these men want? I posit that this anger is a manifestation of their grief at the sudden loss of control. This outward display of hyper masculinity – this usurpation of religion, nation – is all about finding a way to reverse time. It is an aggressive mechanisation to get the attention they think they deserve. The aggressive posturing in the online world, the use of words like presstitute and randi to disrespect and discredit people are all symptomatic of their paranoia at being left behind.
This non-God/man fearing woman who wants to engage only when she desires is, by the virtue of her non-compliance, in equal measure desirable and abhorrent. The hateful messages then are like a temper tantrum. Pay attention to me, otherwise I will shout as loudly as I can. They know there has been a fundamental disruption to their role in the society: they don’t know what to expect anymore. This generation of ours is one of lost men. Wanting to have it all, but not quite sure how!
Ritwiza Asthana has a background in journalism and publishing. She researched gender politics at the UN for her MPhil at JNU, and the politics of recognition and representation with regards to transgender citizenry for her MSc at LSE. She is currently training to be a human rights lawyer in London.
Featured Image Credit: Firstpost