Badri Raina | 10 MARCH, 2015
India’s Daughter: The Long Indian Male Carpet
Year: 1974; place: Madison, Wisconsin; time: 1.00 A.M.
I return from the library and turn on one of my favourite shows on American television—the Tom Snyder talk show, which features a daily interview with one or the other “remarkable” individual Subject.
This night Snyder’s human quarry is a hooded man who happens to have been a killer for the mafia with, self-confessedly, forty two kills to his name.
I wait with some trepidation to see and hear what sort of question Snyder might ask of this anonymous man, face hidden to the audience.
Only to find that Snyder does not get or wish to get beyond that one question which he asks repeatedly with visible consternation: “do you never consider the enormity of the crimes you have committed?”
And, each time he receives the same answer, proferred in an impenetrable composure of mind and self-belief: “look here, man, I am no criminal; I am a pro like you are; a man of skill who varies his techniques to suit the specific requirements of each individual case.”
As far as I recall, the show was not proscribed; nor did any media outlet make the argument that this sort of thing would lead to a proliferation of copy cat impulses among young Americans, although there might have been citizens who felt that freedom of expression may not be allowed to touch extremes where so hardened an assassin was given a platform to gloat at his uniquely achieved prowess. If there were, I do not know.
What it lead to, interestingly, was a fairly illuminating debate among groups of people about the human consequences of the notion of division of labour and of the value put on “expertise” by a Capitalist order of things. Indeed, comparisons were made between the mafia killer and similar snipers and sharpshooters who work as “special assets” for the state in times of warfare or conflict—a telling inference, you might agree, of how horrific deeds may be either lent or denied legitimacy.
Most telling was the realization that what the mafia killer was trying to underscore was that, far from being some outré monster, he was a conformist to a system which prized skill over general maudlin ideas of morality—one who was proud of doing his work with an efficiency and competence matching that of any celebrated television host/anchor.
Are there similar lessons to be learnt from the case of our own rapist and murderer, Mukesh Singh, the subject of the now banned B.B.C documentary, India’s Daughter? I rather think so.
Because what was this monster of a criminal actually saying to the documentary maker? That, far from being guilty, he in fact represented the socially endorsed impulse to correct women who step outside the bounds set for them by a morally anxious patriarchy. The young woman whom he raped and tortured to a gruesome death, along with equally monstrous peers, was in fact, the guilty party, daring like so many Indian women these days who care not a farthing for “tradition” or “propriety” (read well-established dominant male opinion backed by religious and customary sanction, also male in authorship) and, through their defiant conduct (read independence of movement and choice) threaten time-honoured edifices of social and moral “stability” (read the self-assumed prerogative of the male Indian to organize, justify or not justify, the time, space, and life of the female of the species).
But, as in the case of the American quarry, the Indian rapist/murderer was saying that he in fact represents the dominant male Indian opinion and, indeed, struck a blow on its behalf. No more instant proof of this than the fact that the lawyer representing him should have proudly and insistently endorsed his client’s worldview. Mukesh Singh was saying, in fact, that in doing what he did he translated into action what most Indian men might want done. In earlier times, Nathu Ram Godse felt similarly: that what he did (assassinate Gandhi) was in conformity with the general feeling among “Hindus” about Gandhi and the damage the latter was allegedly doing to their cause, and by inference, to the nation at large in denying its essentially “Hindu” content and character. Mukesh Singh was saying, like the American killer, that he was a conformist in doing what he did—a belief bolstered with self-esteem rather than shamed by self-denigration, not to speak of remorse.
So why has the documentary been proscribed? Because, as Javed Akhtar said with passionate force of argument in Parliament, the film might be holding a mirror to more than the monstrosity of just one isolated subject; showing the film may have resurrected a plethora of sound bytes from a plethora of “respectable” and socially and politically, indeed, even more to the point, denominationally, consequential segments of male Indian vanguards who, in the recent past, have expressed views on the woman question practically indistinguishable from those of Mukesh Singh or his lawyer. Should that have happened, imagine what damage it could have done to India’s resurgent “image” as a nation with a destined–dominant future in the realms of modern “development,” causing deleterious debates
and schisms among the ever-proliferating numbers of activists and busybodies who never tire of denigrating the glories of the nation, especially now with an in-your-face “nationalist” regime in place, and never mind what the Mufti in Kashmir is doing to that distorted and self-regarding claim.
The fact is that whereas in America the truth of what the mafia killer was enunciating would have found acknowledgement among common household audiences, without anyone necessarily wanting to emulate the killer’s career, here at home the “respectable” Indian male would die rather than acknowledge the reflexive truth of what our own rapist/killer was saying, and never mind the official statistics that some ninety percent of all rapes in India are perpetrated by men in close acquaintance or kinship with their victims. And never mind, again, that, like Capitalism which indeed places skill and expertise over silly moral considerations, a spectrum of India’s cultural texts lay down without ambiguity the prime importance of confining women to the limits prescribed for them by a patriarchal political and cultural order which bases its expropriation of property squarely on notions of the desired subservience of women inscribed in seemingly unchallengeable scriptures. Thus, “reasonable restrictions” on freedom of expression (read the freedom to live freely with dignity) involve nothing less than conformism with a master-slave relationship between men and women. Not for nothing did Engels argue that the first ever division of labour happened in the monogamous family, with the man as owner and the woman as wage labour.
Thus the rapist/killer Singh’s sense of legitimacy as a corrective social agent could be seen to flow from a substratum of thought which inhabits the given order from the pathway to Parliament. What is shocking is that some eminent women parliamentarians should have been among those demanding a ban on the documentary in question—a circumstance that might be seen to underscore the deep cross-gender penetration of Patriarchal archives of wisdom which include a leveling notion of “national pride.” For the record, some women activists and ideologues on the Left as well have favoured the ban, however reluctantly, on the ground that, one, screening it could jeopordise the legal rights of the criminal who is still seeking mercy, and cause an unreasoned hysteria that could lead to fresh violent demands for a mandatory death penalty and instant lynch-mob justice. I beg to differ.
With the “national image” in jeopardy, other things are best pushed under the carpet. And in so far as there is never any end to the menaces that threaten that “image” it must be understood that the Indian male carpet has to be a pretty long one.