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It's Time India Stopped Blaming Its Misogyny On 'Western Culture'

Is public groping an unavoidable Indian reaction to something perceived as western?

09/01/2017 1:26 PM IST | Updated 10/01/2017 10:26 AM IST
Alberto Ruggieri

If I had a penny for the number of times Indian politicians and officials have blamed disturbing, shameful incidents of blatant misogyny on "western culture", I could have bought myself a lifelong supply of designer miniskirts, with "not an invitation" gold-printed on it.

It is a rather ironic accusation coming from India, which has the largest population of people living abroad: 16 million people born in India were living in other countries in 2015, according to the United Nations. Thousands of parents still aspire to send their children to study and work abroad, to go live in the same culture that we conveniently blame when we're called out on our gender-oppressive behaviours.

After an incident like the one in Bangalore, the least we can do is take responsibility for what is a by-product of our society. But responsibility is spelled "western culture"...

Yes, my culture, and all the wonderful things it has to offer to the world, is under threat. But the threat isn't external; it's an internal mix of denial, patriarchy and a cultural superiority complex. When the narrative you pass on to your children strips Indian women of their individuality, desires, freedom of movement and right to expression, even their fundamental right to celebrate New Year's Eve on a crowded street in the vicinity of cops is seen as a foreign influence. (On 2 January, 2017, the Bangalore Mirrorreported that its journalists witnessed firsthand the mass molestation of women in Bangalore city during New Year's Eve celebrations. Al Jazeera quoted the state's home minister as saying, "They [women] try to copy westerners not only in mindset but even the dressing... some girls are harassed, these kinds of things do happen.")

This cultural superiority complex is a double-edged sword. Back home, men misbehave with women to show them their place in Indian society. And when these men travel to foreign countries, they misbehave with non-Indian women, because, well, they're not Indian.

For instance, my friend in New York told me about a group of Indian men who were her co-passengers on a train ride back home from work. They had trouble taking "no" for an answer when they repeatedly invited her, a complete stranger, to a house party. In their minds, Indian women are supposed to (and expected to) say no, but every other woman is perpetually willing and available.

If an Indian woman does says "yes", it's under western influence; if she doesn't want to get married, it's the West; if she dresses as she pleases or attends a party, it's the West; if she's out on a date, it's definitely the West; if she's lesbian, it's probably an outer-planetary influence. Public display of affection is offensive and western, and public groping is an unavoidable Indian reaction to something perceived as western. If any thought of self-care, independence and individuality is from the West, what is India teaching its men and women?

After an incident like the one in Bangalore, the least we can do is take responsibility for what is a by-product of our society. But responsibility is spelled "western culture" because of our inability to accept something is internally flawed. One of the greatest disservices to the nation is the ill-treatment of its women in the pretext of patriotism and cultural preservation. We need to reclaim the narrative of Indian culture by teaching our children, and reminding ourselves, that culture changes over time. And through all its stages of evolution, the only aspects of it worth preserving are gender equality, respect and tolerance.

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