Last month, my driver—a rather timid fellow on the face of it—returned from his village with a beautiful, cultured and soft-spoken bride in tow.
However, just a fortnight into their marriage, the new bride confided in me that her husband was assaulting her for no apparent reason, almost on a daily basis.
Feeling morally obliged to address the issue, I decided to confront my driver point-blank about his behaviour.
Surprisingly, the guy appeared neither repentant nor defensive. His usually humble demeanor gave way to smug chauvinism: "Whacking is necessary to keep wives in their place, Madamji," he proclaimed with a shrug.
The audacity of his statement sent a surge of blinding rage through me.
Still, controlling my emotions, I gently reminded him that we are living the 21st century where women have equal rights and that he could be jailed for his indiscretions.
"Zamana aage nikal gaya hai (the times have changed)," I said.
"Arre Madamji, hum asli mard hain. Hamare yahan zamana bhale aage nikal jaaye, zanana nahni nikalni chahiye (For a real man, times may soar ahead but a woman never should)," was his retort.
Mulayam Singh Yadav is right. Boys will be boys. Especially the exotic and entitled species called the "Desi Boy."
What follows, of course, does not apply to every Indian male by a long shot, but what I will describe below is the story in far too many homes.
Perched atop the gender-status pole, our Desi Boy is a tiger with privileged stripes.
He is god's gift to motherkind.
A sprouting ghar ka chirag (light of the home).
A germinating burahpe ki lathi (crutch for old age).
A budding wife-beater.
A potential rapist.
India's bourgeois male child is typically raised in an environment loaded with fodder for narcissism—where his every demand is the family's command.
While his sister is consistently trained to be passive and warned about what girls shouldn't do, he is encouraged to embrace aggression—the only 'no" in his instruction manual is possibly "no crying."
Routinely witnessing instances of gender subjugation shape the circuits of his ductile brain.
While his sister is consistently warned about what girls shouldn't do, he is encouraged to embrace aggression—the only 'no" in his instruction manual is possibly "no crying."
He witnesses his mother slaving out in the kitchen, and also doubling as the family's favourite punching bag.
He watches his sister consigned to the hearth and kept homebound, her wings clipped, her voice muffled—the morsels of freedom handed out to her, becoming smaller with each passing year.
Although he loves the women in his family and celebrates their selflessness as a virtue, his mind grows to perceive their compassion and subjugation as a weakness.
He learns to look up to, and respect, the lone figure of authority in the house—his father.
As an adolescent, our Desi Boy gets preference over his female sibling in all family affairs.
During family discussions or decisions, his views are considered of greater consequence.
At family dinners, his plate is topped up with the lion's share... he's better fed and better cared for by his parents; he's over-indulged by his grandparents. He is feted during family celebrations, and even wears his scorecard of girlfriends as a badge of honor.
His parents can't stop gushing about how girls keep falling over each other to seduce their son.
Of course, the moment you ask them about their daughter's boyfriends, the same parents give you a death stare, potent enough to curdle your platelets.
Our Desi Boy's list of privileges grows exponentially every year. A fast learner, he soon starts to take advantage of his fundamentally flawed upbringing.
As a teenager, he starts going out with friends for late night jamborees, no questions asked.
He bunks school, gets into brawls with friends, smashes people's heads, preys on hapless victims in the dark abbeys of the city, spends many a night holed up in the clink for his misdemeanors... but gets bailed out each time by indulgent parents. Boys will be boys after all!
All those years that could have been constructively utilized by the family to give him a balanced perspective of gender roles are squandered (through live telecast at home) and culminate, eventually, in the calcification of stereotypes.
He attempts to woo [the modern woman]... chase her... hound her. And if all else fails... maul her... humiliate her... acid-scar her... mutilate her... destroy her.
When such stereotypes become extended to a young man's sexual role, he feels he has the right to demand sexual compliance from any female.
At the same time, the internet has brought porn to his mobile phone. Sexuality is flaunted everywhere.
This causes him to objectify and devalue women.
Once you have learned to see a class of human beings as objects, it becomes easy to use them with scant regard.
So a woman becomes an object to satisfy his carnal desires.
By the time our Desi Boy is ready to step into the real world, warped ideas about gender superiority and discrimination have crystallized in his mind.
The constant pampering and partiality have instilled in him a false sense of superiority.
His self-image of grandeur and invincibility has inflated to narcissistic proportions.
Personality traits have consolidated.
The die is cast.
He's now like the cock who thinks that the sun has risen to hear him crow.
When this conceited cock finally waltzes into the actual brick-mortar world, he confronts a180 degree turn of circumstances.
He finds that society is not prepared to give him the importance that he's accustomed to receiving in his own house.
Masculinity is a lot harder to achieve when traditional boundaries get mixed with modern ones.
Our Desi Boy is unable to dominate either in the workplace or the public space.
His bloated self-image clashes with his actual worth in the job market and in a society that seems to treat him like a semi-educated piece of flotsam.
Understandably, the poor Desi Boy's machismo is now under threat.
His ego feels bruised. His pride feels mauled. He becomes anxious.
Demons of dejection snuff out the oxygen of entitlement that was once his lifeline.
His poorly calibrated empathy meter and his perception of being deprived of "deserved" admiration and gratification make him prone to aggression and vengeance.
The Desi Boy's pent up frustration seeks a release... a soft target. Years of patriarchal conditioning ensure that he doesn't have to look far.
He encounters a hitherto alien species called the modern liberated woman, whose profile is almost an antithesis of the women he has known so far.
This rapist is nurtured in the loving confines of his own home, under the able guidance of his own parents...
This woman, unlike his sister back home, rubs shoulders with him in every sphere.
So, unwittingly, she becomes his soft target.
Pumped up on testosterone and in a desperate tussle to reclaim his sagging superiority, he attempts to woo her... chase her... hound her. And if all else fails... maul her... humiliate her... acid-scar her... mutilate her... destroy her.
And thus, a rapist is born.
This rapist is nurtured in the loving confines of his own home, under the able guidance of his own parents and a family that wishes him well, but ends up denting his psyche by feeding him a toxic diet of misogynistic undercurrents.
Because they don't know any better.
Because they haven't seen any better.
Because they are mere cogs in the wheel of patriarchal traditions that enjoy a stranglehold over our society.
A paradoxical twist here is the contribution by the mother. When a woman suffers subjugation and humiliation during a primary phase of her life, she becomes timid.
This psychological churning and a deep contempt for her own situation influence her to lay down similar patriarchal rules for her daughter and daughter-in-law.
Over the years, the victim morphs into the perpetrator. And this cycle continues.
So how should one break this mold? Start where? Do what? Inputs solicited.