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A Few Good Men: India’s hidden male feminists

October 20, 2013

In The Good Men of India, New York Times contributor, Lavanya Sankaran, appears to have discovered a whole new way to generalize across class and gender:

the Common Indian Male, a category that deserves taxonomic recognition: committed, concerned, cautious; intellectually curious, linguistically witty; socially gregarious, endearingly awkward; quick to laugh, slow to anger

This Common Indian Male (CAM) is quite different from other Indian males you may have encountered, who are:

feral men, untethered from their distant villages, divorced from family and social structure, fighting poverty, exhausted, denied access to regular female companionship, adrift on powerful tides of alcohol and violent pornography, newly exposed to the smart young women of the cities, with their glistening jobs and clothes and casual independence — and not able to respond to any of it in a safe, civilized manner.

Fortunately, Ms Sankaran, spends little time with such impoverished men who wash up on the shores of her city from their “distant villages”. Ms Sankaran tends to hang out on planes “typical of budget air travel”. The men here are far more tolerable:

every other row seemed larded with these women and their babies. But those stuffy Indian businessmen — men of middle management, dodging bottles and diaper bags and carelessly flung toys — they didn’t grumble. Instead, up and down the plane, I saw them helping. Holding babies so that mothers could eat. Burping infants and entertaining toddlers. Not because they knew these women, but because being concerned and engaged was their normal mode of social behavior

Let’s pause for a music break that shows the many faces of the Common Indian Male:

 

At one point, our ethnographer appears concerned that she might appear a tad classist:

Strong familial commitment is not a phenomenon restricted to the urban middle classes. Migrant laborers care for wives and children, and still send money home to their parents.

Thank god for friendships and family values. Oh but wait, if only this sterling research had considered some data: from The Hindu

The NCRB figures also show one important reason why victims have an incentive to remain silent: the rapists are mainly friends, even kin. Even though the media overwhelmingly reports on dramatic cases involving attacks by strangers, all but four States reported that nine out of 10 alleged perpetrators or more were known to the victim. In Delhi, that figure was 96.6%.

and some insight from Tehelka:

When Krishnan spoke of a “certain kind” of  that is reported, she referred to the privileging of  by strangers over  by family or institutions. The insinuation is — New Delhi will take to the streets over the gangrape on the bus, or for the five-year-old raped by her neighbour, but never for the countless boys and girls violated as a matter of routine in their own homes, or the girls violated by officers of the state. Even the new anti- Bill, generally considered a step in the right direction, stays coy on the issue of marital , or  by the armed forces.

To return to Ms. Sankaran’s text in the NYT, women in India should stop fighting patriarchy, and instead consider its many blessings:

female success, in a place like India with complicated social structures and a tradition of the Old Uncle Network, doesn’t happen in isolation. A successful woman is very likely to have had a supportive male in her life: a father, a spouse, a friend, a mentor.

Obviously then, what India’s pesky feminists fail to understand, is the problem isn’t too much patriarchy, but too little:

the Indian male, when nested in family and community, is part of a domestic tapestry that is intricately woven and vital, it seems, to his own sense of well-being. Take that away from him, hurl him away — and a possible result is a man unmoored, lost, adrift and, potentially, a danger to himself and to his world.

Given the blinding clarity of her text, one only hopes Ms. Sankaran will also enlighten us on “The Good Upper Castes of India” who must surely be using their intricate tapestries to further Dalit causes, and hold on to their “own sense of well-being” to ensure they aren’t unmoored and move to commit acts of grotesque violence.

I urge our readers to come up with similar themes to further our understanding of this complex world.

90 Comments leave one →
  1. FAWZIA NAQVI permalink
    October 20, 2013 6:15 PM

    Thank goodness for this take down! I read this article yesterday and nearly choked. Thank the lord I am not the only one asking, “lady, what are you smoking?” or “if I were an Indian male I would be so embarrassed to read this.” Or gosh, “slow day for India Ink?”

  2. Saraswati permalink
    October 20, 2013 6:20 PM

    Oh this is too good. In your face article. I agree there is no point putting these two topics no the same plate like Lavanya Did.

  3. Gitanjali permalink
    October 20, 2013 6:20 PM

    Thank you! I was trying to frame my outrage cohesively, but this does it so beautifully.

  4. October 20, 2013 6:27 PM

    chalo. finally, one interesting Indian science fiction! Or shall we say, social science fiction! Now we at least know when the world will end.

  5. October 20, 2013 6:29 PM

    but but but…she wrote the Hope Factory, how could she write any different. She’s selling good :-)

    Upasna at Someplace Else

  6. Manashi permalink
    October 20, 2013 6:49 PM

    The last paragraph quoted from Ms Sankaran’s article reminded me of the Gone with the Wind. Scarlett O’ Hara would have been lost without Mammy, so would Aunt Pittypat without uncle Peter. Does that mean their world was free from slavery or these benevolent white slave owners were a supporter of black freedom?

    From Ms Sankaran’s point of view, the upper class (middle class too to some extent), upper caste Indian men are good at heart creatures, their bad behaviour is only a reaction to intolerable situations created mostly by the pesky feminists. So may be Karvachauth is a good way to say thank you.

    Hopefully Ms Sankaran will write another column describing the virtues of the good wife– those who suffer silently and still can not leave their abusive husbands. That is, Ms Sankaran, is “vital for ensuring the sense of well being” of the good Indian man.

    • October 20, 2013 7:26 PM

      I mean, how else could you establish your class-warrior bonafides if you cannot insert some sort of non-sequitur rage against the machine catch phrases into this conversation.

  7. October 20, 2013 7:23 PM

    The NYT article reads like a rejected script that Karan Johar thought was too unrealistic for a Bollywood movie. Could this author be more out of touch?

  8. October 20, 2013 7:26 PM

    All I can say is, I’m a feral man. Miaow.

  9. Dr.Mohan Rao permalink
    October 20, 2013 7:31 PM

    Does anyone know if her novel is as appalling? And how does NYT publish this? Surely there must be criteria, other than over-writing? Is it neo-Orientalism is in and we will publish anything that appeals to that in us?

    • Aditya Ramesh permalink
      October 20, 2013 10:30 PM

      Seriously. But if you begin to look closely at American papers, the TOI seems to shine in comparison.

      • Sudhir Gupta permalink
        October 21, 2013 1:31 PM

        This is nonsense. Indian papers are mediocre (other than The Hindu) these days and mostly unbearable.

      • October 21, 2013 5:15 PM

        Read the NYTimes first

        • sudhir gupta permalink
          October 22, 2013 2:12 PM

          Been reading it for long. You need to do it.

  10. lolakutta permalink
    October 20, 2013 7:46 PM

    nothing is worse than generalization ..good or bad … Indian men are men like everywhere else..we are not from jupiter..

    • s7u permalink
      October 25, 2013 3:00 AM

      we may not be from jupiter, but we are from india. And while it doesn’t mean things are way better elsewhere, we may well have an acute masculinity crisis. Whether it is there or not elsewhere is another question.

  11. October 20, 2013 7:46 PM

    It appears to me that both Ms Sankaran and Aman are right. The generalization that all Indian men are good guys is as silly as the generalization that all Indian men are evil, though Ms Sankaran has not made that generalization. However, the second is a politically correct one with those of a certain background: rich, well educated, upper caste, middle and upper class people with guilt for their good fortune in a country where such fortune is rare.
    It has become politically incorrect in such circles to say anything good about male Hindus of castes other than Dalit.
    There is no sense of historical perspective at all in the atmosphere of overall negativity towards such persons, which is the prevailing fashion.
    It strikes me as being fundamentally the same mindset as the one that led to caste and gender discrimination in the first place.

    • October 20, 2013 10:06 PM

      truth spoken! similarly its like saying u can be a fundamentalist atheist or a fundamentalist believer.

    • s7u permalink
      October 25, 2013 3:06 AM

      Stop complaining and answer questions like why are rapes reported in news almost always about middle class or above middle class women being raped by lower class men.

      What about the reverse, lower class women getting raped by upper class men?

      Is it too common to make news?

  12. October 20, 2013 8:07 PM

    I hope that Lavanya Sankaran will read this! Congrats Aman, for this excellent piece of writing.

  13. Sarah permalink
    October 20, 2013 8:36 PM

    Well I would like to stand up for the Indian male here. I have travelled to many countries but only in India do strangers (generally men) offer to help with heavy suitcases or bags in trains or planes. Most other countries (especially Europe) don’t bother even if you request them to help. Indian men instinctively get up from their seats if an old lady or a woman with an infant get into a crowded bus or metro. Again, I have not seen that anywhere else. And Indian men are great baby sitters. They don’t get irritated because an infant is fretting or throwing up in the plane or train. He actually offers to help by entertaining the kid. In other countries, if men who are strangers to the woman try to play with babies, the mothers would think they are child molesters!!!! So they never do and are very obviously uncomfortable around babies. In India, even a teenager is used to carrying a kid around or playing with it. Does that mean Indian men are perfect? No not in the least. They can also be loud, aggressive and downright obnoxious. But let’s also not tarnish them so much that we have to constantly view them with suspicion.

    • A. Anil permalink
      October 21, 2013 6:03 PM

      You’re making generalizations here. Helping a stranger is a nice thing that loads of people in Europe do. Maybe you just didn’t come across them in the “other countries” you went to. Also, “Indian men are great babysitters”? That’s yet another sweeping generalization. It’s applicable to some Indian men sure, but not all.

      Anyway, the only good point here is about suspicious mothers. But it can’t be helped when it’s quite possible for the stranger to be a paedophile (which is possible here in India as well you know, I mean where do you think most of the “rape by a relative” comes from?). That being said, it is a bit much when a kid can’t be out with a male relative without them being looked at with suspicion.

      • Dakshayani permalink
        October 22, 2013 3:31 AM

        May be you are one of those like Aman Sethi. But there are lots of men as told by Ms Sankaran.

        • A. Anil permalink
          October 22, 2013 2:00 PM

          What? Did I say something to make you think I’m a dude?
          In any case, the whole “In India, even a teenager is used to carrying a kid around or playing with it” is so stereotyping. Indian men isn’t a species,and they certainly don’t have sub-species like “good” and “bad”.
          Because they’re people. And people are never all good or all bad. Yes, the lady states that she isn’t saying they’re All perfect. But she literally just said that they’re All great babysitters. You don’t just make generalizations like that, even if a lot of Indian men are good with kids, you can’t just create a stereotype out of it. Never mind whether it’s a positive or negative one. You just don’t bunch up a group of people & give them a common trait to make life simpler & monochromatic.

  14. tiredofnarcissism permalink
    October 20, 2013 8:56 PM

    If you really read just that into it, then you are mistaken. She doesn’t shirk away from saying that India has this part of society who find it correct to commit atrocities upon women or blame the victim for ‘asking for it’. All she says is that to every side there has to be a counter argument. I would be extremely surprised if for every creep a girl meets, she doesn’t meet a decent male.
    The HIndu report says that out of all the perps, 9 out of 10 were known to the victim but for that point to be admissible in this take down, you also need to factor in all those girls who thankfully were not subjected to this plight. Those are the men that Lavanya talks about.

    • Rahul J Nair permalink
      October 22, 2013 9:48 AM

      Finally. Sense.

  15. neeru permalink
    October 20, 2013 11:13 PM

    The NYT article is strikingly similar to the equally absurd advertisement by ICICI Bank ‘Bande Achhe Hain’ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D1Et_KvsL9w

  16. Vignesh permalink
    October 20, 2013 11:35 PM

    The field of psychology is blatantly compromised in favor of more ‘profitable’ fields..There needs to be 1 in 100 people with a psychologist whereas the actual number would be 1 in 7000.

    The behavior of both men and women in most or certain social framework needs to be counselled and aligned.

    Psychotic behavior doesn’t arrive in one gender and stay there like some ‘cooties'(?)
    The men and women by large need some order of psychological help with all the pressures and such.

  17. October 21, 2013 12:26 AM

    I am too irritated by these puerile generalisations to comment in detail. As a Chartered Accountant I have seen senior finance managers talk down to me as I am FEMALE. Talk to my junior colleagues rather than me as I am of the wrong gender. It may not be rape but just as bad.

    And I have faced sexual harassment from these so called respectable men who were fathers, uncles of husbands of friends and family.

    • Manjeet Singh permalink
      October 21, 2013 3:00 AM

      But what’s wrong in writers article? Doesn’t your own father or brother or lover or men on this blog fit well in the categories writer mentions? That’s what she’s saying. Why is it so unfashionable or uncool to talk good things about Indian men (when you must have few good ones in your own life).

      FYI: I am not saying you haven’t experienced what you have mentioned and certainly lots and lots of men in India are among one of the worst men species ever known, but again not everyindianmen.

      • A. Anil permalink
        October 21, 2013 6:21 PM

        Because she isn’t just talking good things about some Indian men. She’s making generalizations. According to her, men with close-knit families are all wonderful creatures. It’s the lower class adrift poors that do all the bad things.

        But like Debi says, the common Indian man whom the writer praises sky high for “holding babies to help out the mother” on a plane may well be the one harassing female employees at work. You can’t just presume someone is completely good by taking them at face value (coz there’s no such thing as fully good or fully bad).

        Which is yet another reason people shouldn’t just make assumptions or generalizations about an entire set of people as if they were one block of robots who acted in the exact same manner. People are complicated. It’s like you said, “Indian men” aren’t the worst species on the planet. Because they aren’t a species!

        • Ashvin permalink
          October 21, 2013 7:15 PM

          I want to know the facts here. Let us for know disregard the “unreported rapes”. Because, unreported rapes are not investigated thoroughly and the sampling errors can be significant without giving the due diligence it requires.

          In the sample of reported crimes against women, what fraction is done by lower castes and what fraction is done by upper caste? Is it consistent with their population? This should speak for itself. I do not see the need for a debate at all.

          We do know of similar statistics in the US. Disproportionately blacks and hispanics are involved in arson, robbery, mugging and murder. This is a fact.

          • A. Anil permalink
            October 21, 2013 8:45 PM

            Do you honestly believe that rape is the only way to victimize women? The lasy was talking about her experience being sexually harassed. If nothing else, That should’ve given you some clue.
            And yes, “unreported” crimes, as you say, aren’t thoroughly investigated. But have you considered the fact that not considering them in the 1st place will definitely skews up your statistics (as opposed to might if you include them) thereby rendering the whole system unreliable?

  18. anjan muhury permalink
    October 21, 2013 12:50 AM

    It all begins with female infanticide, in North India. Young males in rural and surburban areas see on TV, access to females by males in other countries. And they blame the girls for not being that way. Rape is an animal instinct among young Indian males who encourage themselves to show off their physical attributes. Civilized behavior cannot happen unless these males are educated in interpersonal relationships. Mass counseling can be done.

    Female infanticide must stop. This disease has spread to the U.S. by Indian women and is accepted by the regime for abortion rights !

    • Sam permalink
      October 21, 2013 2:52 AM

      You’ve literally understood every aspect of this issue incorrectly.

    • A. Anil permalink
      October 21, 2013 6:24 PM

      Bcoz urban men don’t watch tv and civilized men don’t rape?

      You really need to get out more often.

  19. Pragati permalink
    October 21, 2013 2:23 AM

    We need to have an integrated approach towards violence. We cannot singularly point out to one kind of circumstance/situation/reason and naively generalize it as cause for violence against women. And that is exactly what Ms. Sankaran has done.

    Also, it appears not just that she has totally ignored the cases of known rapists, but that every male without a family is a potential rapist. And, for her rapes do not occur at all in the rural and tribal areas.

    I’m thoroughly disappointed with NY Times.

  20. October 21, 2013 2:35 AM

    Thank you for exposing Lavanya Sankaran’s piece for what it is: fluff. I thought it a poisonous cocktail of oversimplifications, overgeneralisations and classism.

  21. Pacifist Indian Male permalink
    October 21, 2013 4:15 AM

    What a deplorable response. Ms. Sanakaran’s original point (or at least my humble interpretation) was that most Indian middle class males are NOT rapists. On the contrary, a large number (may I even assert an overwhelming majority?) of middle class males in India are so far on the other end of the spectrum (i.e. committed, concerned, cautious …, rather than rapists).Her article is a defense of that male, whose good name she feels has been sullied by the male psychopaths that are undoubtedly on the loose in Indian society today. At no point is she saying that we need to stop fighting the culture that stops these men from getting away with their horrific deeds, nor is she denying that many such psychopaths are hidden in plain sight in society, practicing gender discrimination and other form of misogyny. Rather she is saying that we ought to pause for a moment and remember that there are many many “good guys” as well…and that there is no need for a generic hatred against every Indian male.

    • A. Anil permalink
      October 21, 2013 6:32 PM

      For the love of God! Noone’s hating on the Indian male. You can rest easy, your good name still shines brighter than the sun.
      I do Not understand why people get so defensive when they read about rape in India. So you wouldn’t do it? Good for you. Also, noone actually said you would. If they had, it’d be another example of writers making generalizations and classing a group of people as a single entity (like Ms. Sankaran has done).
      So to sum up. Noone thinks all Indian men are psychopaths. The psychopaths have not ruined your social standing. The rest of the world is not turning against you. Stop trying to defend yourself when there is absolutely noone attacking you. That goes for the writer as well as you. Feel better now?

      • Arun permalink
        October 22, 2013 4:50 AM

        This is all great, but the writer of this article goes further than to say that “good Indian males don’t need defending”.

        For example,
        “To return to Ms. Sankaran’s text in the NYT, women in India should stop fighting patriarchy, and instead consider its many blessings:”

        And
        “Obviously then, what India’s pesky feminists fail to understand, is the problem isn’t too much patriarchy, but too little:”

        Who’s doing the generalization with such statements?

        These statements were followed by quotes from Ms. Sankaran’s article that had nothing to do with patriarchy, and was instead concerned with the Indian males you think aren’t being attacked.

        Do you think Ms Sankaran made points that defended patrarchy — and if not, isn’t this article going over the top?

        “Stop trying to defend yourself when there is absolutely noone attacking you. ”

        Speak for yourself. The tone of this article was pretty attacking.

        • A. Anil permalink
          October 22, 2013 2:11 PM

          All in the eyes of the beholder I guess. But still, in what world is saying female success doesn’t happen without male support not a set-down for all of feminism? Or that thing about taking domesticity (you know, wives making lovely little homes & nothing else just like they were meant to) away from men “feral-izes” them. Really? You thought this was just about the men?

          This is probably why I thought the tone of this article was more mocking than attacking. Subtle difference though I suppose.

          Either way, it seems to me this article is mocking the idea of Ms Sankaran’s rampant stereotyping & not the “Indian male”. So again, what are you defending against?

          P.S. Had to add on a note about the generalization on pesky feminists & fighting patriarchy; you do understand sarcasm right? :)

          • Arun permalink
            October 22, 2013 10:23 PM

            I comprehend sarcasm quite well, and I don’t understand why you deduced I didn’t understand the sarcasm in that article. I was pointing it out to you as a view of the author that I think is a generalization in itself. Please re-read my comment from that context.

            What am I defending against – your broad comment that the original author is generalizing, while the current one isn’t. These kinds of social state articles often border on generalizing anyway if you read them from another perspective.

            As for saying that female success “doesn’t happen without male support”, she said, “But female success, in a place like India with complicated social structures and a tradition of the Old Uncle Network, doesn’t happen in isolation. A successful woman is very likely to have had a supportive male in her life: a father, a spouse, a friend, a mentor.” – which is a lot less harsh than the sweeping statement you make. I don’t think that statement is a setback for gender equality.

            • s7u permalink
              October 25, 2013 3:25 AM

              “I don’t think that statement is a setback for gender equality.”

              You win dude, you win. Any woman should be proud of you.

      • Ayush permalink
        October 28, 2013 7:19 AM

        Your entire point so far has been that Sankaran makes generalizations about the Indian male that you find impermissible but i think you neatly missed the point that making some observations about a group of people is not making a generalization. Someone should really make that clear to you. if the author of the article talks of men who are sympathetic towards women that is an observation of a large subset taken from a larger whole. A generalization on the other hand, is saying that Indian men display a certain character or quality and no other. Like saying all Indian men are chauvinists or all Indian men are awesome. Mark and please not the use of the phrase “all Indian men”. This is not what Ms Sankaran did at all. In fact all she simply asked us to do is to take cognizance of the fact that there are no set definitions of Indian men and that there are indeed a “few good Indian men”. That is all. Your counter to that was,” Those same men handling babies could be abusing women in their offices”. I find such logic ridiculous.
        Such logic can be applied to anyone and anything and make any inference redundant. Lincoln may have fought for the rights of blacks but you never know, he may have had black servants at home whom a treated horribly. Gandhi may have been the apostle of non-violence, but “actually”, in “real life”, he may have been a serial killer. Medha Patkar is one of India’s most courageous and principled activists but, to call her so will be nonsense according to you, because “you never know”, she might be hand in gloves with the corporate world and might be taking bribes from all quarters and waxing rich from her activism. using that kind of logic, no inference, no analyses, no observation can ever be made no history can ever be written. Please refrain from logic of this sort. It’s just jarring to read.
        Aman has a point about the class difference in the inference of Sankaran but that there is a strong correlation between gang rapists and unemployed, uneducated youth can also not be denied. It should not be politically incorrect to say that “upper caste” affluent guys can be good. They can. The only pity is that many of us sympathetic towards the cause of the lower castes cannot tolerate positive inferences on upper castes. The day we stop making any caste based inferences will be a happy day indeed.

  22. Rama permalink
    October 21, 2013 4:47 AM

    Your hyperlink to Nivedita Menon’s posts to reference India’s pesky feminists reminded me of Kafila’s response to the Harvard Women’s Taskforce. We just seem to annoy women all over the world!

  23. Dee permalink
    October 21, 2013 8:59 AM

    Common Indian Male = *CIM, not CAM.

  24. October 21, 2013 10:46 AM

    Funny thing about this article: haven’t yet read anyone in India who has suggested that all Indian men are evil / being defamed, even through all the media attention of the past year. So Lavanya Sankaran appears to be responding to an imagined slight.

    That’s actually pretty true to IndiaInk form: picking up an issue from conversations between Indians trying to sound interested in India at a cocktail party abroad, pretend to analyse it with appealingly pretty prose but absurd generalisation, and get away with the lack of nuance because no one who knows anything about India is actually bothering to read it.

    I’ve always shuddered to contemplate what these pieces do for anyone’s image of India. Not doing us any favours, certainly.

  25. theotherside permalink
    October 21, 2013 1:25 PM

    This so called rebuttal is extremely unfortunate. Generalization of any kind is bad. All that Lavanya was trying to bring out was the other side, which Aman completely misses. Nobody can undermine the enormity of the ‘Indian male’ problem we are dealing with. I, as a 20 something Indian guy, see it as much as my fight as any other Indian woman who has to put up with these unfortunate circumstances. No, I haven’t attended any candle light vigils but I do my bit to ensure that the women I come across on a daily basis never have to put up with incessant staring, lewd comments or feeling unsafe in any way whatsoever, and I can assure you that there is no shortage of men who feel the same and do the same. As much as I hate the fact that this is not a problem we can solve overnight, that’s just how it is. So I fail to understand why some people have a problem with that 1 article that talks about the ‘minority’ good men when there would be at least 20 that would have been published on a similar scale that have lambasted the Indian male within the past year. Even if we talk proportions, Lavanya’s article should be acceptable even with the assumption that the ‘good’ men make up about 2% of all Indian men!
    I know I fit a few stereotypes that Lavanya mentioned and I can say with absolute certainty that most Indian women would also have some men in their lives who do. I’ve recently started traveling quite a bit through South East Asia and no matter where I meet people on the road, the assumption is that every India guy has to fit the ‘pervert’ definition that has been pretty well established thanks to all the negative media coverage we have had recently. Of course, people come around when they get to know the person behind the troubled nationality but it gets me wondering, what have I done to deserve these stereotypes? Wouldn’t it be better for everyone to understand the enormity of the problem but at the same time judge me for who I really am? And that’s exactly what her article aimed to do. I’ll continue doing what I do everyday and so would the others irrespective of what a few people choose to write online but it won’t hurt to see articles such as Lavanya’s appear once a year amidst all the negative ones (which obviously need to there).

    • A. Anil permalink
      October 21, 2013 6:52 PM

      You’d like to be judged for who you are? Great.
      But that’s not what the article’s doing. You noticed that she talks specifically about stereotypes. Well, she’s judging you as “good” for fitting within them.
      But wouldn’t you agree that there are plenty of people who’d also fit within them but not within the “good” category?
      You said you’ve met people who just assumed you were a pervert, it may not have been your nationality you know that made them think so. Most of the time, it’s an unfortunate experience with someone who probably fit within the same stereotypes as you. The ones Ms. Sankaran would have everyone believe are signs of a “good” Indian male.

  26. Vij permalink
    October 21, 2013 2:37 PM

    I have seen a few blog posts like this one, “taking down” Ms. Sankaran’s original post on the NY Times. I must confess that I am surprised at the vitriol that is being directed at Ms. Sankaran.

    The fact that a large number of men in India are decent may be obvious to most Indians, but let me assure you that if you are living in the US and get your information reading US newspapers, this point is not. Almost the *only* articles I read about India in the non-business sections of foreign newspapers in the past few months are about poverty and rape. Anyone getting their information from these newspapers can be forgiven for proactively spaying mace and screaming blue murder as soon as an Indian man enters the elevator in which they are alone.

    Ms. Sankaran’s article, according to me, moves the slider a little bit closer to reality. It does not say that India is safe for women, it does not claim to be scientifically researched and statistically accurate, it does not seek to underplay the difficulties women in India face on a daily basis. It just portrays the author’s experiences with Indian men and her opinion that while India is hugely unsafe for women, not all Indian men are barbaric rapists.

    Takedowns like this one almost seem to imply that Ms. Sankaran is not entitled to her opinion, or that she is not entitled to air them on NY Times. I, for one, disagree, if only because it seems to be an opinion shared by many Indian women in my own family (yes, they have had unpleasant experiences, but they also have had heartwarming ones). Given that the past 99 articles I have read on NY Times about India talk about the rapists of India, allowing 1 article about the decent men of India to sneak in is not unfair, no?

    • Carvaka permalink
      October 21, 2013 5:40 PM

      “it does not seek to underplay the difficulties women in India face on a daily basis”

      It does just that.

      (1) It says that if a woman is successful then it must be because of a supportive male in her life (“A successful woman is very likely to have had a supportive male in her life”). This underplays not only women’s difficulties but their achievements in face of such difficulty too.

      (2) It also says that if a man is a rapist then it is because he wasn’t given a family (“Take that away from him..”). This sounds a lot like ‘men deserve sex and wives’. Except that they don’t. It is this kind of entitlement that leads to victim blaming.

      These statements give men credit for women’s achievements but don’t hold them accountable for male crimes against women. That sounds very much like patriarchy. Which is what this whole article ignores.

      It’s not just the rapists that are the problem, it’s the culture of patriarchy and our docile acceptance of it’s ‘rules’. The loving dad who wants his daughter at home at 6 pm but not his son, the caring brother who doesn’t ‘allow’ his sister to date, the loving husband who thinks his wife should work but must also cook for the household. These are not rapists, and women are as much guilty of following and reinforcing these rules as men, but this is the culture that makes it possible for the ‘feral’ ones to exist. And the ‘good’ guys are part of this culture or atleast need to introspect their conditioning from this culture.

      • Vij permalink
        October 21, 2013 7:56 PM

        My interpretation of the original article is very different from yours.

        > “It says that if a woman is successful then it must be because of a supportive male in her life (“A successful woman is very likely to have had a supportive male in her life”). This underplays not only women’s difficulties but their achievements in face of such difficulty too.”

        I believe that if a man is successful, it is very possible that there is a supportive woman in his life – success requires hard work and sacrifices, and it is more than likely that a successful person has a supportive spouse/parent/sibling. If one is merely stating a fact that applies equally to men or to women, why is it underplaying the difficulty that women have in being successful? For example, I never took the saying “Behind every successful man is a woman” to be demeaning to men.

        > “It also says that if a man is a rapist then it is because he wasn’t given a family. This sounds a lot like ‘men deserve sex and wives’'”
        No, this is just your interpretation. To me, this sounds like Ms. Sankaran is just trying to find a cause for rapists’ behavior. I’m not arguing that this explanation is correct, but there surely is some explanation and this does seem like a plausible one. If one goes into the article determined that one is not going to like what they read there, every statement can easily be interpreted to support any preconceived notion.

        > “It’s not just the rapists that are the problem, it’s the culture of patriarchy and our docile acceptance of it’s ‘rules’. The loving dad who wants his daughter at home at 6 pm but not his son”
        Again, I’m having difficulty understanding your argument. You seem to be confusing practicality with patriarchy. Many places in India are undoubtedly dangerous for single women to be out alone after dark, and not necessarily to men. Your wishing this wasn’t the reality doesn’t make it so. I will advise my two teenage daughters not to wander around alone after dark because I don’t want them to get raped, not because I want to subjugate them.

        Please do read Emily Yoffe’s recent response to people who criticized her for suggesting that binge drinking by college women is more likely to get them raped: http://www.slate.com/blogs/xx_factor/2013/10/18/rape_culture_and_binge_drinking_emily_yoffe_responds_to_her_critics.html

        • A. Anil permalink
          October 21, 2013 9:08 PM

          Real sorry to have to say this but that last statement reeks of patriarchal bullshit.
          You know why Emily Yoffe & people like her are criticized? For furthering the hypocrisy that comes with statements like “Don’t drink to not be raped” and “Don’t go out in the dark”. Yes, you want to keep your girls safe & to you, that means coming home early.
          But you have to understand that statements like these are also used as Victim Blaming at its basest. The 1st thing a victim is asked is if she was out alone? After dark? Was she drinking? It’s always “What did YOU do to bring this upon yourself?”
          And maybe staying at home after dark does keep you safe, to some extent. But it’s not an absolute guarantee. And constantly writing and sharing articles like those means you’re perpetuating that culture of victim blaming. Coz every woman knows the threat of assault is a real one.
          We try to avoid it yes, but there’re lots of factors beyond our control. All you achieve by saying it over & over is to reinforce in a girl’s mind that what just happened was her fault. That she should’ve done something, Anything to prevent it.
          God forbid something bad happens to someone you love, what would you want the 1st thing they hear after to be? “It’s alright, you’re safe now” or “You should’ve known better!”

          • Vij permalink
            October 21, 2013 11:08 PM

            Let me make sure I understand what you are suggesting: I should let my daughters wander around alone in a dangerous city at night and I shouldn’t warn them about the dangers of binge drinking. By doing this, my daughters will have a much higher chance of getting raped or of being subject to violent crimes, but I will have the consolation of knowing that by my inaction the probability of someone blaming my daughter (the victim) has been reduced? And, I am the bullshitter here?

            Yes, rape is always the fault of the rapist. But that doesn’t mean that one shouldn’t take reasonable precautions to avoid getting raped. It is like saying that I will allow my daughter to go skydiving every day of the year because parachutes are supposed to be 100% safe. If the parachute doesn’t open some day, it is not my daughter’s fault. By not allowing my daughter to overindulge in a risky sport, I’m being paternalistic because this allows people to place the blame on the victim and not on the parachute manufacturer, where it rightly belongs. This logic is indeed correct, but if you have a child, I would like to see you risk his/her life in this manner to prove this point. You can then proceed to call me paternalistic.

        • Carvaka permalink
          October 21, 2013 9:33 PM

          “To me, this sounds like Ms. Sankaran is just trying to find a cause for rapists’ behavior.”:

          Her conjecture is no different than the khap panchayat saying chowmein causes rape. Both are baseless and remove accountability from rapists.

          Most rapists are married, if you account for marital/non-stranger rape. Sexual violence has been around forever, even with arranged marriage almost guaranteeing a partner. The issue is of sexual entitlement, unequal power dynamics and tacit social approval of sexual violence.

          “You seem to be confusing practicality with patriarchy.”:

          I think you are confusing patriarchal brainwashing with reality. Most rapes don’t happen outside after dark. Most rapes, as per studies, happen in the home, by a known person. So ‘don’t go outside after dark’ does not protect women, it imprisons them. The khap panchayat, again, used the same ‘logic’ to suggest that women be married off at 16.

          “Please do read Emily Yoffe’s recent response”

          Until Emily Yoffe asks men not to binge drink if it turns them into rapists, her advice is misguided. Most women in India don’t drink and we have plenty of rapes. You cannot stop rape by locking up victims because they are not the ones committing the crime http://www.vice.com/en_uk/read/the-ghost-rapes-of-bolivia-000300-v20n8.

          Non-rapists, men and women, can still be patriarchal and that creates a society where these ‘feral rapists’ exist with impunity. Non-rapist does not mean egalitarian. To me, silencing long-overdue discussion of social norms by saying ‘some men are good!’ seems defensive and unhelpful.

          • Vij permalink
            October 21, 2013 11:46 PM

            > Most rapes, as per studies, happen in the home, by a known person. So ‘don’t go outside after dark’ does not protect women, it imprisons them.

            I’m not sure if you are purposely feigning ignorance of basic probability or if you are being facetious. A nationwide statistic (like 90% of rapes happen inside the home) tells one nothing about the rape statistics outside of your particular home in your particular locality on a particular day (it could be that in your small locality or town, 75% of the rapes happened outside of the home). Like A. Anil before you, you too seem to be somehow assuming that taking reasonable precautions is the same as transferring blame from the rapist to the victim. We can disagree about what reasonable precautions are, but you seem to be advocating that no innocent ever needs to take any precautions because ideally the perp is always to blame.

            Let us say you were sitting at home watching TV and a tiger burst in and ate you. Whose fault is it? It is clearly the tiger’s. Let us say you were walking in a jungle and the tiger ate you. Whose fault is it now? Still the tiger’s, I say. What if you went and wandered around in the tiger enclosure in the zoo? What if you starved the tiger for a week and smeared yourself with bacon paste before dancing naked in front of him inside his cage? Is it still the tiger’s fault for eating you?

            This is an extreme example, but what I am trying to say is that it is always the rapists fault. But after a certain point, it is also the victims fault if the victim happened to be breathtakingly stupid. It doesn’t lessen the rapists guilt/fault – they should be punished to the full extent of the law and there should be no mitigating circumstances. But there is an extra, separate guilt/fault on the part of the victim if they knowingly went dancing in the tigers cage just because some fool blogger told them that it is ok to do so, since victims should ideally not be blamed under any circumstance. I think the two separate guilts/faults are being conflated in these responses – one is independent of the other.

            • Kay permalink
              March 20, 2014 1:20 PM

              I would just like to point out that you are conflating a wild animal with a supposed human being. Either “potential rapists” should be locked in cages like tigers, or they should have the responsibility of a person with agency – thereby making it ALWAYS their fault and ONLY their fault.
              The point of these “fool bloggers” is not that women should put themselves in harm’s way. It is that their chosen activities should not put them in harm’s way any more than a man, and it is deplorable that 50% of society lives in daily fear. If the bloggers thought it was okay, it wouldn’t be an issue and no one would be writing about it to begin with. Yes, women have to take extra precautions to be safer. That’s exactly the problem.

            • Vij permalink
              March 23, 2014 5:45 PM

              I’m not sure what we are arguing about. You are saying that women *shouldn’t* have to take these extra precautions – I agree with you, they shouldn’t have to. But the point I was trying to make is that, unfortunately in the real world, they do – the issue I have is that the “fool bloggers” seem to be suggesting that they don’t, and this is dangerous to women.

        • A. Anil permalink
          October 22, 2013 1:49 PM

          Did you even bother to read my reply? Where did I specifically suggest that you should do anything to your daughters. They’re yours, it’s none of my business how you raise them.

          My entire post was against articles like Ms Sankaran’s & Ms Yoffe’s that not only re-direct attention from the culprits but mindlessly vilify the victim-blaming mode that seems like the default for patriarchy to go to. I suggest you calm down, go back & actually read what I wrote instead of going on auto-defensive.

          Altho I must say, I really enjoyed your analogy on how getting home after 6pm is like starving a tiger & dancing naked in its cage. So much sense in that one line. But we’ll discuss that at length later.

          I mainly just wanted to point out that I wasn’t giving you tips on raising children. That would be presumptuous & literally the worst thing you can do to a parent is criticize their child-rearing methods.

          All I said was that glorifying articles that embody the worst aspects of misogyny has a detrimental effect on All of Society. And yea, I suppose your kids are part of society but once again, how you deal with them personally is not the problem. The problem is that people like Yoffe are writing & people like you are sharing their writings. That was my beef with you, not what your kids should or shouldn’t do. Clear things up now?

    • October 21, 2013 5:42 PM

      Thank you so much for sharing this perspective.

  27. Prasanna permalink
    October 21, 2013 4:21 PM

    She has already written on caste and has concluded:
    “on one hand, caste is losing its virility as India opens up opportunities and mind-sets, while on the other, the forces of democratic politics ensure that it will thrive and never be forgotten as a crucial social index.”

    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/16/opinion/sunday/caste-is-not-past.html?_r=1&

  28. Renny Thomas permalink
    October 21, 2013 4:37 PM

    funny article :P here she says, ” Indian men can also be among the kindest in the world”

  29. October 21, 2013 5:51 PM

    This article is taking an extreme stand against all the Indian men. I agree that we can not generalize Indian men into one category. But it seems like Aman Sethi is doing the same thing. He seems to believe that there are no good men in the poor and rural families of India. And one can easily conclude from this piece that he seems to be making such generalization about all poor and rural families of India. We all do agree that behavior towards women in our society has to be improved, but that does not mean there are no males in India who know how to behave, especially with women. And this difference has nothing to do with their ability to fly in a plane and live in a city, or travel in a local bus, or on a cycle and live in a village.

    • A. Anil permalink
      October 21, 2013 6:59 PM

      Uh, no he didn’t. The article he’s commenting upon talks about “feral” men from “distant villages”. So, it’s the original writer who seems to hold that belief.
      Except she tries to redeem herself later by saying it’s a lack of family values that causes all the problems. Tries being the operative word.

  30. October 21, 2013 6:40 PM

    I agree with both Ms. Sankaran’s article as well as this one. Here it says 9 out of 10 rapes are committed by family members. It does NOT say – 9 out of 10 families face rapes inside families! My interpretation is Ms. Sankaran is just stating that these 9 families also exist in India where daughters/sons are not raped by family members, whereas the above article just talks about the remaining one. Further, when it comes to rape inside families, I guess it happens mostly because families give some bad men (and in some cases women) very good opportunities to execute these heinous crimes. So I would not be very surprised if rapes within families far outnumber the rapes outside in any country!

    On a personal note, on average my female friends are just as qualified as my male ones – doing well paid respectable jobs. I have come across many many girls from different parts of India whose parents are spending lots of money for their education inside India, as well as sending their daughters abroad for education. And I guess parents spending so much money on daughter’s education is anything but rare in many big cities and towns in India (at least it is extremely common where I grew up). In many of these cases the fathers and mothers actually love their daughters and want them to succeed. So if we talk about the disgusting men who rape their daughters, we should also acknowledge the presence of such families where the men want their daughters to succeed, who in reality might far outnumber the rapist fathers of India! This does say not rapist fathers don’t exist- they exist, but it is not the norm.
    Patriarchy is the dark side of Indian society, but whether we like it not, it exists. As long as it exists, the father is the main earning member of a family, and so its not easy for a girl to build her career unless her father supports her, at least financially. To me it seems Ms. Sankaran is only acknowledging this fact. (However, the good thing is, the success of these girls/women might ultimately diminish and put an end to this patriarchal mentality!)

    Ms. Sankaran’s article is based on a very specialized class of educated, not poor Indian society where the males have grown up with females who are just as competent as them. I respect my female friends / colleagues not because they are ‘mothers sisters goddesses’, but simply because they are human beings like me and on an average as good or as bad as me in all spheres of life. It is true that in Ms. Sankaran’s language, men from ‘distant villages’ far outnumber the men who were fortunate enough to grow up in such societies. But Ms. Sankaran’s article is published in NY times – targeted mainly for people (Indians or non-Indians) living in USA I guess; and very few, if any, of the Indians living in New York are from these ‘distant villages’.

    • A. Anil permalink
      October 21, 2013 7:19 PM

      “Patriarchy is the dark side of Indian society, but whether we like it not, it exists. As long as it exists, the father is the main earning member of a family, and so its not easy for a girl to build her career unless her father supports her, at least financially.”

      But dads also support their sons to build their career. They pay for education, help out on deposits, things like that. So I sincerely doubt that this was the kind of “help” Ms. Sankaran was talking about.

      Also, by saying “female success, in a place like India with complicated social structures and a tradition of the Old Uncle Network, doesn’t happen in isolation” she isn’t just acknowledging patriarchy, she’s glorifying it. Not to mention putting down successful women.

      • Ayush permalink
        October 28, 2013 7:48 AM

        Again, no, she is pointing to the significant number of men in India who are not patriarchal in their mindset. By no means is she glorifying patriarchy. She is just saying that many men are entirely comfortable with working with women. You think she is putting down successful women, I think you are not giving sympathetic men their due. In this fight against patriarchy, their contribution is ignored by most feminists.

  31. October 21, 2013 7:41 PM

    Ouchie!

  32. Renny Thomas permalink
    October 21, 2013 10:29 PM

    here is an interesting reply by Deepika Sarma :) http://theladiesfinger.com/a-second-date-with-lavanya-sankarans-common-indian-male/

  33. SVD permalink
    October 21, 2013 10:50 PM

    Thank goodness, I am not the only one nauseating at this write-up; felt just too hypocritical. To cite just eg among the many-the corporate sector consists of educated people coming from families and other values the writer talks of. Yes, there may be no gang rape of the kind that we read of in the daily newspapers, but don’t tell me they all have high moral character-(ask any woman who works in corporate)….just like everyone who is socially disconnected/disengaged doesn’t become a rapist.

  34. Chop permalink
    October 21, 2013 10:52 PM

    Aman Sethi, I’m glad that you, some of the delighted commenters on this post and your respective families have owned up to being misogynists, bullies, gropers and rapists. Could you carry a placard while on the roads – the rest of us need to identify you.

  35. Mukti permalink
    October 21, 2013 11:23 PM

    While I like Aman Sethi’s criticism – Ms. Sankaran should not have engaged in fact-free, anecdote-based “journalism” – I think he misses a more oblique point that I saw in her article: In India, for better and for worse, among the middle class and even the upwardly mobile, there is little or no shame in admitting to being a “family man,” among males. This is possibly different from other cultures. Naina Lal Kidwai said as much in an interview for a NYT article on successful female bankers in India: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/28/world/asia/28iht-windia.html?pagewanted=all
    Ms. Sankaran said something about this, referring to the “Mummy” effect, but she could have explored that further and deeper to really get some cultural and anthropological insight.

  36. madhmama permalink
    October 22, 2013 1:02 AM

    Excellent follow-up article. When I first read the NYTimes article it reeked of “all this rape news is damaging our reputation”. I also noticed the middle-class stereotype that all village men in the cities are rapists, when we all know there are rapists of any education level, caste, and class.

  37. October 22, 2013 7:13 AM

    Aman Sethi has lifted a bit of the embarrassment I began to feel for being an Indian (even if part-alien) male (who could tell the difference on the streets?) after reading Shankaran’s pep-article that is probably meant to ease Western reception toward the rise of the likes of Modi and Tharoor (on both sides of the plank – and remember there is only one plank for the federal ferals). Indian men such as they are are not likely to take a leaf from Shankaran’s sermon to reform or reprofile themselves. “Who wants to be a sissy?”; and yet much work remains to be done.

    Purushottama

  38. Amarendra kumar permalink
    October 22, 2013 10:49 AM

    Individuals show variation in their social behavior. Environmental factors coupled with their genotype brings forth different attributes. Two siblings of the same parents may behave contrastingly- be it inside the home or on the roads or at the work places. Though stereotyping them based on their domicile is reasonably justified, owing to the larger determinant- Environmental Factors. Moral compulsions keep indian men out of many evils and this to everybody’s knowledge where and how this morality is cultivated.

  39. October 22, 2013 3:28 PM

    Here is a satirical response to “The Good Men of India” by Lavanya Sankaran:
    The Good Men of America http://theaerogram.com/good-men-america/

  40. PBS permalink
    October 22, 2013 4:15 PM

    In many countries, they have found that there is a fair incidence of rape and child abuse committed by persons known to the “victim.” It isn’t typical to India. Also, the writer of the NYT piece is suggesting that environmental and economic aspects are contributory factors to the incidences of rape. I do not agree that she is claiming that middle class men DO NOT rape and are good men. I find the self – righteousness of the educated, selectively liberal and connected more sweeping and generalised.

  41. October 22, 2013 5:32 PM

    I think Lavanya’s intentions while writing that article were generally good. She seemed to me to say “look, while it’s vogue now to generalize all Indian men as horny-always-looking-to-rape men, that generalization is just that: a generalization.” She’s like, look, there are these other men who nobody ever cares to talk about, and these men are caring and intelligent and good fathers and brothers and husbands and even good strangers and let’s acknowledge their existence also can we? Sure, her choice of words in the sentence you quote, viz. “very likely” is poor at best, and she does use patriarchal overtones in some of her other sentences, but to say she’s being sexist or patriarchal is a bit of a stretch. Like if I were to say my mother, grandmother, and aunts played a major role in my upbringing, and someone, man or woman, were to berate me for being sexist and matriarchal, which is as absurd a claim as it sounds.

  42. Prerna permalink
    October 23, 2013 1:46 PM

    Wow, this post and the many comments below exemplify the Indian man I am used to, who still! Feels threatened if a woman driver overtakes him and will pursue her to the end of the earth, who has perfected a particularly repulsive grope on buses and trains, who spits, pees and worse with impunity everywhere, and who just can’t deal with a NYT piece written by an Indian woman.

    • Esperante permalink
      October 24, 2013 1:05 AM

      Oh wow, where did you read the ‘we must point and laugh at this article because an Indian woman wrote it’ in the post? The attack is on the article and it certainly doesn’t read as ad hominem?!

  43. October 23, 2013 2:32 PM

    I felt like I was getting diabetic while reading Sankaran’s article — it was so syrupy! Thanks, Aman Sethi, for your fitting reply.

  44. Coupleofthings permalink
    October 24, 2013 1:41 AM

    A couple of things. A) Categories of class (low, middle, upper, lower, higher, upper middle, lower middle, upper low, higher up, what have you) are not subsumed under the categories, “rural” and “urban”. Rural and urban are contexts within which classes can come up. Although it’s difficult to isolate these phenomena because of the interaction with caste and maybe even religion B) ‘S cute how A. Anil is diligently replying to the criticisms.

  45. Random permalink
    October 24, 2013 10:20 PM

    I thought the article made for a nice read. It was refreshing to read something positive, for once, about the infamously sleazy Indian men. I really don’t think the piece warrants this much dissection or outrage.

  46. jmlauer2 permalink
    October 29, 2013 9:13 PM

    Reblogged this on goodnight nomad. and commented:
    Great article everyone should take a look at!

  47. October 30, 2013 7:56 PM

    As much as I like the counter view….I do think that although Ms. Sankaran has oversimplified things in her article, she does have a few points given that the ‘anti-male sentiment’ is on the rise for the most trivial of reasons and sort of become an excuse for everything that is ‘wrong’ in our society.

Trackbacks

  1. The Decent Indian Male | Everything's Official About This
  2. Dear NYT, thanks but no thanks for discovering The Good Men of India | Firstpost
  3. Indian men; Why we love talking about you | menkris

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