"Exploit a country long enough & watch as the people make slaves, barbarians of themselves & eachother" #
Women are 'Suppressed'. Men are 'Repressed'. And many matriarchs (mother-in-laws especially) 'Oppress'! This is India, definitely Not ALL of it, but much too much of it. I can say this, categorically, being a native of the land, who has spoken, seen & heard, fresh & first-hand, from the curry-bowl.
The issue of sexual violence/dominance/penury (even prudishness) in India is vast, complex & deeply ingrained in the national psyche – a psyche, nonetheless, that NEEDS to be viewed against the backdrop of 1000 years or more of external interference, forceful invasions, brutal foreign control & despotic administrations, Persian/Central-Asian usurpation, Mongolian marauding, colonial subjugation, to name but a few, the last of which stratified (even further) the existing & most abhorrent class & caste-system. All this turbulent activity of 'ransoms, rape & pillage', divisions of power, domination, humiliation… to varying degrees, helped shape, compromise, some may even say, damage India's collective conscience.
The fabric of a society, its sense of self, identity, liberation from subservience/conformity, its unifying pride, gender roles, sexual politics &, inadvertently, the sexual impulse itself are all deeply rooted (no Australian pun intended!) in the notion of FREEDOM. Where freedom & justice are perverted over several generations the personal & social ramifications have far, far reaching consequences, & nearly always found to be deeply disturbing & devastating for generations to come. (One must remember too, India only attained Independence 65 years ago, after centuries of foreign rule, followed by a sustained period of hectic, ungoverned lawlessness.)
“For some days, people thought that India was shaking. But there are always tremors when a great tree falls.”
– Rajiv Gandhi
I have pondered long & deep, ached even, over this land that I love with its litany of striking contradictions & harsh cruelties that present so clearly to even the casual observer - too many to list, too shameful to utter - & like others, I remain ever skimming the surface. I never, however, divert my gaze, & feel it is incumbent upon us to try & understand 'WHY' people do the things they do & how they came to be (no matter how harrowing the detail)…with sufficient context & an adequate accounting of the struggles fought, valleys climbed & deepest oceans crossed. In asking the questions, I’m not in any way absolving the crime, but simply searching for a humane way in which to face the ‘monster’, the evil, the abominable soul of man…call it what you will.
While history can assist in explaining some things, other contributing factors give rise to present-day (real & perceived) problems in India: globalisation & the ‘sordid’ Internet; a meteorically rising middle class; a shift from relative religious tolerance to deeply nationalistic overtones of intolerance (with subsequent demonising & loss of opportunities for minorities); the assertion of liberated, free-thinking, modern Indian women (agents of their own sexy desires & the most confronting & direct break with tradition); a nefarious veil of INTOLERANCE, spilling out into all areas & aspects of life; exploitation of power & position at the highest level; a largely corrupt police force; & a struggling, illiterate, rural population of 'the poorest of the poor'. This great divide, the growing resentments & simmering discontents they engender, could NOT be any greater at anytime, anywhere in the world (except, perhaps, America, which, I must say, India tries its darnedest to ‘LOOK’ like) & sadly, finds its greatest, most pitiful expression, in vile acts towards the vulnerable.
The balance required for an ancient land, with its multitude of complex beliefs & traditions, growing golden-wealth alongside persistent, pernicious poverty, sexual conflicts, confusion & frustrations, heavy political burdens, colonial legacies - emasculated men, highly susceptible women - & somewhat misguided aspirations, is without doubt…Herculean & all, significantly, symptomatic of a loss & reclaiming of CONTROL, however distorted.
That Indians (and India) were missionised, marginalised, demoralised, proselytised, polarised & essentially 'burglarised' for centuries has served to arrest & undermine her ‘development’ – socially, economically, psychologically, but interestingly enough, not spiritually. For what else does a nation do, who has herself been continuously raped & plundered, but worship & idolise benevolent gods in the hope of a better, more equitable life.
Of the horrors of today – where the oppressed have now become the oppressor, where freedom has become a ‘free for all’ without consequence, where women are in some ways even more commoditised (in the case of in-laws with growing material cupidity), where children are violated as a consequence of taboo & warped ideas surrounding sex – we condemn & denounce loudly, wildly & without hesitation. We support & commend where liberation & justice are sought &, if connected in any way to this soil, we wait with patience, hope & understanding for the ‘Mother’ to find her steady feet, reach her 'majority' (sexual maturity), defend her 'minorities' (the struggling disenfranchised), break the cycle of domination, censure & brutality & walk forward, unashamedly, with the rest of the world.
"We end today a period of ill fortune, and India discovers herself again. The achievement we celebrate is but a step, an opening of opportunity, to the greater triumphs and achievements that await us. Are we brave enough and wise enough to grasp this opportunity and accept the challenge of the future?" - Independence Day, Jawaharlal Nehru
A quote as relevant today, as it was 65 years ago.
1) While gender inequality in India existed before Imperialism, so too did it exist in much of the world up to relatively recent times. Some might say the fight still continues in even the most progressive cultures. But the conditions in India, discussed in this essay, further exacerbated & lengthened that struggle for many Indian women in a nation that is desperately trying to catch up.
2) While an extensive rail network & other modern infrastructures were brought about under occupation (seen as positives for India & justifications by the west), the lungs & resources of the nation were utterly destroyed & largely plundered for the purpose of FIRST industrializing the western world.
One need only see the wealth of the west versus the poor & filth of the east to figure this out. So in passing, next time you pull up your 'cotton' boxers or sprinkle 'pepper' over your eggs benedict, give a little ‘holla’ for the homeland that laboured to provide it!
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#All Writing by Rani.Cee
#Photos by Rani.Cee: Student Painting 'Gandhi & his people' - Sabarmati Ashram, Gujarat.
#Stone relief, 'Slave Girl' - Kalna Temples, West Bengal.
#'Mughal Wall-Mural' - Shantiniketan, Artist Village, West Bengal.
++Stock-Photos of Kolkata, 1942. Via Postcards from the Indian Museum (Personal Copies)
***Photo by Raghu Rai from, 'India - A Retrospective' Asahi Shimbun (Personal Copy)
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