‘Servants Can’t Rape’
January 7, 2013 3 Comments
Or so the sentiment appears to me.
My FB buddy Siddharthya posted this tweet from Madhu Purnima Kishwar, who is the director of the Indic Studies Project, housed in the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi. In other words, she’s an academic, and a self-proclaimed feminist. This is the tweet:
I feel safer among men of conservative values and villages who establish “didi” “mausi” relationship than among Leftists, westernized males and others who preach equality.
Of course, Kishwar may have been quoted out of context, and indeed this may not have been meant as a denigration of ‘Leftism’, westernisation, or gender equity or urban, ‘modern’ men at all. Neither was it meant as public entertainment, which is sadly what it is (for a given section of the public). We are probably reading it wrong.
But it is an interesting statement nonetheless. Because, y’see, if we agree for the sake of shutting dissenters down that Kishwar did indeed mean what she appears to mean in this tweet, then she is far more in need of a re-acquaintance with ‘leftism’ and ideas of equity than victims of gendered violence are in need of her wisdom. The reason she feels ‘safer’ amongst village-folk who establish didi/mausi [sister/aunt] relationships with her, after all, is because she is an urban upper-middle class ‘connected’ academic, possessed of far greater social capital than them. She bears all the markers of prestige that upwardly-mobile Indians (or Indians who wish they were upwardly mobile) wish for themselves and their children: a degree-enabled education, fluency in English, possession of a ‘government job’ [read: security, pension, allowances, perks, possible path to power], a city address in the nation’s capital. Consequently, provided she doesn’t ruffle feathers too much, she’s less of a generic woman for these men (and women) she mentions, and more of a figure of consolidated power, and a conduit to all those elements of prestige. Why should they then treat her with violence and scare her off?
Of course, had there been no rural-urban divide between them, no socioeconomic gradient, I doubt she’d have felt this cuddled and secure. She would then have been at par with them, and her ‘modernity’ would then no longer have been a distant aspiration for her rural neighbours, but a possible index of her outsider status.
It is this same illusion of safety, born of the belief in the ‘simplicity’ and ‘loyalty’ of the little people that leads people-like-us, for example, to have resident domestic help that they bother to find out very little about. After all, poor ‘village people’ may be conservative and loud and ‘unsophisticated’, but they’re also sweet and meek and obedient — and hardworking, and not ambitious and lippy and money-grubbing like these urban bustee chaps. When we go to the villages, they just come running out to greet us, ask after our families, do so much of our work for us! When we leave, we give them hundred rupees each, and they’re SO happy with it! Really, to experience pure humanity, you must go to our villages!
Of course, this imagined innocence and confidence doesn’t stop the occasional domestic help from slitting throats, and making off with the cash and kind she or he is surrounded by and made to serve each day, but never allowed to access. A point, I think, that supporters of ‘ye olde Indian culture was cosier than global modernity’ would do well to consider.