‘Servants Can’t Rape’

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,Β  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.



  1. Well written, and comprehensive; there are so many echoes in the struggle of African Americans here, prolonged by Southern indulgence in Walter Scott “manor” fantasies while brutalizing and marginalizing an entire race with stereotypes, of many sorts, and it continues. I am so proud that in his memoirs the distinguished Black leader Booker T. Washington writes of his fears of being snubbed in Washington DC when he came for his appointment, and it is with clear satisfaction and delight that he recounts his reception at the grandest hotel in town where he was given every amount of personal service and respect a man of his stature deserved. We were all zamindars once, I imagine, and although I derive income from a few rooms, my great-grandfather had acres of rooms and attendants. He owned that hotel. By the very vigor and seriousness with which you seize the subject, I detect a long standing and deeply rooted family tradition. Keep it up. Those are the sort traditions we need.

  2. Comments from shares on this link:

    Parichay Patra: http://www.csds.in/faculty_madhu_purnima_kishwar.htm

    Joel Bordeaux: perhaps this was in response to the urbanites who invariably say “our city boys don’t behave this way toward women – it must’ve been outsiders, villagers shocked by modernity”?

    Me: I certainly hope so. Which is why, to quote myself, I hope we’re reading it wrong. Outrage is all too easy these days. However, taking the statement at face value, the class/social capital aspect in the equation was, I think, necessary to emphasise.

  3. Comments from Facebook:

    Gautam Benegal: Has Madhu Kishwar gone mad too?

    Rajib Das Sharma: This one again a tweet from Madhu Kishwar but you may like it – Would a “traditional indian” organisation adopt khaki knickers-the antiquated dress of British sargent majors as its uniform, as does RSS?

    Me: I quite like that one actually, yes πŸ™‚

    Diviani Chaudhuri: This idea, that calling someone kaku, didi, dada, bhaiyya, ma, mamoni, mausi etc automatically bestows respect and/or establishes any real filiality, is fairly ridiculous.

    Aniruddha Dutta: While agreeing with some of your comment, I am prompted to think that the tweet may also be more of a jab at the hypocrisies of ‘westernized’ ‘modern’ ‘liberal’ (et al) men, and implicit or explicit proclamations of their superiority over or desired reformist leadership of men from relatively ‘backward’ socio-economic and geographical locations. That sentiment I wholeheartedly agree with, having seen formerly wife-beating academics and activists all up-in-arms in context of the rape protests. The fetishization of the rural – which many of us are also guilty of, albeit perhaps in different ways from Kishwar – is a different matter.

    Gautam Benegal There is nothing great about rural India.

    Sameer Panje: There is a context to this tweet from the preceding conversation…looking at it in isolation is a tad unfair.

    Aniruddha Dutta: The generalization and judgment of ‘rural India’as not-great or great, idyllic or barbaric, pristine or backward (and the list of such polarities can go on) is in itself precisely the kind of conceptual fetishization that I was trying to point out. It is a kind of internal orientalism where the act of representation – whether idealistic or dystopian – always preserves the agential upper-hand of people not from ‘rural India’, wherever/whatever that is deemed to be.

    Gautam Benegal: Madhu Kishwar’s “baby girl” way of speaking make me grit my teeth.

    Gautam Benegal: @Aniruddha Dutta : Life stops at sundown. Guys leer at you and think u are a whore if you are a woman wearing a sleeveless dress. Buggers might even jump u if u are not careful. The local hooch is all do numbri. The mosquitos are the size of ur palm. What conceptu…whatever- man.

    Sameer Panje: how about Modi’s “thundering” way of speaking, Gautam? And that’s not a blanket account of rural India. There is an equal incidence of diametrically opposite behaviour in villages too…just like in cities.

    Gautam Benegal: What about it Sameer Panje? Its obviously fake. Reminds you of Manmohan Singh’s mewling in comparision which is obviously what is intended. Look!! Strong Man!!! Thunderous voice!!! Look! puppet choothiya! Hahahaha! That’s it.

    Sameer Panje: But does that make you grit your teeth as well?

    Aniruddha Dutta: @gautam, since I am not a man, please reserve your gendered epithets for others. I am sorry to learn of your terrible experiences, but I have had and heard of others of a different kind. Let us not first diss Kishwar and then do the same thing in different ways.

    Gautam Benegal: @Aniruddha: When I say “Man” its like “hey man” which I might say to a girl too. Don’t be so uptight. Loosen up. Its what you academic types call “gender neutral.” BTW you DO look like an uptight serious young man in your pic. πŸ˜›

    Gautam Benegal: @Sameer Panje No man! I like the voice! I might ask him to do my narration in my next docu.

    Gautam Benegal: Kishwar used to be quite a diss πŸ˜›

    Gautam Benegal: Sorry. Punning πŸ˜›

    Gautam Benegal: Misogynistic punning πŸ˜›

    Sameer Panje: Pass me some of that rum, you misogynistic judgemental troll. πŸ˜›

    Gautam Benegal: hahahahha! Pwerceptive bugger! In the new lexicon can we say that last one was an LGBT epithet?

    Sameer Panje: Why are you presuming that I’ll care for political correctness?

    Gautam Benegal: No…but there be frosty peepuls here.

    Gautam Benegal: Thee them that tha thee. Dont tha thee me. Old Irish saying.

    Sameer Panje: I’ll read that again when I’m drunk. Don’t get them Irish sayings in sobriety. πŸ˜›

    Diviani Chaudhuri: So I went and read her tweets. She does not inhabit the same moral universe as Kafila/JNU radicals cause she’s too much of a behenji type for them. And she posts contradictory things about the RSS. I don’t understand this woman.

    Gautam Benegal: @Diviani Chaudhuri She is trying to create a political space for herself on the right, but at the same time doesn’t want to let go of her secular sensibitities completely. She used to edit a magazine called Manushi. It was a good publication.

    Sameer Panje: LOL…since when did being against the RSS imply sharing the moral universe of the Kafila/JNU types?

    Gautam Benegal: @Sameer Panje Set theory.

    Gautam Benegal: What the hell is “moral universe?” Don’t people speak English any more?

    Sameer Panje: The one that said that if you’re not with us, you’re with the terrorists?

    Gautam Benegal: Yes that one.

    Sameer Panje: Mirror mirror on the wall…who’s the radicalest of them all?

    Aniruddha Dutta: @gautam, as further proof of my uptightness and at the risk of duplicating the reformist educative zeal of urban liberals that I critiqued above, I will venture to offer some links on cissexism/cissexist readings: http://www.springerreference.com/docs/html/chapterdbid/331899.html and http://amydentata.com/2012/03/14/we-need-to-drop-passing-from-the-trans-lexicon/. I would particularly like to flag this paragraph: “The reason cis people misgender trans people is because they have been taught the wrong gendered cues. They have been incorrectly taught that bodily traits coded as masculine equate to maleness and male identity, and the same for femaleness and female identity. When cis people are educated on trans issues, they misgender trans people less often based on appearance. (They stll misgender people, however, because appearance is a terribly convoluted means of determining gender.)”

    Gautam Benegal: Jesus. I bet you are not married.

    Gautam Benegal: Oops sorry. That was a spontaneous sexist comment. πŸ˜€

    Me: @Aniruddha: Might I just point out, Ani, that Gautam belongs to the elite academic type (sans degrees) that he mocks here above. I might even venture to add that what he’s doing here is mischievous trolling, not directed at you so much, as it is a mockery of the sorts that regularly litter his own comment threads. Gautam, you’re a very evil man. Please do not bait my friends. Sameer, don’t encourage him!

    Aniruddha Dutta: @Gautam, no worries, as incidentally you are right given that my kind cannot be legally married in this country yet; though for the record I have indeed been married with sindoor et al. in the past.

    Sameer Panje: ^^^Respect for that!^^^ You have an ally in me in your fight to get married in the manner of your choice legally in India. πŸ™‚

    Me: As for your comment, Ani: I quite agree with you, actually. Except that it appears to me that Kishwar, perhaps unwittingly, is attempting to negotiate a space for herself between the rightwing and the pseudo-secular/liberal Indian urban elite who say things like, “I definitely support the tribal people, but reservations are unfair”.

    Gautam Benegal: That’s what I said!

    Me: And Ani, I didn’t realise you’d been married since I knew you. I hope it still holds, and you’re very happy! Congratulations!

    Sameer Panje: //I definitely support the tribal people, but reservations are unfair//

    What’s fundamentally wrong with this statement? Why should it be held in ridicule?

    Gautam Benegal: How do you say, “Ogo Godrej’er almati tar chabi kothai dekhecho?” in academic language? Just wondering.

    Aniruddha Dutta: @Rimi: no, I subsequently divorced without regrets πŸ™‚ Amader aini swikriti na thakar ekta shubidheo achhe, matha theke literal ba metaphorical shindur muchhe phellei holo πŸ˜›


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