‘You know I hate, detest, and can’t bear a lie, not because I am straighter than the rest of us, but simply because it appals me. There is a taint of death, a flavour of mortality in lies – which is exactly what I hate and detest in the world – what I want to forget.’
Heart of Darkness
Most of the time, the machinery of culture rolls along in its own exhausted momentum, but every now and then there are moments when we are shaken from our complacency, when we have no choice but to act. We are forced by circumstance into acting. And our actions are, given the nature of those circumstances, political acts.
The death of a 23-year old woman after being brutally gang raped on a bus in Delhi is just such a moment. This is not just another tragedy soaking up the air waves. This is not just another reminder of our own helplessness, of the depravity of the human heart. This, like the Sandy Hook shootings in America, is one of those moments when history itself pins us by the jugular.
It simply is not possible to pass this over as another moment in a long line of moments that saturate our attention spans. The greatest tragedy about this young woman’s death is that it took such an act of sickness and savagery to bring about an appropriate level of acute consciousness.
What else do we need? How much more do we need to stand around in passive rationalization before we are jolted from our self-congratulations? It is in moments like this that we know for sure that there is no end to history. That we are not civilised. That we have had no triumph over our basest natures. It is in these moments that we are confronted with the sorry truth about what it means to be human.
Like I said, it is not just the bestial nature of the act itself, but the very fact that as a species we have allowed our own culture to make this possible. Yes, we are all involved. Such acts, which arise out of a collective idea of what it means to be a human being, about the significance of sexuality and its politics, implicate us all by their nature.
To deny your own involvement, is tantamount to denying that this rape and violence ever happened in the first place. We are all responsible, because this cruelty is an act of political cruelty. A failure to respond is itself a political statement. Those of you who would retire to the safety of your own cultural womb, are denying your human faculties. Your own political statement is one of renunciation. You value not your liberty.
It has been said in some quarters that as a man I have no right to comment. That my ‘sympathy’ is commendable but ultimately irrelevant. To a very great extent this is true. The immediate politics of this rape, comes from the extent to which it was an attack on all women, from the extent to which it was crime of human culture itself, of the culture of men against the culture of women.
As a result, this is not the place of the man, who is by nature privileged in a patriarchal culture, to offer up his self-satisfied pontifications. There are many activists who probably feel that men, and especially men in the media, should shut the hell up. This is not our battle, and attempting to make it so is an insidious form of masculine denial in and of itself.
Yes. All of the above.
Who the hell am I to even deign to comment? I know nothing of what it means to be a woman, to walk the world with that kind vulnerability, with that kind of political exposure inherent in my very physicality.
Let me raise my hands up and admit that I belong to the very culture and class of men who have allowed such a crime to be even possible.
From the outset, the most depressing truth about the responses to this crime, is found in the levels of pathological denial. It took the Prime Minister of India, Manmohan Singh, a whole week, before he even issued a statement around this case. Can you imagine if Obama had declined to comment in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook killings?
Following the death of the young woman, whose body simply could not withstand the brutalisation she had undergone, the Prime Minister finally made a statement:
‘While she may have lost her battle for life, it is up to us all to ensure that her death will not have been in vain,’he said.
‘The need of the hour is a dispassionate debate and inquiry into the critical changes that are required in societal attitudes.’
All this has the sheen of political temperament. This was the first statement, given after a prolonged silence on the attack, and after the full force of the police had been unleashed on protests against the culture of rape in Delhi.
Singh’s statement could not be further from the truth. This is not the time for ‘dispassionate’ debate. What more debate need there be? Is being dispassionate even possible? Why did India’s leaders take such a long time in even hinting at a condemnation of an act that should make any human being struggle not to vomit?
The reaction of political leaders is not an incidental feature of this tragedy.
One politician, Congress’s sitting MP from Jangipur, Abhijit Mukherjee, the son of president Pranab Mukherjee, hit out at the protestors, displaying the criminal nonchalance of the men in India’s ruling classes:
‘I would term the protests in Delhi as what is popularly known as Pink Revolution,’ he said. ‘
‘It is becoming fashionable to land up on the streets with candle in hand. Such people are completely disconnected from reality.
‘They go to discotheques. I am very well versed with student activism and I can bet on it that most of the protesters are not students.
‘They are dented and painted women chasing two minutes on fame, giving interviews on TV. The protesters do not fall in the age group of students.’
Only Sonia Gandhi, was able to display some level of immediacy and sincerity in her carefully wordedstatement.
She said: ‘To all of you who have expressed your anger publicly, I want to assure you that your voice has been heard.’
‘Today all Indians feel they have lost their own beloved daughter, their cherished sister, a young woman of 23 whose life was full of hope, dreams and promise,’ Gandhi added.
Perhaps the most shocking reaction was that of KP Raghuvanshi, the police commissioner for a city near Mumbai. He said that women should carry chilli powder with them and avoid traveling after dark. This was one of the first reaction to even be recorded by any figure authority, never mind the police.
It is the culture of denial that is important here. If they cannot deny it, then they must downplay it. They must bring everything back to the level of normalized political ‘debate.’ But anyone who values their humanity should know that nothing other than outrage and physical demonstration can follow from the violation of a young woman like that.
As men, however, there is more to it than just adding our voices of outrage. History does not call for words. It is easy in this case to pay lip service to events, to make a statement of shock and sadness, to make promises, to blog and write, to talk with intelligence and insight. It is easy to do all of these these things, but it in truth they can only make the situation worse.
As men we have no direct role here. It is the women who must protest. The men, must shut up, and take to the side lines where they belong. And it is in this moment of enforced consciousness and self-reflection, that we must confront our own misogyny.
The most insidious thing about a post-feminist culture is that everyone thinks the work has been done. Everyone thinks that, like the freeing of slaves, or the end of empire, we are living in a more privileged state of history.
Since I first heard about this incident, I have been confronted with my own rampant misogyny and my bleakest attitudes to sexual violence. As a man it is easy to come out and say the right thing. In doing so we distance ourselves from the act of brutality itself. We relinquish any responsibility for the use of sex as a weapon.
As post-feminist men, we are quick to congratulate ourselves. We make a clear line between the men who use their sexuality as a form of assault, and ourselves – men who pronounce respect for women and who expound on egalitarianism and mutuality.
Maybe the rest of you are like that. But I for one, can no longer make such a claim. I now see the ubiquity of misogynistic attitudes, and I am confronted with the fact that I, in my attempts to rationalize the death of this young woman, am the worst form of misogynist. With wealth, and distance, and the luxurious decorations of an educated mind, I can only too easily distance myself from rape.
The truth is however, that as men, we are raised in a consciousness of rape. It is in our psyche. Our jealousies and our cultural inferiority complexes, our own sense of being persecuted, and our own histories of abuse, contribute to create an aggressiveness around sexuality. In action or in thought, we are as men, riddled with a violent sexuality towards women.
I have called this a Rubicon moment. I have done so because I don’t think men can now escape the logical end of their own culture of sexuality. To even say that we have a culture of sexuality in and of ourselves probably makes some of you wince. But that is indeed part of the problem. It is time to stop making excuses, to stop rationalizing and distancing ourselves from sexual violence and confront it as a living reality of the male mindset.
Now don’t mistake me here. I am not saying this in order to feel commended and validated by the feminists, or to in some way liberate myself from the accusations of misogyny. I used to get angry when women would make blanket characterizations of men as potential rapists, who lumped me in with the worst of violent men.
Now, however, I cannot in all honestly display the same level of outrage and defiance. I cannot look at the aftermath of this case, my own reactions to it, and the reactions of men in power, and avoid thinking of this as culture-wide problem. It is all very well for us to make distinctions, to say that rape is not about sex but about power, but the truth is, the sheer prevalence of rape, and the impunity that surrounds it, is not an aberration of our culture – it is the very product of it.
Ours is a bloodthirsty culture, one characterized by brutality and persecution. To place a distance between ourselves and the darkest truth of it, is the most disgusting form of denial. Rape is not committed by the disenfranchised few. It is so common a crime that it must now be referred to as the norm.
A failure to confront the normalisation of rape culture in our societies is indeed the greatest crime of all. If we do not answer the call that is being made of us here and examine and actively change the attitudes of competitiveness, ownership, war-mongering and victimization which characterize the politics of modern human culture as much as they have ever done, then the death of this young soon-to-be married physiotherapist from Delhi, who died with her internal organs destroyed by sexual cruelty, has very much been in vain.