Yet another reminder that Indian men need to be better, do better.
Yesterday, a friend, Karan; Sahil, the spouse; and I went dancing to Elsewhere. It's the only club we regularly visit on the Gold Coast, where we currently live, with phenomenal tech house music spun by an array of international DJs and a happy, inclusive vibe.
Demographically speaking, Indians have been between two and four percent of the crowd on the days that we've visited. Some black, some brown, the rest are white—how many local or interstate Australians or from overseas, backpackers or millionaires, I don't know. We are, after all, in the city that is best described as the Goa of Australia.
At some point last night, the three of us ended up in a line—Sahil in front by the DJ, then me, and then Karan behind me. A guy came up from behind and put his arm on my shoulder. "Indiaaaaa!" he screamed, and started dancing side-by-side with me. I laughed a polite hello.
"Why you laugh?" he asked. He could have been Middle Eastern, South American, Indian—I couldn't tell exactly from his looks or voice in the dark and loud club.
"Just, coz I'm having a great time," I said.
"Are you from India?"
"Kahan ki ho? (Where are you from?)"
"Bombay," I replied. "Aur aap? (And you?)"
"Main bhi Bombay se (me too)," he replied. I caught a distinctly Punjabi accent.
"Great, where in Bombay?" It's always nice to meet a fellow Indian, a person from my home city at that! It's on the dance floor at Elsewhere that we first met Karan from Bhopal a few months ago.
"Nono, just kidding, I'm from Punjab," the man said.
"I knew it!" I smiled.
"How?!" he asked in mock indignation, slapping my butt casually for emphasis.
Things just got serious. I shoved him away, turned towards him and wagged my finger in mock casualness. "Do. Not. Touch. Me," I said in a low tone. "Just dance, okay? Peace." I got back into the groove.
Karan noticed something was up, and said something in his ear from behind.
The man was back talking to me. "That guy just said you are married. Is he your boyfriend?"
"No. He's my friend."
"Then why did he say you are married?"
"Because this is my husband," I said, putting my finger in Sahil's back.
Sahil, who had no idea what had been happening, turned. The guy took two steps away from me, did an elaborate apology namaste to Sahil and stayed away... until a moment later, when Sahil turned back toward the DJ. Then the man was back by my side again.
"I just wanted to be sure that he's your husband."
It was time for a lecture on consent. "That's irrelevant, dude. Whether or not he is—and he is—you have to listen when I say no. No means no." I went on above the music, above his protests of "But I just wanted to confirm..." (Karan too got the somebody’s versus somebody lecture after the party—that women have a right to say no because they are somebody, not because they’re somebody’s wife/girlfriend daughter/possession… He's young and a new friend who I am only just indoctrinating into feminist thought. But there is something to be said about the fact that it was apparently the right approach with the creep.)
The man left me alone. Later at night, Sahil would have to slap his hand away from some other girl’s butt he grabbed unsolicited.
As on the other four nights we’ve visited this particular club, I got hit on by about 30 people, both men and women, last night. Happens, when I'm dancing in a roomful of people 10 years younger on average—the exotic older woman meets the hormones, intoxication and bravado of youth. True to today’s hookup culture, everyone is making out with everyone here, sometimes with several people through the night. But the underlying vibe is definitely of respect and consent. This Indian man was the only person from the 150 wannabe dates and/or mates I’ve encountered here who: a) touched me on a 'private part' and b) persisted beyond 'no'—three/four times. And, worse, he apologised to the husband for touching me, not recognising my ownership of myself. What are the odds?!
The Thomson Reuters Foundation’s global poll of experts voted India the world’s most dangerous country for women last year; worse than in 2011, where we were the fourth worst after Afghanistan, Congo and Pakistan. Speaking to women friends provides enough empirical evidence that Indian men are among the worst behaved in the world—from one who felt “invisible” in Japan because “no men were staring!” to another who had an epiphany in a concert in Europe: “I realised it was the first time I was surrounded by towering men and wasn’t afraid.”
A few years ago, I posted this update on Facebook after my first night out in Mumbai after an international vacation: “14 days in Thailand; going from rave to rave; walking over isolated hills and on deserted beaches in the pitch dark; in various stages of intoxication and undress; sometimes with Sahil and others, sometimes alone; and... nothing.
Five hours dancing at Kitty Su, and I'm felt up (by a guy who I proceeded to punch, hard—and then continued having a mind-blowing night/weekend anyway).
What the fuck is wrong with Indian men?!”
So, What’s Wrong with Indian Men
This is a complex answer, and I explore over a hundred reasons in my forthcoming book, Why Indian Men Rape, out later this year. But in this case the reasons were quite apparent.
This man, like many Indian men, held strongly patriarchal ideas and did not understand that a woman had agency. That I had the right to choose for myself who I wanted to date, mate or even dance with. That I had the right to be offended when he disrespected my boundaries. And that it was I who was owed an apology when he was caught offending—not the man who ‘possessed’ me, my father, brother or husband!
This man, like many Indian men, did not respect the word ‘no’. Blame it on the Raja Beta** syndrome, on a cultural paradigm that establishes that women will always play hard to get, on our low-trust society that thrives on rule breaking and jugaad***, on Bollywood…. In 2015, an Indian man accused of stalking two women in Australia escaped conviction after arguing he was influenced by Bollywood movies to believe that doggedly pursuing a woman would eventually cause them to fall in love.
This man, like many Indian men, did not comprehend the nuances of consent across cultures. With everyone around him dirty dancing and casually making out, he did not see the line of consent he had to cross to touch someone, and that too an intimate part of their body. In this environment, he did not understand that consent, through verbal or non-verbal communication, was always asked—and often freely given.
It’s 2019. Our men need to be better, do better. Because we expect better.
**Raja Beta: Literally, ‘king son’. The India ‘son preference’ means boys are spoilt rotten.
***Jugaad: A flexible approach to problem-solving that uses limited resources in an innovative way.
An edited version of this article appeared on SheThePeople.com on 14.06.19.