Women-Men & Public Space by Tara Kaushal

September 2013: The public display of machismo at festivals leaves little space for women’s enjoyment.

Janmashtami heralds the start of the unrelenting festive season—from now until the end of the year, the spate of festivals includes Ganesh Chaturti and the multiple Visarjan days, the Navratris, Dusshera, Diwali, Eid, Christmas and New Years (and I’m sure I’m forgetting a few). Though I look upon the impending traffic snarls, deafening cacophony of music and crackers, and bursting crowds with cerebral distaste, I understand the enormous sociocultural and economic importance of festivals beyond their religious significance—for people less fortunate than us, they provide a break in the monotony of dreary everyday life, a reason to celebrate and let it all hang lose.

What they also seem to provide is an anarchical free-for-all for men and their desires. For one, male enjoyment seems to be inextricably linked with intoxication, the religious origins of the festivals be damned. Put a group of sex-complexed boys and men with diminished social inhibitions and bristling boisterousness on the road, past what would ordinarily have been their bedtime, and there is bound to be trouble—just yesterday, three drunk boys emerged from an under-construction Ganesha Pandal at 1 AM and chased our car down a narrow Mumbai road hurling abuses (until they hurtled in to a stationary rickshaw). Put multiple such groups on the road and there, you have it, a drunken mob.

Mobs dynamics are difficult for anyone to negotiate, but they pose a particular problem for women. For one, there is the cloak of anonymity the mob provides. The Gainesville serial killer Danny Rolling points out in his autobiography that when dozens of male university students were asked if they would rape a beautiful girl if they could get away with it, the majority answered yes. Although this is an American statistic and I don’t believe all men are rapists-denied-opportunity, it explains why this anonymity is so dangerous to female sexuality. Mob mentality is contagious, and sexually reprehensible behaviour can spread through a mob like wildfire. The 40-50 men who molested the two NRIs outside the Marriott on New Year’s Eve 2007 didn’t all know each other. Neither did all the men/groups of men who molested the girls who were walking to Wankhede Stadium to see the victorious team of IPL 2007; they each just, literally, grabbed the opportunity to do what everyone else was. And let’s not even talk about Holi, the most intrusive of all festivals. There’s power in numbers—and bravado that comes from believing in ones collective invincibility.

As always, the onus of self-preservation falls on the woman. No, no, no! This is not to say that women shouldn’t be careful, more than men need to be: while we all hope for a utopic society free from sexual violence, there will always be evil in man, and evil men. But we seem to be breeding mobs of rapists-in-waiting as opposed to a few rotten eggs.

The least one can expect is that there be a much more favourable, infinitely fairer balance of places/clothes/times of day/activities that it is ‘safe’ for women to be in/wear/be out/be doing. When my friend Ruchi, a 25-year-old animal activist, told a cop that she was being hassled on the road during a festival day last year, he told her, “Ghar jao. Aaj tumhe bahar aane ki kya zaroorat hai?” Public celebrations should not be so riddled with gender injustice that make them a wanton, rambunctious, anything-goes experience for one gender; a cautious, fear-inducing (if not worse) experience for the other.

There are no new solutions to offer on this matter other than the ones we’ve already heard—bettering law enforcement and developing a culture that is gender-sensitive. We need a better policemen-to-public ratio, more efficient policing and prosecution, etc. And as much as we crib about dry days, preventing men from accessing liquor during festivals and voting is an important governance tool to maintain peace.

Our men need to be taught to respect women and their space, of course, but also about inherent standards of conduct. That drunken groups in topless trucks, who hoot at every passing woman, are carrying Ganesha-the-God home or going around breaking haandis à la Lord Krishna, is laughably ironic. It is telling that both the govindas who lost their lives this year, did so in bike accidents. Neither the need to reassert our collective selves in a post-colonial world, nor the sense of entitlement of the aggrandised Indian man should result in such anarchy. We need to grow beyond equating fun and freedom with rowdiness, rash driving and free cop-a-feels. We need to grow up.  

An edited version of this column appeared in Governance Now in September 2013.

The Colourful Sex by Tara Kaushal

September 2007: "No," said Aman, after a 15-minute-long phone-searching session, "I don’t know a single guy who’d interest you, babe. I just realised though, I know so many fascinating women—should make it a point to call them more frequently."

"Sorry, there are just no interesting guys…. But I can give you the numbers of heaps of exciting women. You swing both ways, don’t you?" said Simran.

I pretended to work and not listen as my editor comforted some newly single, to-be-divorced woman on the phone. "There," he said as he hung up and looked at me, "there’s another remarkable woman who’s now part of the dating-mating scene. There are so many lovely, lovely women out there. No guys."

Err… what’s going on? One’s a one off; two’s a worry; and three’s a fucking national crisis!

Now, I’ve always been someone who tries to look at the positive side of things. So I’ve always thought that a skewed National Sex Ratio (also) means that there are heaps more men for us women to choose from. Maybe, maybe there are men. But where is that rare, at-the-point-of-extinction species—the Interesting Indian Man (let me specify: under the Uncleji age)?

At 24, my survey group is between my age and 34 or so (which is a stretch anyway). A ten-year age span should well compensate for the ‘women mature younger’ adage. And still, zilch. In this age bracket, in my sample group, the women are by far more engaging. I’m realising that there are such few options available to a straight, sapiosexual (‘someone who finds intelligence the most attractive sexual feature’) woman.

And now you ask what makes a person interesting. Obviously, it’s the ability to hold my interest (of course it’s my interest… what or who do you think this article is about)! Someone with many layers (like an onion—only, for the purpose of this analogy, I wish it was a more exotic vegetable)! Someone who is intelligent (I certainly don’t define intelligence by IIT-IIM-astronaut-scientist-doctor and all those titles/achievements), and can have great conversations (about as many things under the sun as possible). A combination of a thinker and a doer. Who reads, travels and has varied interests. Is either left- and right-brained, or right-brained. (I have this remarkably unfair prejudice against left-brained people. It’s elitist, I know, but I have this theory that they’re bad in bed, and fairly mechanical and boring. And art and creativity are such turn ons! Oh, we’ll get to this in another article, okay?)

Unfortunately, more often than not, the people who fit this description are women. Watch 'Sex and the City'. Okay, don’t. Just look at the interesting women I know. Arati: a lost-and-found childhood friend is in IIM Calcutta. She is as deconstructionist as I am; a voracious reader; a theatre person. She’s walking the straight and narrow, career-wise, because she wants the money to be able to do what she wants to do at 35. Neha: works with Star News and makes films, writes on music and reads Spivak in her free time. Tanya. Shriyansi. The list is endless.

The other day, M ("I’ll get killed, babe!" A filmmaker.) and I were discussing the circle of people we grew up with. How most of the guys have ended up way-below consideration level: one-dimensional and invariably in the Merchant Navy or in call centres, while the girls are really multifaceted: psychiatrists, researchers, writers (yours truly), filmmakers, designers. And while we were congratulating ourselves and patting each other on the back, neither of us realised how this was just a microcosm of a trend that would prevent us from ever meeting interesting men!

The other day, I met someone who is a senior editor with one of the leading national dailies. And he pointed out that the crop of young editors was predominantly female. And it’s true for the book publishing industry as well. Almost all the independent, unique publishing houses are run by women.

This leads me to the reasons for this phenomenon. Why is it that young women are more interesting than young men? Why? I don’t know. I can only speculate.

Perhaps it’s because of sport. Playing sport is one thing. Spending hours mindlessly watching men in cars (that look horribly cramped and uncomfortable) go around a track (like some merry-go-round thing gone horribly wrong)… just seems like a colossal waste of time. Not to mention test matches. Oh no! Five days of watching cricketers try to do their job while you consistently ignore your own. Or… gosh, I could go on.

Or it’s the gizmo craziness. How many women do you see who are gizmo-gaga? Addicted to their X-Boxes and Gameboys?

Or it’s the hormones. Women don’t waste half as much time as men do watching random porn on the internet or masturbating.

Not being into all these things frees up so much time, doesn’t it? To develop as people. Read. Pursue various interests. Grow.

Or it’s because women can multitask. And do all the above but achieve so much more alongside.

Or it’s because women, as a rule, are exposed to so much more colour and so many more layers in life than men generally are. Women’s clothes and make-up display and require so much more thought and imagination than men’s. As children, women are exposed to the arts, creativity and colour much more than men are. Activities that are considered, in a traditional sense, ‘feminine’—dancing, making rangolis, arranging flowers, going for art classes—all push the development of the right brain, the creative side. As opposed to traditionally ‘masculine’ activities—sport and well, sport.

Or it’s because the world women face and negotiate is way more intricate and complicated than the world men see and deal with. In every sphere, including the sexual, life is more emotionally, socially and physically complex for women than it is for men.

I don’t know. I can’t figure it out. Maybe I’ve generalised too much. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I’m an intellectual lesbian. You may disagree with this analysis. You may think it’s lopsided. You may know many interesting men in this age bracket. Hell, you may be one yourself. Oh wow! Show yourself! I’m just waiting for somebody, anybody, a man-body, to please, please prove me wrong!

An edited version of this article appeared in Man's World in September 2007.

I have been proved wrong many times since, by the spouse and my myriad male friends.