This weekend’s New York Times features an editorial on Indian men by Lavanya Sankaran, titled ‘The Good Men of India.’ Reading this article has left me with an uneasy aftertaste that is hard to qualify, and even harder to ignore. So here I am again, after a relatively long break from writing in Cactus Chronicles.
Sankaran’s article takes on the task of informing the world (that has been recently inundated with news of mistreatment of women in India, by Indian men,) that despite India’s disrepute in the realm of gender parity, there are good Indian men:
“Let me introduce the Common Indian Male, a category that deserves taxonomic recognition: committed, concerned, cautious; intellectually curious, linguistically witty; socially gregarious, endearingly awkward; quick to laugh, slow to anger. Frequently spotted in domestic circles, traveling in a family herd…..”
Sankaran acknowledges the fact that the ordinary woman in India faces a daily threat of violence against her. She writes:
“This is the world of women under siege, the medieval world of the walking undead, the rise of the zombies, targeting females rich and poor. For women, at least, winter is coming.”
Yet, she states that she feels the need to bring attention to that subsection of Indian masculinity that has kind, nurturing qualities. She herself admits that doing so may seem perplexing, but states that it is a need that must be met immediately:
“In this context, it might appear odd to examine any other variant of the Indian male. But it is important to do so and to do so now. To bear witness to an alternate male reality that also pervades India on a daily basis.”
Sankaran’s article attempts to show that the baseline qualities of this alternate male reality are noteworthy:
“…..being concerned and engaged was their normal mode of social behavior. So, I will say this - Indian men can also be among the kindest in the world.”
I was clearly uncomfortable reading this opinion piece. My first reaction to this discomfort was to look inward, at myself, and wonder if it is my perception that is skewed. Am I so accustomed to sensational news of dangers and scandals that when I come across an article describing the positive attributes of the Indian male, it gives me pause?
Let’s assume that the impetus to write the article came from the desire to make the world aware, that truly, not all Indian men are beasts. But this desire, however genuine it may be, has scents of distress trailing close behind. For no matter how cynical or jaded a reader might be, the act of having to spell out information, and the resulting act of having to read about things that ought to be assumptions and beliefs that one can take for granted, is telling.
In the context of the AIDS epidemic in Africa, we did not need to be told that there still are multitudes of healthy people, unaffected by the disease. We took that for granted. The obesity epidemic in America today has not triggered a reassurance campaign from the Health Ministry that there are still healthy kids and adults in our midst. We take that for granted. Why then is there a need to elaborate on the merits of the “Common Indian Male?” Why does Sankaran feel a compulsion to bear witness to the nurturing qualities of this alternate male reality? What does this need to bear witness say about the overarching issue of gender parity? Is this a sign that gender inequality has reached such dangerous proportions that one must resort to tactics of (forced?) optimism to keep the spirit up – to focus on the little blessings to ward off despondency?
The trials and tribulations of women in India are not the result of a handful of bad apples. Rather, it seems like there are a few good apples in a sea of otherwise rotten ones. That is why there is a need to point out to the good ones. It appears as though we can no longer take for granted that men ought to be kind and nurturing; so we laud the men who are. The reputation of the Indian male is so deeply damaged even in the eyes of the Indian woman, that she feels the need to spell out his positive qualities on an international platform. And in so spelling out these attributes, we come to the slow realization that a good Indian man is hard to find.
On a very basic level, Sankaran’s article is perhaps an effort to save the face of the average Indian male whose typology is now strongly linked to misogyny. And having this typology exposed to the world, I would imagine that the average Indian male has been cringing in the face of recent news from India with regard to the treatment of women. Perhaps there will be a frenzied sharing of Sankaran’s article by Indian men and women alike, with their non-Indian colleagues and friends, to say: “I’m one of the good men of India; I’m not like them.” Or “I’m married to one of the good ones….”
Share, babus, share!