In an India Rife With Sexual Assault, Too Many “Good Men” Look the Other Way

What women really think about news, politics, and culture.
Oct. 29 2013 11:26 AM

India’s Man Problem

In a country rife with sexual assault, too many “good men” look the other way.

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A few days later, my cousins told me that their parents were going back to his house for a visit, and asked if I wanted to come with them. I said no, and then blurted out that he had touched me.

Their reactions were flip: “Yeah, what is it with him? It’s like his hands are boob magnets,” said one. “We told our mom but she said he did it to her too, when she was younger,” said the other.

This man has daughters, several granddaughters, scores of nieces and grandnieces. Ours is a big family—prepubescent and adolescent girls had been in and out of his house for decades. How many of them had been groped? And why had no one stopped him?

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When I came back to the States, I told my father what had happened. My father is a good man, a classic example of the Common Indian Male that Sankaran wants to highlight. But my father at best buried or at worst forgot what I had told him.

I know this because on trips to India my father would actually ask me if I wanted to go visit the man who groped me, and seemed puzzled when I declined. Or when the man and his wife were visiting the United States, my father didn’t understand why my mother wouldn’t invite them to stay in our house—she didn’t want him in the guest bedroom, which was next to mine. Or much later, when the man was in the States and his daughter threw a party where he’d be an honored guest—I was just a city away but didn’t go, and my father scolded me for it.

At that point I was old enough, Western enough, to scold him right back, asking, “Why would I go celebrate him? How can I be respectful to this man who has for decades groped young girls, and maybe done worse?”

Nevertheless, my father went to the party a few weeks later, and in the years to come he kept visiting him. After all, my father has been trained to be deferential to elderly relatives. I can only assume that he didn’t know how to handle my words and didn’t know what he could do to change anything. He is a Common Indian Male.

India Protest
Police try to turn back thousands of people marching on the presidential palace in intensifying protests against the gang rape of a woman, on Dec. 22, 2012, in New Delhi.

Adnan Abidi/Reuters

There are so many of these stories where victims told their parents that they were abused or harassed, and were met with silence, even censure, from Common Indian Males and their wives. I have relatives who were assaulted as children, and their parents told them not to make a fuss. “He was tipsy,” they’d say. “It’s just groping.” The few brave parents across India who do speak out when their children are abused are met with more silence and censure from police, medical staff, and other authorities—more Common Indian Males.

Sankaran writes:

For his part, the Indian male, when nested in family and community, is part of a domestic tapestry that is intricately woven and vital, it seems, to his own sense of well-being. Take that away from him, hurl him away — and a possible result is a man unmoored, lost, adrift and, potentially, a danger to himself and to his world. Disconnection causes social disengagement and despair — and the behavior that is the product of alienation and despair.

What she fails to see is that many predators aren’t disconnected, but rather are part of these intricately woven domestic tapestries—in fact, they shroud themselves in these tapestries, using the fabric as camouflage to keep exploiting and abusing children.

Meanwhile, they’re dining with, drinking with, shaking hands with the Common Indian Males who, on some level, know what’s going on. After all, these Common Indian Males were once Common Indian Children too.

Now that they’ve grown up and found their place in India’s patriarchy, they’re failing in their duties as heads of their households, failing in the very essence of Main hoon na—a Hindi phrase meaning “I’m here for you” that Sankaran cites as a motto for the Common Indian Male. Our fathers and husbands must reverse these failures before they can truly be classified as “Good Men.”

Mohi Kumar is a freelance journalist living in Houston. You can follow her on Twitter @scimohi.