Two incidents on the same day last week made me think. The first took place over breakfast at a swanky South Delhi hotel, when a plump young woman was humiliated by her husband for choosing chicken nuggets over fruit. Their son giggled and said to his mother: “Sirf fruit lena, moti.”
The second incident took place in the car ride home, when the friend I was with tried to discipline her four-year-old son, who was punching her hard in her chest. “I’ll slap you, in front of everyone, now,” she warned, before actually slapping him. The boy was surprised. Then he met her eyes stubbornly and retorted, “You think I will cry? Try slapping me again.” As though his mother was his equal, and as if this was a fist fight.
A fictional incident shook me next. In A Death In The Gunj directed by Konkona Sen Sharma, a shy, sensitive 23-year-old boy is laughed at for being ‘pretty enough to be a girl.’ He’s bullied, picked on, and defamed for not being ‘mard’ enough in a society where the phrase, ‘be a man,’ is an overloaded term, often confusing strength with brutality. Is there such as a thing as reverse sexism? Let’s examine…
Are real men allowed to be sad?
Amandeep Sandhu’s tryst with depression
Writer Amandeep Sandhu, whose second book, Roll of Honour is the saga of a boy mercilessly ragged in a military school, says: “Sex is a power tool, so in most boarding schools there’s rampant sodomy. The boy perpetrating the crime is hailed as a hero, while the victim is seen as conforming. No one questions this culture of abuse, since our education system is based on a model of corporal punishment and discipline where aggression is justified as prescribed behaviour.”
Amandeep has been a caregiver to his schizophrenic mother and faced criticism for talking openly about depression. “Indian men are the external bakras, while women are the internal ones. We don’t have any role models today and this is a crisis for the modern Indian man,” he says
With WHO estimating nearly 36 per cent of Indians to be battling depression, Dr Shyam Bhat, psychiatrist and founder of integrative therapy portal, Seraniti.com, puts the problem in perspective. “That women are twice as likely to be depressed as men is a myth,” he says. “Most men don’t admit to feeling sadness. Because we bring up men not to express emotion freely, they face tremendous isolation. Also, testosterone increases competition amongst men. Despite male camaraderie, a typical Indian man would never expose his vulnerabilities, since brute strength is his biggest asset.”
No to a relationship by choice!
If I’m single, it doesn’t mean I’m gay, says Kanishka GuptaWith masculinity and virility being synonymous in a patriarchy, literary agent Kanishka Gupta, in his mid-30s, claims he has never been in a relationship. “Any Indian man who doesn’t marry by his late 20s or early 30s is thought of as gay or as having potency issues. But for me, it’s essentially a lifestyle choice,” he says. “I can’t deal with the baggage that comes with sexual and romantic relations. Men like me are, however, at times socially disadvantaged since most social conversations are centred on sex and relationships.”
Rocking life without a wife
Shantanu Duttagupta’s called names ‘coz his wife lives abroad
Shantanu Duttagupta, 36, a senior publishing professional, shares the flip side. Married seven years ago and consciously choosing to remain childless, Shantanu’s wife is currently pursuing a PhD at Cambridge, leading him to being labelled as ‘khulla saand.’
“A pal who at 37 opted for an arranged marriage cribs how I’m having fun these days with my wife out of the country,” Shantanu remarks. “I know of men who conveniently take off their wedding ring when they go out to a party.”
It’s tough being your own man
Dinesh Amitha loves flaunting necklaces and bracelets
In a country where women are portrayed as high-risk species, how difficult is to be your own man? Bengaluru-based Dinesh Amitha, brand creator at Titan Industries, believes his personal style, from neon sneakers, bright orange tees, to chunky necklaces, bracelets, finger rings and fluorescent glares, is key to establishing who he is.
“Since I was a child, I loved jewellery. I’ve always been a nonconformist and dress this way to work too. My attire constructs my confidence,” he says. ”
Men like Dinesh shatter the narrow, superficial stereotyping, but I recall how a gay friend was persecuted for his so-called effeminacy, beaten by his older brother and friends when he refused to play soccer with them.
More boys are victims of child abuse
Raakesh Agarvwal reveals his traumatic experiences
A 2007 report on child abuse by the Ministry of Women and Child Development, conducted across 13 states revealed that out of 12,447 child respondents, about 53.22 per cent had faced child abuse. Out of these, 52.94 per cent were boys.
Designer Raakesh Agarvwal opens up on the trauma he faced. “I hail from a conservative Marwari family where boys are expected to manage the family business. My parents were obsessed with my oldest sister, born to my mother after seven miscarriages. I was always left to myself. I didn’t quite know how to distinguish a man who was being affectionate from someone who was being offensive.”
His relatives became predators. And in the absence of proper sex education coupled with ongoing sexual violations, Raakesh’s life turned hellish. “Till Class 10, I topped every exam. And then the violence got to me. My obsession to be accepted within my own family, along with the constant pressure to be number one, was my undoing,” he says. “Later, my family had no clue about my life as a fashion designer. We never talked about my childhood. In fact, the man who assaulted me sexually was till 2009 trying to fix my marriage. I got out of that manipulation, but I am scared to fall in love.”
Fellow designer Sonam Dubal places this cultural conditioning of masculinity to the role models Indian boys grow up with – that of a dominating father. “Creativity is seldom encouraged, as it is regarded as feminine. I took to music and was a pianist, but was jeered at, sexually harassed, left out of a peer group as I wasn’t cool enough,” he says. “It was only in design school, that I made sense of my sexuality and realised it was okay to be different. ”
Gender-biased corporate world
Rohit Bairagi’s fighting for the rights of LGBT employees
Even the corporate world is teeming with deep-seated gender bias. Rohit Bairagi, 30, senior collection specialist, has been fighting since August 2015 to begin a Pride chapter – Employee Resource Group (ERG) within American Express in India. Such groups are already operational in the US, the UK, Australia and Canada. An openly gay man in a strict corporate set-up, he says: “It’s sad because American Express is a millennial company, and the leadership doesn’t practice what is preached globally on diversity.”
Though the Indian leadership team was, in theory, ready to launch a Pride chapter, the Employee Relations team told them that homosexuality is not legal in India. “So we escalated the matter to the global diversity and inclusion team, who replied that a country’s perspective on an issue is not the same as a company’s viewpoint. In May last year, the Pride chapter was declared open with 10 members, but it is still not launched,” says Rohit. “Once, when we invited the Pride lead from a different multinational, our HR director said, ‘I don’t have a problem creating an employee resource group for LGBT employees, but I don’t want it to be used as a hook-up platform’.”
I am branded as a feminist writer. Yet, for the longest time I’ve wanted to dwell on the opposite sex − the way we bring them up as mothers, how we turn into shadows ourselves after we procreate. How husbands, brothers and fathers think they know better. How we bring up boys expecting them to behave and act like the men we are conditioned to worship. How men are boxed into ‘mard’ and ‘namard.’ How in our collective ire against Indian men, we forget their individual voice. How male aggression is never traced back to its source.
So much is said about India’s daughters, so little about her sons. Is this fair?
The author is a Delhi-based novelist and her repertoire includes works like Sita’s Curse, Faraway Music and You’ve Got The Wrong Girl. Sreemoyee also writes on gender, sexuality and has been a lifestyle journalist.
From HT Brunch