A bus ride in Shanghai.
It was late in the evening and the bus was amazingly crowded, but I got in nevertheless. There was hardly any space and it was difficult not to step onto each other’s toes. While standing there, trying to balance myself in the midst of a lot of local Chinese; it struck me how I would never be able to travel in as crowded a bus in India with such ease. Earlier in the evening, I had read about the stripping incident in Patna in broad daylight. A 2006 report by the National Crime Records Bureau said in India a woman is raped every half hour and is killed every 75 minutes. And considering that only one in 10 rape cases get reported, the actual statistics would be mind numbing. Also, almost every woman in India would have experienced some form of leching, eve teasing, etc. When I pointed out to a friend that Chinese men don’t even look, forget staring, leching, eve teasing, bottom pinching, etc; he said it may be because they are careful when dealing with foreigners. This led me to discuss this with a few of my local Chinese female friends who also confirmed that they have never felt a man stare at them or try to misbehave while walking on the road or using public transport. This is in fact one of the cities wherein a woman feels safe unescorted even at 3 am. Another friend jokingly speculated on the testosterone levels of the Chinese males. I dismissed this logic immediately as to me the reason for the Chinese men being so well behaved and decent is largely attributed to the fact that there is more respect for women; percentage of working women much higher compared to India and the society here is more open in terms of acceptance of women as equals.There is an equal amount of pride in culture , civilization & ways of the past. However there are no taboos on sex, sleaze & porn. There is also a certain degree of openness about sex and u wont find too many people gawping when couples snuggle in the open. Nor will you find too many self proclaimed guardians of moral values of society who abhor ‘promiscuity’ of any kind and are a law unto themselves.
And this brings me back to the experience of my firang friends in India; most non-Indian women friends of mine have shared with me how they feel unsafe to walk on the road in one of the supposedly safest cities of India, Bombay. In fact, in India tourists are often soft targets. So while I enjoy the bus rides here, I wait for a day when I can board a bus anywhere in India without hesitation!
Busna Ae Haseeno!
A bus ride in Shanghai.
The story goes that when the Mughals conquered Kashmir, they were furious at the resistance they faced. The Emperor was determined to crush the will of the people once and for all, and forced the menfolk to wear the tunics of their women. This was the birth of the unisex Kashmiri garb, and the legendary wimpiness of the Kashmiri men.
To consider the differences between Indians and the Chinese, at least in the context of the treatment of women on the streets, it’s probably not as simplistic as ‘more respect for women’. As a geneticist, I wouldn’t so readily disregard genetics, but for the moment, let’s assume no such distinction. So if it’s not Nature, it’s Nurture, ie, the environment. What you’re left with are differing cultural and political conditions. Indians live immersed in chaos, the Chinese less so. They have an authoritarian government, while we revel in crossing the boundaries. It’s a moot point whether these differing conditions were seeded by their individual cultures… whatever their basis, that’s how it is right now. Till a couple of decades ago, India and China were not that different, on practically all social parameters.
What we have in China is a system, both cultural and political, that frowns on dissent, right down from Confucius. If you were a free thinker, you probably didn’t survive the cultural revolution. While Indian culture similarly beats down personal aspirations, the virtual anarchy at the grassroots has led to the rise of the Individual, above all else. It’s the parable of the Indian Crab vs the Chinese pussy.
In India, men don’t have any incentive to act nice because most marriages are arranged. They are not interested in wooing a girl .. so they tease them.
It also works the other way … women don’t have incentive to look good … except for a few months when her parents help her select the groom.
Since the interaction is very limited between the sexes .. they are not comfortable with each other in a social situation and they slip into their worst behavior.
@Rohan Misra: Seriously? You couldn’t have come up with a more fraud explanation than that? The Chinese are no strangers to breaking the rules. If you’ve ever done any kind of business with them, you’d know that. There is as much anarchy and as little respect for the law as you would find in India; especially at the grassroots level. Maybe its what ensures that in a supposedly communist country there are just so many people eager to do business. Who knows. But it certainly doesn’t account for the fact that the poor drilled-authoritarian Chinese wouldn’t dare harass women because the gah’men frowns upon it.
That and the still to be found “I want to sexually harass women gene” seems lacking in Mongoloid populations, yes?
Also, in case you haven’t noticed, the traditional garb of most of North India (Kurta Pyjama) is also unisex. Including the far from wimpy Sardars.
@Bhavya: The point I was trying to make is that a lot of cultural mores have a basis in the history of the people, and it’s not just as simple as ‘more respect for women’. OK, so they respect women more. Gee.. I wonder why? That’s what I’m attempting to address, and a refusal to appreciate historical contexts doesn’t make it fraudulent.
Lets address your issues in reverse.
The traditional garb for most North Indian men is NOT the kurta pyjama, but the dhoti. The central asians bought their unisex pants, and it had a trickle down effect to the masses. Just because today most urban north indian men’s exposure to ethnic clothes is limited to a kurta pyjama for sleeping or a funeral doesn’t make it the traditional garb. In any case, it’s a red herring. If people emulated the elite and adopted central asian pants, fine. If they find it more convenient than a dhoti, fine. That’s by choice. The point was, in Kashmir it was a deliberate factor in breaking the will of the people. I’m not implying that Kashmiri men TODAY are wimpy… just referencing the fact that it was a common observation of the British, before modern politics screwed over the Kashmiris.
“Maybe its what ensures that in a supposedly communist country there are just so many people eager to do business. Who knows.” -Well, they do it because it’s the Chinese thing to do.
In Peter Turchin’s model of Historical Dynamics, borderlands tend to generate the level of social cohesion necessary for a dynamic civilization-state, while the “heartland” exhibits more anomie and decay. In India we have had many overlapping borderlands, while the Chinese did not. The Chinese case is particularly instructive, as due to the upheavals of Marxism, the Cultural Revolution, and now the unbridled capitalistic ethos, much of traditional China has gone by the wayside. You are left with a break with the past, but the people are still the same obedient citizens they always were.
Assuming (hopefully correctly) that cultural or social responses to women share some common denominators, I do not fully agree that men having more respect for women generally equates to non harrasing behavior – it could, but not necessarily in my opinion. Two most glaring contrary examples, from personal experience, are Japan and France. Both are highly androcentric societies where men largely do not respect women as equals. Japan is very male dominated and yet I have not found a safer environment for women – sure incidences of groping do get occaionally reported on Tokyo subways but they are too insignificant in numbers to what Indian women experience on a daily basis. And I have not noticed anyting even closely resembling the staring and visual “stripping” down that large swathes of Indian males indulge in and which is highly aggressive and belligerent. France too is very patriarchal society in my experience and yet traveling in France one does not have to face the stares, groping, and general harrasment that a woman in India faces routinely on a daily basis. Of course, one could argue that maybe French men keep away from foreign or non-chic women :), but I do believe one can pick up some vibe on gender behavior especially after ones antenna’s have been honed in a place like India.
What both these places have in common though is that men are not sexually repressed as they are in India. For example Japanese men can indulge in porn almost anywhere they want to including sitting next to me on the return commute home. That France has been liberated from bourgeois worries about sex is something of a fact. So maybe it could be that its not respect for women but sexual freedom that’s driving force behind public behavior. However, a conflict with that conclusion is something like Latin American countries – they are techincally more free as compared to India in terms of sexual expression and yet a country like Argentina has highest incidence of rape. Go figure. Maybe France and Japan are the way they are also due to a general lack of religious fervor that might repress or taint sexual expression in other societies that are technically sexually free and yet repressed eg highly catholic countries. I am not sure.
Of course, realistically its quite possible that in every society there are combination of factors that decide how men behave towards women but my point is having respect in the conventional sense might not be the one up there high on the list. And although on much pondering I have still been unable to come to a strong personal conclusion as to why male behavior in India is quite uncivilized (I want to say borderline animalistic) I wonder if it is because a significant number of Indian men simply don’t find it morally reprehensible or just plain wrong and Indian culture in large part condones and accepts it as something of a cultural given. I mean where else in my travels but in India have I encountered the sheer number of men who scratch their balls in public but I don’t see parents teaching young children that that’s not acceptable form of public behavior?
The other day at a Hyderabadi mall, a group of men in their 20s were taking pictures in front of a banner ad for Harry Potter. Most of the men liked to have their picture taken while air-groping poor Hermione’s rack, or resting their weary heads on aforementioned rack. The presence of women or elderly men wasn’t a deterrent, and if anything, the gaggle of Arab-wannabe girls in full length burqas passing by thought it funny.
Indian men have more of a pack mentality, as compared to the rest of the androcentric societies. Perhaps it has to do with India’s overwhelmingly young population, but practically all disagreeable incidents I can recall were from groups of boys/men, never a single individual. It’s what you might expect from much younger teenage groups in the rest of the world, but Indian men behave badly well into their 20s. Perhaps sexual repression is to blame, perhaps not. Separating co occurrence from causation is incredibly difficult.