India’s Epidemic of Sex Crimes: Do Desi Fathers Ever Talk to their Sons About How to Treat Women?


India’s Epidemic of Sex Crimes: Do Desi Fathers Ever Talk to their Sons About How to Treat Women?

Illustration: Siddhakanksha Mishra

Not much has changed in the seven years since the 2012 Delhi gang rape, except perhaps the focus of our rage and the magnitude of our disbelief. The suffering and pain of the average Indian woman is now a panoramic image that stretches from one tip of the country to another. India might claim its homogeneity based on patriotism or pride, but women’s suffering makes for a unifying map that India’s men do not want to claim. Largely because it is their design. Because Hyderabad, Unnao, and the disheartening number of similar cases are borne out of a chasm in communication between fathers and sons.Too often the morality of men is paired with the sensitivity of their mothers. Her vulnerability, presumably makes it her prerogative to communicate to her boy the brittleness of her socio-political position and why it must be protected. Few perhaps manage to communicate that adequately. Most, however, neither possess the agency nor scope. Regardless, it is the mother you search for in times of distress, be it for a poignant quote for the press article or a vague interpolation of where that moral blind spot must have appeared.

The father, however, is almost always missing. Rapists aren’t bred in labs but inside Indian homes. Irrespective of the height of the social branch one sits on, everyone’s first lesson in interacting with women comes from their fathers. Majority of India, given its modest means, seldom makes it past that first chapter in life. It is a clear reflection of the examples being set in Indian homes, that men who step out of them then consider women as objects at their mercy and subjects to their will.

The Indian father-and-son duo may eventually share a drink together, but they almost certainly never arrive at a conversation about the conduct that must follow. I, myself, cannot remember if my father, after he had had a quarrel with mom, ever came to tell me that I was not supposed to behave the same; that that ought not to be the way to treat a woman, be it your wife, neighbour, or someone on the street. It doesn’t help that most men collaborate best when their moral fences have been pulled down with the help of alcohol. Your worst memory of being drunk, is for some reason, your best memory of being drunk. Vice and virtue have inexplicably become co-habitants of the Indian male psyche, that unfortunately structures itself on what goes unsaid, through the vacuum left behind by the absent fathers. A vacuum that women must fill, not out of authority but their instinct for survival, often against the whims of the very men they are forced to live with.

Rapists aren’t bred in labs but inside Indian homes.

Just how many Indian fathers are prepared to sit their sons down and school them on gender sensitivity? Just how many know or think about it themselves? Beyond the blind faith in the nobility of their own blood, does a father ever consider the fact that their son might at some point need to be told to look elsewhere for a role model, or to know the difference between his own choices, good and bad. Would the entitled male ego even allow that? Most Indian fathers, were they to mistreat their wives, do the meagre courtesy of shutting the door on their children.

Insulation, however, is often more damaging than interaction. It implies control and establishes a hierarchy of power that most young boys feel flattered by and grow up privy to. Concepts like dowry and arranged marriage are mere symptoms. In a country stacked on the basis of class, caste, and religion, this poisonous, self-aware brand of patriarchy has empowered men to claim certain abusive faculties while absolving themselves of responsibility. It’s a social monarchy, and whether we like it or not, “like father, like son” seems to be its closest empirical deconstruction.

The Hyderabad rape case is yet another trigger to reconstitute what this country stands for, if anything at all. It has become hard to offer anything constructive rather than customary to near-daily updates of similarly brutal incidents. What I wish for, is for mothers to be left alone for once in this whirlpool of toxic masculinity that they can neither escape nor explain, including to themselves.

Ask the fathers. Men must be made accountable for the message they inadvertently share with the ones they raise. Toxicity isn’t a bottle of hidden liquor both father and son drink from in the dark of the night, it’s an air of entitlement, of the guiltless eventual coronation that boys gradually warm up to, even if it comes at the cost of their mothers, sisters, wives, and so on. For there is nothing like a little reckless power. The kind of power that poisons a country because of the sea of unspoken, unheard voices it sheepishly spills into. It is this sea India must begin from rather than conveniently end in.