Minority report | Duryodhana Enterprises Public Limited


Minority report | Duryodhana Enterprises Public Limited


Aamir Khan’s much-appreciated television talk show Satyamev Jayate that deals with social behaviour, crime, safety and gender wrapped up another season last Sunday.

The final episode dealt with masculinity in India with Khan starting the show in good humour with blackboard markings (prompted by men in the audience) that defined a man.

Adjectives like “brave”, “strong”, “sensitive”, “protective”, “providing”, “immune to pain”, “understanding” came up among other expected ones. In the next three minutes, when asked if they agreed, the women’s side of the audience tore down every term as untrue when applied to Indian men. Their reasoning ostensibly stemmed from their experiences.

Yet another instance of the growing mistrust between the sexes made me cringe. Do we really think about most or all men in this way? I wondered.

Khan laughed gamely, made politically correct noises from both sides of the debate, but couldn’t prevent masculinity look like a murderer hanged in public.

The episode had varied and pertinent segments—interviews with men from Varanasi, Rajasthan and Delhi (none from South India) on their experiences with parenting, parochialism, paternal problems and manhood in India.

Top Hindi cinema heroines discussed similar notions and what they looked for in an ideal man. Finally, Big B Amitabh Bachchan spoke on parvarish (upbringing) being the spine of everything that helps shape a man.

The most compelling segment was Khan’s interviews with a couple whose son had been brutally killed in a road rage incident for barely scratching someone’s bike and another with a doctor whose son had committed suicide by throwing himself on railway tracks because he had been violated and endlessly degraded as part of college ragging in Jalandhar.

Both case studies were alarming in their details. They revealed anger, insensitivity and a disgusting entitlement to violence, all perpetuated by men. It invariably led to a die-hard connect with contemporary masculinity.

As a viewer, I was hit with a revelation that had eluded me in most of my journalistic research, reading and ruminations over gender issues. Which is the violence of men against men. I have often written on gender issues in this column—the Sigma Male, the cinematic Haider’s Oedipal relationship with his mother; the rise of misogyny. It is a subject that confounds and compels me most—what does it mean to be a man in India thrown as we are onto a bloodied battlefield between the sexes. But lopsidedly, I have largely examined the issue only from a female, if not a feminist, perspective—forgetting that there is an inflammatory conflict between man and man in modern India. Not only because some men directly throttle the lives and happiness of other men (and not just women) but also because millions of perfectly well adapted, non-criminal, sensitive and good men get clubbed into an overflowing category of brutes. The latter must surely seed anger among Good Men against Bad Men.

Could the residual anger of these good men also be for women as being the cause of such a categorization? Crossed paths leading to more conflicts? Worse, we have a dozen stereotypes of “bad men” in today’s age but few or none of “bad women” from a gender argument.

It is a tragedy of our times that the only way masculinity is examined is through a problematic lens even if we may reach the conclusion that “all men are not the same”. This is a pro-feminist and, therefore, unequal way.

Sometime back, I had read parts of American writer Richard Collier’s book called Essays on Law, Men and Masculinities, where he talks of how ideas about men become contested and politicized in the legal arena. By basing his work on legalities (not the Indian Penal Code, unfortunately), Collier explores what it means to be a man in specific grounded contexts, arguing that manhood is a culturally constituted category that is neither entirely dependent on nor distinguished only by biology.

“There is no such thing as an intrinsic male or masculine identity. Men’s identities are constructed through diverse and socially contingent practices that may themselves be contradictory,” he writes.

If we must comment on the Indian man’s identity, we may need to make it wider beyond the negative, criminal and culpable dialogue that encases it currently. Male behaviour and violence constitute a serious social problem, right, but could this be the only way to dig and work on it? What about the views of non-heterosexual men on crime against women or on masculinity itself? What about the small but clearly visible and supportive breed of sensitive, non-aggressive men talking about the crisis of manhood on a TV show?

Scripting and staging the Duryodhana stereotype to cyclically demolish, resurrect and kill it repeatedly is like showing a cracked mirror of our times.