"Ah, mon cher, we are odd, wretched creatures, and if we merely look back over our lives, there's no lack of occasions to amaze and horrify ourselves."

- Albert Camus as Jean-Baptiste Clamence, 'The Fall'

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Life in the Government - Part II - Mythologies of Patriarchy

So I was watching this movie, last night - Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi (Dir. Sudhir Mishra, starring Kay Kay Menon, Chitrangada Singh, Shiney Ahuja). You might have watched it. If you haven't, I recommend you do so. It's a nice movie, informing the viewer about what life was like for people from the upper, middle, and lower classes, during the tumultuous years of Indira Gandhi as Prime Minister of India.

The movie begins to pick up after Emergency is declared and all opposition party leaders are systematically arrested. That's when the director chooses to show the action happening in Bihari hinterland, especially in the district of Bhojpur.

I really like the handling of the character of the policemen in the film. I have rarely seen so accurate a depiction of district-level Indian policemen in film. There's this one scene in which the character of Chitrangada Singh, an adult literacy activist, confronts a policeman, probably a Sub-Inspector (SI), over a large number of villagers arrested in connection with a dead body that the police claim is one of theirs, murdered by Maoists from the village. The SI who is in the Police Station - his place of Power - after venting his rage on the lawyer for the villagers, sits upon his desk, his eyes upon Singh's breasts, slowly moving up to meet her eyes.

In that one movement, he seems to very effectively convey a supreme and total internalization of centuries of patriarchy.

This problem, you see, is not limited to just the police. The point I'd like to make here, is that in states of North India (note: I can write only about what I've seen for myself, so I'm not talking about the Southern states here, at all), the nearer one gets to the heartland, that is to say, the district towns and villages, the more one notices a distinct strain of patriarchal thought and action that seems to pervade the different levels of administration.

Here's a real-life example, something that happened to me:

A very senior officer in the District Administration here sat down in his stenographer's office and lit up a choti Gold Flake cigarette. I was there to look through some paperwork that had arrived the previous day from some departments in the district. The officer took a long drag and decided that he'd like to chat with me while he smoked. So he asked me, "Tum Bambai se ho, to tum Maratha hoge."
To which I responded with, "Main Marathi hoon, lekin main Tamil bhi hoon."
"Woh kaise?"
"Meri maa Tamil hai, aur mere father Marathi hain."
The officer smirked. "Nahi. Pata hai, tum galat ho."
"Woh kaise, sir?"
"Tumhari maa galat hai. Agar woh apne aap ko Tamil bolti hai, to yeh galat baat hai."
A self-satisfied look, and he continued.
"Hindu mythology mein, aurat ka koi jaat nahi hota. Shaadi ke baad, uska jaat apne husband ka jaat hota hai. Iska matlab hai, aap Maratha ho. Tamil nahin."
A man, passing by, was stopped by the officer and asked for his opinion about the matter. The senior officer's views were, of course, corroborated without hesitation. I realised, this wasn't a matter of seniority. That man, passing by, really did believe that men were superior to women, and that this 'fact' has its genesis in the Sacred Texts.

What's funny is, that senior officer spoke of Hindu 'mythology', and I can say, with complete assurance, that the man has never read - or for that matter, even heard of - Roland Barthes. Patriarchy, among so many other things, is sustained through mythologies that provide the structural framework for wisps of smoke to appear (and feel) as thick as concrete.

I'd like to write more about this, but I have to return to work now.
Maybe I'll update this post later.

1 comment:

  1. I agree that there is wide-spread chauvinism regarding female roles throughout India especially in the Northern states.

    My mother applied for her passport last year, even after the police verification nearly six months later she had not received her passport. Finally after tracing its footsteps from the post-office to the police-station and finally to the Regional Office at Mumbai she found out that it was stuck at an official's table. Reason: he couldn't understand why my mother wanted to keep her maiden surname and not her husband's surname!

    As my mother reasoned with him that she wished to keep it so, he asked her if she loved her husband enough or was she contemplating divorce! It was unthinkable to him that a married woman would want to retain her maiden name. It took quite some coaxing, pleas and finally threat to report to a higher authority for him to relent. He later said, after observing that my mother was from Kerala, "Aap Madrasi-log (When would people realize that all South-Indians are not Madarsis?)bahut modern hokey hamara Bharthiya sanskar chod rahey ho!"

    We still need to sensitize our society's collective consciousness on gender biases.