Response to The Guardian’s article ‘Why is India so bad for women?’
July 31, 2012 in Uncategorized
By Aisha Zakira
Let’s review. Helen Pidd, a Guardian journalist and white British woman, writes an article entitled ‘Why is India so bad for women?’ Aside from not answering her own question, and failing to discuss the link between India’s democratic politics and societal attitudes towards women (as the byline claims it will) she presents an article that revives a tired argument in which all Indian men are figured as senseless abusers, and all Indian women are hapless victims.
Rather than critiquing a culture which accepts gender-based violence, Ms. Pidd demonizes Indian men (“91 years after Gandhi urged Indian men to treat their women with respect, the lesson has yet to be learned.”) Ms. Pidd moves swiftly from discussing cases of violence against women to making sweeping assertions about the character and morality of (presumably, all) Indian men. In doing so, she implies that Indian men are Neanderthal-like creatures who walk around compelled to carry out some rudimentary biological imperative. These narrowing characterizations of Indian men, besides being untrue of ‘all Indian men’ are insulting to the mental, emotional and intellectual capacities of Indian men. They also absolve a significant portion of our society of a responsibility towards ending gender-based violence. Indeed, if all Indian men are either harasser or bystander, there is little reason for more Indian men to take up what I believe is a collective responsibility to dismantle a culture which condones gender-based violence.
Moreover, if the culprit of gender-based violence was as simple an answer as ‘all Indian men,’ those of us who work to reform Indian society in ending gender-based violence could occupy our time with the sole task of (re)educating all Indian men. I imagine that those who work to end gender-based violence in India and across the world would have a significantly easier time of this. But we are not struggling against a distinct oppressor; rather we are working to dismantle a deeply held set of beliefs and values held by men and often by women as well. The work of reforming a society is far more difficult than of (re)educating a portion of the population because beliefs, values and assumptions are nebulous and harder to pin down. Ms. Pidd’s article is an insult to the tireless work of people across India who are working for change.
Shockingly, there is no mention of the writer’s perspective, and the politics of a white British woman commenting on the men of a country that Britain ruled by force less than 70 years ago. In failing to mention her own perspective, Ms. Pidd adopts a holier-than-thou attitude, pointing fingers and inevitably raising ire rather than drawing attention to an issue. At one point, she writes about ‘the story that outraged most Indian women last week,’ as though she is an authority on the issue, cloaking Indian women in yet another generalization rather than working to depict the complex realities of Indian society.
Stylistically, the article does not answer the question set forth in the title. Rather than calling this article ‘Why is India so bad for women?’ I would suggest The Guardian re-title the article ‘India is bad for women: a copy and paste.’ The article reads as a summary of several survey results and comments from other journalists which support Ms. Pidd’s tired argument that India is bad for women. I believe there is no excuse for streets to be unsafe for Indian women, but to present several facts in an alarmist, generalization-heavy tone does not help anything. I am surprised that The Guardian chose to run this article on its front page, because variations of this tired argument has been seen by out of touch, ignorant writers discussing Third World women countless times before.
I did not know it was possible to be outraged and bored at the same time, but here I am.