Sunday, January 21, 2018

Time for Indo-Trinis to take notice too

I write this letter as an Indo-Trinidadian male to address an item of foreign news with some relevance to our country. The outrage that erupted in India after the rape and murder of a woman in a Delhi bus has exposed a skeleton in the closet of Indian society, that is, how women are valued in that culture.

To those who would paint this mass movement as a revolt of Indian women against always misogynistic Indian men, I say, look at the composition of the crowds. The fact is, the protesters are male and female—mostly young and educated—what one writer described as the "Twitter generation" of India. The schism is not between Indian women and Indian men, per se, but between two Indias, the new, young, educated and aspirational India versus the outdated India of old men who cling to antiquated ideas.

This old India, despite what you may hear from dishonest Indo-centrists or pundits, has never seen women as much more than baby machines and sex objects. If, in this culture, women were ever thought to have possessed a mind and personhood, you would not know it.

By their fathers, unmarried daughters of the old India are seen as possible threats to the moral standing of their families. Their singleness is more than an inconvenience to their relatives, it is a constant, nagging risk to the reputation of their parents, lest these unwed daughters become the subject of scandalous rumours, hence the urge to marry them off quickly.

To the husbands of the old India, their wives are still largely valued to the extent that they can bear sons and submit their bodies to the pleasure of their spouses. What is largely ignored is the new India of educated, independent, empowered women which, though still nascent, is vociferous and gaining ground.

Indo-Trini women are now one of the most educated and upwardly mobile groups in our nation. However, the unrest in India is relevant to us because despite the enormous gap between the old India of our indentured forebears and modern Trinidad and Tobago, it seems that vestiges of outdated, barbaric ideals still survive. These cultural relics are seen in the Hindu and Muslim marriage acts which sanction the marriage of children, also, the majority of women murdered by their husbands are Indo-Trinis, killed by a man of the same ethnicity.

The worrisome difference between Indians and Indo-Trinidadians is that the former have at least reacted, and an optimist might cautiously call this movement a turning point in the way women are treated in India. Indo-Trinis, however, with typical Trinbagonian nonchalance, have yet to even notice that a problem exists. I hope we can reform our attitudes before a tragedy, similar to the one on a Delhi bus, forces us to act.

Rakesh Mohan