Its not a difficult question. How can a mob of mad men molest a teenager on a main street in Guwahati? With witnesses and a camera crew on hand? Aside from the alcohol in their bloodstream, its possible – if they felt they had the right to “punish” her. As far as they were concerned, she had given up her right to dignity when she walked into the bar. It isn’t absurd to assume they saw themselves as guardians of Guwahati, giving a drunken teenager a deserved lesson for failing to understand her place as a woman. After all, it wouldn’t be the first time the law was boldly broken to uphold a self-made moral code of conduct. Just have a look at Anders Brevik’s fine philosophy.
I was as outraged as anyone else with the incident, but a friend from the hills helped make sense of it all. He told me how women who go to pubs are perceived in the region. They are often associated with prostitution and invite moral indignation, unjust as it may be. A careless tweet by an Editor of a Guwahati news channel confirms the perception. “Prostitutes form a major chunk of girls who visit bars and night clubs”. Whether a prostitute or not, they didn’t have the right to touch her.
Palash Mehrotra, writing for Mail Today, narrows in on the heart of the issue, “The young girl wanted a drink. It doesn’t matter whether she was arguing with someone outside the bar, whether or not she was drunk herself, whether she was underage. What happened shouldn’t have happened. The men in the video are heard saying: “You drink liquor. You always drink liquor. You always go to bars. Show your face now.” It shows clearly that the attitude of the Indian male has remained constant, even though society, in several aspects, has changed rapidly. A woman drinking with men is a loose girl and her face needs to be shown on TV. She needs to be humiliated and made an example of.”
If Mehrotra is right, this wasn’t merely a random act of violence by a shameless mob of animals. More sinisterly, this was a group of self-appointed moral policemen who were intoxicated and emboldened by the dangerous idea that girls like her should get their due. The more public the punishment, the better. This doesn’t change anything. Catch them. Lock them up. Throw away the key. But there are more where they came from. You may never be able to convince these men what they did was wrong. As far as they are concerned, she got what she deserved. And that’s the heart of the problem.
These men are a microcosm of India’s animalistic view of women. India was recently ranked the worst place in the world for women among the nations that form the Group of 20. Kishwar Desai, writing for The Guardian, says, “With many more men than women in India, it is not surprising that there has been a steady rise in the instances of violence against women, both young and old – including heinous crimes like rape and acid attacks. The trafficking of women as well – the buying of brides – has also become a profitable business.” Its understandable to be enraged about Guwahati, but rage fades away as quickly as it takes to watch a YouTube video.
We don’t need rage, but we do need anger. A different kind of anger. A desperate dissatisfaction with the present order of things and the burning desire to turn it on its head into something better, something higher, something divine. This sort of anger smolders. Its inevitably subversive. Its peaceful but ideologically violent. Challenging but imitable. I see that sort of anger in Jesus’ preaching in the Gospels.
To paint a portrait, there is a biblical precedent for a mob who found an immoral woman walking out of a bar. This one was caught in the act of adultery. They brought her to Jesus. They wanted to stone her and asked for His approval. The story doesn’t say it, but I think He was angry. He looks around sorrowfully and indignantly. These are men who don’t know what it means to be a man. He decides to show them.
He sinks his fingers into the sand. Words begin to form. Minds begin to churn. They goad Him again. He gives them a condition. “Let him who is without sin…” Hearts begin to crack. Stones begin to fall. They don’t like what they see. They didn’t like what they heard. One by one, they return to their depravity. Jesus speaks to the guilty one. Its just the two of them now. Her opponents are gone. Only her defender remains. He speaks to her kindly. She walks away, redeemed.
Jesus embodies the kind of manhood that our nation needs. We can’t afford to be satisfied with rage against the monsters of Guwahati. We need something more. We need an age of anger. Not the sort of anger that turns violent or targets people, but the sort of anguish and discontent that rebels against caricatures of manhood that measure women by their caste, permit drunken assault and battery, justify sex-selective abortion and comfortably remain captive to pornography. Everything goes, as long as its a man who’s doing it.
Its a measurable fact that long-term missionaries have brought with their message, social change in culturally permissible evil. We can’t rely on foreign missionaries anymore, but their labor can be mimicked. It needs to be found within us to be able to change the nation’s ethos with a new age of anger. Something that drives us to live and love like Jesus. Then perhaps India would see a new kind of manhood. Then perhaps we would know what it means to be a man.
Image Credit: Ed Nix