What can you say about the state of affairs of a state where the highest legislative official takes great pleasure in describing the process of sexual intercourse and uses his hands to graphically explain the entire thing? What chief minister Nitish Kumar did in the Bihar assembly earlier this week makes for an egregious display of misogyny/sexism (and both) and a blatant disregard for decorum.
Looking at him speak, the overwhelming reaction was one of disgust and disbelief. Disgust because of the obvious, vicarious pleasure Nitish Kumar seemed to be deriving in describing how heterosexual human beings engage in coitus. He was purportedly making a point about how ‘modern’, ’empowered’ women now play a decisive role in the outcome of a sexual encounter by having the agency to say no to unprotected sex. However, the manner in which Kumar chose to describe the process of ‘coitus interruptus’ was nothing short of — as someone rightly termed it — the contents of a C-grade movie whose explicit purpose is to titillate misogynistic men.
What made the whole affair more shocking was the fact that it took place on the floor of the Bihar legislative assembly, with the entire house in attendance and the media recording the proceedings for the public and posterity. Kumar’s derivative employment of body language to describe a common physical experience points to a problem common with — overwhelmingly — the menfolk in the larger South Asian region.
Unfortunately, an inordinate number of men in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka are prone to treating coitus as an act that sets the equation between man and woman; husband and wife; paramours. Prodigious numbers of South Asian men consider sexual intercourse as an experience that ‘shows the woman her place’. They may, alternately, engage in it for the purpose of procreation and have little or no inclination to satiate their partners or to even acknowledge that necessity.
It plays into the entire pantheon of wrongs Indian women have to contend with — right from the moment of their conception in the wombs of their mothers. Yes, the practice of sex determination has been outlawed in India. But that does not mean that having a girl child has become any bit easier. It’s why state governments, in particular the MP government, has introduced schemes that say ‘Beti Bojh nahi, Janam se Lakhpati Hogi’ (a daughter won’t be a burden but owner of lakhs of rupees).
In our country, the once largely-prevalent tradition of female infanticide speaks volumes about the place we accord our mothers, daughters, sisters, nieces, wives. The girl child is not subjected to such treatment in the much-reviled ‘Western’ nations, where preference for a male child may well exist but it does not translate into female infanticide.
Despite the inroads feminism and female empowerment may have made into Indian society and culture, a woman’s place is still largely believed to be ‘in the home’. You may be an accomplished corporate manager but will substantially be considered ‘successful’ only if you are also ‘happily’ married, with a couple of children and one pedigreed pet to sweeten the entire homely equation.
Without generalising, I state this from my defining experience of living and working in several metropolitan and provincial cities of our ancient nations for over two decades.
History is replete with examples that what makes a country great is the way it treats its girls and women — in folklore, tradition and everyday lived experiences.
Yes, the United States has not had a female president till now. Yes, the United Kingdom has only Margaret Thatcher and Theresa May to cite as modern-day political leaders. But India, with our spectrum of leaders — from Indira Gandhi, Jayalalitha, Mayawati, Mamata Banerjee, Sonia Gandhi, others; Pakistan with Benazir Bhutto; Sri Lanka with Sirimao Bandaranaike and Bangladesh with Sheikh Hasina and Begum Khalida Zia — the entire South Asia, in effect — can still not say with conviction and truth that we have treated our women with the respect, care and affection they deserve.
And this is brought out tellingly in the way our political leaders and public figures keep demonstrating with appalling regularity. Who can forget what actor Randeep Hooda said about former Uttar Pradesh CM Mayawati?
Nitish Kumar’s deeply misogynistic comments about women on the floor of the Bihar state assembly is but a small indication of how women are overwhelmingly viewed and treated in our nation. That may sound harsh but then truth is never an easy pill to swallow.