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Where Should We Look for the Roots of Indian Misogyny?

March 12, 2013

by Pubali R. Chaudhuri

So pervasive is India’s hatred for women that even watching an Indian film can be a painful experience for a feminist. You never know when the misogyny is going to pop up like a slap across your face, so casual, so unthinking, so normal, so everyday. The routine insults to women’s rights are so taken for granted.

I was watching a Bengali telefilm where the mother of a young woman was talking of how they had arranged a marriage for their daughter. “In the matter of marriage we are a bit traditional/conservative,” she said. “It was the perfect family, the boy has a good job and his own house, it’s a family just such as we desire.”  Indians always refer to bridegrooms as “boys” and brides as “girls” thus indicating exactly how much under parental control they are, how little they are regarded as independent people with rights over their own bodies and futures.

One snag: The young woman does not want to marry into it. So what does one call it when parents insist on their daughter’s marriage without her consent?  One calls it a forced, not an arranged, marriage.

What does one call it when sexual intercourse takes place within a forced marriage? That’s right. One calls it rape.

In this case, who are the aiders and abettors of the rape of a young woman? Are they scary deviant rapists off the streets? Or are they the young woman’s own parents who thus set their daughter up to be raped? There’s no way to sugarcoat this. These parents who marry off their daughters without their consent are aiding and abetting the rape of their daughters. They are committing a crime against humanity. Yet there is no outrage, no public protests, no calls for action, nada, against such crimes of rape in forced marriages that happen every day and to millions of women every year in India.

Such rapes are perfectly acceptable, socially sanctioned, legitimized, blessed-by-the woman’s-own-parents rapes.

So is rape the final fate of most Indian women? Rape by forced marriage or rape on the streets? Is not the first unit of violence against the Indian woman then her own home, her own family, and her own community? A culture where she has evidently no right to ask for economic independence first, then the right, as a responsible adult, to choose her own partner, with or without the advice of her parents?

Later, the daughter is shown discussing her impending forced marriage on the phone with a friend. Referring to what will happen if she disobeys her parents, she says, “My father has such a temper; perhaps he’ll even kill me.” Wow.

So the threat of violence comes not from the streets, not from criminal elements, but from the Indian family unit – from one’s own parent.

Tells us something about where to look for the roots of Indian misogyny, doesn’t it?

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Pubali R. Chaudhuri is an Associate Editor at Intrepid Report

sex without consent is rape final

30 Comments leave one →
  1. Terry permalink
    March 12, 2013 10:15 pm

    Right, that’s the shame: that this weird tradition can live on only because people, parents, mothers, who should know better agree and with it accept. In my country rape in a marriage is a crime. It will be long way for India to get there but it’s high time.

  2. March 12, 2013 10:17 pm

    Reblogged this on julzonuk.

  3. swati permalink
    March 12, 2013 10:20 pm

    bang on!!!! that is the cause of misogyny in India.The misogyny stems from this.That is because family is the basic unit of society.What happens in society is actually what happens in individual family

  4. March 12, 2013 10:32 pm

    Great post. Indian films are very frustrating to watch. Their depictions of women tend to bizarrely jump between archaic village values to “modern,” cringe-worthy, strip-club-style gyrating.

  5. March 13, 2013 5:22 pm

    … but should anyone try to change this medieval practise there would be outrage that the Indian culture is being violated. It would cause uproar. ‘This is our culture and the West must leave it alone’, would be the protest.

    India, (by which I mean the male ruling class) must decide whether or not it wants to be part of the developed world, with all the benefits that offers (and although it may not be prefect it does have economic and health benefits), or cut itself off and remain in its Dark Age past.

    Unfortunately none of the Western leaders have the guts to take sanctions on India as it is looked upon as a huge market of untapped wealth. So the Indian women will continue to suffer …

    • March 17, 2013 12:50 pm

      @angelajardine — I agree. Even as I run this campaign against female genocide, I find some of the fiercest resistance and denial coming from women within the women’s movement in India — with exactly the kind of arguments that you give. See this paper. On the other hand I’ve found this resistance even among prominent women in the western feminist movement. I was amazed that they would support arguments of ‘cultural sensitivity’ etc. for misogyny and violence in India which I know they wouldn’t for women in the west. And i realized it’s because they have long associations with the Indian feminists saying the same, and in the spirit of sisterhood they dont’ want to offend them. But my argument is, that there are feminists like Publai here and myself, who may be minority voices, but we are fighting for the recognition of universal human rights for women, for safety on demand and unconditionally, and for the state to uphold the bodily integrity of women for all kinds of violence. But because we are a minority voice, even the western feminist movement does not want to support us for fear of offending the majority of the women’s movement. That’s why voices like yours are very important in supporting us. I agree with the second part of your statement too, and I’ve made the same argument. India is the biggest and cheapest slave labor camp and the government does not care, how the workers are used and abused. That’s why western governments who want their companies to base here (at the cost of jobs for the people in their own country!) won’t raise objections to what’s happening in India. It is one of the reasons we need to move this forward through mass public support — like the anti-apartheid movement moved, instead of through the governments.

    • sahitha permalink
      August 4, 2013 10:23 am

      I agree that many of the bigots in India will moan about the West violating their culture if they speak up against the treatment of women. They are more concerned about keeping up their false image of India as a spiritual and non-violent country while the fact is that many of these idiots do not even understand spirituality properly.

      They have such fragile egos that any comment from the West is taken as an assault against them personally. Such is the widespread arrogance and lack of self-awareness that many people worship the Mother Goddess in temples and still have the idea that women are only worth having sex with.

    • sahitha permalink
      August 4, 2013 12:03 pm

      @ Rita Banerji- Thanks for posting the link to the views of “Indian feminists”. I get very angry and annoyed that such myopic individuals get to represent India on an International platform. Indian culture values what? “submission”, self-denial and all that crap about “individual ego”. Does this woman know what she is talking about? I do not get that impression. She does not even know that she has been brain-washed by the very system she is speaking about. If she truly had the insight that she was brain-washed too to believe in some stupid hierarchy which was erected by educated, “high caste” self-absorbed men to serve their own interests, she would not have been speaking like that.

      Who sent her up to speak for feminism in India anyway? India is a “culture that respects hierarchy”??? really since when? since 3000 years ago? and who shaped it? who followed it?. Let me guess- the uneducated, superstitious,ignorant low class who feared the educated men of “wisdom” followed hierarchy because they knew nothing better.

      Just because many millions share the same pathology, it does not make it normal. It should be identified as dis-ease. I am guessing by the language she used about “individual ego, self-denial” etc. that it has some spiritual roots in that un-enlightened spiritual teachers have taught the masses in India to sacrifice the self for the needs of the community as a whole.

      What those idiots failed to recognise is that as long as we are in the human form we have an ego. The whole idea of spirituality is to surrender the personality ego to the Higher Self (Atman/Brahman) which is the Soul (the God Essence) in each individual. When people merge their individual egos with their Higher-Selves, they automatically follow their Soul’s path which is to serve humanity. It was never meant to be “submission” to another outside of ourselves for the greater good. What non-sense!!!!

      What ignorance!!

      In fact spirituality encourages each one of us to be true to our Soul’s purpose and because each Soul is unique, every individual is unique and hence has to be treated and valued as such. So in the spiritual sense each individual is cherished and never asked to sacrifice his/her true Self. Do mind that I am not using small “s” here when self refers to the physical form whereas “Self” refers to the Soul.

      Can you see how this ideal could have been twisted by people in power at the time (the educated, pundits who read the Holy Scriptures) to suit them?

      Sometimes, I feel like these people have to be put in their place for talking and accepting such garbage.

      There I finished my rant.

  6. March 16, 2013 4:42 am

    This post is ignoring the fact that women are not always hopeless and oppressed. see for a response

  7. March 18, 2013 3:03 pm

    I agree with the sentiments in your reply to my comment wholeheartedly, Rita.

    Frankly I believe a true feminist is not someone who has to belong to a ‘gang’ for some sort of vindication, she is simply someone who stands up to be counted wherever women are being violated and victimised. It’s no good clinging to labels if you do not take action, even if you are a lone voice.

    I think it is the ‘lone voice’ thing that scares so many women into these labelled clusters.

    And of course in the western world women do not have to contend with such blatant misogyny and commonplace violence but that should mean that we in the west lend our energy and strength to the atrocities that are happening elsewhere.

    Bless you, Rita, for your work … you are speaking out whilst so many other sit in well-fed, complacent silence.

  8. March 22, 2013 11:31 am

    I am 42 years old, I was old enough to see what came before 1992 and what has followed and how our society has changed, for the worse. The resurgence of religion coupled with a daily dose of brain dead soaps selling a soup of Indian ‘culture’ has led to this explosive situation. Is it possible to really brain wash people with television? yes it is – just come and see India where the Tara of so many years ago, about three independent women who forged their own lives, has been replaced by the bahu-saas whine fests. and women are lauded for being long suffering and putting up and shutting up. don’t tell me this doesn’t have an impact of society! I find people, including young women, are much more regressive in their thinking than people of my generation. I remember re-tweeting a tweet by a handle called @beingshetty who said she is as scared of feminists as she is of rapists… there i think i can rest my case. No one in my generation, or even my mom or grandmom (even though they might disagree with feminists) would say such a horrible thing. this seemed to be an educated young woman seems to be enjoying all the privileges so many feminists who have gone before us have fought so long for her to abuse them like this. It’s disheartening.

  9. Bharatiya Nari permalink
    April 5, 2013 1:16 pm

    Its not just rape of the bride its rape of the groom as well. If he did not want marry either and he also did not give his consent to marry but was forced by his parents. So when the couple has sex, it is mutual rape. That is the only way to see it.

    What they should do is refuse to have sex with each other. Then after one year when both of their parents ask how come they have not yet had any child, the couple can explain that as they did not give their consent to marry each other they did not want to rape each other.

    Perhaps going without grandchildren will teach Indian parents NOT to force their kids into marriages.

    • April 6, 2013 12:07 pm

      Bharatiya Nari — rape is sex by force. Physically a man can force a woman, but a woman usually cannot force a man unless he is bed ridden, paralyzed or sick and weak.

  10. Bharatiya Nari permalink
    April 9, 2013 7:46 am

    If parents are forcing sons to marry when they don’t want to and those sons are having obligatory sex in order to consumate the marriage they did not want, as well as to meet the expectations of their parents for children that they also don’t want, then its rape just as if a woman does all of the above to please her parents, even though she may not want to marry or have kids.

    Both sexes who marry when they don’t want to but out of some sense of obligation to family, custom and culture, are in fact expected to have sex with each other and pressured to do so.

    The author of this piece seems to be calling such family and customary pressure in arranged marriage as “rape”.

  11. Bharatiya Nari permalink
    April 9, 2013 7:50 am

    And just because a woman may not have wanted to marry a man or marry at all, it doesn’t mean she also doesn’t want to have sex. Perhaps many of the forced marriages are between people who may not want to be married but maybe they do want to have sex, and want to have sex with the person they were forced to marry.

    I think the author is stretching things a bit to call forced marriage “rape”.

    I’m not supporting forced marriage at all. But other factors would have to be involved in order for the sex that follows to be considered a crime.

  12. Bharatiya Nari permalink
    April 10, 2013 6:59 am

    Rape is sex forced against one’s will. What is YOUR definition?

    • April 10, 2013 7:57 pm

      Same as yours!

    • Bharatiya Nari permalink
      April 10, 2013 8:29 pm

      OK so then how does it follow that forced marriage by one’s parents is rape?

      Unless, like a traditionalist you are equating sex with marriage. A woman may want to have sex with a man but not want to marry him. It is perfectly possible and within reason that many young Indian women may not want to marry but DO want to have sex. Therefore after they are pressured into marriage by their parents, they may very well desire to have sex with the man they married, even if they didn’t want to marry him. Remember we are dealing mostly with young people here – their hormones are high and they are curious about sex, especially if they’ve never had it. Maybe the men they married are good looking and sexually desirable. Its not that all of these men are necessarily forcing themselves on their brides the night of the wedding.

      On the other hand what about the young men who also don’t want to marry but are forced to by their parents as well? I know a number of Indian men who did not want to marry but due to culture and family pressure they did. I know a few who didn’t even like their wives but they had “duty sex” with them under the pressure to conform to what a normal married life is supposed to be and also to produce the children their wives wanted and the grandchildren that both sets of grandparents wanted.

      Then you have all of the homosexual Desis who are forced to marry the opposite sex by their parents. Many, if not most, of these Desi parents don’t even know their children are gay because they never told them. And even when they do tell them, the parents think by getting them married off to the opposite sex will someone “cure” them of homosexuality.

    • April 13, 2013 10:17 pm

      OK this is the extension of your definition of rape which we don’t share!!! Because according to this definition, girls sex-trafficked, also have raging hormones. So they may be forced into a situation against their will, but hey, they’re all of an age where they want sex anyway, so why call it rape!!! We also find very often when people get argumentative and in conflict of their own ideas and definition, like it appears you may be, there could be issues relating to the subject that they need to confront within their own lives and families.

    • La Vida Loca permalink
      April 15, 2013 1:02 pm

      You can read about female on male rape here;

      Click to access ID45-PR45.pdf

      Its more common than we think.

  13. Susan Chaple permalink
    May 11, 2013 8:22 pm

    rape isnt just physical its mental, it doesnt think it does, it doesnt ask it takes, its impatient, controlling and puts out the spark in its victim with its coldness and cruelty…thats my definition of rape. Thank God i dont live in India, but give those subjected to it my support as a human being Susan Chaple Great Britain

  14. Living being permalink
    July 19, 2013 3:50 pm

    Hi All, Read the article and also the comments….what I am going to talk now is reality…but how we are going to change it can be discussed. The woman gets married to a man in India especially to get protection for herself….. If the woman is unmarried then a man gets a hint that she is available (for what? do not ask me). Indian community (both men and women inclusive), treat such women with scorn and doubt her character. In order to prevent herself from undergoing the trauma of protecting herself, she decides to go for a man whom she is forced to marry and who will be also the only person raping her (if it is non-consensual). If she does not get married then there is a chance of she getting raped by several men….in so many years of her life time. Again though she is the victim of the accident, starting from her parents to the other so-called experienced persons around her life shall blame her…”if she had got married, she would not have faced this predicament…blahblahblah…”. Now she calculates, which is better…one man raping her during her entire lifetime, or possibility of several men doing the same…she chooses the former….
    The only solution I can see is from the woman’s parents to every one changing their attitude towards marriage. When a person says he or she is my life partner then that itself shows that there is an interdependency. A man is dependent on his wife for certain needs (I am not talking about sexual needs here) and a woman needs a man for certain other needs. there is a partnership of everything from both, then why women are considered liabilities. Fine…if the Indian parents believe that the man can live an independent life, then why get him married and search for a bride. The crux is after the days of the parents and the siblings, a man AND a woman might need company during their old age. Let us encourage such beautiful friendly partnership wherein both learn to respect each other and not give in to the selfish needs of the other family members around them.

    • July 21, 2013 10:26 pm

      Your logic is beyond belief! Do you really think married women don’t get raped? And you obviously think that being single is an invitation to getting raped by several men!! Do you understand that your kind of thinking exemplifies the worst aspect of misogyny — exactly what this article is talking about? Do you understand that?

    • sahitha permalink
      August 4, 2013 10:47 am

      Maybe it is the family in the first place who made you believe that a single woman is raped easily. Maybe it is their fear you absorbed.

  15. sahitha permalink
    August 4, 2013 10:45 am

    Oh! Thank you very much for speaking my mind on this subject. I agree that it’s repulsive watching all those films and Television drama that so inherently accept/normalise what goes on in Indian society. They do not see anything wrong with “forced marriages”, treat individuals as someone else’s property, especially children and women.

    I am glad there is someone else who agrees it is a violation of Human rights and dignity to coerce/convince/force a person into marriage when they clearly have said “NO.”

  16. Dee permalink
    December 11, 2014 4:27 am

    An interesting article .. it’s depressing what the state of play is. I reflected on a few things that tie in with misogyny:
    – women need to consider how they collude into this eg not standing up for the basic rights of their daughters by way of developing independence as adults and ultimately being breadwinners who are not dependant on fathers, husbands and sons. Failure to do so patronises women and leaves them vulnerable to abuse which society full well realises
    – mothers need to realise their own gender’s self worth: selling one’s daughter short of the opportunities in decision making about life choices that a son would have had, the countless violations to human rights committed on daughters and daughter in laws are all things that don’t happen to males. Why? because it’s unthinkable to do that to males – this whole sense of gender superiority that women buy into also needs a hard look


  1. Forced Marriages and the Modern Woman | Thoughts That Make Me Tick

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