Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Mummy, What is Rape? (Letters to Parth - 14)

My dear Parth, my big boy,

Over the last few months, everyone has been very caught up with the incident that happened in our capital city, New Delhi on December 16, 2012. A group of men hurt a young girl and her friend very badly in a dark, empty bus and then threw them out of the moving bus. The friend survived but the girl died after struggling in the intensive care unit (where patients who are very unwell are treated and intensively cared for 24 hours a day) in India and Singapore for thirteen days till her liver, kidney, brain and then finally her heart collapsed. Across India, people were very angry and upset about the lack of safety for women in our cities. I usually write about such things on my other blog, because I believe it is our responsibility to be good human beings and leave the world a better place than we found it. But writing about this incident was very difficult for me. I wanted to write but could not. I kept avoiding it.




But I realized the most important person I needed to share this with is you, since you are the future, and while you have a right to understand things your own way, sometimes the world around us can distort untruths and present them to us as THE TRUTH. I am still struggling to write this, but what better way to make a start than by writing them down for you. I will write as I think, since I know that you are clever enough to piece them together in the way that makes most sense for you.

Though we are in most ways no different from all other animals, there is one thing that sets us apart from them. We have the power to choose our actions based on our sense of what is right and what is wrong. For most animals, staying alive, creating new young ones, making their families big, their homes large and keeping themselves strong is way by which they measure what is right and wrong. In the process of evolution and by learning to live as a community, we have acquired what is known as an ethical structure, a moral code that is different from that of other animals. Do you know what ethics means? It means responsibility to those who are not you, it means responsibility to others. And morals is a way society decides what is responsible and not. As you study, you will learn more about the dynamics of ethics, but for the time being, this will serve as a starting point.

Nature made males and females differently. I do not know why, but I do see that it is a fairly efficient system. Tasks of providing and securing the welfare of the family unit and of giving birth and nurturing young ones have been divided between men and women. In the process of this differentiation, nature has made sure that the system works. Each of the sexes have been given qualities that are attractive to the other, so that they feel drawn to each other and form a bond that will lead to the creation of a family unit. This has been achieved by engineering biological differences that are controlled by chemicals called hormones. Hormones are those things in your body that makes you feel equally repulsed and attracted by the opposite sex, much like a blanket in early spring, where you feel itchy if you pull it on and cold if you don’t. This is the bond that makes it possible for us to give rise to a new generation of human beings, little babies like how you (and all of us) once were.


The whole complicated system of how and why this attraction works is clubbed under the blanket term of sex. Sex is very sacred since it is the cause for bonding and also the cause for new life. The only way that nature could make sure that we understand this is by making it one of the most pleasurable and desirable feelings that human beings can have. After hunger, sex is probably the strongest motivating factor for human behavior. One set of thinkers believe that sex underlies all our thoughts and actions, while another set believes that it is nothing more than a chemical and mathematical function of an organism. Either way, it still remains just as sacred, and just as much fun. But like all things that are fun, one must handle it with care.

Men and women are built differently as you must have realized by now. More than the obvious physical and structural differences, there is also a difference in what drives them at an unconscious level. Nature made women responsible for seeking out the best partner who will be healthy and strong, be able to provide and protect her and her babies, and being whose partner will make her happy. In the case of men, nature gave him the responsibility of making sure that he could provide and protect and help the woman create and have a baby. Maybe nature was tired, maybe she intended it, but she did not put in his mind a longer term role in the biological process. Or maybe she intended that he will define it for himself.

As we grew from being just clever animals to become the creators of civilizations, we realized that in order to live in harmony, we needed to have some rules in place. The very first concept of property came from the time when we started looking at relationships as property and realized that if someone encroached on our property, it felt terrible, and led to trouble. So, as society evolved, we created a set of rules that allowed us to live in peace. These codified, among other things, how boys should behave with girls. That is how we became civil with regard to sex. What turbulent and unpredictable and perhaps strangely exciting days our ancestors must have seen!

With time, a lot of time, both the sexes found that they had very important roles to play in the drama of life. While on one hand they enjoyed their uniqueness, on the other, they questioned why this uniqueness should limit their roles and functions in the community. This is where the modern concept of gender equality was born. For a very long time in our history, women were actually considered less important to the greater scheme of things than men. There are many reasons for that and you will learn about the ir/rationality of that as you grow up. Different societies grew at different speeds in their way of looking at things, especially about how boys and girls interact. In India, in our early history, we had a social system where women were considered equal to if not more powerful than men. With time, with the rise of the different monarchies and priestly classes, this was subverted, and for the greater part of our recorded history, women have been considered less important than men. This trend is not just limited to our culture, but is present worldwide, even in cultures where men and women are treated more equally than in others. When you read our history, you will learn how terribly women have been treated in India for centuries, with much of it being practiced even today.


With the rise of modernity, with independence and the emergence of India as a second level superpower, two terrible things happened. One was the use of knowledge to prevent the birth of girls. Because of the way women were seen for a large part of our history, many people did not want to have girl babies. So they used science to find out if the baby was a girl, and then killed her before she was born, and in case she was born, she was treated as a second grade citizen compared to boys. Over the years, this led to a higher number of boys than girls in many societies in India. What people did not realize was that as a result, there were more men than women. All men want a woman that they feel attracted to in order to bond with and set up a family. In order for that to happen, you need an equal number of men and women. No one thought of that when they set out preventing the birth of girls, or killing girl babies or treating them badly after they were born.

The other terrible thing that happened was the emergence of organized marketing of goods and the emergence of the entertainment industry. You remember how nature made sure that boys are attracted to girls? The marketing industry and the entertainment industry realized that the strongest motivation that people had was sex, and since men made more economic decisions in most societies than women, they began to present goods and entertainment that directly tapped into this biological programming. So if they wanted to sell a car, they paired it with an attractive girl. Remember how nature wasn’t as careful with making men? She also forgot to put the ability to reason beyond his emotions in his brain. She did that with women too, but compensated it with so many other useful things that it kind of gets overshadowed.

So when the man looks at the car and the girl, his brain says, I like that girl, I must buy that car. If I buy that car, I will find a girl like that. In the entertainment industry too, women were dolled up and presented as the ultimately perfect fantasy, and usually devoid of any other quality than being pleasurable. After decades, if not centuries, of this kind of programming, the male brain learned to override morals and let biology dictate his actions again.

This is what led to the men hurting the girl in Delhi on December 16. To them, she was just another piece of property, like the stuff you get in supermarket shelves, but in this instance, there was no checkout counter that they had to pay for it at. Or so they thought. Once again, nature’s sloppy work – most men believe that there is no checkout counter as far as mistreating other human beings are concerned. Some women believe that too, as I am sure you know too, but by and large, I have found men to be more deluded in this regard.

This manner of hurting a woman is known as rape. It is a word that has as its roots meanings such as plunder, destroy, spoil, seize by force, and abduct. The word is often used for other connotations like raping the earth, etc., but the most common meaning of it is to sexually impose on someone without their consent or against their wishes. Legally, it usually implies specific actions which are against the law, but in broader terms, it can and should include all forms of violence against women (or men) that abuses the sacred nature of sexual attraction.

The main lesson that is to be learned from this whole episode is an important one. All of us are precious, regardless of how we are manufactured. All of us are expressions of the universe’s desire to be, desire to become, and desire to take this desire itself to its natural destination. The journey and the destination both are essentially joyous and life enhancing. People have differences about what that destination is, but no one can say with any certainty that there isn’t one. At best they can question how it enhances life. If we cannot respect the sacredness of another life, we are only belittling our own sacredness. We all have a right to our space, our bodies and what we do with our bodies. This right is as sacred as our right to life.


Love is the feeling of being grateful for the presence of another person or persons in our life. I love all the people in my life, from my parents to my schoolteachers, to my mentor, to a whole galaxy of writers and musicians, the list is endless.

When a man and a woman are attracted to each other and bond to become a unit of the community, what we commonly understand as family, the blanket term we use is also love. As you study, you will learn more about the four kinds of love (solid, liquid, gaseous and plasma), but you know what we are talking about here, don’t you? This love is a little different from the rest of love, and it is not difficult to know that difference. What is difficult for a lot of people is to differentiate between love that is built on gratitude and a spiritual connection and love that is based purely on biological desire. This confusion can happen equally to boys and to girls. No matter how much someone tells you that it is physical longing and not love, it is often very difficult to see it clearly.

The point of my writing all this is to tell you that you will be experiencing these confusions as you go forward. Remember that in spite of the strong control that society exerts on us through it programming of girls as objects of desire and of manliness as your sexual adventurousness and aggression, we are still blessed with the gift of choice. We can choose not to be helplessly tossed about in the sea of emotions, compelled to act our feelings out. Remember that girls are essential to your experiencing yourself as a whole, and treat that essence with the respect it deserves. It is a most wonderful experience to desire and to be desired when that connection is between your complete selves.

This desire often culminates in physical intimacy and sex. These are very strong urges and it is easy to get carried away. This can lead to the girl becoming pregnant with a baby. It is important that a girl’s body grows from being a girl to being a woman before she tries having a baby, since babies cannot be mummy to babies, right? Similarly, the man who helps the woman become a mummy also needs to be psychologically mature to deal with the task of being a daddy. So it is important to hold on to your desires till you are mentally, emotionally, physically, and socially identified as no longer a boy. These desires will arise, and you will be tempted, and there may be moments when you give in to your feelings. In addition to the obvious chances of becoming a parent when you are not prepared, there is also the risk of contracting various physical diseases unwittingly during such moments. Remind me to tell you about these and how you can be careful with your feelings whenever you think you need to talk about it. My phone number still is 98661-45813.

It is not that you will only be attracted to one girl and that will be the end of the story. Chances are, for some time at least, you will be attracted to every girl you meet. Learn to acknowledge that as your biology and do not feel compelled to act on it. This will earn you respect from the girls in your life. The greatest gift a man can get is to be respected by the women in his life, whether they are his mother, his sisters, his friends or his partner. To earn the respect of the girls in your life, you might have to face the jibes of other boys who will be behaving in strange ways to assert their male-ness. Learn to treat them with compassion and help them to see girls as the vessel through which their aspirations will be manifested. Learn to protect the girls from being hurt or exploited. Learn to be a man in the truest sense of the word.

Given all the things that people have been saying these past several weeks, I thought I would not have much to say, but looking back at what I have written, I see I was wrong. I really must get used to being wrong. I know you will develop the wisdom to see what is important and seek out the essence of situations as you encounter them. You will learn to see how issues like this - the objectification of and violence against women, issues like corruption, hunger, disease, and poverty are all interlinked. I can guess from my own experience that you will be dealing with these issues much better than most of your friends, and it will become your responsibility to help them see the truth too.


I have already started straying into difficult territory, so I will stop now and leave you with a letter written by a favorite author of mine, John Steinbeck. This was part of a letter he wrote to his eldest son who was a teenager in 1958 on learning about his first feelings of love. You will find more of his letters in a book called Steinbeck: A Life in Letters. I hope this understanding of love will help you negotiate the feelings that are sure to come your way, better sooner rather than later with remorse.

“There are several kinds of love. One is a selfish, mean, grasping, egotistical thing which uses love for self-importance. This is the ugly and crippling kind. The other is an outpouring of everything good in you — of kindness and consideration and respect — not only the social respect of manners but the greater respect which is recognition of another person as unique and valuable. The first kind can make you sick and small and weak but the second can release in you strength, and courage and goodness and even wisdom you didn’t know you had.”

No causes can be created without the simultaneous creation of consequence. We have created a world where women are not safe, not respected, and not able to contribute all that they are capable of. What our world needs most are strength, courage, goodness and wisdom among the men of today. It is not much help to try and blame anyone for what has happened, but it is up to each one of us to bring healing to our society and to restore womanhood to its rightful place. I speak for my entire generation when I say that you are the greatest hope we have. I also know that my hope is not misplaced. Understanding love and your role and responsibility as a man can truly change your world!

Till we meet,

With much love,

Subho

PS: It was possible for me to write this letter because of the encouragement of and inputs from your Bhavana aunty. When you meet her, you can discuss this at length with her.

37 comments:

  1. excellent article, had a great time reading it! I guess all the parents should talk to their kids to make this society a better place to live in. Education, after all, should come handy somewhere!

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    1. Thanks, Rajyalakshmi. I do not know how far we will be able to repair the present, but this way, we can do our bit to save the future.

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  2. I'm going to share this post and make sure everyone reads it.

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  3. This is an amazingly well-written post, Subhorup. This child for whom this letter is meant for, is certainly very lucky to have you in his life. Here's hoping that he grows into a fine young man! :)

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    1. Thanks, Samadrita. I am certain that your observations will hold true across time.

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  4. This is one of the best articles I have read :) I am sharing it.

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    1. Thanks, MTR. Glad to have you here!

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  5. It's been a while since I visited The Story of Parth. This is another great post in the series.
    Like Purba, I also think I have to share this; it is for a large audience, as much as it is for Parth (and all our little ones). Thank you Subho.

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    1. The good news is you haven't missed a lot, Divya, since I too have not been very frequent with updates on this blog. This particular post took about three months to write. But I knew all through that I had to, so that made it easier.

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  6. Simply awed by this article. Speechless in fact!

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  7. Am I proud of you son!i read the post with tears in my eyes Parth(hardyk as i call him )is really lucky to have u as his father. I wish we had been so responsible in bringing u up.But the universe saw to it and made u what u are today- a conscientious ,respnsible and compassionate father.all my love and blessings . go ahead and create value. u inspire me .

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    1. Thanks, Ma. I am confident that Hardyk will grow up and see things as they truly are.

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  8. Really nice nd apt..its time we get together nd contributed in making the world a bettr plc to live in....nd us bloggers can reach out to millions wit our posts...good work

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    1. Thanks, Soham! Nice to see you here! Each of are carrying out our commitment to our mission, in our own ways. A better place to live in na hoye jabey kothai?

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  9. Comprehensive ,written from the heart.

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    1. Thank you so much, Uppal. Such an honor to hear you say this!

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  10. I deeply appreciate the way you have tread across time, geographies and cultures to create a comprehensive picture of why things are as they are today with respect to gender (in)equality. I deeply appreciate the sense of responsibility and thoughtfulness in the human, the man and the father in you. Thanks and kudos, Subhorup.

    My favorite lines from this piece - "The greatest gift a man can get is to be respected by the women in his life, whether they are his mother, his sisters, his friends or his partner. To earn the respect of the girls in your life, you might have to face the jibes of other boys who will be behaving in strange ways to assert their male-ness."

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    1. I am in perfect unison with Antara. My kid is just a year old and the current moral state of the society is already bugging me. I knew parenting is the toughest job in the world ever since i crossed my teen-age but it makes more meaning to me now. And now, i believe, that this job is tougher now than what it would have been during the time of my parents. I hope to see a better (morally) next generation and i will make all efforts to contribute to it and this blog will surely help me in achieving this

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    2. I am in perfect unison with Antara. My kid is just a year old and the current moral state of society is already bugging me. I knew parenting is the toughest job in the world ever since i crossed teenage but it makes more meaning to me now, when i am one. I believe, its tougher for my generation than it was for my parents' generation considering the exposure and influence there of that the next generation is getting. I am hoping to see a morally better next generation and i will contribute my best for this. I am sure, this article will serve as a guide to me and help me achieve this.
      Thanks a lot for sharing this letter!!!

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    3. Thanks, Antara! May your good wishes translate to good fortune in this particular matter for all of us.

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    4. Thanks, Monika, for sharing your thoughts on this. I agree with your point about the issue getting murkier with successive generations. You might want to read my thoughts on this in an unrelated post that I wrote on my other blog on Mental Health. The commitment of parents like you, and hopefully me, will surely lead to positive change in the mindset of the future generations.

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    5. Thanks Subhorup and Monika. Please keep spreading awareness - and you're sure to find many more resonating voices in future.

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  11. commendable article,effective

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    1. Thanks, Cifar. Welcome to The Story of Parth. I hope you will keep coming back for more. You might also want to check out my other blogs linked in the sidebar.

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  12. Brilliant... a great way to talk about life, love and sex! Will wait for the day Parth responds to this post.

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    1. Thanks, Tipu. Very encouraging hearing this from you, who has been heading the initiative to sensitize children in middle school for the last five years. I realized after writing this that you are already doing what I have tried to advocate. God bless you and your determination to create value at what you do for work.

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  13. It would be a great honor to meet you someday, Subhoji. I guess that pretty much sums up my thoughts on the article.

    I haven't read a piece as powerful and ethical as THIS in recent times.

    May your tribe increase. Much love and respect, Subhoji.

    Thank you for sharing this post on my wall. :-)

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  14. It is very rare to come upon a man who is so evolved as a human being that he is not threatened by strident female voices demanding equal rights and space in society, not emasculated when admitting to an uneasy gender balance, and honest enough to admit to practices that are propogated by men to subjugate women. It was a huge pleasure to read your article, Shubho. My hope is that the soul searching continue in India and the collective conscience awaken through pieces such as yours.

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  15. What a sensitive and thoughtful post. Worth sharing. Loved your mum’s comment too. Is attraction really like an itchy blanket? Wonder what Hardyk will make of that. I suppose living with someone at such close quarters you can't help but see a few warts - perhaps true of all human relationships.

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  16. Thank you Subhorup for writing and sharing such a straight from the heart, powerful and well-written letter. We consider ourselves very fortunate to have you in our lives. God bless. Sharing it.

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  17. Its highly educative for every children ,who are the future Indian reformers.Thanks for sharing

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