Rape Culture, Indian Edition

By Omar Ali 97 Comments

There is news about another rape case (alleged rape case?) making wavers in India and Twitter regular @conradkbarwa posted some excerpts from a book by poet and journalist Nirupama Dutta that you can see below:





The anecdotes listed in these pages are obviously very disturbing and shocking, and I have no doubt that even if Nirupama moves in unusually nasty company, many such cases do occur across the Indian subcontinent and in most of them the police are yet another source of oppression (and sometimes even a second rape in the police station). The excerpts above are from East Punjab, so from a land that we are not entirely unfamiliar with (apart from whatever similarities exist across east and west Punjab, my in-laws are from villages near Ludhiana). It made me think about our own Punjab and the various anecdotes I have heard about rape of lower class women in villages as well as the use of sweepers and servants for sexual favors in urban areas. And of course, about the well publicized recent rape cases in Pakistani Punjab and about Razib Khan’s comment somewhere that “THIS is what a real rape culture looks like”. Which led to a tangential question in my mind: what are the similarities and differences between rape culture in Pakistani Punjab and Indian Punjab? 

  1. Differences in terms of actual prevalence and mechanics? Is such rape more common? less common? about the same? What figures do we have? How reliable are they? What is the trendline? How does this compare to other societies? 
  2. Differences in how it is framed: rapes in Pakistan tend to be framed as either class oppression (mostly by leftist/liberal commentators) or as “declining morals due to Indian movies, western influence, modernization, etc” (Islamist and/or traditional commentators). Rapes in India tend to be framed as class oppression too at times, but it seems that liberals and even traditional leftists in India (or about India, this is also true of most sympathetic Western commentators) seem very likely to blame “Brahminism” and the caste system as very specifically Indian forms of rape culture, not comparable to similar atrocities that happen to lower class populations in other countries (though I assume that population numbers being what they are, most actual rapists in East Punjab are  likely to be Jats or other local elites, Sikhs rather than Hindus, and rarely Brahmins). There is also a traditionalist view in India (that “lax morals, westernization, bollywood ” etc are to blame) and of course Hindutva types will add “love jihad” or “Muslim/Turkic colonization” to the list of putative causes. What are the most important causes in your view? 
  3. Which brings me to the real trigger for this post: Do you think the focus on caste in East Punjab (as in Nirupama Dutta’s book) and its relative absence in Western Punjab stories reflects a real difference in how easy it is to rape poor girls and get away with it? I know most Pakistanis will say this is exactly the case and that we are much better off since we are Muslims and any caste-ism that exists in us is a legacy of Hinduism, is less than it is in East Punjab, is fading fast and is the reason we have less rapes already, while Indian society will remain stuck in rape culture because of “Brahminism”.  Of course this is a question that in principle can be answered. What is the prevalence of the rape/sexual abuse of lower class women in Pakistani Punjab vs East Punjab? If it is really lower, then it needs an explanation. If it is not lower, then it may be that the focus on Brahminism is taking the public discussion (and possible solutions) into unhelpful areas? Or is it Pakistan that needs to talk more about caste rather than class to catch up to the reality? 
  4. I am not revealing any secrets by adding that this is connected to a personal feeling that left/liberal discourse is focused on political needs (defeating BJP/Hindu revivalism in this case)  and when you add that the usual human thing of finding a convenient narrative and beating it to death, it is possible that Pakistanis are actually a little better at analyzing their own society because they don’t have to carry this burden. But I am aware that this may be an extension of “grass is greener on the other side” on my part, and it is in fact the case that conversion to Islam (or “Indus man superiority”) has made Pakistanis less rapey than Indians. But if this is the case, why are Sikhs still rapey? does Brahminism work on them more than it does on Punjabi Muslims? (I am also aware that 6 out of ten readers will misunderstand what I am trying to ask here, but that is par for the course and I am more interested in the 4 who do get the question).

Fire away…


Will the Sikhs Save India?

By Omar Ali 12 Comments

This topic came up a few days ago on Twitter because I happened to tweet:


The original tweet I was quoting is about the arrest of a Sikh leader who had gone to express solidarity (and serve tea) with the Shaheen Bagh protesters. I know nothing about him and have no idea if he is a Khalistani or a leftist or just a random guy who wanted to be nice to the protesters, so my tweet was not about him, but what was it about then? Several friends asked me this question (and others jumped in with their own theories, as expected on twitter), so i thought i would write a quick post to try and explain my quip.. Continue reading “Will the Sikhs Save India?”


Partition story, part 1

By Omar Ali 89 Comments

My father, Nadir Ali, writes short stories and poetry in Punjabi. He is in his mid-eighties now and has been writing his autobiography in Punjabi and my sister translated a segment that deals with his memories of partition. He was a little over 11 years old at that time. My grandfather was a lawyer in Gujrat city. There are more stories from that time that I hope we can translate at some point. For example, my grandfather rescued some Hindu/Sikh women who had been kidnapped by the rioters and my father was the go-between who was young enough to go into the women’s quarters during those negotiations; I hope to get that story written down someday.
Anyway, my grandfather never really reconciled with partition. He wrote to his Hindu friend Hari Singh regularly until 1965 and I  remember hearing that he once lamented in a letter to his friend (they both wrote in Urdu) “what a tragedy and a travesty that you, who are more Muslim than me, are in India, and I, who am more Hindu than you, am in Pakistan”. He would also use Indian time (30 minutes ahead of Pakistan standard time) as his own “standard time” for decades after partition.

Memories of Partition. Nadir Ali Continue reading “Partition story, part 1”


Review: The Garrison State: Military, Government and Society in Colonial Punjab, 1849-1947

The Garrison State: Military, Government and Society in Colonial Punjab, 1849-1947 (SAGE Series in Modern Indian History)

The following is a review sent in by Major Agha Humayun Amin (retd). As usual, Major Amin is sometimes, shall we say, harsh, but his knowledge of this subject is encyclopedic and always worth reading..

My first association with works of Professor Tan Tai Yong started in 2000 when he wrote an article that as per his own admission forms the basis of this book.

Although Professor Yong seemed at that time in 2000 to be a well meaning scholar,there were serious basic flaws in his research.

I wrote a letter to the Journal of Military History at that time in 2000 which that journal , keeping in line with its tradition of intellectual dishonesty, did not publish, citing lame excuses about lack of space. That letter is appended at the end of this review, so that the reader may have an idea about what was the basis of my criticism.

The West is in the habit of accepting so called scholars like Professor Yong as experts on Indo Pak history. So Journal of Military History of USA was merely following this strange tradition.

When I read this book under review in 2018 some 18 years after my initial critique I was disappointed to find that Professor Yong had not improved his knowledge , although most the faults he has committed in this book were entirely avoidable.

The first issue is regarding why the British started preferred Punjab and Frontier for the army recruitment.

First the assertion that it was only by the 1880s that the British started favoring soldiers from Punjab is wrong.

The hard facts of the situation are that some 90 % of the pre 1857 Bengal Army recruited from UP and Bihar had rebelled or disbanded in 1857 and an entirely new army was created, composed mostly of set of regiments raised in Punjab (frontier being its part) in 1857-58.

While Lord Roberts pronouncements can be credited as “ Martial Races Theory” a clear shift in British recruitment policy favouring Punjab over UP and Bihar had been initiated in 1857-58.

Peel Commission of 1858-59 had clearly laid the basis of this policy. Thus the “Peel Commission” constituted after 1857 to study and analyse the future composition of the Indian Army recommended that the native army should be composed of different nationalities and castes, and as a general rule mixed promiscuously through each regiment! Such system had existed in the Madras and Bombay armies but these were much smaller as compared to the Bengal Army. However, India was now viewed in terms of loyal and disloyal.

Professor Yong , if I am to understand this book , simply denies the existence of the British loyalist Syed Ahmad Khans landmark work “Causes of Indian Mutiny” written in 1859 and republished as an Indian translation in 1873.

This pamphlet which suggested formation of class regiments did have immense impact on British thinking and pre-dates Robert who only came into prominence after 1885.

Lord Canning’s views about the policy of “Divide and Rule” expressed in 1857 are thought provoking; Canning thus said in a letter dated 9 October 1857:’ “the men who fought against us at Delhi were of both creeds; probably in equal numbers. If we destroy or desecrate Mussulman Mosques or Brahman Temples we do exactly what is wanting to band the two antagonist races against ourselves…..as we must rule 150 million of people by a handful (more or less small) number of Englishmen, let us do it in the manner best calculated to leave them divided (as in religion and national feeling as they already are) and to inspire them with the greatest possible awe of our power .

Canning went further and very subtly defined certain guidelines regarding employment of various classes after 1857:-

“All exclusion of Mahomeddan, Rajpoots or even of Brahmans should be a matter of management rather than of rule; and indeed that it will be right to take an opportunity, though not just yet, to show by an exception here and there, that the rule does not exist. It is desirable that no class should feel that it had henceforward nothing to expect from the government”

Continue reading “Review: The Garrison State: Military, Government and Society in Colonial Punjab, 1849-1947”