Geopolitical Notes From India
M D Nalapat
THE surname of this columnist is his mother’s family name, which in turn was her mother’s, and so on for several centuries. Both in the northeast of India as well as in parts of Kerala and Karnataka states, select communities follow the matriarchal code. In some cases, only the women inherit property, the men having to remain content with education, mainly for war (in the case of the Nayar community). Of course, looking after the children is the responsibility of the woman and not the man ! If ever a survey were to get conducted, it is likely to find that matriarchal families have a better quality of life than those following patriarchy. Women, after all, have far more sensitive antennae where the family is concerned, and it is correctly said that the more a girl gets educated, the better will she make the condition of her family. There are still parts of India where a girl child is left without any but a rudimentary education, on the principle (if such it could be called) that her sole function is to be the housewife.
It is no coincidence that such places are those where poverty and poor living conditions is most visible, while places where women are treated as the equals of men are much more prosperous and orderly. In a truly matriarchal culture, a “MeToo” movement would almost be non-existent, for the reason that in such communities, the initiative for beginning and developing a relationship with the opposite sex rests with the female and not the male. The “MeToo” movement (in which women are outing and shaming males who took advantage of them in ways other than by mutual consent) has been fuelled by the crude manner in which more than a few males have sought to inflict their company and worse on unwilling women.
Almost by the day, women who were once intimidated and hounded by predatory males are using social media to reveal what took place. Some such reports may be fictitious and designed to fulfil agendas that include vendetta, but the overwhelming majority are clearly genuine, and even the media world has not been spared. It is a sign of the progress – admittedly far from enough – that India has made in the conscientization of society against the exploration of women that most of those forced out of the closet by the revelations of their victims have lost their jobs or are on the path to doing so. Several film heroes have morphed in the public imagination to villains, while journalists once noted for being social crusaders are now being described as shameless predators. It seems clear from the torrent of revelations that is spilling out daily that the “casting couch” ( or the demand for physical intimacy as a condition for advancing a career) is not restricted to Bollywood but is present in several other professions as well, including politics and the media.
Unlike in countries such as India, where judges get chosen behind closed doors, the US holds public hearings by the Senate in order to confirm or reject a nominee. Brett Kavanaugh is now a Supreme Court Associate Justice, and could well be Chief Justice of the United States some day, should the present incumbent decide to retire after a while. He was confronted by Christine Blasey Ford, an academic from California who gave compelling testimony about an encounter that she is certain was with the latest US Supreme Court justice. There is a case for making public the names of each of the candidates being considered for high judicial office ( to the High Courts or the Supreme Court), so that at least some of the comments that follow will be from those aware of their activities and record. This columnist has long favoured the publication of the names of those being considered for judicial positions via the internet, and for live streaming of all court proceedings. The Supreme Court of India has taken a few steps in this direction, and outstanding judges such as Chandrachud and Nariman (not to mention Chief Justice Gogoi) may be expected to push the drive towards transparency further and further.
In India, most decision, especially by the higher reaches of government, get taken behind closed doors, with the public being informed only after a fait accompli has been created. The involvement of civil society at the early stages of several of such decisions would result in better ones being taken and mistakes being avoided. Among the most damaging for the Modi government is the way in which liquidity was allowed to dry up because of the negligence of the Reserve Bank of India under a fumbling,bumbling Governor who is among the numerous suboptimal choices made by the present government in the field of Human Resources. In a country of 1.27 billion people that has a vibrant civil society, most of the jobs that are linked to political and bureaucratic patronage go to former and present members of the Indian Administrative Service (IAS), an inbred group with almost no accountability and where almost every individual reaches the top of the salary scale, with a few leftovers being taken by those from the Indian Police Service (IPS) and other similar bureaucratic clubs.
It is only a matter of time before the “MeToo” storm hits the IAS, the IPS and other cadres in the governance mechanism of the country. This will happen once the fear of retribution abates after a large number of revelations take place, thereby generating a public mood that will no longer tolerate gender bigotry. In the case of Justice Kavanaugh, President Trump may have won the battle but lost the war, as the way in which the Republican Party walked over the feelings of tens of millions of women will affect their performance in the polls that are due next month. The Kavanaugh hearings created a new star in the Democratic Party, Senator Kamala Harris, whose aggression clothed in poise has made the California politician a hero to many. Her performance during the debate on the Supreme Court nominee has given Senator Harris a high probability of becoming a Presidential or Vice-Presidential candidate in the 2020 elections, just as Representative Tulsi Gabbard from Hawaii is very likely to earn that spot in the 2024 Presidential contest
In a matriarchal culture, the men ensure that it is the women who make the initial moves towards a relationship. In particular, to use one’s power to force attentions on unwilling females is sacrilege. It is always a mistake to seek to establish close physical relationships with subordinates, as such a move would constitute a misuse of power for personal gratification. The “MeToo” phenomenon is a step towards mainstreaming the matriarchal rather than a patriarchal culture and mindset. This would be a welcome shift in a world where women are still suffering discrimination and disappointment simply on account of gender.
—The writer is Vice-Chair, Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair & Professor of Geopolitics, Manipal University, Haryana State, India.