Indianama

Why Mother India wants men with broad, hairy chests to look after women

In an age of saggy jeans and overachieving females, a timely reminder of maternal and masculine ideals.

I confess I do not have a hairy chest. I don’t even have a particularly broad chest. It certainly is not 56 inches like our great leader’s, even if his may have slipped a bit. My wife, bless her loyal soul, thinks my chest is just fine, although I did hear her mutter, “Time to work out that upper body.”

In other words, I may not be the man Suman Sharma, chief of the Rajasthan Women’s Commission (and former chief of the state BJP women’s wing), desires for India. With good reason, I call her Mother India.

“There was a time when every girl used to desire a man who has a broad chest and thick chest hair,” Sharma said this week. “But today, no broad-chested man can be seen and they wear sagging jeans. How can one who can’t even handle his jeans protect [his] sisters?”

I think Mother India’s concerns are admirable. I am with her on those saggy jeans, which hang so low sometimes that you might be forgiven if you mistook them for socks. Moreover, I do not really like being forced to see underwear and bum cracks. I am with her on the broad chest and thick chest hair as well. These should be pre-requisites for men in the new India, where men should be men and women should realise the pitfalls of unfettered independence.

“In the name of freedom,” Sharma continued, women should not feel unbound, creating an imbalance in their families or societies. They cannot, she noted, “go a long way if they leave the men behind”.

This oracle from Rajasthan, who has given voice to what so many Indians have longed to hear, should not worry.

The majority of Indian women know their place. After all, despite rising literacy and opportunities, nearly 20 million women quit their jobs over seven years till 2012, and no more than 27% of women worked in 2013, down from 34.8% two decades before that. Nearly half (48%) of men and women in a new survey believe that married women whose husbands earn well should not work outside home. It seems to me that women are effectively – and impressively – restraining themselves.

Men to the rescue

It isn’t that women do not have opportunities. They do, and they use them. For instance, 18% of India’s commercial pilots are women, a far greater proportion than most countries. It makes me wonder, though, about the imbalance these women cause to their families and themselves by getting ahead of the men. Fortunately, we have in positions of power many Indian men who are particularly caring. Like KU Ramesh, director of the Karnataka State Fire and Emergency Services. Earlier this week, on women’s day, he said he was not against hiring women, but, yes, his department did not hire women firefighters for their own good. “We do not want to hire women in any job where their safety, security and modesty is jeopardised,” said Ramesh, laying bare the callousness of countries that deploy female firefighters. He said it was “physically difficult” for women to cope with “some of the tasks”, and their “health condition may not permit them to work in hazardous conditions”.

There are men, you see, undoubtedly with broad, hairy chests, to do such hazardous work.

At home, you cannot really expect more from the Indian man, who already does 52 minutes of work each day – cooking, cleaning, washing, fetching water and looking after the children and elderly. To expect him to do as much as a woman, who puts in 352 minutes of such work a day, is to threaten India’s domestic bliss, values and tradition. That has always been the deal, more of a sacred contract really, and no men with earrings and saggy jeans should be able to change that. What our beloved chief pracharak – no, not the prime minister – said four years ago, should hold good for eternity.

“Theory of contract, theory of social contract, a husband and wife are bound by a contract which says, ‘You [woman] look after the household chores and satisfy me, I [man] will take care of your needs and will protect you,’” said Mohan Bhagwat, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh chief at a meeting of the Hindutva outfit in 2013. “And until she delivers her duties without fail, he keeps her on the contract and if she fails to honour the contract, he disowns her, and if it is the same with the husband who is not honouring the contract, she can also abandon him and go for a new contract then.”

There you have it. Do not mess with the balance and the broad chests.

Women as threats

It is good then that women are dropping out of the workforce, don’t you think? What would happen if all these female school and college toppers decided to keep racing ahead of the men? They appear to be routinely doing that, which does not make sense if you ask me – and I am sure Mother India would agree – because it raises their expectations, and worst of all, makes them think ever more of independence. If Indian women are left free to do what they want to do, who should India’s real men look after? No wonder there aren’t enough of them, no wonder their chests are not broad and hairy.

One of those hairy men, Asaram Bapu – who is in jail pending trial for rape, but still regarded by his followers as holy – made an astute observation about how women would be safer if they only kept the men in their lives front and centre, whatever the circumstances. In January 2013, after the fatal gangrape of the woman we have come to know as Nirbhaya, whose death led to national soul-searching, Bapu (or, as we say, father), had this to say: “She should have called the culprits brother and begged them to stop…this could have saved her dignity and life.”

Indian women already know that men are not responsible for bad things like rape, which can result from from “heaty” Chinese food (a khap leader in Haryana); “western clothes” (the female head of Bangalore University’s committee against sexual harassment); even salwar kameez (a former Andhra Pradesh police chief); from men and women interacting more freely (West Bengal’s female chief minister); to the fact that “prostitutes form a major chunk of women who visit bars and night clubs” (the former editor-in-chief of a Guwahati news channel).

Sharma, Mother India, believes it is up to women to preserve the balance in society and that “women should take a pledge that we will inculcate values in our children and play a positive and constructive role in building a good society”. Fortunately, most women, brought up to accept male primacy, ensure their daughters follow such ideals. So it is that 57% of Indian teenage boys and 53% of girls between 15 and 19 believe it is justified if a man beats his wife, according to Unicef’s Global Report Card on Adolescents, 2012.

Indian women know what they cannot do: Do not dress as you please; do not travel alone; do not travel after dark; do not go to a nightclub; do not talk too loudly; do not live alone; do not retaliate if harassed; do not complain to the police; do not do anything that will spoil your reputation, your family’s honour or (if single) your chances for marriage. Oh, and make sure the dishes are washed, the clothes cleaned, and the children and husband fed. Do not hang out with those saggy jeans wallahs, and make sure you marry a man with a broad, hairy chest.

As for me, alas, there is nothing I can do about getting more hair on my chest, but I am going to make sure I start working out my upper body. It is the least I can do for Mother India.

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