The Curious Case of Dharun Ravi

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Mumbai – The recent case of Dharun Ravi and his “Indian ethos” would make for an excellent analysis of how Indians behave abroad when they are released from societal “Vyawarik Dharmas” (temporaral morality/duties).

The facts of the case are that Ravi blatantly and unethically spied on his classmate and exposed his homosexuality through a most unethical “outing” on various social media. The American judicial system took a very strong view on this and punished him. However, extracting an apology from him was like squeezing water out of stone; various societal pressures in America must take the credit for that.

I find this dichotomy a substantial part of the psyche of Indians in America. It stretches all the way from the hypocritical writings of the Left and the Right there. What is not understood is that most Indians come from a totally different civilization- a civilization with a different ethical system that has stood the test of time over more than 4,000 years, despite brutal battering.

Let’s see Ravi’s concept of privacy. He is carrying that baggage straight out of India, where privacy just does not exist. My friend, the criminal lawyer, Devender Andewar, says it does not exist in Indian jurisprudence despite all the tall talk of being mentioned in the Constitution as a fundamental right. For example, courts have sided with husbands spying on wives, women setting up booby-traps to catch bigamous husbands, parents spying on their children, et al. In fact, one of the biggest problems in India educating sexually active adolescents on safer sex is that they just can’t keep condoms anywhere; not in their wallets, their shirt pockets (searched every morning by Mama), their cupboards (where siblings usually dig in to borrow clothing) or even in your briefcase (which the housemaid – Kaamwalibai – does an open and shut case keeping your lunchbox, but not without knowing exactly what’s there to inform Mom about her son/daughter’s shenanigans).

So, Ravi was doing “nothing wrong” in spying on his classmate’s sexual activity. During one of our regular behavioral studies to track the progress of my NGO’s work in Mumbai, we discovered not just an amazingly high number of sexual partners in the most conservative parts of Mumbai, but discovered that voyeurism and group sex were extremely common in public spaces where couples are routinely spied upon. One of my most abiding mental pictures was a ring of voyeurs sitting round a couple getting intimate in a public park in Central Mumbai – with children playing all around, mind you.

The first thing Ravi will have to “unlearn” is that privacy is sacred in the Occidental world he now lives in. The other important personality trait Ravi will have to unlearn is something imported from Judeo-Christian roots – homophobia. One deep dive into India’s hinterland or the B and C small towns will reveal an astonishing amount of same-sex contacts. In fact, this was a problem for every Christian missionary starting with Robert de Nobili, who was horrified at the presence of large numbers of hijras in the Meenakshipuram Temple. Even today, one of the most important reasons that the Salafi/Sunni Islamists have problems with the sufi shrines like Ajmer and Nizamuddin is the huge number of hijras visiting it, allegedly for religious reasons (but gay men know otherwise at the freely available sex in the very premises of these shrines). The Taliban in Pakistan never mention this because it is as much a part of Sufi rituals as the other rigmarole they’ve picked up willy-nilly from defragmented Hinduism (I’ve traced the vessels with spouts used in toilets in Muslim households to the willful use of Hindu sacred objects to suppress Hinduism in other parts of their daily life, something the late Muslim columnist Iqbal Masud said was as routine as making rubble mosques from “debris of old temples,” which of course, collapsed on their own!)

The attitude to homosexuality (I usually use “same-sex,” as the word “homo” is not used in any positive way in India because of it being imported wholesale from the Western lexicon, with its baggage of Judeo-Christian homophobia) is so ambivalent that it mocks even a generational assessment; every behavioral study shows that acceptance of homosexuality is more in the older (more Hindu conservative) generations than in the younger lot, which shows where Western mores have got us.

Along with this fairly obvious form of homophobia, is the cussed refusal to accept that wrong has been done and a graceful apology will get one reappraisal in the Occidental society. The apology had to be extracted from Ravi after a huge campaign in India among the “progressive” social media portals seeking to get him out of the American “neo-imperialistic penal system.” It’s heads we win and tails you lose for Big Bad America. On one hand, the political class in India approves of what Ravi did in exposing the “debauchery in American society.” I heard a housewife in Mumbai’s Vile Parle area saying he had been unfairly treated. “What was he doing? He only exposed the evils in American society,” was a refrain.

On the other hand, when questioned about both privacy and marginalized behavior (like incest and domestic rape, for example), suddenly the laws of privacy and “khandaan ki izzat” (family honor) pop up in most conversations. Again the fantastic double standard that has spawned the migrations of “Swadesh” to find domesticated brides for the now newly minted American-Indian. I have a very dear distant relative who has disowned his son for marrying a black woman. “How can I even show these “kaalu-pothey” (black grandsons) to anybody in India. Izat ka khya hoga?” And so the great Indian road show trundles through the Diaspora.

Finally, each is better placed in its own setting for analysis. It is neither possible to comment on Indian ethics in India nor say they remain relevant in America. They don’t; it’s that Indians haven’t changed one bit, even if they have crossed the oceans. They remain Hindustani and will remain so, like the Indians in Jamaica, Fiji or even in England.

Ashok Row Kavi
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Ashok Row Kavi is a 65 year old activist/academic who started to be a Hindu monk and then lost his way into activism and academic enquiries into sex, sexuality and gender issues. A post graduate from the International Institute of Journalism, Berlin, Ashok has a basic honours in Chemistry and Physics from Bombay University (1971). After interning with the legendary D.F.Karakha in Current and starting the Indian Playboy clone, Debonair, he worked in various capacities in the Indian Express (reporter), The Daily (senior reporter), the Free Press Journal (City Editor), The Week (Bombay Correspondent) and then went on to start India’s first official gay newsletter (Bombay Dost) which is still published in fits and starts. Ashok went on to start India’s first registered community based group for gay men, the Humsafar Trust, in 1994 which organised India’s first conference of gay men, of all things at a women’s university. Riling the Shiv Sena and its numerous foot soliders, Ashok then lobbied the Bombay Municipal Corporation to give him space in a bazar where his Trust started a drop-in centre for gay men, male prostitutes, bisexual men, hijras and assorted genders in between. Ashok has read out papers in over 15 major International AIDS Conferences.

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