Gender faultlines and granularity of consent

Beyond the 29 States and seven Union Territories of India lies a virtual 30th state, that I call Indo-Anglia.

Published: 21st October 2018 05:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 21st October 2018 07:07 AM   |  A+A-

Beyond the 29 States and seven Union Territories of India lies a virtual 30th state, that I call Indo-Anglia. It comprises an elite caste/class of a few million people —the Indo-Anglians, clustered across India’s metros, thinking and speaking almost entirely in English. This educated, affluent, largely upper-caste India dominates our markets, our media and our minds. Through a regular column, I hope to bring you news and insights from the state of Indo-Anglia and a glimpse into the Indo-Anglian hive mind.

In the last two-odd weeks, only one topic has dominated cocktail party chatter and office coffee machine conversations in Indo-Anglia. And that is #MeToo. With the surge of harrowing first-person and anon accounts of rape, harassment and discomfort, experienced in largely English-speaking worlds told to us almost entirely by Indo-Anglian women, there is a sense that something has changed in Indo-Anglia. A corner has been turned, and it seems that we likely won’t go back entirely to where we were before.
Reading these accounts, from my vantage of a 40-plus man, is to see a changing India and Indo-Anglia. There is as much anthropology as horror. In one story, a mother drives her daughter to a Chennai bar for a Tinder date where she is roofied by a waiter. In another, a schoolgirl sends nudes to her boyfriend which he circulates to his friends. A comedian apologises and says he used the phrase ‘send nudes’ as a meme, whatever it means.

Interestingly, almost all of these accounts are between people who knew each other well. And that brings to an important aspect of #MeToo. You see, Indo-Anglians or People-Like-Us only harass people we know well and typically People-Like-Us. Not for us this lower income men’s tendency to molest, harass or catcall ‘unknown’ women. We like to know our women intimately before we harass them. In almost every single case of #MeToo that I read, the men knew the women well, worked with them closely, drank with them, and in some cases knew their families too. That didn’t stop them from indulging in harassment or rape. A lot of the men have apologised, saying they were drunk, that they misread signals, etc. A key faultline seems to be around how men view consent, and how women see it.

For women, consent is granular. “I gave you consent to chat and get flirty, and perhaps do dirty talk but I never gave you consent to touch me. Don’t try to shame me by saying I got drunk and agreed to come to your house, why does that extend to your forcing me,” they say. Indian men are only waking up now, rightly so, to this granularity of consent.

And not just Indian men. There is also a fascinating faultline that has emerged between older and younger women. Older women feel that the lumping together of ‘bad sex’ and aggressive flirting into the MeToo movement is doing the latter an injustice when it should actually highlight serious harassment. “Who are you to decide what is serious and what isn’t,” retort the younger women. I suppose every generation determines what the red lines of consent for them are. We are witnessing perhaps the biggest redrawing of lines in recent Indian history, or at least Indo-Anglian history.sp@sajithpai.com

Sajith Pai

Former media executive

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