Cultural differences


12:26 PM

I was planning to blog about a lighter thing today, but my mind is racing with ideas and thought of what India is awakening to these days. I blogged about that horrible rape a lot, the fact is that it has raised a lot of questions within India. And It would be actually more accurate that probably for the first time since India won it’s independence people are back to questioning in huge amounts rather than let yet another calamity slide away.
In the 9 years I have lived there I have never seen the media and people question and debate what would have been just another brutal rape a few years ago, forgotten just after a few hours with people moving on with their lives. The girl the Times of India nicknamed “Nirbhaya” which translates as the fearless one or the brave one, is still on everybody’s lips and make ink flows. For the first time since I am in India I see people willing to take over the fight she started by not going down easy. She may have lost her life, but so far her spirit still lives, weeks after her death and I fervently hope her spirit will remain in peoples memory for a while.

Her brutal assault and rape has left none insensitive, from the nincompoops that still want to blame her from what happened to her, to those waking up from a slumber and demanding answers from their governments, to the protests and clashes between police forces and peaceful protesters it sparked has raised a lot of points pertinent and less pertinent.

Two of these being repression and individualism.

These two are in fact at the center of an identity turmoil India is finding itself in. Some said India is sexually repressed and that it is the reason why rapes occur more often here. Some blamed the Western individualistic culture for what happened. But the way I see it, India is not just sexually repressed, it’s so in a wider social way.
It is a country that despite calling itself a Democracy still has a strong Feudal  mind-set. It is hierarchized and divided into communities that stick together and live side by side but without really seeing an interest into mixing with one another or understanding one another…Bird of a feather flock together the proverb says. Politicians divide these to rule which creates even more tensions. it’s a country where the community to which you belong defines you instead of you bringing something to the community as to define it. Over the year I have heard various statements of “In our community we do this and that that way because that’s what we do” without people really knowing why they really do it for, they just know that if they don’t they will have the disapproval of some elders for not following rituals to the dots. I had friends telling me that they didn’t mind the fact meat came from killing animals and even said they were curious about trying to eat some meat but that because they were from this and that community they could not because “it’s not done in our community” always with a sense of fear that one Aunty will find out spread the word and they would loose their place in said community being a pariah of some kind.  

I’ve heard and read countless time how the West, the Evil moral less West has no values, no sense of community and promote individualism. These statements of course come from people that have no idea what the so called West (which apparently includes anything European and American without any idea about the fact we are speaking about different countries and cultures within that group) is all about. I come from the “West” I travelled across Europe, and North Africa for that matter (but that’s another topic). We have communities, we have morals, and we have different cultural practices, we just value the individual within a group as much as we value the community. The freedom of being of one person is as important as the freedom of the whole group, it is recognized that you can be who you are as you are and still belong to a community without people sending you into exile for not following every single traditions. Of course it doesn’t always go smoothly, we have tensions just the same, but I’ve seen far less politians playing on them to divide in order to rule back home than what I see here.
Back home people would say I wish I could do that longing for better skills or better determinations. In India I heard a lot of “I wish I could do that but I can’t because it’s not accepted in my community”
I see symptoms of this social repression everywhere though, the West might be blamed for being individualistic, but I have never seen so much of it transpiring in India: It’s people buying a flat in a big residential complex that will change the size of their windows without care of what it could do to the structure of the building (Go drive to the NRI complex in Navi Mumbai if you don’t believe me), the one that think he is such a VIP in one building that he can transgress Housing Cooperative rules by parking his car in no parking zones, abuse the security staff for telling him to move his car, the one that is just too good to have the same main door as the other flats on the floor and will change it into a lavish over the top one and possible break the lobby’s marble to add his own. It’s the one who will pimp his car so much that if he decides he wants green headlights despite the law saying otherwise he will get it and bribe every policemen pointing that out to him. It’s the idea that just because you do thing that way you should continue to do so even if what you like to do is throwing garbage out of your window and who cares if it falls 18 floor down on the head of the person that lives on the ground floor and was lounging on their balcony when you decided to throw potato peels out clearly being above using a dustbin like everybody else. It’s the idea that just because who you are you can push, bite, belittle and insult anybody you deem below you. In the evil West we call it lack of civism and lack of consideration for others. In India I’m seeing it as an outlet for repression. It doesn’t make it better, but the fact is that your community define what your status should be what type of wedding you should have, what type of amount is appropriate to shell to organize said wedding, what type of food shall be on your plate, what type of job is suitable, what type of schools your kids should go to, where you should hang out, what you should read in public, what you should wear…without much attention about what YOU as a human being and individual want to be that there are some things that are bound to go overboard where the community is not having too many rules for you to adhere to.

India is probably in that awkward phase we would call teenagehood in the lie of one human being torn between what her parents are telling her to do and the possibilities ahead of her and the choices she will inevitably have to make, choice that in the end will be hers and hers alone. The teenagehood period is stretching to it’s end and with the recent event I have the feeling we are witnessing an India slowly coming of age, into the grown up world realising that now is the time to make some choices, changes that will transform her identity forever, faced with the hard decision of figuring what to retain from her parents and what to acquire on her own, and where the boundaries are lying.
Is the Western model of individualism as evil as mom and dad said? Is their cultural heritage all worth sticking to? India grew up in one model, embraced the other in a mindless way without thinking too much about what was good or bad about it and now find herself having to sort things out, the old generation will urge her to go back to simpler times regulated by traditions nobody wanted to question too much, and her peer will urge her to embrace modernity in its integral form…If only it was so simple, the truth is that there is no right or wrong here, there are only choice one can live comfortably with for the years to come to be made, and it always end up being about balance.

And this is this balance India is now trying to find.


  1. Sharell3:12 PM

    An outlet for repression.. that's a really interesting (and probably accurate) way of looking at it. It's just like the constant horn honking is an outlet for frustration over the way the traffic behaves, rather than anything else.

  2. Oh yeah the traffic frustration thing! Over the years I actually have been wondering if some people actually believe their horn has some magic power to turn the red line green the way they honk it, or the ones that wait for a car to exit a parking spot in a mall and need to honk on no end hoping that maybe the car will get out and free the space faster.

  3. Hélène9:34 PM

    That's not a very politically correct post, but it's very interesting. Happy New Year !

  4. Happy New Year to you too :-) Once in a while a not totally politically correct post is just what the Doctor ordered :-)


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