I know, I know. The title of this post will only rile up Salil Tripathi further because he’s big on things like “tone,” and “civility,” which he cites are the reasons he doesn’t engage with me. Isn’t that a jolly way to wriggle out of an open invitation for debate? And poor me, despite being snubbed thus repeatedly, offered to take him up on his terms: of politeness, civility, and even asked him to set the terms of the debate. The constantly-travelling Londoner responded to this offer with…silence. There. Snubbed again.
I must admit that this constantly-travelling Londoner is a man of multi-hued talent. He makes historical assertions unsubstantiated with proof. When asked for evidence, he brands you. He wants you to take him at face value on any issue. Whether he condescends to respond to your disagreement or not is in direct proportion to your celebrity status. And because there are so few celebrities who are also truthful, the lot of the ordinary mortals is to receive the Royal Salil Snub. Of late, this snub consists of exactly one word: typist—and variations thereof: “carry on typing,” “happy typing,” etc.
Now, with such high standards of civility and politeness and the rest, it needs to be seen how the Londoner himself measures up to them. Fortunately for us, he has written a piece that appeared today on Live Mint, which is a good case to examine Salil’s own standards of civility.
The piece, which is pompously titled No country for women—perhaps inspired from Cormac McCarthy’s preachy and insipid No Country for Old Men—rambles on and on about how Indian cities and towns are unsafe for women. Most of Salil’s pieces are distinguished by a neat assembling of news reports, citations, and sometimes hearsay, and this one too, follows the same template. The same template also contains placeholders, which are usually filled with the appropriate doses of calumny against the Hindu “Right” or Narendra Modi or the Sangh Parivar or the BJP.
However, this article is the mother of all dishonesties.
“Civil” Tripathi claims that the assorted attacks on women in contemporary urban India is part of a tradition dating thousands of years. But I’m putting it mildly. In “Civil” Tripathi’s own words:
But that’s part of the tradition. From the time of the ritual disrobing of Draupadi in Mahabharata, many men have participated in such public stripping of a woman, forming a tight circle around her, as they have cheered, jeered and leered. Most men who should have stepped in to stop have turned their eyes away, expressing their inability to do anything, leaving Draupadi to the mercy of divine powers. And all that Krishna can do is to keep adding yards to her never-ending sari, prolonging the humiliation.
While this textual and cultural skulduggery is beneath contempt, we need to give the Civil Devil his due. First, “Civil” Salil’s choice of words is interesting: tradition and ritual disrobing. In other words, ancient Indian tradition—more specifically, the Mahabharata has created and moulded a society, which encourages men to molest women. Ritual disrobing is even eviller. By “Civil” Salil’s own logic, how many other women were “ritually disrobed (sic)” before or after Draupadi? Does “Civil” Salil have any evidence to show that something called a “ritual disrobing (sic)” existed?
The far-reaching conclusions of this paragraph are unmistakable: contemporary Hindu men are loathsome creatures because their sacred books/epics preach and encourage such behaviour. I don’t think “Civil” Salil is stupid enough not to realize that bad people have always existed as long as the human race has been around. But the fact that he’s cleverly concealed this commonsense fact reveals his agenda-based concern for the safety of women.
How many men apart from the Kauravas, Jayadratha, and Keechaka exhibited such behaviour in the Mahabharata? And how does “adding yards to her never-ending sari (sic)” prolong Draupadi’s humiliation? Would it satisfy “Civil” Salil’s sense of civility if Draupadi had been rendered completely naked? Why doesn’t “Civil” Salil realize the fact that the divine intervention actually shows that people like Krishna existed, who fought for and upheld a woman’s honour? Why does “Civil” Salil also conceal the oath that Bhima took—to avenge Draupadi’s dishonour—in the selfsame assembly? Why does “Civil” Salil also hide the tale of the ultimate, gory fate that the Kauravas, Jayadratha, and Keechaka met with, and the obvious lesson it imparts to us? Why does “Civil” Salil also conceal the fact that Duryodhana et al are not held as models that Indian (or any other) men must emulate?
Why does “Civil” Salil choose to pick a random—but vital—episode in the Mahabharata and paint the entire Hindu male fraternity in India as present-day avatars of Duryodhana & Co? Why doesn’t he look at other aspects of the same tradition that gave us the Mahabharata? Why doesn’t “Civil” Salil quote the verse that says that Divinity blossoms wherever a woman is worshipped? Why doesn’t he disclose the lesson that this selfsame culture teaches us that even monkeys rise up and form an army to defend one woman’s honour? Why doesn’t he tell us about a man who rescued his wife after a search of nearly 14 years during which period he stayed celibate? Why doesn’t he talk about the host of female sages and saints who were revered and respected by the entire society? Why doesn’t he talk about the queens who were accepted and honoured by a citizenry, which cared only about the competence and not the gender of the royalty? What do all these things say about the status of women in the Indian society?
What school of civility teaches Salil to tar the male population of an entire culture based on a selective reading of a random episode in an epic? In so tarring, isn’t Salil guilty of doing the same thing he accuses these men of doing? In so tarring, Salil has actually committed an unforgivable affront to the memories of all the brave men who defended and died protecting the honour of women, and has indirectly disrobed thousands of Draupadis with his poisonous pen.
Most importantly, how does “Civil” Salil Tripathi sleep at night?
Postscript: A polite and civil version of this piece is available on request.