India Needs to Get Over Its Prudish Sexual Attitudes

"Eve teasing" is a symptom of sexual repression.


Twice a year, in spring and fall, India's Hindus celebrate Navratri, a nine-day festival during which they pray each day to a different female deity. Navratri culminates in "kanya puja," or a day of maiden worshiping: Every household invites over the young girls of the neighborhood and, led by the father or patriarch, bows before them, washes their feet, prays to them, offers them a specially prepared feast of vegetarian delicacies and showers them with gifts and money.

Growing up, I would make several weeks' worth of allowance on that one day. But this ancient practice wasn't meant to pamper the girls. It served to remind men of the qualities—mental courage, spiritual wisdom, purity of mind and strength of character—embodied in the feminine spirit, without which, according to Hindu scriptures, the cosmos would collapse into decadence and chaos.

Such veneration of women may surprise foreign observers of India, considering the recent epidemic of rapes there and publicity about the everyday harassment that Indian women face—lewd gestures, catcalls, groping and worse. Some have blamed modernity, suggesting that India needs to return to its past. But when it comes to "eve teasing" (as this practice is euphemistically called), I would argue the opposite: It is precisely the stubborn hold of India's prudish culture that has made many Indian men so callow.

Arun Arushi Narodin, who writes for the online magazine Bodhi Commons, reports that 90% of urban women in India experience harassment. But that almost certainly understates the problem. I've never met an Indian woman—rich or poor, upper or lower caste, pretty or homely, young or middle-age—who hasn't been harassed. Indeed, street-level harassment is like traffic for drivers, an unavoidable nuisance women confront whenever they leave the house. It fundamentally alters how they walk, talk, travel and dress in public. It impels them to assume a body language least likely to draw attention—to cover themselves, as it were, in an invisible burqa.  

I first felt myself donning this burqa sometime in my midteens as I walked with my mother to the market near our home in New Delhi and a group of young men started hooting, whistling and singing Bollywood songs. My mother hissed at me to walk quickly and avoid eye contact. Had we been accompanied by my father, the loud harassment would have been replaced with more surreptitious gestures. This mostly low-level nuisance turns into molestation in crowded buses or public spaces, as men grope or press against trapped women. My mother instructed me to have a sharp elbow or a safety pin always at the ready, advice that is still handed down to Indian girls today.

What is the cause of this phenomenon? Some argue that the uneven economic growth triggered by India's two-decade-old liberalization has left many men feeling emasculated. Young girls flaunting their newfound wealth in sparkling malls and fast-food restaurants, it is said, are producing a backlash of jealousy and envy from less-well-off men. "Men's loss of power and control over women has made professional women particularly vulnerable, especially in male-dominated work environments and in public spaces," writes Rasna Wahra for the Daily Nation. But street harassment predates liberalization by generations. My mother endured it 50 years ago.

Others suggest that harassment is the product of rapid urbanization, which has flooded India's cities with village hicks, who lose their heads on seeing (relatively) liberated women roaming around freely. That would make sense if urban men from "respectable" families weren't also among the offenders. And then there is the feminist explanation: patriarchy, which sees street-level harassment as an assertion of male domination. But India is arguably less patriarchal now than it has ever been, and the problem remains.

Unlike rape and sex-selective abortion, which represent a genuine devaluing of women, sexual harassment in India is, I believe, an expression not of the power of Indian men but of their helplessness. It's a pathetic attempt to have a sexual encounter, no matter how meaningless and evanescent. Its real cause is free-floating male libido with no socially acceptable outlet.

India's sexual mores and institutions are rooted in a pastoral past, when people died before 50, so marriages between minors were the norm. Families in villages would betroth their children, at birth sometimes, and have a formal ceremony after both attained puberty, when the girl went to live with her husband's family. This arrangement, now banned, had many horrendous downsides, but it produced an organic harmony between the sexual needs of individuals and the social expectations of monogamy and chastity.

Today the average marriage age in India has risen to 22 for women and 26 for men. Yet virginity and chastity—especially for women, but also men—remain prized virtues. The vast majority of marriages, even in large cosmopolitan cities, are arranged. But even love matches can't be openly consummated before marriage, thanks to the taboo against premarital sex. Girls are expected to go from their father's house to their husband's, virginity intact.

The upshot is legions of grown, unmarried men who have never had sex. It is their repressed libido that expresses itself in weird social pathologies such as harassment. Trying to stamp out harassment with the tougher laws that India has recently embraced—declaring stalking a crime, setting sentences of five years for groping, one year for lewd gestures—will help at the margins at best. A problem rooted in natural urges is unlikely to yield to legal quick fixes.

What would work? Nothing short of transforming India's puritanical culture and giving men and women more freedom to forge sexually mature relationships outside of marriage. The reform process is already under way among the urbanized upper classes. Bollywood movies, generally a good barometer of social trends, are increasingly depicting cohabiting couples in a favorable light. "Living together before marriage is not a crime," Deepika Padukone, a famous actress, recently declared.

But the process will take generations. Given India's starting point in ancient traditions, one can hope that it will result in a balance healthier than what has unfolded in the over-sexualized West. But unfold it must, because the status quo demeans India's daughters—and warps its sons.

This column originally appeared in The Wall Street Journal.

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  1. Nude scenes in Bollywood movies. Finally, Shika has come up with a column that everyone can get behind.

    1. For the life of me, I can’t figure out how Sunny Leone is building a career in Bollywood. If the average American porn star can’t break the Hollywood barrier, how is Sunny thriving in a environment where people get hot under the collar about an on-screen kiss?

      1. Maybe they are glad to see a fallen angel return home and get wholesome again. I usually don’t find porn stars attractive. But in her case, my love of Indian woman trumps my distaste for porn stars.

        1. You don’t find fake tits to be attractive? Who are you and what did you do with the real John?

          1. I hate fake tits. And I hate silicone and blown up lips and bad dye jobs. In short, I loath the look many porn stars go for. I wouldn’t fuck Jenna Jameson with your dick.

            1. Yeah. Most porn stars are kinda skinny.

              1. No most of them look like women. That is why I figured you didn’t like them either.

                1. So women who were born with small breasts don’t look like women to you? It means you’ll never get slapped by my wife for giving her unwanted advances. Too bad, because that’s something I’d like to see.

                  1. There is nothing wrong with small breasts or thin women. It is just women who have starved themselves to meet the standards of the weirdos who run Hollywood and the fashion industry.

                    1. There is nothing wrong with small breasts or thin women. It is just women who have starved themselves are thin with small breasts to meet the standards of the weirdos who run Hollywood and the fashion industry.

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  2. The tree that does not bend ends up gang raping a lot of women on the bus.

    1. “Be wary of boys; you’ve just matured./It’s not your fault you have beautiful eyes; when you realize this, you’ll act more demure…”

    2. Jayzee did a hilarious(unintentionally, I imagine) version of this song – I don’t really know what you call it when someone basically plays the complete original version and simply sings (or “sings”) over it.

      In it he basically completely ignores the theme and lyrics of the original and talks about screwing around with a bunch of women.

      So MC Punjabi is telling young women to be careful because men basically have no self-control and Jayzee is openly stating that’ll he’ll screw anything that doesn’t move fast enough.

  3. The Fertility Gawd has been kind to India.

    1. Shut up, you fucking idiot.

        1. It took you 18 minutes to think up that example of rapier-like wit?

          How many extra chromosomes does your genome possess, you microcephalic retard?

          1. It isnt nice to make fun of retarded people HM.

            1. True. PB is more akin to a child molester.

          2. Cut him some slack. He’s just riffing on a theme by sarcasmic.

            1. As if that stupid shithead would know anything about fertility. No woman would voluntarily come within ten yards of him.

  4. “The upshot is legions of grown, unmarried men who have never had sex. It is their repressed libido that expresses itself in weird social pathologies such as harassment”

    Have they tried jerkin’ it?

      1. Part of the problem is that India has insane wedding customs. The culture doesn’t permit you to just go to the JOP and get married. You have to spend a fortune on a wedding and the groom is expected to foot the bill. So many poor men can’t get married. It is really fucked up. The same is true in a lot of Arab countries.

        1. Very true.

      2. That is surprising that they have more liberal laws on prostitution than the U.S. however I always found it odd that women are required to be covered but belly dancing is A-ok in the same cultures.

        1. In cultures like that, women are often strictly divided into “good girls” and “sluts”. Due to the economic opportunities inherent in “slutitude,” attractive poor women choose to prostitute themselves and take on the social stigma in exchange for economic opportunity. This, in turn, places these women out of reach by their poor male peers. Thus, these men often don’t have a socially accepted outlet for their sexual drive.

      3. Patel? How am I going to make a living on these deadbeats?”

  5. Why isn’t prostitution an effective outlet for these unmarriageable men?

    1. Why isn’t prostitution an effective outlet for these unmarriageable men?

      Because they can’t afford it.

    2. male prostitutes just aren’t selling in india these days…

  6. “…grown, unmarried men who have never had sex. It is their repressed libido that expresses itself in weird social pathologies such as harassment”


    Freely mixing and socializing with the opposite gender teaches one respect. If you want to produce perverts it is easy. Keep them away from the other gender. This is why prudery often achieves the opposite of it’s stated goal.

  7. My mother instructed me to have a sharp elbow or a safety pin always at the ready

    That may work for normal men, but what did she instruct you to have ready for STEVE SMITH?

    1. Who is Steve smith? I figured most references while lurking here but have no idea who/what that is.

      1. There is a liberal who used to troll here named Steve Smith. He is a bankruptcy attorney in LA. So people saw his picture and he turned out to be one of those sort of big bald ape looking guys. Because of that, the joke that he was really a man raping Bigfoot stuck. He kind of does look like a shaved big foot. Thus the Steve Smith meme was born.

        1. Oh god, I had no idea he was real!

          He even went on a Reason Cruise!

        2. I never saw his pic, just thought people were imagining him as a cave man.

          I didn’t think his posts were trollish. Provocative, OK, but sincerely so. It’s trolling only if you’re stirring things up insincerely to laugh at the reaction.

      2. I believe he’s also friends with some of the staffers.

        1. Thanks for the info guys.

  8. It’s a pathetic attempt to have a sexual encounter, no matter how meaningless and evanescent. Its real cause is free-floating male libido with no socially acceptable outlet.

    Holy crap. She’s on to us and we have no plan B!

  9. India Needs to Get Over Its Prudish Sexual Attitudes

    Uhmm, yeah.

    *walks away quickly*

  10. Still don’t think “callow” works.

  11. One can hope that it will result in a balance healthier than what has unfolded in the over-sexualized West.

    This is fucking ridiculous. Why would you end a reasonable, well-written column with this gratuitous shot at a culture that doesn’t have a massive rape epidemic or country-wide problems with sexual assaults and harassment? If anything, the “West” is still too puritanical and prudish.

    1. At a Conservative Party meeting one night this week, I was surprised how many thought the USA had a vastly underreported incidence of rapes. I’d’ve thought it was some radical feminist meeting.

      “How do you know?”
      “So many women have come forward saying they’d been raped at some earlier time, it’s well-known, how can you deny it?”
      “Yeah, real random sample there.”

  12. So is the TSA good because all the pat downs are a victory for sexual freedom? Only a prude would object to it.

  13. This piece was just excellent, very well reasoned and very well written. No doubt it will be controversial and will stimulate debate, but stimulating debate is always good and healthy!

    1. Uh, debate is not a euphemism for prostate.

      1. HUH?

  14. We can look at what indiscriminate sex has done for the West. It’s great. Lots of PID, infertility, STDs, 1 in 4 young people with HPV, depression, divorce, rootless youths… Who would want to miss out on that?
    The writer vaguely mentions the abortions of girls in India. This is not new. Indian girls have been disappearing for centuries. The problem is becoming acute, however, as the imbalance is aggravated by the aggressive elimination of the undesirable sex. When women are few in number, men get randy and aggressive because they are competing for fewer and fewer women. Look at China.
    Turning women into sex slaves is not the answer.

    1. Wow, you are a complete idiot. Sexual liberation does not equal sexual slavery.

      Plus are you seriously are trying to link *infertility* and depression to promiscuity? ‘Cause I would link improved social status, economic status, and general freedom to the same causes that got us widely accepted promiscuity.

      Hell even if I was against promiscuity I would be willing to accept it as a trade-off for the greater freedom and QOL available to women in this country.

      And I’d rather have high rates of divorce than forcing people to live in miserable marriages for the benefit of children long-grown and out of the house.

    2. “We can look at what indiscriminate sex has done for the West.”

      If more people were less uptight and got laid regularly, it would be a happier world. Few in the West have indiscriminate sex – we just have indiscriminate advertising of sex to uptight prudes.

  15. I am LDS. My church prohibits premarital sex. The first time I ever went “all the way” was on my wedding night. Yes, some of us do not comply, but many Mormons do. Is there a plague of women being catcalled on the streets of Heber City or Spanish Fork? How about Rexburg? Do we ascribe to the “hydraulic theory” of male sexuality that sexual urges are something that builds up over time until released or “something pops”? By the way, it has been demonstrated that access to sex does not have much correlation with incidence of rape. I know, I know, rape isn’t about sex but about demeaning women, but catcalling or groping is just about sex, right?

  16. In the old India of the village, men who behaved like that would be stoned to death. Likewise in America these men like are thrown into prison. The solution to these problems is more police enforcement and punishment, not western sexual mores. Do you really think feminism, hypersexualization, and single motherhood will help India?

    1. I have yet to see a man in American get thrown in prison for saying sexual things to a woman on the street. Many of my female friends have been groped and practically molested in bars and clubs and the guys that did it sure aren’t in prison (and that’d be extreme if they were). Also the author wasn’t suggesting hypersexualization or single motherhood, you pulled that out of your rear end to produce a distorted argument.

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