Road rage is a common phenomenon in Delhi. A 2013 study on the issue found it to be one of the main reasons for murders in the city. Experts say it is associated with urban stress. In fact, a pattern can be discerned, a pecking order of how this phenomenon expresses itself: The bigger the vehicle, the more aggressive is its driver. There is a hierarchy at play here with men displaying power and aggressiveness over other men, a phenomenon called hegemonic masculinity.
While urban rage may be a recent phenomenon, masculinity is as old as society itself. Society ascribes roles to men and women. Men learn the script from childhood, with those around providing the appropriate cues — games (guns for boys) and instructions (boys don’t cry). However, we end up with a society of ‘toughs’ who dread failure. In 2012, the National Crime Records Bureau reported 13,754 cases of farmer suicides. These were men who could not face the situation and committed suicide, leaving behind their families to face a reality they could not deal with.
There is another trait boys imbibe from their childhood: A sense of entitlement to anything they fancy. This creates a problem: The urban world is full of desirable goods but a majority of men now have to reconcile their unrestrained sense of desire with restricted resources — their economic failure. Here failed aspirations and expectations are often visible through acts of crime and violence. Till some years ago, many instances of sexual assault were committed by a class that thought it enjoyed impunity; today the demographic seems to have changed. Increasingly, the age group associated with heinous crimes is becoming younger, and since these ‘criminals’ belong to a different economic strata the urban middle class has no compunction in demanding a revision of the legal definition of who is a juvenile.
The individual and collective cost of ‘masculinity’ is high, but we seldom realise it. The virtue of masculinity is imbibed and enacted without question. Thus fathers and grandfathers see no problem in stopping daughters and granddaughters from going to school, forcing them to marry early or to marry someone they don’t want to. Their writs run over younger men too. The whole idea of being a man is to wield power and authority. However, the restrictions on women are more rigid and inflexible — and to make them more severe they add ‘izzat’ or honour to the decision-making process. Unfortunately, at a collective level, our society is willing to bear the huge economic cost of keeping women uneducated or untrained.
The male sense of privilege is getting increasingly challenged as more women enter the public space, shrinking opportunities for the menfolk. The private domain is becoming contested and is evident through high levels of domestic violence. It is time society provided a better environment for boys to grow and flourish.
Abhijit Das is director, Centre for Health and Social Justice.
The views expressed by the author are personal.