Researching the untold stories of masculinity and violence in India

5 February 2010

The images from the Gujarat riots of 2002 showing the slaughter of thousands of Muslims and Hindus is not something which the world will readily forget. But what of the stories behind the civil violence, its origins and its impact on health and development in the region?

These are just some of the issues that Sydney University's Dr Alex Broom is currently exploring as part of an AUSAID funded research project on masculinity and violence in South Asia.

"Most gender focused research, particularly in South Asia, has focused on women's rights and exploitation and has usually involved collecting data from women," comments Dr Broom from his hotel room overlooking the slums in Ahmedabad, Gujarat. "In relation to violence, few people have sought the opinions of South Asian men, particularly in comparing Hindu and Muslim communities."

Working with anthropologist Dr Assa Doron of ANU, Dr Broom is aiming to change this through a comprehensive study including interviews with around 100 Indian men and NGO workers in the two states of Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh. They have also conducted a survey with 1000 men from each state.

"Each area has ongoing issues related to communal violence but also specific historical issues including anti-colonial struggle and more recent inter-religious and inter-ethnic conflict."

Through documenting people's account of events like the Gujarat riots, Broom and Doron will shed light on the impacts of violence on relationships, families, community life and health.

Dr Alex Broom of Behavioural and Social Sciences in Health
Dr Alex Broom of Behavioural and Social Sciences in Health

Not an easy task considering the cultural and linguistic barriers.

"Like in Australia, the key is to develop a relationship before asking sensitive questions and also not judging their views," says Dr Broom. "For example some men talk about women as being responsible, in some way or form, for domestic violence. The objective of the research however, isn't to correct or challenge their views. Rather to understand the assumptions underlying their everyday lives."

Slums of Ahmedabad, Gujarat
Slums of Ahmedabad, Gujarat

Early findings suggest that communal violence like the case of the Gujarat riots is having a profound impact on the health of these communities, particularly in regards to mental health issues.

"Many Muslim men feel emasculated by the state-supported marginalisation of the Muslim communities during and post 2002, and there has been little movement towards reconciliation for men."

"Furthermore NGO efforts that focus on bringing together Muslim and Hindu women are creating tensions within the communities due to some men being suspicious of their activities," states Dr Broom. "Reported 'suicides' of women in the slums are extraordinarily high"

An edited collection reporting on a wider program of research in South Asia will be published by Routledge this year under the title Health, Culture and Religion in South Asia: Critical Social Science Perspectives. Dr Broom is optimistic this project will go a long way towards demonstrating effective ways of incorporating men in gender-based research in South Asia and to develop approaches that allow these men to tell their stories in an open and sensitive way.

Sacred city of Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh
Sacred city of Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh

The work also has the potential to explore how aid and development programs can target men more effectively through identifying the kind of support these men need.

"Despite common perception men are often the victims of violence - largely from other men - and documenting the impacts of everyday violence, threats and intimidation is important for understanding how, in turn, men engage with their families, wives and communities."

The support by AUSAID also means that Broom and Doron's work explores how NGO workers experience violence themselves, an issue which is largely unexplored within India.

As part of the research program, Dr Broom has been appointed Visiting Professor at the Centre of Social Medicine and Community Health, School of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

Children playing cricket in the streets of India
Children playing cricket in the streets of India

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