For the last eight months, I decided to conduct a comprehensive research project into ancient Indian history, to find out how much of South Asian heritage actually stems from an authentic sub-continent root and how much of it hails from our colonial past.
Recently, I took my findings into the region that my family hails from – Panjab, north India. Panjab and those of Panjabi descent, are infamous for boasting about our martial history, our physical strength and prowess, our ability to drink copious amounts of alcohol, macho men, strong women and being part of a heritage with fierce warriors. I used to strut around and be proud of a martial history, that I hadn’t really contributed to or understood fully, based on the stories I grew up hearing. It wasn’t until I found out the reason why the vast majority of Panjabis seem to possess an alarming amount of physical strength, that my views on my ethnic history have significantly changed.
Due to the region’s location, those living within Panjab, were susceptible to invaders, war and violence. In order to defend themselves, they began to specifically breed with individuals who were physically fit, strong and tall to produce children of a similar build.
This went on for centuries and while this way of thinking makes sense (given the context at the time) it is unnerving to know that the sole purpose behind this method of selective breeding was to create a population specifically built for bloodshed, violence and war. It is not too dissimilar from how the Spartans in ancient Greece controlled their population.
Man; the protector, the fighter and the defender of honour. If we look back on stories which detail the lives of Panjabi warriors, there is an emphasis on their masculinity, or masculine attributes if they were women, and the sacrifices that they made to defend their land. While it is an important aspect of north Indian history, our retelling of events does more harm than good.
We descend from a population that was specifically bred for bloodshed, violence and war.
With this in mind, it has definitely made me rethink the way that we glamourise the martial history of Panjab, make hyperbolic statements about the ‘manliness’ which exists in north Indian men and discard men who are sensitive.
Consider the effect that these hyperbolic images of masculinity have on young boys and girls, who sit there wide eyed and mouths open in awe, at the bravery of these warriors. And then regard a phrase which thousands of parents, and people, thoughtlessly say to young boys: “Boys don’t cry.”
This simple statement, to me, is one of the most damaging things that we can ever say to a young boy. Not only does it explicitly state that women are emotional, irrational and weaker, but it also denies boys from expressing their emotions in a healthy manner. They then learn to keep their emotions to themselves, suppress them and ignore them in order to fit in with environments that are saturated in machismo.
It is an ironic display of power; we live in a world where men call the shots and hold an overwhelming amount of power (in most aspects), yet it is these very same men who are undermined by their own structures on a daily basis. And I’m willing to bet that many men do not even realise this.
“Behind every strong woman you’ll find a strong man. And behind every strong man you’ll find a strong woman.” ~ Wu Tang Clan
Unfortunately, I was unable to obtain statistics from a reliable source, that would give us an indication of the number of South Asian men who have depression, ADHD, schizophrenia, been sexually assaulted, raped and/or have committed suicide. The stigma surrounding men, regardless of race, in this matter is clear for all to see.
‘Real men’ don’t cry. ‘Real men’ aren’t caring, sensitive or vulnerable. A ‘real man’ keeps his emotions in check, has his poker face on 24/7 and only cares about his sexual appetite. While there are men who do behave like this, it is wrong to apply this way of thinking to men in general, because there are scores of men who suffer in silence because of the stigma surrounding male weakness.
Within the South Asian Diaspora, in the minds of many who sit inside its various communities, there already exists an inability to fully understand mental health issues – many of which stem from harmful, collective social ideas of how men and women should behave. And I firmly believe that those who stay silent, are complicit in these toxic attitudes rolling onto future generations.
This itself is a continuation of machismo because it sustains an unrealistic expectation of how men and women should be – and heaven help if you do not adhere to these constraints!
The problem is not that we continue to tell stories about our martial history, warriors and pass on a vital element of north Indian history to our children. It is the way that we talk about north Indian martial history in hyperbolic terms without telling our children that the world has changed.
We don’t need warriors or men who live in a constant state of fight or flight mode anymore. The time for that has gone and I do not see it returning any time soon.
Which image do we find more distressing? A man wielding a weapon? Or a man crying?