- Posted August 21, 2013 by
San Diego, California
This iReport is part of an assignment:
Speaking up about sexual violence
India - good, bad and ugly
I am an Indian woman who lived in India for the first 22 years of my life. I have now lived in America for 9 years. Having seen both sides of the coin, and growing up a feminist it was natural that I have a strong reaction to this article. Reading every word and (re)living every reality through Ms. Cross’ eyes made me flinch and curl up. As only Indians and those who have been to India can empathize though, it was a mixed feeling. While my heart was full of rage at the Neanderthals who meted out such treatment, there was a part of me that stood up in defense of my country.
I laud Ms. Cross for her attempt to show both the sides of the coin despite her trauma. It is hard to remain objective in her situation, but she still tried and that is commendable. But her focus was mostly on the negative, so I would like to shine some light on the positive. She did potray the absolute truth, but not the complete truth. There are many women who have been in situations like hers, but many more women have never faced the serious circumstances that she did.
I myself have been a victim of groping in crowded places, I'm sure every Indian girl/woman I know has too. I don’t have to ask them, I’m sure they will have a story to tell, we are constantly on guard in crowded places. But I recall an incident when I was walking down a street with sparse traffic on a Sunday afternoon and an auto rickshaw driver drove past me and tried to grope me. I was taken by surprise as it was not a crowded place, and even as I tried get over the shock, he brazenly turned around and parked his auto rickshaw on a street corner, looking directly at me. I was seething in anger at what happened and on his nerve for returning, where I was expecting him to run away like a coward, as most of his types do.
So I went up to him and asked what he had just done. It was his turn to be surprised. All my yelling caught the attention of another auto driver, who told him that was no way to treat a customer and a lady. I don't know if the guy ever attempted to do something like that again later, but the point is that I felt safe enough to confront him, without the fear of repercussion. Because I was sure that the people on the street were there to protect me, if something untoward were to happen. Crowds in India can be complicated, they can be both good and bad for you. You just need to figure out what is safe and what is not and need to talk to an informed local before you travel. But I would definitely advise women against traveling alone to new cities/towns (specially in the North) and venturing out alone or even in pairs at night. Mumbai is pretty much the only city where women can go out safely at night, assuming they follow common sense precautions like carrying a cell phone, staying in a well-lit area etc.
As far as Indian girls are concerned, the art of intuitive and preventive self-defense is inculcated into us growing up. Our brothers/fathers/husbands bear the responsibility of protecting us. The concept of extended families means that we always go out in groups with friends or family and there is always a group of guys protecting us from the unseen. The feminist in me is ashamed to have to accept that we need men to protect us (unless you're in a big city like Mumbai or Bangalore or Hyderabad). But in a country where dating was non-existent until a couple of years ago and in still unheard of in most places except major cities, we are taught to protect ourselves by never engaging strangers through acknowledgement of stares. We are taught to ignore. If I kept score of every guy who stared at me, and which part of my body he was groping with his eyes, the Earth would be Hell. So in short, ignorance really is bliss.
As far as visiting foreigners are concerned, we have a history of morbid fascination towards lighter skin. We use skin lightening creams, 'fairness creams' as we call them, pray for 'fair' children and have traditionally labelled dark skinned girls as ugly (thankfully that's changing). We all dream of going to London or America someday. Most of the time, the fascination is just naïve and I have been a victim/perpetrator too. As a teenager on a trip to Pondicherry, I remember asking a Caucasian couple to click a photograph with our group, because we were excited to spot 'foreigners'. I felt proud to speak English with a 'foreigner' and having the 'nerve' to ask them for a picture.
Growing up in India, we were never taught that staring is rude. Given the extended family culture, the concept of privacy does not traditionally exist in India. What we are taught is a different kind of etiquette - respect elders, respect education, be hospitable to guests and love family. And that hospitality can sometimes be overbearing and impudent.
This can all seem stifling to newcomers. But it is a matter of perception. For example, the last time I visited India, a lady at a Salon genuinely wondered how I can live in the United States, where people routinely get shot in theaters and schools, and people get killed in their own homes (home invasions). I told her that just like there was crime in India, there is crime in America. So, the vice versa applies too.
I will end by recounting an incident that happened when I was in college. My friend and I were on our way to a temple in the outskirts of the city, in the wee hours of an June morning to fulfill a religious commitment. We were driving through a deserted wilderness-like area, when our motorbike broke down. We waited there with no cell phone. There was no AAA in India, and we waited for half an hour as people drove by. As the day broke, we realized we were a short distance from the gates of a factory. We knocked on the gates wanting to use a phone. As we tried to call our parents and find an auto mechanic who would fix the vehicle for us, the factory’s in-house mechanic and security offered to fix it for us. But the repair would take about four hours. So they hailed a ride for us, asked us to come back after completing our commitment at the temple. We weren’t sure if we could leave the Mortorbike with strangers, but we did anyway. And as promised, when we returned, it was repaired and all set to go. We didn’t even have the courage to offer them money for their favor and they never asked for any. I’m not sure if I would do the same today, but no part of it is embellished. All I can say is something like this “happens only in India” as they famously say in India. There are a lot of things that happen only in India. Despite all the ugliness, it is still the country that produces the most number of women engineers only next to China possibly.
But the fact remains, that all these brilliant engineers have been groped and have experienced other forms of sexual harassment. So, change is due. When it will come, is the question.
NOTE: All that I said above, does not apply to Delhi and Goa, these two cities are known to be the crime and drug capitals of India.