Recent stories on sexual harassment by Indian men have inundated the media. CNN, without cross-checking, went about telling a story of a woman who has encountered explicit sexual exploitation by Indian men in India. I understand it is difficult for a white woman to travel across seven seas and oceans and get settled in a completely new environment. The very journey to the unknown and the unfamiliar can be both exasperating and exciting. The idea of a white woman academically and intellectually exploring South Asia is much more attractive than the idea of an Indian graduate student researching on the continent. The white woman is credited with recognition and honor for her skill and prowess in Sanskrit when for ages, scholars in India who we do not even remember have slogged relentlessly to unearth Sanskrit scriptures and texts. I do not suggest to take away the credit these white women deserve, but if indeed it is about "seeking and seeking out knowledge" why prefer the white over brown? This sort of preference leads to the formulation of a series of logistics for the white woman graduate student to excel in her fieldwork. The white grad student is trained with all kinds of 'dos' and 'don'ts' so that she prepares herself for what is coming her way. The point is for any sort of "fieldwork" to be successful, one need to be aware of what could go wrong, but on the other hand, the set of dos and don'ts reinforce the stereotypes that exist about men, women and gender bias in India. American Universities that send their graduate students for fieldwork (Indian grad students hardly attend them) prepare them way before time through intensive training programs about Indian customs, practices, rituals, costumes, social manners, food habits, transport fares, etc. The objective behind such a measure is to ensure the students' safety and security in a foreign land. My point is, when universities have programs such as Area Studies and encourage students to participate in fieldwork so that they can ultimately write their doctoral thesis, why burden them with stereotypes--the very stereotypes they want to exterminate through exchange of knowledge and experience? Michaela Cross's case goes on to show how sometimes being too overzealous and overprotective can actually get to harm us. How can anyone do her fieldwork as an ethnographer in India with those horrible stereotypical images of India wafting before her eyes all the time? A general guideline on safety issues can be discussed but to mention "what to wear" in India is to undermine the country's cultural identity and display the nation as an orthodox, parochial, chauvinistic land (of men) who have nothing else to do but shamelessly indulge in sexual frivolities. In 2013, how primitive a thought, no? Is it important to blatantly suggest white women to wear a certain kind of costume in India to hide the contours of their body? Wouldn't that be considered sexual harassment in a country like the USA? Wouldn't radical feminists react to such a statement made in a country that champions equality of rights and bodies? Or is it okay to caution white women grad students because it is more important to avoid a hassle such as the Cross-case than upholding feminist theories? In that case, let us shun the feminist views on bodies, space and rights (because as we observe, it looks splendid ideologically but fails to diffuse the intricate layers that stretch between theory and praxis) and look at the pragmatics of everyday practices. Let us for once, get rid of the hypocrisy and tell ourselves that no matter what Noam Chomsky says, no matter how much we read on cutting across borders or diluting the margins that defines the 'other', at the end of the day, we are all xenophobic. That, at the end of the day, we want to "otherize" people who do not look like us not on the basis of whether they eat monkey-brains or ride elephants on the streets anymore, but on the more modern stereotypes that involve sexual violence. The recent Cross-case makes India appear as a nation that has evolved from brain-eaters to babe-eaters. The point is, sexual harassment is part of any culture that engages with the body, male and female and thus cannot be pinned on any one sex, community or race. We cannot stop offenders of such crimes by completely covering ourselves or avoiding any interaction with outsiders during the fieldwork precisely because sexual harassment does not depend on a well-endowed, attractive white body; it depends on some people (men and women) who think they can get away by committing such crimes. These men and women are all over the world and it doesn't have to be Indian men all the time.
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