Whenever I told people I was going to India I got mixed reactions. Half were thrilled and started raving about the food, the people, the culture, the smells and the general exotic mystique of India. The other half were not so enthusiastic in their praise and went on rants about the food, the people, the culture, the smells and the general third worldiness of India. When I asked my brown friends to sort out the ambiguity I just got an Indian head bobble.
Within the last couple of months however, the number one concern my friends and family expressed about India changed from “Delhi Belly” to the very real and very scary new stigma of India as, “not so safe for women”. When I emailed my mom to let her know about my safe arrival in Bangalore her immediate response was “When do you leave for Thailand?” And in all fairness to my concerned friends and family, I’m not exactly known for my good decision making. I went out with a stranger that I only knew from the internet. I hitchhiked across Delhi. And the skype conversation that probably freaked my mom out the most was the one that included the sentence “Last night I shared a room by myself with some random Indian dudes,” or as my mother heard it on skype “You slept in a room with Indian Jews?
In my travel experience general good manners is to avoid mention of any moderately racist issue that could be a touchy subject. I tried not to have “black dude in an elevator” syndrome whenever anyone came near my bag in Brazil. When I was in Germany, Nazis never existed – and for that matter WWII never happened. So when I got to India I sure as hell wasn’t going to bring up the rapes. Until it got brought up. A lot. By Indians. To the point where it became its own time period where things were referred to in context of “After the rapes.” I hung out with more locals in India than I did in any other country, and the people I hung out with were all pretty Westernized so it’s no surprise that they were as perplexed as I was about the not-so-female-friendly culture.
For starters, generally speaking it would suck to be a woman in India. From a Western perspective, I have never experienced so much sexism in my life. Trying to get anything done without Mark was nearly impossible. Almost all service people would speak directly to Mark and not even look at Aracely or I. Even something as simple as me asking for a check was met by the waiter looking at Mark and Mark having to nod in approval (I think he enjoyed this power more than he cares to admit). I’m far from a feminist, I enjoy shows of masculinity. And I don’t mind being the damsel in distress. However, if I was a woman living in India I would be fucking slapping people left and right.
When I had a conversation with the “Indian Jews” that I shared a room with they were also appalled about how things like the gang rape on the train in Delhi could happen. “Those guys were also raised by mothers and grandmothers.” When one guy asked an Indian girl friend about it she told him something to the effect of “The way guys go out in America to a club to hang out, guys from low class areas in India go out to creep on girls.” And I don’t mean “creep” in the Jersey Shore sense. Literally creep. ::shudder::
It does appear that the government is at least taking steps to address the issue. In Bangalore I saw half-hour ridiculously dramatic PSAs directing women to report it to the police immediately if they were harassed by men. Delhi was full of billboards promoting the respect of women. Even at the Holi festival we went to one of the sponsors was handing out stickers that said “Women First.” It is nice to see at least that there is some kind of effort being made.
Fortunately for me aside from bring treated as a second class citizen I had no directly offensive encounters while walking around except for people sneaking pictures of a short and tank top wearing Aracely at the Taj Mahal. And I was warned about men hissing at us on the streets but I really didn’t experience much of that either. But of course as I drafted this entry sitting on the beach in Goa life can’t be all sunshine and rainbows. In Goa I decided to lay on the beach and jot down my thoughts on my positive experience visiting India after being fueled with rape heavy media reports. I was noting how my experience overall had been good, when I noticed a guy sitting by a boat a few yards to my left. I paid him no mind, and then took a second look a few minutes only to realize that he was crouching down with his hand between his legs wildly gesticulating…oh wait that wasn’t gesticulating. Time to put on sweatpants, head back to the hotel and move on to Thailand.