Friday, August 23, 2013

The other side of the story you never wanted to hear

I'm sure by now most of us have read the CNN report titled India: The Story You Never Wanted to Hear. The report talks about the horrifying experiences of a young American woman who had come to India for three months as part of her South Asian Studies program at the University of Chicago. It goes on to describe in first person the extreme sexual harassment that she faced during that period which ultimately caused her to have PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and has been granted a mental leave of absence from her University. It was after the diagnosis that she connected it all back to her experiences in India. But for her, it was not all bad, although every good memory was tainted by some horrible experience. She cites that she was 'stalked, groped and masturbated at', despite which she had adventures beyond her imagination.

Sexual harassment has somehow become synonymous with India and along with the diving rupee, India has become a place everyone wants to run away from. Being a woman, I have experienced sexual harassment since I was a young teenage girl. Honestly, there isn't a single woman in the entire country who hasn't. To be clear, by sexual harassment I do not mean rape. Staring at someone constantly and making them uncomfortable is also a form a harassment. Women here are constantly advised to not stay out late after dark, to always have a male companion, to have a ride back home, to carry pepper spray, to have knowledge of basic martial arts to get out of a bad situation, to dress conservatively, to not communicate with strangers and the list goes on. Even the Delhi Metro has a dedicated coach for women, which when you think about it, is very shameful. Women don't feel safe anywhere, be it while traveling by public transport or walking on the road.

I've failed to understand what goes on inside the heads of such men. It's possible to be a man and still be a decent human being. I have seen such men, I know such men. However, I do not understand the need of some of the human beings of the opposite gender to treat women as objects. Is it an ego issue, or is it because Indian society from the very beginning has been disproportionately skewed in the favor of men. I can rant endlessly on this topic, but the motive of this post is something else.

The woman from the article referred to India as a 'traveler's heaven and a woman's hell' and yesterday I chanced to meet a young German woman to happened to disagree with her completely. It was a refreshing change to know and understand the point of view of a foreigner. Someone who has actually experienced India as a foreign country and might be able to relate to that woman better. So this young German woman had visited India in 2012 for about two months and was now back because she loved the country so much. I was curious as to what brought her back to a country which has apparently been described as a 'woman's hell'. It was quite refreshing to hear that it wasn't the Taj Mahal or the Golden Temple or Leh and Ladakh, but actually the people of Indian that she had come to know and love.

She beautifully spoke in fluent Hindi which completely knocked my socks off. I patiently listened to her point of view for a good half an hour without being unbiased. She completely disagreed with the woman from the article. According to her, it was true that men started at her because of her blue eyes, fair skin and blonde hair, but simply because she was exotic to them. She was no stranger to lewd remarks from men, but that was not something she had experienced in India, instead in her home country. She told me that men over there had often started at women and passed remarks and treated them like objects. She said that rape was not a problem faced by India alone, it was actually quite prevalent in the west. Sure she sympathized with that woman because of the extreme circumstances that she had faced but her experience of our country was completely different.

The report talks about how there might be innumerable photos of her but according to the girl I was talking to, foreigners often come to India and click pictures of people, men, women and children alike. These foreigners too seldom take permission to click the Indians. She told me how she felt exotic in our country, but in a wonderful way. She had traveled most of South and North India and some parts of East, West and Central. Everywhere she went, she had fortunately encountered people who were more than happy to help her and make her journey and experiences easy. She had found the people to be extremely genuine and helpful and was completely in love with country.

I must say that its refreshing to find some light in this time of darkness. :)

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

I'm a hypocrite. So sue me.

Hypocrisy (n): The practice of claiming to have moral standards or beliefs to which one's own behavior does not conform; pretense.

A few days ago while in the middle of an important discussion of targets and timelines for the new project, my colleague brought up a very simple question. He asked us why all of us were so afraid of being hypocrites. Why we got offended when someone accused us of being hypocrites. I thought about it for a minute and responded that it was simply because it has always been used in a negative context and my first instinct would be to deny it right out. He very simply then replied that every person is a hypocrite, which actually is not a bad thing. When one does a business, a little bit of hypocrisy is essential, so one must proudly embrace it.

This conversation got me thinking about the whole idea of hypocrisy, about how it is there in all of us and how we refuse to admit it to anyone. At least, I do. If someone would point out that I was being a hypocrite, I would immediately defend myself. I think one of the reasons for this that whenever someone points out something I've been trying to hide, not consciously, but just because I feel that it is a very personal part of me, I quickly take offence. I feel as if the other person can somehow read me completely and that scares me. I think all of us have a part, however little, that is just us. We don't want to share it with anyone, not because we are ashamed of it, but because its just personal to us. Known between just you and yourself. Alright now I can feel myself digressing from the topic.

So the conversation got me wondering as to why I was afraid of being a hypocrite.Maybe because deep down I'm afraid of being found out. I'm afraid that the other person will see right through me. Every so often I think of someone I know as a hypocrite and it makes me a little edgy to think that they might be wondering the same about me. This thing in itself is hypocrisy.

I talk about chasing your dreams and always doing a job that makes you happy. But I worked for a corporate for over 9 months, hating every bit of it and willing myself to stick it out for 2 years. (Well, I couldn't do it and just quit one day and instead joined an organization I actually like working for and doing thing that I feel could actually make a difference). But the point it, even on days when I would have to drag myself to get out of bed and go to work, I knew deep down that I am someone who always puts emphasis on doing a job that you love and unconsciously thought about what Steve Jobs once said,

"Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma -which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition."
 However, I couldn't bring myself to admit that this wasn't right for me. I kept trying to force myself to be someone I just wasn't. We always find it easier to preach about things instead of having the balls to follow them ourselves. 

Bros before hoes. I swear by this day in and day out. It's very simple, boyfriends will come and go, but friends are the ones who will be there to celebrate with you when you start dating someone and they will still be there when the whole thing crashes and burns. But you have to balance your priorities between those two periods. Often I complain about some friend of mine being too much into their relationship and not giving enough importance to his/her friends when I myself have been guilty of doing the same. I sometimes cancel plans with friends just to have a quite date. Then why is it so difficult for me to excuse someone else of doing the same. Sigh.

I talk about how we should put our egos aside and not think about what others say, when I myself sometimes lay awake at night wondering about this very thing.

I talk about my support to homosexuality. Don't get me wrong, I do support it completely. I think we should be with someone who makes us happy. Irrespective of their gender, nationality or color. But when I see two men holding hands and walking on the street, it makes me slightly uncomfortable and truthfully, I find it a little amusing. Guilty.

I talk about how money and materialism doesn't matter, but at the end of the day I find myself craving for these very things. 

These things and so many more. The truth is, I am a hypocrite, sometimes. I'm just not afraid to admit it anymore.