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. :)

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