I'm beginning to have a hate - hate relationship with India.
I was married to an Indian man. He was born there, but grew up in California. We met on Match.com. How’s that for modern?
He lived nearby, was socially liberal (or so I thought) and we married a year later. The marriage was a lesson in contrast like Stacy London’s What Not to Wear culminating in better choices, those that would make me feel and look good.
Prior to marriage, we took a trip to India, where I began to see (though I ignored the deep strangling I felt inside) what I might be in for. As quickly as the heat of Mumbai hit my skin, I felt like a second-class citizen, being both female and non-Indian.
It was like being a fawn in a den of lions, desired and hunted. Women in India of any economic standing at all cannot be alone on the streets or in stores and cannot drive cars on their own.
There’s a constant state of feeling caged even as the iron gates protect the coveted high society communities.
What aggravates me more than anything about India is the deep incongruousness, inconsistency and inequality.
I saw elaborate monuments, temples and statues dedicated to deities, the creator, some higher power. They were carved of stone and marble and gold, like nothing you’ve ever seen.
I also saw places of worship, congregants in deep prayer and meditation, offerings of all kinds, food, precious metal, hair, given to the gods in exchange for peace, great fortune, safety and love.
Signs outside the temples excluded those of other religious practices from entry. If you’re not Buddhist, you are not welcome here (I read it with my own eyes).
I saw beauty in the wares. Women were dressed in sumptuous hand woven clothing even while snipping grass with their fingers (yes, hand cutting the grass).
I saw the most beautiful jewelry I've ever seen, putting Cartier and Tiffany to shame. In India, people don’t window shop at jewelry stores, they buy gold by weight and they buy big.
Gold is used to highlight the beauty of girls and women and also monetized as a significant and valuable investment and sign of wealth. I’ve not seen a gold belt (I don’t mean a chain, but a full on belt) before or since.
When it was safe to walk on the street, which was pretty much never, other than in Kerala (the home to Ayurveda and the most gorgeous curly dark hair you’ve ever seen), and only by daylight, the streets were filled with beggars. Women, children, and men, all reached for you as you whisked by feeling both heartsick and endangered.
I also saw men and women separated on the streets, it being unlawful to show public affection of any kind, handholding included.
In the clubs (yes, they exist and the Bhangra is phenomenal), men and women could dance, but not touch. In one place, arrests had occurred the week before and the club was reopened under stricter rules so couples were separated like children at a middle school dance.
All of this is the reality of India, at least the reality that I saw, while rape is the fourth most common crime against women in India
So, while touching in the open is excluded, forcible violation is happening behind closed doors and in alleyways.
A few years ago, a young girl was gang raped on a bus! She died because she fought back. The bus driver said they would have dropped her off had she merely been quiet.
Close to 150,000 girls are trafficked in India every year (that’s what’s reported) while girls are also selectively aborted. There are areas in Nepal where there areno girls left between the ages of 11 and 20.
Is this the world we’re living in? How is this behavior acceptable?
And yes, the fact that is exists is proof that it is in fact accepted.
The fact that girls and women anywhere in the world live in fear of violence or rape is offensive, unbearable, appalling and unacceptable.
India, for me, exhibits, simultaneously, the best and the worst of life.
It is the most difficult place to stomach. Yet, it is a microcosm, a place of major atrocity that highlights violence against women around the world and next door to us.
It reminds of us of our friend who was raped at a frat party, of the fear we feel when walking on campus or corporate grounds, our grandmother’s rule that if we put a drink down we should never pick it up again, the insanity of Pill Cosby, the shame that his victims felt for numerous years and the powerlessness of the abused.
There is beauty everywhere. There is pain and suffering everywhere. We must ask ourselves how to dismantle a worldwide culture that accepts barbarous behavior against women.
Awareness is only the beginning and while I don’t see myself in India again, I am thankful that my eyes are no longer shut, but wide open.