The white woman’s story no Indian wants to hear – Jaago Re

Rose Chasm (Michaela Cross)

“First, let me make one thing clear, I love India. The amazing food, music, spiritual philosophies, mountains, beaches, yoga, ethnic and religious diversity and all the other reasons tourists flock there, make India a place worthy of visiting again and again. But for a woman it is often dangerous and restrictive. My life in Europe is a hundred times freer, safer, healthier, anonymous and happier than living in India.” – Jaago Re

Stop Eve TeasingBeing in denial, never solved any problem, for anyone, anywhere.

As a white, British woman living, studying and working in India over the last seven years it cannot be denied that I benefited from white and economic privilege there. As this First Post article correctly points out:

“The reality is that the average Indian woman — many of whom are poor, lower caste or rural — is far more unsafe in India than any white person.”

Much has been written about the South Asian obsession with pale skin already and I will not explore that here. I am also not going to discuss the derogatory, sexist and racist stereotyping of white women and western culture in India either; Hollywood Should Feel Offended By Bollywood does a very good job of dealing with those issues.

What I am going to raise here is the oft-repeated claim of moral equivalence, that India is somehow ‘the same’ as (or worse than) developed, western countries in terms of how it treats females. Study after study, millions of ‘disappeared’ females, the legality of marital rape, the incessant attacks on young girls and women of all ages so on and so forth confirm that India is one of the worst places for females to live. Yet, many Indian nationalists, religious fundamentalists, patriarchs, and even ‘liberal’, educated types go into full denial mode when these disparities are mentioned. One story in particular appears to unite all these people in their Occidentalist scorn, the personal testimony of white women in India.

First, let me make one thing clear, I love India. The amazing food, music, spiritual philosophies, mountains, beaches, yoga, ethnic and religious diversity and all the other reasons tourists flock there, make India a place worthy of visiting again and again. But for a woman it is often dangerous and restrictive. My life in Europe is a hundred times freer, safer, healthier, anonymous and happier than living in India. If you don’t believe me, here are just a few of the things I experienced in India that I never experienced in Europe:

  • Being followed, stared at, verbally abused and commented on wherever I went, alone or with my young son;
  • Being in Jammu, where there were hardly any females out in public day or night, and having policemen knock on my hotel door late at night demanding to see marriage papers for the man I was with;
  • Being required to give only my father’s name and never my mother’s name on official forms;
  • Being blamed for male harassment and inappropriate behaviour towards me;
  • Being told not to go out late (after 8 pm) on my own;
  • Having racist, sexist and ageist abuse shouted at me in the street by a woman for being in an interracial relationship;
  • Being aggressively sexually propositioned twice, by supposedly educated and intelligent men, who refused to take my first, second and several ‘No’s for an answer;
  • Being unable to sit or go alone anywhere without attracting male stares or comments;
  • Sitting on night buses worried that the man next to me would molest me in my sleep;
  • Sitting in women-only carriages due to concerns for safety and privacy;
  • Meeting a woman who had been married off by her family to a complete stranger who treated her like a slave;
  • Seeing brave, intelligent women alienated and hounded out of their communities for daring to writing about sexism and injustice towards women;
  • Reading a women’s NGO research report in which one field staff member blamed a woman for staying in an abusive relationship.

And NO, Europe is not perfect and YES, misogyny and sexism exists there too. BUT I have yet to experience any of these things personally there. It is no conspiracy or mistake that European nations are consistently rated the best countries in the world for females.

Why have I written this? I was asked to do so, several times. By an Indian woman who is tired of the lies, denial and fantasies of Indian nationalists, post-colonialists and patriarchs. Who knows the reality of living in India. Who is alienated by white Liberal ‘friends’ propping up her oppressors and deniers with long words and sophisticated political theories making claims of moral equivalence where there is none. I write it in solidarity with Rose Chasm (Michaela Cross), Ophelia Balan, Sarah Webb and others who have spoken out about their experiences in India and faced not only a deafening silence from white women but also a hateful backlash from those who take any opportunity to attack white women, especially ‘feminists’. I write in solidarity with Japleen Pasricha who bravely wrote about her brief taste of freedom after five months living in Germany and with Swati Parashar, who rightly says ‘It’s time more western feminists spoke up against the violence women in countries like India face repeatedly and every day.’

Women’s personal testimonies and ‘lived’ experiences should never be silenced or belittled based on their skin colour or nationality. Basic human rights are women’s rights and no amount of cultural relativism, ‘victim mentality’, post colonialism or hysterical cries of ‘white imperialism’ will ever change the truth of that. – Jaago Re, February 2015

»  The author is a British writer and activist who has worked and travelled extensively in India, Nepal, Europe and North America. 

Women only passenger railcar

All Women Police Station in Chennai

10 Responses

  1. Bollywood rape sceneBollywood Rape Scene: If Bollywood heroes can do it, why not college boys and their uncles and fathers too? Bollywood has a lot to account for when it comes to creating a “culture” of rape in India.

  2. To clarify, this article was written in solidarity with those foreign women who suffer sexual harassment in India.

    This has already been stated, but prejudiced commentators who are over-eager to condemn and dismiss the British author are ignoring the point. See her signed article here.

    Do foreign women, students and tourists alike, suffer sexual harassment in India?

    Yes, they do! And it is going on today in the pilgrimage town this observer lives in!

    They are also raped. But these incidents are not reported because the traumatised foreign women does not want to get entangled with the local police or get herself examined in a government hospital by some hostile, prurient doctor who is going to stick her fingers in her vagina—essentially raping her again—to attempt to establish whether she is a virgin or not (that this “two finger” practice is against the law is beside the point; and whether the rape victim is a virgin or not is also beside the point).

    • Various readers write in to say that the US and UK have higher rape statistics per cent of population than India does.

      That is true and we have published these statics in various articles on this website.

      But are not these statistics being touted to EXCUSE the rape problem in India? Maybe even to JUSTIFY it?

      Rape in India is a problem we have to face squarely ourselves and find a solution for. Pointing a finger at the US and UK does not help matters even if their wrongdoing is greater than ours. It is just a way for us to side-step the issue and persuade ourselves that there is no problem at all.

      India pretends to be the culturally superior civilization of the world. According to Manu, the superior person or group must follow a superior moral code and suffer a greater penalty if the code is broken.

      So India in her pretension stands condemned twice over—by those Western countries that seek to exploit her weaknesses and cover up their own, and by her own Rishis who would not tolerate the rape incidents occurring in the country for even a day.

      (And though the US and UK may have the higher percentage of rape incidents population-wise, it is doubtful if they have “over 31,000 rape cases pending in high courts alone” as reported by The Times of India in December 2014.)

      See also

      Rape: A challenge facing Indian society – Gautam Sen
      Rape: The law is an ass, we made an idiot of it – Dhiraj Nayyar

  3. muslim and british rule in India is the cause. Hindu India will grow out of it over a period of time. Given a free hand muslims would convert india to Saudi arabia and the british english would ship all wealth out of India and write a thousand books how india is a country with criminal tribes. Check what they did to the native people of americas and australia and now iraq, libya syria and iran.

  4. Thank you for helping out the Indian women. I suppose you know the position of women in terms of equality in the most advanced country, the USA, suffered severe discrimination only few decades ago. Now that you found the truth out, perhaps you may go ahead with solutions.

    • India has highly competent and articulate women leaders. It is for them to continue the good work for women and women’s rights that they are already doing.

      The British author of the article is writing in support of Indian women who suffer various kinds of abuse and specifically in solidarity with those foreign women students who have suffered sexual harassment while studying in India. Check out the links in the article.

  5. What is she trying to say? That she has conducted some sort of surveys and come to the conclusion that women in India are worse off than their counterparts around the world?

  6. Sorry, the essence of the article is not understood. Can anyone explain me please?

  7. Never mind the controversy over the documentary etc., but independent India’s public transport has had ‘ladies only’ sections for aeons now. And it’s not solely due to some residue of colonial Victorian prudishness. Again, those ‘ladies special’ buses to our colleges are there for a reason (where there are supposedly ‘educated’ men too), and it’s certainly not because India is a society of Amazons. I think our Hindu nationalists need to clearly separate the legality of the documentary from the issues that Indian women grapple with on a chronic basis.

    • Yes, the hullabaloo raised over the documentary has taken attention away from the very real issue of rape and abuse of women in India.

      The documentary appears to have been made by side-stepping government regulations. This has allowed various commentators to use the possible illegality of the film’s making to side-step the very real issue of rape and abuse of women in India.

      By giving a platform for an unrepentant rapist to have his say, Udwin appears to have made a sensational attention-grabbing reality show without proper context. She is not sincere in representing the problem of rape in India accurately and honestly.

      Udwin and the BBC should have honoured the government stay on the film and challenged it in court. By ignoring the government stay, they have challenged India’s sovereignty. This has rightly riled many people.

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