Thursday, August 29, 2013

Thoughts on the CNN iReport - "It's not about Indian men"

(Img via)

Last week, an article online went viral about a University of Chicago student (Michaela Cross) who suffered from PTSD after coming back from a 3 month trip to India. During her trip, she suffered repeated sexual harassment which in turn had long-lasting mental effects on her.

Well, of course it did! The article brought me to tears as I read how this poor girl was victimised over and over again, completely helpless and unaware of how to cope with something like that in a foreign country.

Listen, there is a problem here. When many young women cannot go out without a male chaperone (or a group of people around her), has to cover herself from head to toe, cannot speak to any man without appearing "forward", is much more respected when wearing 3 or more symbols of marriage (as I've noticed)...there is a serious problem

I love India, and have had many wonderful experiences traveling around, and especially with Indian people and my beautiful Indian family. India is my favorite country on Earth. The reason why I get so frustrated with India - is because it is not safe for a woman - and India is better than that. Women (and Indian women most importantly) deserve better. And now that I have a half-Indian daughter, I'm much more passionate about it. Every fetus that gets aborted just because it's a girl, every girl that gets handed over to her inlaws as a piece of property with a furniture set, every girl who is gang-raped and victim-blamed - every girl feels like my own daughter. 

I wish for that foreign student that she could've experienced a different India. I wish so badly for her...I wish she would come back and give it another try, but who can blame her if she doesn't... What is worse, to die like Nirbhaya, or to survive like the recent Mumbai gang-rape victim? To survive with PTSD like Michaela? What is worse??? And all to feel shame? And all to deal with victim-blaming just for being in the wrong time/wrong place???

Husband-ji says that the woman always gets blamed for everything. If the eldest daughter gets raped, they will blame her because it will be hard to get the younger sisters married. If the family loses money in business after the new wife enters the family, she will get blamed. If she has a daughter instead of a son, she will get blamed. Attitudes are changing in our generation, but the elders who believe these things are keeping these attitudes alive.

Of course, dear readers, y'all already know I'm slightly feminist by my writing. How can I not be with a daughter? How can I not be when I have had endless freedoms my whole life (freedom of speech, expression, safety, an equal partnership) and yet so many of my Indian sisters do not?

The reason why I'm writing this post is mainly because I'm absolutely pissed that Internet commenters are more concerned about the reputation of India / Indian men, than showing sympathy for this poor girl's unique personal experience. I mean, really. REALLY?!?! Even women!!! That's what really gets me...it's all fellow women!!! Instead, many completely discredit this poor girl for spilling her heart out and bravely telling her story - and make it all about "it's a generalization", "it makes Indian men look bad", blah blah, it's all crap. All you're concerned about is reputation? As a woman, how can you not feel for that girl? HELLO!!! Wake the f*** up and feel something!!! The article is about the long-lasting effects of repeated sexual harassment!!!! Are people that daft to reduce her unique personal experience to "it makes Indian men look bad"??? If people are soooooo concerned about India's reputation, then feel free to actually stand up and be a good samaritan when you see a woman getting harassed or eve-teased! Don't look the other way!!! Blame the people that committed these offences, instead of the girl who was brave enough to talk about it!

What the heck is the world coming to? When so many people cannot have a shred of empathy, no matter how horrific the story??? My husband read the article and was very upset. He was very upset for that poor girl. I told him some internet commenters are saying "it makes Indian men look bad", and he said, "no it doesn't. It's not about Indian men."

 Are "foreign" women supposed to keep their mouth shut about anything remotely bad about any experience in India? Of course we are, because so many Indian women can't even talk about it and that's in their own country! A country which has failed so many women over and over... with family honour only being located in a girl's vagina, with the absolute failure of the justice system (Delhi Rape case fast-tracked, but still not over 8 months later; Nirbhaya fund $$$ crores not even dispersed), the half-witted desensitivity of the police (to prevent rape the Mumbai police are taking down revealing mannequins in retail stores), countless unreported sexual violations for fear of shame...and a country in which marital rape is not considered a crime, yet half of all women suffer in silence from domestic violence (just ask any local hospital)!!!

I know the rules very well, "Don't air the dirty laundry", "Don't talk anything bad in case it offends"...Well, guess what? It NEEDS to be talked about. And I don't play by those rules. Thank God it is getting the media attention that it deserves. How dare Michaela single India out and make these "generalizations"?? (umm...excuse me, there is a reason why India is #3 most dangerous country for a woman after Afghanistan & Somalia) Where so many women are never respected equally (many within my own extended family) by either being put on a pedestal or treated like a slave and nothing in between (and a pedestal is just as much a cage as anywhere else)

There is an extremely dark underbelly of Indian society and it lies in the concept of the "totem pole" vertical society - the higher up on the totem pole, the more you are respected/can get away with; the lower on the totem pole, the more you are abused, inferior AND even compliant in accepting the abuse. Discrimination in terms of age, caste, wealth, gender...the list goes on. Respect is in the eye of the beholder. The separateness (outside the family walls, feel free to fend for yourself). The "look the other way", "don't get involved". The concept of "shame". Defending reputation at ALL costs...(might as well sell your soul while you're at it)

So, let me ask you one thing...the Delhi rape case is by far the most publicized of all of these violences against women in India, because it was so horrific. It got thousands of people out on the street and it actually got some great laws passed. And it looks like the Mumbai one is following suit. Why then, did nobody say that "it makes Indian men look bad", "she's ruining our reputation", "it's a generalization"...? Any explanation?

Could it be, perhaps...because she is a "foreigner"? Dare I bring it up? Because she is "an outsider"? What, then? Please tell me the reason.

Food for thought...

And FYI - the only people who are responsible for ruining India's reputation, are the people that commit these heinous crimes AND GET AWAY WITH IT (no accountability, slow justice is justice forgotten)

Many of you may think I have no right to talk about this. I'm not going to keep quiet about something that is alarming and needs to be addressed, no matter what country it is. We need to band together as global citizens, and most importantly, as women - as sisters - and allow for these types of things to be openly discussed without judgement or disconsideration. No matter the country. India gets no VIP treatment from that. Sorry if that brings a few demons out of the glitz & glam of the Bollywood movie that is the Incredible India campaign. I have a deep & unwavering love of Mother India and THAT IS WHY I cannot stay silent about her demons. I am a true patriot here - the patriot that is willing & aware to hold a mirror up to the country which I love and wish to see improve to all it's glory. Because I want to continue to go & I want my daughter to know half of her culture & most importantly I want us to feel safe. If violence happens to one girl, it is one too many. I do not want India to "mimic" anybody - but I do expect India to give respect and equality to it's daughters (if they can give it to sons, they can give it to daughters). And no, that's not a lot to ask!!!

And for all the folks who are concerned about reputation...put yourself in that girl's shoes for a few minutes. Stop the judgement. Seriously. Empathy has no room for ego. Michaela's story is hers and hers alone. It does not reflect badly on anything or anyone. Please pray for this young girl Michaela Cross so she feels confident to face the world again. She is brave for telling her story.

Okay, readers, my tantrum is over. As you can see, I really had to get that off my chest!


(Img via)


P.S.
Please see this excellent video on NDTV where it mentions, "The problem with (Indian) society is that we have lost empathy for other people & women as a nation". It is a MUST WATCH.

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What do you think, dear readers? Why did Michaela's personal story get so much backlash? As women, have we lost empathy? As global citizens, have we lost empathy?

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18 comments

  1. AMEN! I didn't get the flaming she got, people started uestioning the legit aspect of her story, doubting India gave her PTSD...it's not even for us to judge that, I for myself believe her, not because it might or might not be true, but because it has affected her and her feelings whatever they are are 100% valid, nobody knows about her past, her nature, how sensitive she is. And so what it made India look bad? It should, the crime against women in India have gone out of hand, ignored and swept under the rug for too long, it's about time the dirt comes out.
    I've been living in India for 10 years, the change of attitude after the Delhi gang rape is a relief. As a mother of a daughter, I feel it is my duty to show her to take pride into that fact. I don't give a hoot about dressing in salwaar suits to apprently prevent crimes from happening, believing in this is beliving in the victim blaming game...not happening. I had men staring at me in a crappy way regardless of what I was wearing, I don't care, I don't even stare back, I stand taller, proud of myself. What disturb me more than men staring is the way aunties do stare if I am wearing capri or shorts with a t-shirt, with disdain and a dark stare, condemning me on the spot for putting myself on display. I use the same tactic, standing tall, and ignoring the, but the truth is that they as women should know better than judge a person in one dark dirty look. I'm not judging them for wearing a saree, or a concervative outfit, I don't even care, good for them, if that's what they like they are free to wear what they want.
    The message I am conveying to my daughter acting the way I do is that same one my dad, a jail officer passed on to me as a kid as he wanted to prevent us from being rape victims...prevent rape from happening was out of his hand, you can't prevent perverts to be pervert, but he wanted us to go into the world as proud assertive women who have as many rights as men to do so...on their own term without being judged. His lesson was "Rapist are after power and control...you give them that, they win. So stay in control, never let go of your control.
    My wish is for more women to relise that they have the power and should not give it up, this is what India need at this time. Whatever a woman feel is valid, no one has the right to take any of those feeling away.

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  2. This makes me mad and sad at the same time. I have always felt a "tie" to India since I was a child, past life perhaps?
    I have two daughters and one that came with my husband. I really understand how this could be anyone of our daughters.
    My husband travels internationally for business. I was so excited when I found out that he was going to India this past fall. He was not looking forward to it at all. I am sure that he did not tell me all of the things that happened, but he will not take me with him on future trips. There is a young lady that he works with who is going there for business and had planned to travel for a week after her business was done. All the men convinced her to go for business only, stay with the men, do not go anywhere by yourself.
    How sad is this? A well travelled woman who would have spent money and could have seen the beauty of this country cannot go for fear of "eve teasing" or worse.
    I hope that in my lifetime I will see improvement in women's rights and safety and that I will be able to travel to see India before I die.
    Liz

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  3. by far, THE best commentary on this situation. I am a 7 time traveler to India, usually Tamil Nadu, and I was appalled that many commenters, including WOMEN, were more concerned about India's reputation as a travel destination and that ANY negative commentary on India by the media or anyone is India bashing.

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  4. I think its a little bit of everything. Definitely the Indian society has lost empathy. And I don't think it is limited to women really. It was really sad when I was trying to explain to a friend in India why it was not ok to follow up talk about a gangrape with a discussion about how women are dressing.
    I actually do believe that a little moderation in dressing is good - I'm not saying salwar kameez but generally even aesthetically it is nice to well - not pull a miley cyrus at the vmas kind of look very often. But I think that is a separate issue from sexual violence. If I have a daughter my dialogue with her about clothes will be completely separate from my dialogue with her about safety.
    Anyway, I digress. I was trying to explain why victim blaming is not good. So I tried an example. I said if someone's son dies in an accident would you bring up the fact that people are driving too fast and too rash nowadays to the victim's family?
    Cue awkward silence.
    Because the truth is yes. Indians would be callous enough to bring that up. Ugh. I feel so sad.
    But also, your point that she faced greater criticism and questioning about the legitimacy of her account due to her being a foreigner is also true. As an Indian who lives abroad, I can't dare to bring up so many things. Because the moment I might say anything I get attacked as someone who has no clue about India and someone who is a deserter and what not. I obviously have not lived in a foreigner's shoes but I imagine it is worse for them than it is for me.
    I feel very sad to see this change in India. And this lack of empathy and lack of sensitivity when talking and a lack of courtesy, softness, kindness... Its just saddening how bad its getting.

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  5. I agree with every word of yours. It amazes me, as an Indian, that so many of us are more worried that the article shows India in a bad light, rather than addressing the issue she raises there. As a woman born and brought up in India, I know that we have to be on our guard, and not just in shady places- everywhere. What she went through, happens, just too much for us to pretend that it does not. No matter what you wear. No matter who you are with. I do hope that all that is happening around us, changes something in India. So that one day, my daughter can feel safe, that the need to be on her guard doesn't exist.

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  6. This is just heartbreaking. Seriously India, WAKE UP!!!! I feel that as a nation, they have no empathy or humanity for people that suffer, that are ostracized, that are poor and hungry, that are down in their luck. No one wants to get involved. I remember reading somewhere that people just stood around the Delhi rape victim after she and her companion were thrown from the bus; no one was helping her or the young man that was with her. People were also driving by, slowing down to take a look and kept going. India should really feel ashame. How many more women need to be victimized and brutalized for people to wake up and start saying and doing something.

    There was cat calling and whistling from men when I was growing up in Puerto Rico but never this level of intimidation. I never felt accosted, theaten or unsafe -annoyed, yes. And in PR, God forbid a man crosses the line with a girl - people will get involved. I remember one day my father driving, pulling over and getting the tire iron from the trunk as a group of teens were beating and spitting at a homeless man. Another motorist stopped and within second the thugs took off running. Nowdays no one wants to get involved in helping people that evidently need help.

    Come on India, you can do better!!!!

    Mille B

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  7. I had come across many issues growing up in India , Indians even intelligent men do not consider all these matters worth discussing .Women have not been educated most of them are semi-literate utterly self-centered , they have been stamped upon and no point asking them to unite and fight.
    Women's liberation will gain momentum maybe in a decade in India.

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  8. I would just like to say a special thank you to each person who took the time to comment on this post. I was extremely scared to write this because I thought it would have negative backlash, but the response has turned out to be so overwhelmingly positive. I feel the love and support from all of you, and I'm so happy and hopeful that there are others' that share my opinion on this topic. It really made my day :) Love to you all...

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  9. I don't think empathy is the issue. I'm sure everybody feels sorry for the girl. The problem is people using a short article - written in haste by a person who claims to suffer from PTSD, that depicts India as a place where all your shopping experiences are ruined by lecherous men - to project their own anger and fear.

    It's very difficult to judge the reality of a place through internet.

    This article by RoseChasm made me search for statistics about violence against women in Europe. It is scary. But it is one aspect of life only. I could write two articles one telling you I live in Hell and the other telling you I live in Heaven. Reality is somewhere in between. I believe it is useless to get excited about something you read on internet ; more often than not it takes time and efforts to get the full picture. Already there is a follow up article on CNN where RoseChasm admits she never told anyone from her university that she was in trouble, until 48 hours before she mentally collapsed.

    I hope she recovers, but I will still listen to other stories from other women. All stories are worth listening to.

    I send you love. (Padparadscha)

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    Replies
    1. Yes, I understand your point, as so many people share your point.
      Maybe I am naive..? But I think we should just believe her, after all there is so much that goes on behind closed doors or in people's heads that others' are unable to see, even if at the time they project a different reality. Especially as women, there is so much that we do not reveal that only builds up and surfaces later...who knows what happened to her? Probably not even her roommate would know, probably she didn't even know at the time...until she got back. I feel bad for her. Many victims of abuse spend their whole lives not telling anybody, and the pain manifests in other directions and ways...who knows?
      Every non-Indian digests India in different ways, and different phases...each story is like a book or a memoir, each story is unique and worthy, I agree with you.
      Love to you too!

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    2. Oh I believe her, I'm sure she was shocked and frigthened, and I would be very interested to read more from her.

      It's true many victims have difficulty talking about their abuse.

      Only, I want to keep my head cool. We may have to live in Tamil Nadu in a few years time and it's not helpful for me to start panicking. Already I've postponed trips to India because I'm not sure my daughter could take it.

      Have a nice day ! (Padparadscha)

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    3. Yes, I am nervous too...we are taking our daughter back for a visit next year and I won't let her out of my sight! It depends on the city you are going to be in...some are more dangerous than others..but you always have to be alert!

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  10. Well now I know why my boyfriend refused point blank to go to India together. I wanted to. He's extremely cautious (especially when my safety is concerned!) so it figures that the number three ranking you mentioned would x India off our list. *sigh*

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    1. In some places it is really terrible, and others it is totally safe. I find the South to be much safer especially for foreign tourists. It depends....the staring is a lot to deal with though...

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  11. All those incidents gave the girl PTSD, because she was used to better circumstances back in the US. As an Indian girl, I know that we are forced to face these circumstances everyday. in smaller town, even women a 2 wheeler or 4 wheeler are looked at as being "forward". we are chided by parents for being out later than 7 PM. over time Indian women develop subtle mechanisms for going out in public, like waiting for less crowded buses, sticking to the front end of the bu or angling the arms and carrying books and bags such that mot of the body is covered from any hands. and it doesnt depend on whether we are pretty or not...If you are pretty, you get more stares, cat calls, stalking and groping. If you aren't you still get all of them, along with snide comments. and every damn loser thinks its his right to judge girls and women. I was once so puzzled by a guy staring at me so hard (when my face was completely covered by a scarf and I was covered from top to toe and when I was driving a bike), that I had to look down to see if I had forgotten my pants(pyjama)....phew i dont know how this will change :(

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    Replies
    1. I think she had PTSD too and didn't realize it until she got back.
      All the efforts we go to, to protect ourselves, because entitled men can't be bothered to control themselves. It is a social tragedy.

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    2. so what where you doing when u felt uncomfortable...u must go and talk to them what there problem is....remember our people doesn't come forward like prince charming they just ignore situation but when you create scenario then they stand for you.

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  12. its not in hand of indian....indians must stop passing all stupidity to next generation...what you expect from india where we live our daily life beside slums...she is one of unlucky women who suffer in india on daily basis...

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