Saturday, August 24, 2013

How Women in India can Stop the Hand that Touches Them

India has been in the news with the way women are being harassed, molested, and raped in the streets of urban cities. This isn’t a new thing. This kind of female objectification and subjugation has been going on for ages. I think the internet has made it a lot easier for these stories to reach us. And, lately I feel as if the scumbags perpetrating these kinds of barbarisms in India have gotten emboldened and have decided to stop at nothing. They are shameless, disgusting men and should be treated the same way they treat women.

I am writing this post today because I am done with all the Western media shaming India relentlessly about the way Indian women are treated in India. I feel that part of it is the “look Indians are brown skinned savages who brutalize women constantly” orientalism at play. The other part may be the sensationalization of sexual abuse in India - after the brutal rape and murder of "Nirbhaya" in Delhi, this story is selling. Let’s be honest here, for every story that comes out of India about one man or many men raping or brutalizing a woman in India, there are thousands of other stories where men are kind, helpful and gentle. Obviously the crimes are happening, but what good is the publishing of these stories on CNN and Huffpost doing to the bigger picture?

I am also writing this post because I am disappointed. I realize that what I am about to ask for may be perceived as victim blaming, but this isn’t victim blaming. Because, I am not blaming women for what is happening to them in India. I am saying that they can be part of the solution and change what happens, after they get molested, raped or touched. I know that I am asking for an incredible amount of strength; the strength to fight back, not just against the men who are subjugating them, but also against centuries of Indian “tradition”. 

We can’t hope that once something bad happens, things will change. Now it’s time to take matters into your own hands. I know it’s difficult to twist the arm of the man who is touching you on the bus. But just find it in yourself and do it once. Look into the eyes of the man who is fingering you, clench your teeth, twist his arm and say, “I’ll break your arm so you won’t be able to touch another woman again”. I know, women are taught to be “soft” because if you aren’t soft and tender, you aren’t feminine. Bullshit. Remember all those Goddesses that we are taught to worship when we are children? They fight back. They are the reason good wins over evil. Tap into that part of your identity. Not the one that patriarchy and chauvinism decides to shape for us. 

Let’s not allow those with power to further victimize. Fight back. Use your vocal chords, your arms, your legs and your hands to fight back. Every woman in India has access to chilli powder. Carry a plastic bag of that good stuff in your purse and don’t be afraid to use it when necessary. It’s time to stop being a victim. It’s time to rise up and fight back. Spread the word, talk to other women and men about how you want their support, and that you want them to help. Talk to your friends, your family, your maids, and your neighbours and ask them what they would do if they saw a woman being victimized. Talk to your brothers and your boyfriends and ask if they respect your right to your own body, a woman’s right to her own body. And if they say that they do, ask them what they would do if they saw a woman being victimized. I just want a few of these stories to make it into the news: of women reclaiming their bodies, of women standing up to the scum of earth, of people beating the crap out of scoundrels who dare to claim ownership over another woman’s body. Barbaric scum should be forced to think a million times of what could happen to them if the women they were about to touch decided to stand up and fight back.

And one last thing, if you are a person who has children, teach your daughters to be proud of their bodies, to have ownership over their bodies, and to NEVER allow anyone to have access to it without their explicit permission. Teach your sons to have respect for all women, to understand the beauty of feminine strength, that they are NOT superior to women and that a woman’s vagina is not their right. 

It’s time that women reject the male chauvinism (perpetrated by both men and women) that teaches us that women are weak. Challenge it, stand up, fight back and woman, use that chilli powder.

P.S. I know that many people will not agree with me. I know that it is wrong to expect a victim to carry the burden of justice. I wouldn't if I could help it. But, at this point I see no other hope. I feel that if women don’t take matters into their own hands, if we don’t all band together and claim what is rightfully ours then things will never change.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Response to "A Dust Over India" by Mark Manson.

Before I begin my inconsequential rant, I want to address the very last thing that was written in the incoherent blog that is the subject of my rant today. The update at the end reads – “I want to thank all of the Indian readers who commented (yes, even the criticisms). I have promised to return to India one day and give it another chance, this time doing more research about the country and spending more time in the non-urban areas.”  My response: “Please don’t. India doesn’t need you to give it a second chance. It’s perfectly fine without personified orientalisms (such as you) pervading and polluting its existence. So, thanks but no thanks.” One last thing before I begin. I am not an India apologist like many of the responders on your blog. India is my mother land. I have spent a considerable part of my formative years in India and my still incomplete education began there. Like many people I know, India elicits in me extraordinarily complicated emotions. So, I am not even going to go there right now. This post is devoted solely to the travesty that is your blogpost:

Dear Mr. Mark Manson,

Your blog starts with the claim you have been to 40 different countries. I find it hard to believe that such a prolific traveler is surprised when he finds contradictions within a country which is teeming with millions. You ask yourself what the “immense history, the monuments, the spectacular sites of human ingenuity” are doing in India. I realize that if it could be helped the British (the former colonizers) would have uprooted all those silent witnesses to the incredible history of India (like they did with smaller artifacts), but since the technology didn’t exist back then, we will have to live with them being there. I know, it’s a bloody shame.

The first thing that you noticed was the trash. I am frequently told that the first thing people notice when they get off the plane is overwhelming smell (both good and bad). But I guess the trash and the smell (the bad kind) go well together. Yes, there is trash. And yes, there is the unforgiving inability to dispose of trash in a clean manner. It is a public health hazard and we all know it. It is embarrassing. It is dirty. But do you realize that the Dharavi slum (which you most likely walked past in Mumbai) is the recycling heart of India? The Dharavi slum recycling enterprise has hidden within itself 15,000 single room factories which employ around a 250,000 people and turns over a billion dollars every year. You can read more here: Did you notice that on those mounds of trash (everywhere) people were making their living by picking up plastic bags, bottles and other recyclables? You failed to recognize that in the process of giving off an unbelievable stench that organic waste is actually being degraded instead of being processed? Surely, Mr. Manson, you could have worked a little harder before starting your shortsighted rant?

You know the opening scene of Slumdog Millionaire when they show the young protagonist and his friends jumping into a pond of shit? (I think that’s what happened, but all I remember really is that there was a pond of shit, and there were boys in it). This blogpost of yours elicited that memory of mine a multiple times. Apparently there are people rolling around in shit, covered in shit, eating shit everywhere. I wonder what happened to make you so petrified of shit. But then who am I to judge, I can’t even throw out the garbage without throwing up a lung. I am also petrified of shit. The idea of having a baby (even though I love babies) and having to re-grow a lung every time I clean a diaper itself makes me want to throw up a lung. And yet, the “shit is everywhere” concept is eluding my memory. Perhaps it’s the fact that I am 33, and my memory isn’t what it used to be. While Slumdog Millionaire was rife with orientalisms I can not think of a better example of modern orientalism than the one you have provided me with on this beautiful day. I say “modern” because there still exists James Mill’s work on India.

You say, “the city is so crowded and disgusting that people decide they’d rather sleep on the airport runway.” Yeah. That is true. The city is crowded. This is the nature of the Indian metropolis – and it’s even more true for Mumbai. Cities are crowded, because as rural farmers struggle with producing what they need to be in order to just feed their families, they seek out a better life in the cities. When they come to the cities, they can’t find work and so they need to find a place to rest at the end of a long day. And, one of those places is the airport tarmac. It may be ridiculous to you, Mr. Manson but this is the nature of the rational man. When given no options he will pick the one that is the least objectionable. I can assure you that no Indian who is sleeping on the tarmac finds the city disgusting. If he did, he would go back to the place that he left in search of a brighter life. And one other thing, no one “decides” to sleep in anything but a bed.

“How could a place like this be allowed to exist?” – The same way a place where a teenager goes to the store to buy a drink gets shot and killed because he was a wearing hoodie is allowed to exist Mr. Manson. The same way Guanatanamo Bay, a prison where men are robbed of their human rights by one of the most “developed” nations on earth is allowed to exist. For such a well travelled man you have an unbearable poor sense of how things come to be. How can you be so na├»ve? India is one of the most corrupt nations on the planet. That’s how this is allowed to exist. That is why you saw no government. When people have no greater sense of need than to fill their own stomach, they don’t have time to worry about anything else. That is why there is no social accountability. When the rich make their living off of the poor and decrepit, they don’t care about fixing the social ills (just like in America). That is why there is no social change. If you are truly interested, I could send you a list of books that can explain to you why this country exists. But I’ll move on for now.

Your rant about saving India is possibly the worst example of white guilt that I have ever come across. The fact that you group Mother Teresa, and Bill Gates into that same saviour category is telling. It shows that you are absolutely clueless. You see, Mother Teresa dealt with the problem after it came to be. She picked up the poor and destitute and cared for them. She took their orphaned children and found them caring, loving homes. She however, NEVER sought to find the root and nip it in the bud. She didn’t teach people how to not have children which they couldn’t afford, in fact she went around the country undoing what government sex education campaigns were trying to do- educate people about the problem of population. Bill Gates on the other hand doesn’t simply hand out money to people who have malaria or polio. His foundation works on eradicating the problem of Malaria/Polio itself, by curbing mosquito populations and by increasing awareness of vaccinations. Bill Gates understands that the solution to all social ills in countries like Africa and India is in one word: education. You, on the other hand went to the most obvious solution: handing out money. And you didn’t really do that simply because you wanted to help, you also wanted to feel like you are helping. You know how I came to this conclusion? Because when you bought that couple food at what I would assume was a roadside dhaba, you felt the need to go put the plate down in front of them yourself. If you really are as well traveled as you say you are, then you should have known to buy them the plate and ask the storekeeper/waiter to take the food out to them and not give it to them yourself. But, if you did that you wouldn’t be able to look down at them while they ate what might have been their first full meal in months.

And, I just have to say this. NO ONE GOES TO AGRA TO EXPERIENCE THE COUNTRYSIDE. It’s one of the most famous tourist spots in the world. Why would you think it would be peaceful?! *shakes fist in air*. And, one other thing, - yeah, when many Indians see non-brown skin they find it fascinating. There is also the unhealthy obsession with fairness but again that’s another issue. And yeah, they might want to take pictures with you. It’s just like a white person wanting to take a picture with an African tribe. I’m sure you’ve taken pictures of what was unfamiliar to you in India – the shit everywhere, the trash, the poor people, the dirt. It’s the same thing.

You don’t see the difference between a Pizza Hut in India and one that’s in the west? Really? Western chains aren’t fast food to Indians. They are a luxury. Fast food for Indians exists at every corner on the street. For a few rupees (pennies to you) Indians can buy cheap, awesome, fast food everywhere in the country. That’s why the manager came to ask you what you thought of the food. And, maybe because he wanted a white person to say that the Pizza Hut in India was as good (or even better, which I think it is) compared to the one that you are used to. Could you be a more self-entitled prick?

“Indian culture itself is quite disorienting. The people can be incredibly warm and hospitable, or cold and rude depending on the context and how they know you.” – Wait, do you not understand what the word “culture” means? Indian culture (in the true sense of the word ie language, dress, song, dance, food) is disorienting. And, that’s because India is a sub-continent. It has geographic, linguistic, cultural diversity like no other. It has close to 30 states (and often comes up with new ones, which is why it’s hard to keep track) and several territories. And, that is exactly why no two groups of people (just like any other country) are the same. So, yeah some people will be heart achingly nice to you and others will be complete assholes. It’s true in any other country. Which is why even “academic” rudeness/politeness indices don’t measure countries, they measure cities – because the social realities of a community have a much bigger bearing on its citizens. That is why if you go to a village in India, where people are generally happier with what little they have, and have learnt to find happiness in the simple pleasures of life – you will find that people will open their homes to you and will expect nothing in return. The same goes for places like Palestine, Bangladesh and rural America. I have the same kind of answer to your “eye-opening” conversation with “westernized” Sanjay. Indians aren’t capable of violence? Ummmm okay if he says so. I guess all the communal riots, targeted violence, and the rape stories are made up then. But, I digress.

As a side note – I like how you snuck the ending to your rug story in. Even though you tried (a little) it doesn’t redeem your judgmental, prickly orientalism. I do appreciate your standing up to the cab driver though. That was a good one. It is a matter of principle. However you should know that most large cities have made it illegal for a cab driver to not run his meter. So, you should have asked him to turn on the meter as soon as you noticed that he didn’t. It seems to me that you were looking for a fight. For all you know it might have been an honest mistake. And you should have signed his receipt. There are very strict rules that cab drivers have to follow, and there are dire consequences (such as losing his cab license or his job as a taxi driver) which can take away his only means of making a living.

On your Buddhism story, I only have to say this: commercialization of religion exists everywhere, in every religion. Truly spiritual people learn how to pick out the good from what taints religion. I think you need to practice more of your meditation skills.

I’m also surprised at your angst about the illegal wares being sold on the street. For such a well traveled person I am sure you must have come across illegal DVDs, fake brand name purses on the street in Singapore, New York and other such “civilized” places. Why is India any different?

I get it. India drives us (former Indians, ex pats) crazy as well. I am also one of those people who just can’t deal with the poverty. I’ve written about it before in myblog – that I feel like I’m sheathed by my sticky affluence. A rickshaw-wallah missed a train just so that he could take me home safely at 12 am when I was in India the last time. I gave him a 100 rupee note instead of the 20 that he had asked for. His smile was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. Even now after countless tellings of this story, and while I write this, that smile makes me cry. It haunts me. You see, that smile doesn’t exist anywhere else. Nothing elicits more emotion in me than that smile. And, yet, if I had the choice I would choose not to experience it, because behind that smile lies a painful truth. That is the paradox. And no matter how cruel his story, there is still beauty in that smile. There is still beauty in India. It’s that beauty that makes us scrape and save for a few years just so we can go to India for 2 weeks and live again. That beauty lies in the trash, the smells, the awesome street food, the laughter of beggar children playing street football (you see that’s why that kid was asking for a soccer ball and not money). Happiness is fleeting and still beautiful in India. I am truly sorry you didn't get to experience it.