Tag Archives: Delhi

You Live Here, Why Not Travel There: The Case for Sustained Female Tourism to India

12 Jun

I traveled to India for the first time in December of 2003 with 21 other students and a few professors.  We spent about 8 weeks learning about sustainability, the economy, tourism, ecology, agriculture.  We spent a good amount of time in the homes of different families who welcomed us with open arms  (well, for the most part).  I returned just after I graduated college in the fall of 2005 with a good friend of mine, Abby, and spent about 4 months traversing the sub-continent.  It was an amazing trip, cut short mostly by the fact that I had run my travel fund dry.  I spent my entire trip in the company of others and the only close-call of a sexual nature came at the hands of a fellow traveler.  I went back for a third time in the summer of 2011 with two of my girlfriends from graduate school, one of whom is fluent in Hindi.  This led to some surprised faces and a pretty awesome night in which the operators of a government bus hand delivered us to our hotel so we wouldn’t have to face tracking down an auto rickshaw after midnight on our own.  I would go back in a heartbeat if I could find a companion and if time and finances allowed.

So I must say I am more than a little saddened by the recent reports that, due to highly publicized sexual assaults in India, tourism has dropped, and especially amongst females.  A June 10th article on the New York Times blog, India Ink entitled “India Scrambles to Reassure Tourists Shaken by Recent Attacks on Women,” discusses the issue.  The article, by Neha Thirani Bagri and Heather Timmons, explains that in the first three months of this year visits by females to India fell by 35%.  Thisfall-off has been linked by many to the fatal gang rape of a 23-year-old student in Delhi this past December.  There have also been assaults and rapes reported by tourists over the last few months, including a 30-year-old woman who was gang-raped in a resort town in the north and a 39-year-old Swiss tourist who was raped by four men in Madhya Pradesh.  Listen, I get it, the prospect of being raped or sexually assaulted in a foreign country where you’re not familiar with the language, the customs, or the legal system and where you are far from home and your friends and family is terrifying.  But the thing is that, as a female, I live in almost constant, albeit dull, fear of being sexually assaulted and I think, when pressed, many women would agree.  In fact, I think you would be hard-pressed to find a woman in your life who has been neither threatened with sexual violence nor had sexual violence committed against her.  For my part I have been groped and spit on in the street, been the victim of an attempted rape in my own home, and ran screaming from the house of someone I considered a friend, although not a close one, when my strong and loud repetition of the word “no” went unheard.  My stories are not unique.  And every single one of them happened here, in the United States.

That’s not even the point.  I am not here arguing that there are more rapes in the United States than elsewhere.  I don’t know that we could ever accurately know that given the poor reporting rates at the global level, a fact I have discussed elsewhere in this blog.  Clearly, I have spent more of my life here and so it would follow that most of the bad things that have happened to me also would have happened here.  What I am saying is that the articles covering the decrease in tourism have not done much to reverse this trend by encouraging a more nuanced discussion.  So, here’s my attempt.

As a commenter on an article I read said, India is a very big country, 1,269,219 square miles, with a lot of people living in it, over 1.2 billion according to the 2011 census.  There are places that are more safe and places that are less safe, much like here.  There are people who are likely to rape and people who are unlikely to rape, much like here.  In the Times article, the authors quoted a 24-year-old from San Francisco, Corinne Aparis, as saying “It scares me to think that there’s that type of deep hatred toward women — that just being a woman is enough of a target and reason for some men to inflict such violence on me.”  The thing is, she could be talking about anywhere.  This quote is taken as something specific to the Indian context but that could not be further from the truth.  For evidence of that fact just watch the movie Compliance, read about the Cleveland, Texas gang rape of an 11-year-old, talk to some of your female friends.

You know what is different about India?  The response.  I doubt we would have learned nearly as much about the horrific December Delhi rape if it weren’t for the response of Indians.  According to the Times article once again, “The public outrage over the December attack led to the passage of a new sexual offense law in March that imposes stronger penalties for violence against women and criminalizes actions like stalking and voyeurism.”  I personally do not remember a time in the United States when protesters lined the streets for a day, let alone weeks, in response to a rape and the subsequent handling of the case by authorities.  I do not remember a time in the United States when the national dialogue wasn’t seemingly dominated by the endless repetition of “boys will be boys,” “why was she out at that time wearing that outfit,” and “where was her mother?”  Let’s just think back to the recent events in Steubenville.  Just this past Thursday, on June 6th, Mother Jones printed an article that reported that where the two rapists in the Steubenville case got a 1-and-2-year prison sentence, one of the hackers who broke the case open is facing up to 10-years in jail for hacking-related crimes.  To me, that says a lot about this country’s priorities.

Listen, I am not saying that people’s feelings regarding safety when traveling are unjustified.  If you feel unsafe for any reason, that is your prerogative.  What I am saying is that let’s put this into a larger context.  This is not an India problem, this is an everywhere problem.  But I would go so far as to say that the Indian population at large, at least recently, has a much more proactive attitude towards securing safety from sexual violence for women and men, and towards ensuring the proper handling of sexual assault cases.  We should be so vociferous.  Rather than write India off as unsafe for women, we should follow in the population’s footsteps.  We should stand in support of sexual assault victims, try to get our justice system to do right by them, by us, and change our rape culture.

A Reflection Post-Delhi

3 Jan

A little over a week ago when I was at work and before any customers came in, I was listening to the news while I set up the bar.  CNN was covering the protests that had swept through India after the brutal gang rape of a female student in Delhi, a city that is known for having high instances of sexual attacks.  The station had set up an interview with someone they considered important and knowledgeable — a man in his mid-to-late 40s — in order to get some local input on the attack itself as well as the protests that had erupted in its aftermath.  He said the normal things.  You know, how horrible the attack was, how he hoped the young woman would pull through, how surprised he was by the size of the protests when so many similar attacks (although I would imagine the majority of them far less brutal) had elicited nothing to that degree.  And then he said something (which I will paraphrase), by way of explanation of the rape itself, that has been clanging in my head for the past 8 days:

The reason these attacks have been happening is because of the percentage of males to females in the overall population.  These men don’t have women to settle down with.  There aren’t enough of them.  So they are frustrated and this is what happens.

And then there was clattering and screeching noises inside my head and I had to sit down.

Okay, so, it is true.  There are more men than women in Delhi.  According to the Delhi Census of 2011, the city itself has an overall population of 16,753,235.  Of that 16.7 million people, 8,976,410 are men and 7,776,825 are women.  So that you don’t have to do the math, that means that, in 2011 at least, there were 1,199,585 more men than women living in Delhi.  Sure, that’s a lot of people.  And sure, I imagine it is very frustrating for men who want to get married and have sex…or have sex and get married…or just have sex.  Being frustrated, as legitimate as it may be, is no excuse to get together with your friends, pretend to drive a shuttle bus, and pick up a girl off the street who is simply trying to get home and literally rape her to death.  No amount of frustration can ever justify that.  Ever.

You know what that is?  That sounds to me like you are trying to take the weight of responsibility off of these mens’ shoulders and blame it on sheer numbers.  They simply couldn’t help themselves.  Their desires to stick their penis in something was simply too great.  They were powerless to resist.  You know what I think?  I think that what happened to that woman, what those men did to her, was generations in the making and not just in India but everywhere.  All over the world.  (This analysis does not take the onus of responsibility off the individuals who perpetrated this attack, but simply is an attempt to put it into a greater context of inequality and violence.)  We are all guilty.  Sure, female infanticide is a part of it.  But the fact that there are less females than males is not what makes female infanticide a crucial part of this story.  The mindset that allows the killing, the neglect, the abandonment of female children is what makes this important.  The mindset that many people have that females are worth less than males is what allows people to justify killing their own babies and is part of the society in which these men are raised.  It is what allows them to see women as less human than they are.  As simply a hole in which to stick their penises.

But it goes beyond India.  And it goes beyond infanticide.  That is just one small part of it.  We, unfortunately, live in a world where, as I have said before, the female body is a battle ground.  Where the word of a female does not count for as much as the word of a male.  I read today in the newspaper that the Indian government, in response to this attack, has fast tracked the investigation and the trial of these men in order to show that this is not acceptable behavior.  But what about all the other rapes that were never investigated in India?  What about all the unopened rape kits that sit on shelves in cities and town across the United States, their statutes of limitations running out?  It’s a lot of work, it takes a lot of resources, to go through all those kits and we simply can’t keep up with the rate of sexual assaults.  But shouldn’t that be the biggest sign that something is wrong?  That we are dealing not with a few isolated incidents but instead with an epidemic?  Women are raped every single day.  Every single one.  Every day a man, or a group of men, decide to force open the legs of a women and violate her.  Insert himself inside of her.  And every day a man, or a group of men, all over the world gets away with it and the woman is left to pick up the pieces.  Often it is she is who vilified.  At what point are people in the mainstream, not people in a corner of the internet, but people with power and sway going to admit that we have a worldwide problem with the way we think about women.

We need to stop making excuses.  We need to stop trying to blame specific policies or cultural norms or religious laws.  We need to realize that we have a serious worldwide, cross-cultural, cross-societal, cross-religious deficit in the way we view women.  We can change laws.  We can have protests.  We can even hang a few people.*  But until we look inwards and understand that this view of women is engrained in us, all of us, nothing is actually going to change.  We will have another horrific gang rape in Delhi, or a small town in Texas.  We will have another woman assaulted by a powerful man, be it the French leader of an international organization or the president of the United States, and then dragged through the media, her reputation completely destroyed while, for the most part, the man continues in his pursuit of power and sex relatively unscathed.

Honestly, I just don’t think it should be that hard.  Part of being a human being, in my estimation, is to keep your eyes and ears open and constantly take things in, learn and adjust your behavior.  Maybe you were raised somewhere where everyone told you the Holocaust never happened and that Jews were born with horns.  But then you read Primo Levi’s “Survival in Auschwitz” and you realize what you were told simply isn’t true and you set off to learn and understand and adjust yourself to your new understanding of history and the world.   Women and men are physically different, sure, but in terms of our worth in the world we are equal.  It’s simple, just start there.  Without women, there would be no men and without men, no women.  We need each other for the species to survive.  So it’s not just that we need to respond to specific instances of infanticide, of rape, of abuse, of victim blaming. We need to acknowledge, and respond to, the environment that allows these things to continue happening.  We all, barring perhaps the sociopathic, think that murder is wrong, evil.  So why not rape?  Why not date rape?  Why not violence against women overall?  Let’s start there.  Raping a woman should mean the end of a political career.  It should be a sign that something is severely wrong with the perpetrator.  Rape is far too commonplace because people get away with it.  Because, for so many, the woman played a crucial role in her own assault simply by existing.  Because, in some places and to some people, a woman is tarnished by her rape, is considered dirty, undesirable.  The woman feels embarrassed, ashamed.  But it is us, all of us, that should feel ashamed that this keeps happening, again and again, and we don’t really, seriously, try changing the scope of the conversation.  So let’s try.

*For the record I am never in favor of capital punishment.  Let them rot in jail, I say.  And Indian prison, or so I have read, is not a fun place to live out your days.