I recently spent a month travelling around India. A month driving 3000 miles on roads that could hardly count as a dirt track, let alone something that was driveable in a vintage car older than my 26 years.
But although the roads were life threatening and terrifying, that wasn’t our main concern. Being three white women travelling through the arse-end of who-the-fuck-knows-where in the middle of the sub-continent of India left us exposed. We were a spectacle. And, I feel I need to express this again, we were women travelling alone.
Now, I’m usually one that can handle my own. I consider myself to be pretty hardy – not much fazes me and I take most things on the chin. But you know what’s really damn dangerous in India? Having a vagina. India is the first country I have ever travelled in where I felt like I was in danger, just because I had a pair of tits and my reproductive organs were inside me. It was well, something else really.
In light of the recent interview with Mukesh Singh, one of the convicted rapists sentenced to death after the fatal rape of a girl on a public bus in Delhi, I have to say that the views expressed came hardly as a surprise;
‘A girl is far more responsible for rape than a boy.’
‘Housework and housekeeping is for girls, not roaming in discos at night doing the wrong things, wearing the wrong clothes. About 20% of girls are good.’
‘When being raped, she shouldn’t fight back. She should just be silent and allow the rape. Then they would have dropped her off after ‘doing her’ and only hit the boy.’
Just typing these words out gives me a chill through to my very core. It’s a chill that brings back feelings of malice and brutality. I must stress now that nothing physical happened to us, and we met some wonderful and truly lovely men on our travels, but they were overwhelmingly in the minority.
The general attitude towards women in India is terrible, but it’s not something that is made from opinion. From the moment a child is born there is a stigma as to what they are worth – a boy is showered with sweets and gifts straight away and has automatic male privilege from then on. Girls are restricted in where they can go, what they can do and what they can wear. How can you blame society for thinking women are worthless when it’s drummed into them from the second they’re old enough to work out what is going on? Not an excuse, just an observation.
But there’s a juxtaposition of opinions in India. When in Varkala in the beautiful state of Kerala, we spoke to several guys about their opinions of Indian women and marriage. The general theme was, ‘I don’t want to marry an Indian girl, they are virgins and don’t know what they’re doing in bed‘.
The men that gave us these opinions were kind and gentle, with seemingly no bad bone in their bodies. But comparing these opinions of the men we met in the south to those who were involved in such awful crimes in the north are so unbelievably polar.
On another note, the women we encountered in India were tender and sweet. Although there was a language barrier that not even arm signals could help with, there was still an intensely strong sense of female solidarity. Every woman we met had the time to stop. Every woman we met wanted to shake our hands, feed us and give us a hug.
They did not feel the need to watch us eat. To film our every movement and rub their balls all over any calm moment we surprisingly found ourselves in. They wanted a connection and to introduce us to their kids. They wanted to laugh with us and share a grin or two. The women we met took the edge off the brutality of the men and harshness of India, they softened the blow and burst our days into colour.
As a girl who fights for rights for equal pay and to have the luxury tax taken off tampons in the UK, arriving in a country where women can’t even remarry if their husband dies, no matter what her age, was tough and eye-opening. I mean, who are we to fight for a cause when there are women not so far away from us who have less than half the rights we do?
There is an uprising in India at the moment – the first transsexual mayor has been voted in, there are female editors of magazines and there are protests and campaigns bravely expressing outrage about the treatment of women in this huge country. But it’s got a long way to go, and that was evident in every single town, village and city we found ourselves in.
For more on rape culture in India check out the documentary India’s Daughter which airs on BBC Four Sunday 8th March 10pm, International Women’s Day.
If you liked this article, why not check out ‘I will Survive (in India)’?