Travelling with a whitey in India

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Travelling with a whitey in India

Gemma is the earth. And I am the moon. Naturally I seem to gravitate towards her, although it’s only in India where I have to rotate around her too, in an attempt to stop people staring. Disapproving or lustful staring.

Before we came to India, Gemma and I read up on Indian tradition, their culture and the biggest religions in order to be respectful and to fit in. There were certain things we read which, although questionable to our Western culture, we wanted to learn about. In line with respecting Indian culture, Gemma has been dressing very conservitavely covering her shoulders, legs, and sometimes her head. Despite this Gemma gets stared at by about 45% of Indian men in India. Some stares are curious, some are sexual, and some are simply disapproving. It is both uncomfortable and infuriating.

It happens to an extent the world over, and the curious stares are fine. And some of the less intrusive sexual stares are ignorable. It’s the overtly sexual and threatening stares, and when people try to follow us that it gets scary.

And as for the disapproving stares – well I hate to say it, but not only is it sexist, it feels a bit racist too.

Some men seem to think it’s ok to touch Gemma (only her leg so far and believe me, I’m acting like a hawk, no one will get any closer) and others think it’s ok to shout at her in the street. I won’t write about specific experiences as, more than anything, I don’t want to remember them, but it’s not nice to see this many people ignorantly judging someone you care about.

It’s an issue which the Indian government seem to be aware of too – there are separate queues for women at most tourist attractions and each town we’ve visited has (thankfully) had tourist police scattered about. We’ve been told that some beaches even have people specifically employed to deter staring.

I want to make this clear though – we have met lots of Indian men and women who are respectful, friendly and welcoming too. And many seem aware of the problem, often promising not to stare at Gemma on trains. People here feel embarrassed that it happens. But they shouldn’t, as they’re not the people making tourism in India hard for western women. If anything a friendly face makes it so much nicer!

The reason I write this as a blog post in itself is because I want to keep this issue separate from our other India blogs. We spend all day batting away unwanted attention but when I write about Indian towns and cities I want to write about our positive experiences, not negative.

Unfortunately, because this is how Gemma has been received into India, we’re finding it harder to respect how Indian culture depicts she should dress. So bare those shoulders Gemma, and I’ll bat people off with a stick… For I am the moon. And this is my dark side.

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14 responses »

  1. Was she wearing jeans? Totally normal for the West, apparently highly provocative in India. So much so that ‘vigilante’ groups have openly threatened to douse Indian girls who wear jeans with acid. Here’s an (elected) idiot speaking on-record about this –

    ‘Village leader Sohanbiri Devi says jeans provoking sexual assault.

    “The body of a girl gets revealed and it will trigger trouble for her. When she goes out wearing jeans, boys begin trailing them with bad intention. We shall take actions against girls (Why the girls?! What about the boys ‘with bad intention’?) who defy our order. We shall tell the parents and throw them out of our community.”’

    http://www.asiacalling.kbr68h.com/en/news/india/2827-acid-attack-threats-indian-girls-with-jeans

    Conversely, and rather more horrifically, a teenage girl was killed with acid by her own parents in neighbouring Pakistan – because she looked at a boy!

    No, really; here’s the link – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-20173484

    Just because a country’s a few hours away by plane, doesn’t make it understandable/ rational.

    • Wow that is some shocking stuff. Sadly I can believe what I read though. Gemma didn’t wear jeans, she was wearing indian styled trousers but it didn’t really matter what she wore to be honest. She was seriously considering wearing a burka for a while because she felt so uncomfortable in public.

      It angers us both, but it also angers so many Indian people that its so common.

      I’d like to put it down to lack of education, but it’s actually the businessmen and the rich who seem to be the most disapproving/lustful. We’ve had no problems with the poor – some look but more from curiosity than anything.

  2. This is an interesting topic. My girlfriend Jess, and I were recently in India and can relate with some of this, whilst some of it seems shocking to us! We’re curious where you went?
    We were stared at A LOT, it’s fair enough, I’m a pasty white boy with a great big ginger beard,and Jess is also very white European looking, so it’s not like we fit in, although we made efforts to be respectful in our appearance. We mostly felt like we were in the zoo like attraction when we were on the Delhi metro, and on a couple of occasions when people have been all squished together she had a bit of a gropey experience. There was for example a bit of sardines trying to get out of the red fort and people were touching her and making her feel uncomfortable that I had to get inbetween them and her.Generally, on trains for example people were polite and generally just interested in our lives. It didn’t detract from our experience, we loved India and would go back in a heartbeat.

    • Thanks for the reply! Since writing the blog I’ve learnt a lot, both from research and from meeting other travellers who have been to India. From what I can gather, Gemma and I travelled the worst places for white women in India.

      It seems that Delhi, Agra, Goa (although we personally never had any issues in Goa – palolem beach is a godsend for a getaway) and Rajasthan are considered the hardest places to travel for girls in India.

      We went to Varanasi which we found to be the hardest as twice people tried to separate us and walk away with Gemma (how they thought that would work I have no idea).

      We actually found cities in Rajasthan easier. And actually riding the train (sleeper class, 3 or 2AC) we had no problems at all. However we had issues at nearly every train station.

      Other than this, we were in Agra, Delhi, Khajaraho, Chandigarh (less issues here), Amritsar, Jodhpur, Jaisalmer, Jaipur and Mumbai.

      After talking to many travellers who have been to India, it seems that further north such as Leh, Manali and Spiti and Kinnaur valleys are less scary and more beautiful.

      I’m sorry to hear of the experiences your girlfriend had in crowded areas, I think it’s such a shame because you’re right, India is a beautiful country in many ways. Also, a big going beard is worth staring at no?!

  3. I can’t believe anybody would try that (in Varanasi)! To be fair, Jess was groped on our first day so it shook her up a bit more, but once we got more confident in our surroundings I think it helped us. Did you know Delhi has one of the highest percentage of rapes in the world?

    We travelled from Delhi, to Jaisalmer, Jodhpur, Udaipur, Ranthambhore National Park, Jaipur, Agra and back to Delhi.

    We actually found Delhi to be an excellent city, full of culture, good food and generally cool people. Jaipur, is a place I hope I never have to go again, and Agra was actually fairly easy going considering our expectations of it being “tout tout tout” and us as walking white meal tickets. I think it helped that we lucked across a great tuk-tuk driver who acted as both driver and semi guide for the day we were there, he took us to a nice place to eat, and advised about the Taj and all sorts. He regained our trust in tuk tuks after the ballache that is Jaipur.

    We got trains everywhere, and they were fantastic, we shared a booth area on one journey with some guys from the Border security force, who not only looked after us all journey and shooed away some pesky guys but even negotiated us a cheap tuk-tuk outside the station! Brilliant.

    I also think we got lucky with the train stations too, we had no trouble at all, just the usual bemused staring. I think confidence and direct body language goes a long way in India!

    Next time we hope to go to Kerala and Sri Lanka. Good luck with the rest of your travels, I shall be reading your blog! keep up the excellent writings.

    • I did not know that about Delhi! That’s shocking. We actually found Delhi an interesting city too, and aside from the issues I mention in the blog, we had a good time there both times we stopped by.

      Luckily, there’s not really any reason to go back to Jaipur that I can think of, but we came away thinking the same. Although it has to be said we had a lovely tuk tuk driver in Jaipur for the day and that took some of the edge off… It’s really interesting to hear everyone’s different experiences in each place!

      And as for Agra, we had an amazing time because there was some sort of festival that resembled (but wasn’t) Holi on where everyone threw paint around.

      We’re off to Chang Mai soon and we’re looking forward to the market but Gemma has one question for you – how do you get a spoon in a qual egg? And out of the (impressive) amounts you ate, what’s the one thing we should seek out?

      Thanks for reading the blog by the way, we started reading yours a while ago but the pictures always make us so hungry!

  4. Chiang Mai is an amazing place, all the food there is superb. I imagine, you’ll probably stay around the old city, and along the main road there are several decent noodle soup vendors, If you are lucky to be there on a Sunday there’s a massive walking market when you can shop and graze until you keel over. Also brilliant.

    Noodle soup is generally the stand out thing for me from the north and it’s well worth trying a few.

    Also, if you haven’t arranged anywhere yet I would recommend staying at Libra Guesthouse in the old city (they book direct only I think) i’ve stayed there twice and it’s run by a really nice family,

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