Did I wear the wrong colours? Were my loose fitting clothes not loose enough? Should my clothes have been so loose they fell down? Should I have stood further away from Tim? Should I have stood closer to him? Should I have covered my head even though the local women didn’t? Should I have embraced the attention and pinched their bottoms…. actually that would probably work.
These are just a few of the questions I asked myself as I travelled around India.
I wasn’t going to write this blog because I felt ashamed, like I was the one in the wrong (that and Tim has already covered this topic).
I felt like, and still do when I meet India’s fans, that it was my fault. That I’d missed the point of India and unwittingly encouraged the wandering hands. This wasn’t the way the locals made me feel, but other travellers – western travellers.
Travellers told me the amount of staring was down to education. This would be a fair point, except I felt safest in the slums. It is not a poor persons disease – and it is a disease this staring. It’s a deliberating illness that leaves the men paralysed except for their eyes… and wandering hands of course. The poor don’t stare though, they don’t touch, they don’t even lift their eyes from the floor because, like me, they’re ashamed.
The locals apologised for the problems I was having without me having said anything. I’d get on a train and they’d say ‘don’t worry I no stare.’ And they’re just the ones who didn’t speak English. The ones who did gave lengthy apologies. But other travellers were quick to tell me I must be dressing provocatively… even though I was stood directly in front of them dressed from head to toe.
This blame culture is an attitude that sadly still exists in most of the world. It exists in England. A girl gets assaulted and all of a sudden it’s her fault. She must have been wearing a short skirt or maybe she smiled at him the wrong way. Probably she’s just lying. He wouldn’t do that after all.
But in India it’s more likely you’ll be that lying short-skirt wearing tease. That’s not to say all travellers are lying when they tell you it’s an amazing country. I had a lot of fun there and it seems that I was travelling in the worse areas for women – Delhi, Rajasthan and Goa (although the bit of Goa I was in (Palolem) seemed safe). This opens up another question in my incessant and haunting stream of consciousness.
Am I being melodramatic?
Should I have shrugged off the stares? Should I have ignored the people who touched my leg and brushed up against me? Should I have laughed at the men who tried to separate me and Tim? Or fondly tutted at the men who purposefully followed me?
I know I’m not the most outgoing westerner. I hate men in clubs who think it’s ok to grind up against me/you. I am a prude. There I said it, it’s out there. I am a prude.
But even so, surely that shouldn’t be a problem in India. Women can’t show flesh (apart from their midriffs for some reason?) or dance with men that aren’t their husband. This is a culture I can get onboard with. No physical contact with strange men, that’s my kind of place.
I’ve travelled in Nepal, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia (another very conservative country), Vietnam and Singapore and I’ve never had this problem before. In Malaysia a man tried to buy me and my friend as he wanted to marry us, but that was as threatening as it got. And the biggest issue we had with that is that he thought we were worth the equivalent of about five pounds… together.
I’m not a newbie traveller. I’m not expecting westernisation. Keep those shoulders covered by all means; it makes no difference to me. But would I recommend other women go to India? Probably not. I just couldn’t live with myself if someone read a blog I wrote and thought ‘I’ll go to India’ only to end up the victim.
If it’s on your bucket list, go. Otherwise you’ll wonder forever (I couldn’t have avoided it, my India trip was inevitable). And if it’s on your bucket list but alongside a lot of other places, then go there last. If you get to it great and if you don’t, you’ve potentially saved yourself a groping. It’s win:win.
With regards to my question ‘am I being melodramatic’, you tell me. Otherwise I guess I’ll be back in a year or so, just to double check – I wonder how easy it is to get my hands on a beard wig?!