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Being a Woman in India
By Braja Sorensen   |  Mar 20, 2015

I said I wouldn’t do it, get into what is now an international issue: the treatment of women in India. But the release of India’s Daughter, a documentary on the rape and murder of Jyoti Singh, has brought the issue back again into a limelight that most prefer switched off: so much so that the documentary is banned in this country. Go, India…

The truth is that there is much to be said, and I can’t not say it. If you are famous, influential, or wealthy, then you perhaps won’t hear these things, won’t read this, won’t agree if you do read, won’t accept it, or consider that it only happens to “some” women, and that those women must have done something to deserve or invite or warrant it. You would be wrong.

Being a woman in India has, in the last few years, become intolerable. More deeply effected by the rape and murder of Jyoti Singh than I ever thought I would be (I wrote this poem the night she died), at first I thought I was perhaps just more conscious of and sensitive to the leering, the innuendo, the filthy looks, the sexual banter, the downright degraded cesspool that is the majority mindset of Indian men-in-the-street. And right there is the problem: to generalise, to say “the majority,” seems incredibly unfair to the many Indian gentlemen I know, and those I don’t. But that there exists a goodly portion of gentlemen in this fine land does not negate the reality: most of the men in the street that we come across most often are below animal grade. Sorry, India…

I am raped daily by the minds and eyes of hundreds of men, simply by walking down the road. My attire? Neck to ankle, chaste, covered. My behaviour? I am contained, not a social chatterer, and don’t respond to men who try to engage. I’ll be polite the first time, then I strike heavily: I refuse to be polite to a man who doesn’t take no for an answer, and am unapologetic when they pretend they’re “just being nice.” I can crush with a look, disseminate with words, and even be brutal physically. I’ve done all three in India, and fear such days are far from over.

As I write this I can hear the question repeatedly: “Then why do you live in India?” Because I chose to. There is much about India that I love, and all you need do is scroll around this site, or my Facebook page, or read Lost & Found in India, or any one of the many articles I’ve written, and you’ll know that my 15 years of living in India hasn’t been under protest or campaign-driven. It’s because I love it, and I choose to live here.

Besides, the barbaric behaviour of humans exists everywhere, and despite what form it takes it will inflict its violence on the residents around it. The West has a neat and clever trick of hiding it, but it’s there. In India, meanwhile, everything is on display, up close and personal: there’s no avoiding anything in this country.

But I have to ask myself constantly, when did this sexual abuse culture become so incredibly fashionable and acceptably out there amongst the savages of this country? These rapists are beyond sub-human, deserve nothing but suffering, and should simply be killed and done with. But it doesn’t change anything: it still goes on, and it likely always will: it just is. I don’t know the answer, and I have no clue about solutions, apart from inviting the Gulabi Gang (above) to take over where the police and men in general have failed. I have written of them before: a women’s vigilante group formed in the Banda District of Uttar Pradesh and so named after the pink dress they wear. The women brandish sticks and fight for social issues and are having success wherever they strike. Apart from that, while I know the teachings and principles and philosophies of the ancient cultures that stem from this land, I also know the difficulty or sheer inability to follow them or honour them in this day and age. So while they may be a solution for individuals or communities or different sectors of society, and while they’re absolutely a crucial factor of education and social implementation, they’re not a solution right now for this issue or the general populace of India who remain uneducated and dragged up in a brutal environment. So I don’t know the answer.

I do know, however, that India brought this upon itself. Roaring in desperation, they sprinted towards the western “advancement” that was dangled before them like carrots before donkeys, swallowing whole the deluded belief that everything that glitters is surely gold. It is not. The introduction of Western media and entertainment and accessibility to everything in the name of modernisation has destroyed this country. Why? Because the uneducated and unenlightened cannot handle such open access. Argue that all you like in your higher circles of reason and discussion, where you are all qualified to live in whatever culture or style you choose and adapt accordingly, but your arguments make no difference: it just is. That these barbaric sub-humans believe that the writhing, moaning, naked porn star on an imported Western movie is the same as that firangi or bideshi woman walking down the street in Delhi or Calcutta is beyond explanation: it just is. 

But don’t blame the foreigners for their fallen, cultureless societies that have influenced this land that is the holder of all things deep, meaningful, rich, historic, and priceless: you wanted the West, India. And now you’ve got it. Regardless, it’s only part of the problem, and it’s not the source: it’s just an unfortunate accessory. The inherent dismissal of and disrespect for women in a great portion of Indian men is just that: inherent. And therein lies the problem…

I was in Puri this last week with a friend and her children, when the deeper, more subtle taste of being a woman in India soaked into my skin. A foreign man was staying in the hotel, and had disturbed a few of the women with his behaviour, language, and general mood. After one specific incident, I spoke to the manager, whose response amounted to nothing: he refused to speak to the guest, and when I told him my only option was to call the police as I felt unsafe staying in the hotel, he became angry and dismissive. The upshot: I’m a woman, and worse, a foreign woman…even worse, I had no husband with me. I was the problem. Had I called the police, no doubt they’d have shared this summation. I spoke to the male guest, told him what position he was putting me in, and in the end he apologised, understood the situation, said he was no threat, and the situation was diffused.

But still we felt unsafe: the management’s repeated excuse for non action was the new source of deep concern, “He is a guest” their constant response. I was not bestowed with such a favourable title as “guest.” I was apparently an affliction: the source of trouble and disruption. A woman.

There’s no wrap-up to this article, no ending or conclusion. It just is…

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About the author: Braja Sorensen is a writer, author, poet, photographer, bhakti-yogini from Australia. She has lived in on the banks of the sacred Ganges River in Mayapur, West Bengal, since the turn of the century. She has written many articles and books, including Lost & Found in India (Hay House International, 2013), 18 Days: Sri Panca-tattva’s Mayapur-lila (2004), and India & Beyond: Plane Reading for Part-time Babajis (2012).

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