Monday, October 1, 2012

Sexual harassment of white women in India

I wasn’t going to write this originally. I had started a similar entry last week in Delhi in my private travel blog, but changed my mind, telling myself that it is “no big deal.” But events over the past few days have unfortunately ‘inspired’ me to do so. And so it is with regret that I have to write this. I decided to create a new blog, a public one, specifically for issues pertaining to 'Traveling while female'.

I want to add a disclaimer that this post is not intended to diminish any cases of sexual harassment or sexual assault experienced by Indian women in India whether they are Indian-born or foreign-born or that experienced by people of any other ethnicity. I do however feel the need to single out whiteness as a factor in targeting for certain types of sexual harassment and sexual assault in India. It is this uncomfortable issue that I want to address.

India has a sexual harassment problem. Big time. In particular lack of respect towards white female foreigners. This attitude stems from a variety of sources, but the vast majority of this comes from their misperception of white women as being loose as depicted in both Bollywood and Hollywood movies. When the occasional foreign woman herself flirts with a local, this supposed looseness is then ‘confirmed’ in their minds and thus all manner of inappropriate behavior is ‘justified.’ This supposition is likewise ‘confirmed’ by Western clothing also, which is scandalous by Indian standards. The assumption regarding  women who wear such things is that they must be sexually loose. Thus white women are the subject of numerous male Indian fantasies. That alone is not unusual. After all, how many straight white men have fantasies of “hot Asian women”? The problem however is that in India, because white women do not belong to Indian culture, they are not subject to its social norms or cultural rules. Their whiteness affords them certain privileges in India, but also excludes them from the social norms that protect (some) Indian women from these types of regular harassment. The same general respect that would be paid an Indian women is not necessarily afforded a white person. Even those such as myself who choose to dress ‘local’ by wearing modest Indian clothing continue to receive considerable sexual harassment. I have experienced this many times over and have myself minimized this phenomena by saying things such as “oh, I’ve been harassed like that in the US before.” or “It didn’t really bother me.” Both of which are true to an extent. There are only 2 or 3 times in the past 3 years of visits that I have actually felt offended and bothered by unwanted attention of that nature in India and I have certainly received catcalls or other unwanted attention in the US before.  But are catcalls really equivalent to having someone run their bike in front of you or the rickshaw you are riding in to make sure you see the hand gestures propositioning you as a prostitute? Is it equivalent to having someone try to touch or grab you on a bus or train? No, I say they aren’t equivalent, neither in degree nor in the social norms governing them.

I was with two white foreigners yesterday, one from England and one from Hungary. They had been traveling in India for two weeks. While discussing clothing, I mentioned preferring to dress local because it cuts down on the amount of sexual harassment I receive. The British girl remains silent but the Hungarian girl vehemently says they have never been sexually harassed in India. The British one counters that just the previous night a group of boys had called out vulgar propositions in English to them as they were walking home. The Hungarian one, surprised, replies that she had not noticed because she was busy flirting with someone else. I was surprised, but pleased to hear that they had not had any other problems. As it turns out, this was not true, but I wasn’t to find this out until later. 

The incident which inspired this essay was a rather uncomfortable rickshaw ride home from the city (Varanasi) back to Sarnath in the state of Uttar Pradesh, India. The ride was about 30 minutes long. Throughout this ride, the driver began a series of conversations, each of which would start out as appropriate (such as Bollywood movies or where we have visited in India or where I learned Hindi), but would gradually devolve to either him discussing his sex life, his intended sex life, or (more disturbing) our sex lives and/or marital status and us “appearing” in his dreams in a sexual manner. The majority of this was innuendo, but some of it was rather explicit. What can you do in this kind of situation? This guy was obviously not going to harm us physically. Neither I nor the others felt physically threatened by him in any way. We needed a ride home, it had grown dark (though it was only 7:30pm), we had bargained for  an acceptable (if overpriced) rate, and we were in a moving vehicle, so there was a degree to which we may have felt ‘trapped.’ But since there was so physical danger, I chose to set boundaries in the conversation. Whenever the conversations started reaching (or reached) inappropriate topics, I would reprimand him in Hindi. This unfortunately happened  about every 5 minutes or so.

I was reminded of the 12-hour Self Defense that that is taught at Thousand Waves. In the section on ‘relationship violence’ the ‘cycle of violence’ is illustrated. First there is the act of violence, which can be physical, emotional, etc. Then there is the attempt to apologize and make up for the act of violence, coupled with promises to never repeat said offense. Then there is the so-called ‘honeymoon’ period where everything is ok. This was the dynamic that governed the entirety of this ride. When the conversation would reach an inappropriate level, I would reprimand the driver in Hindi and he would apologize and mention some fault in himself and promise to stop. He would be quiet for a few minutes. Then talk about mundane topics, such as Bollywood movies, or travelling in India. Then the conversation would again intensify and would start to border on inappropriate. I would either reprimand him or politely ask him to change the subject and the cycle would continue. This was not the first nor is it likely the last time that I will be grateful for the boundary-setting techniques I’ve learned, practiced, and assisted in teaching through Thousand Waves.  Translating these techniques to a new language, in a new culture, however is something I am still relatively unpracticed at. I found myself performing the role of an offended Indian ‘Auntie’ (adult aged Indian woman) as I spoke to him in Hindi, realizing that this was the method that Indian women would likely use to handle this situation. Needless to say, I was quite grateful that I knew Hindi. Engaging in boundary-setting in Hindi adds extra authenticity to the performance. My hope was that a successful performance as an Indian Auntie would remind him that we are no so foreign and deserve the same respect afforded Indian women. We arrived safely, if a little shocked and shaken by his brazen speech. The girls later thanked me and admitted feeling very grateful that it had not been just the two of them in that rickshaw, and that I had known enough Hindi to handle the situation. It was while decompressing from this incident over dinner that the Hungarian girl admitted the following experience:

The two girls had been at a rest stop on a long bus ride either to or from Orccha (Madhya Pradesh). The Hungarian girl asks around for a toilet, but there seems to be none. A 16-year-old boy seemingly helpfully says “Come this way Madame,” leading her into the restaurant building upstairs. She thought she was being led to a toilet. Instead she was led to the roof where she was encouraged to pee in front of the boy who promised he would turn away. She was wearing pants, so of course this would involve her squatting and showing all of her private areas. She tells the boy to go away and he doesn’t. He replies that he’s seen all sorts before so it’s no big deal. His cards finally shown, she decides to leave the roof. He blocks her path and demands a kiss from her before allowing her to leave. Fortunately the story ends well. This was not a meek woman and so when confronted in this way, the Hungarian girl begins chewing the boy out, reprimanding him for treating foreigners so rudely and telling him off for not giving foreign women the same respect he would give an Indian woman. He appears quite quiet and chagrined after this. So she peacefully and safely leaves the roof and the situation.

It is important to point out the double standard in this scenario. This is not a scenario that would have (likely) happened with an Indian woman. A 16-year-old boy would not have tried this scam with an Indian woman, or he likely would have been beaten by someone. This Hungarian woman was singled out for her supposed sexual looseness, which was marked by her whiteness. When she reminds him that she is a woman that should be subject to the same respect as his own culture own demands he is embarrassed, not unlike our brazen rickshaw driver. What is remarkable is that the Hungarian woman hadn’t recalled this incident until we had the shared rickshaw incident. Though she had vehemently protested that she had not previously encountered any sexual harassment in India, this is clearly not the case. This was a clear case of sexual harassment, dangerously bordering on sexual assault. When asked why she hadn’t mentioned it earlier, she admitted that she must have blocked it from her memory. Understandable. But should these kinds of experiences be minimized and shrugged off as “no big deal”? I say no. There is no need, certainly, to make mountains out of molehills. After all, sexual harassment exists most everywhere. But more extreme instances such as the above two experiences, and many more that others have experienced are different in essence, and sexual harassment of white women in India should be addressed as a serious problem.  I choose not to go into details about my experiences being sexually harassed in India over the past three trips. Most of my experiences are hardly story-worthy. But the frequency of them is. It is one thing to be the recipient of cat-calls occasionally. That happens in the US and Europe as well. It is still inappropriate and needs to be addressed. But it is another thing altogether to be marked by your whiteness and singled out for sexual harassment on a regular basis. As when I lived in Jaipur, I now cover my head—not out of convention, for this is not a Muslim area—but out of an attempt to minimize the obviousness of the pale color of my hair and skin. In short, I try to hide my whiteness in order to avoid being singled out. But while this may help me and a few travelers who choose to dress locally, does this help the many thousands of other white females who visit India who wear 'appropriate' clothing but don't try to hide their whiteness? What about the double standard of clothing? When I walk down the street I often see Indian (and Tibetan) women wearing Western clothing less modest than me. But as I have indicated above, clearly, clothing is not the issue, nor should it be. This is a serious problem that should be addressed.

As I think more deeply about it, I wonder if this isn’t much like other kinds of ethnic- or sexual orientation-based profiling that many American minorities experience on a regular basis? Such as the harassment and threats that gays and lesbians often receive? Or phenomena such as “driving while black” or other racist presuppositions. Maybe I shouldn’t be so hard on Indian men for their treatment of white women. Perhaps the stereotyping of white women in India isn’t all that different from stereotyping or certain minorities in the US . Maybe all that differs is the details. But regardless, this lack of respect towards white women in India is highly problematic for a nation that aims to be developing. It is bad enough that touts will routinely follow westerners for blocks, trying to convince them to buy this or that thing or that rickshaws will often try to charge anywhere from double to five times the going rate. But if white foreign women are not afforded the basic minimal respect shown to most Indian women, then how can Indians expect female tourists and students to want to come to India to learn about Indian culture, let alone spend foreign tourist money in India? It is a problem that as a female scholar researching on India I feel compelled to address, though it is far from my topic of research. As a white foreign scholar I am an ambassador of sorts. I hope that through the remainder of these six months in India I have the opportunity to make a difference, no matter how small, in how foreign women are treated.

61 comments:

  1. Hi Erin!
    This is Lori - your partner in the criminal choreography SASLI 2010 :) Super cool little blog you have here. Hope it starts getting some attention if it hasn't yet.
    I do take a bit of issue with your talking about this in terms of not affording white women the same respect they do Indian women. While I agree overall, my experience in India (not as long as yours and in a very different city - Lucknow - supposedly more "conservative and polite") is that Indian men are equally disrespectful of any woman not following the "appropriate moral code" no matter what her perceived nationality. I witnessed Indian women being propositioned or having disgusting innuendos directed toward them while I generally escaped this attention (I even started to get the opposite idea to the one you have - that being white made me generally a lot safer than Indian women). The women this happened to may have been wearing jeans, or be out at dusk or in some cases, there was absolutely nothing I could discern that made them different. I was stared at intensely by nearly everyone, all the time, men and women, and often felt "hunted" by rickshawvalas, but really only on two instances did I hear something said about me as I passed by. I dressed in local clothes, never went out after dark (as a habit anyway) and never looked men in the eye, much less speak to them unless I was buying something from them. There was one incident when I was at a shop waiting for the tailor to come back from prayers. I'd been there a long time next to this one sweet looking old man. He started a conversation and everything was perfectly appropriate. But then he followed me home. This reinforced to me not ever to talk to strange men.
    Anyway, I think focusing on the sexual harassment problem in India as one that differentially effects white women, making the argument that it is because we are perceived as loose due to Western media, diminishes the fact that the situation for nearly all women in India is AWFUL. Men don't seem to need the excuse that Western women are "loose" to be mean to women there. Women can be constructed as loose simply for getting on to the wrong section of a bus.
    All that said, I wonder if your being blonde may contribute to you catching a little more hell than I did? Indian fascination with blondes does seem a little over the top sometimes. I actually had people ask me if I was Indian a couple of times after speaking Hindi to them. Maybe they were too confused by me to remember to harass me?

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  2. Hi Lori,
    Thank you for your reply. Yes, I do think that me being blonde does make it more difficult for me. My Hispanic roommate from last summer was able to walk around in Jaipur (in local clothing) with seemingly no negative attention. Like my former roommate, it's possible that you happen to look local enough to "pass" for India and be similarly 'exempt' from extra attention. Whereas even with my hair as covered as it can be, my skin and hair was sufficiently pale to be noticeable. Glasses might also be an indicator, since many Indians don't wear corrective lenses (unless they come from wealthier families). Like you, I never go out after dark (except the one time a month ago that I was out with two other women and *was harassed), I wear local clothing, I never look at men in passing and generally only talk when buying something. There are a few exceptions such as when a mutual contact such as my guest house owner introduces me to them as a scholar (which conveys to them my proper status as a respected Auntie).

    I would agree that it is a little problematic to focus on the harassment of white women, but for different reasons than you state. I do think that Indian women are often treated quite horribly in India and certainly are victims of sexual harassment and assault. No question about it. But I was not arguing that only white foreigners are harassed. I argued that there is something qualitatively different about *some* instances of sexual harassment. In the examples above, I think it is clear that myself and these women were targeted for being white. In these cases, verbal reminders of how they would or wouldn't treat their own women properly shamed them. This indicates to me that there is a standard, no matter how low, of how Indian women should be treated (whether or not they are treated this way is another matter) and in these cases, simply by being white we were excluded from those protections.

    I think it is true that more distinctive-looking people (either blonde or red hair) often receive *more* negative attention, or perhaps receive it more frequently,, but I have had several reports of truly horrifying incidents of sexual harassment, bordering on assault of white foreign women with dark hair, and of non-Indian Asian women as well, so blonde women are by no means the only target. It might be more accurate to say "seemingly single women" walking around receive more negative attention. Tourist women wearing jeans and walking around without a male 'escort' are presumed single and therefore sexually loose (the comments I have heard Indian boys in Varanasi shout to tourist women make that quite clear). If you appear older, an "Auntie-type", or especially if you are traveling with either a man or children, you are almost guaranteed to be left alone. I have only once been harassed while Rohit has been with me.

    I am very interested to hear more about your experiences in Lucknow. I haven't yet been there, but I have been told by both male and female scholars that it is a much more "comfortable" place to be than Jaipur in terms of sexual harassment. But judging by your comments that may not be the case. The female scholar who told me this, like you is dark-haired, fluent in Hindi-Urdu, and was possibly often accompanied by her male partner (also a scholar), which would render her "protected."

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  3. So it really may have been the nature of Lucknow then if this was also the experience of other people who spent time there. It was quite clear that everyone knew I was white - people nearly crashed their scooters they were so committed to staring at me. But compared to what I saw Indian women go through, I started to feel that being white actually protected me from being harassed - even in situations I feel there was lots of opportunity for harassment, like getting into a rickshaw alone, which happened alot - and that it really must be more about perceived transgressions of the moral code for women than skin color. That made me much more comfortable with the idea of going back there for a year to do fieldwork. But I'll be in Vrindavan then, not Lucknow, so I should probably brace myself for a very different experience...

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  5. My gf is white and we met while I was working in America, she plans to move here eventually and get married. Are there any support groups in place for expat women living in India? Which can help her discuss issues she would be facing, with other foreign women living in India? She has traveled once before with me and except for one freak "brushing past" incident there weren't anything she was concerned about. It maybe also because I was with her and I can be quite intimidating with my body language sometimes especially to anyone who looks at my lady love with an evil eye. But I'm concerned when she goes out alone she might have a different experience. Please advise if you can. Thanks!

    P.S :- I feel so disturbed to read stuff like this about my people but I know it's true and it breaks my heart.

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    1. Hi AK,
      Thank you for your message. There are some support groups for expats living in India, depending on where exactly you two would be living. You can check out some groups I have found here: (http://www.expatwomen.com/expat-women-countries/expat-women-living-in-india.php#nogo57). I have not worked with any of these groups so I do not know to what extend they focus on harassment and safety issues, though I imagine since this is something virtually all women in India face, your girlfriend would find these groups a good place to go to talk with women about these issues.

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    2. Hi Erin,

      I am sorry to hear about your public notice regarding Indian. I am regretting even it is not only with the foreigner but also with Indian woman too. Please do take care of these words Indians because five fingers are not same, i have even traveled world wide, it happen with me some white girls came to my notice but i never said that sexual harassment. In India, People they do have attraction with white girl or boy but it belongs to their life styles and the way of living too.

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  6. Hello Erin,
    It's so nice to see an American graduate student study about Hinduism, Buddhism and India in so much detail. I happened to come across your blog and your CV on Academia.edu. You have impressive accomplishments and I most certainly respect you and your work. Good luck with your graduate research and I hope you achieve what you've dreamed of achieving. People in the west ought to learn more about India and its religions because it's so old and the religious teachings have been an inspiration to all other religions of the world. American philosopher Will Durant wrote in his book 'The Case for India' that "India was the motherland of our race, and Sanskrit the mother of Europe's languages: she was the mother of our philosophy; mother, through the Arabs, of much of our mathematics; mother, through the Buddha, of the ideals embodied in Christianity;mother,through the village community, of self-government and democracy. Mother India is in many ways the mother of us all." Keep up the good work on your research and I will most definitely follow your blog. As an Indian growing up in India, I've been reading and listening about sexual harassment cases especially on foreign tourist women ever since I first understood the definition of sexual harassment. It's sad to hear about such experiences and I just pray that foreign women who come to India, don't go through such horrific experiences ever again. I agree with your statement that India has a sexual harassment problem. Just like most other countries-both developed and developing, India too has a big sexual harassment problem. However, our idea about white women as being morally loose in not a misperception. It's a fact. Just like in the US, people have a general idea of Asians being bad drivers(ofcourse, Asians including Indians are bad drivers); similarly and common Indian too has the perception that white women are usually of low moral character. According to us Indian's and cultures all around the world, a woman's morality is tied with the number of partners she has been with, her faithfulness to the partner and her commitment to lead a life with just a single man. White women from all around the world fail at all these. An average white women is promiscuous and not monogamous. By average, I mean a statistical average of white women from countries with majority white population. In these countries, 15 out of 100 children born are born to unfaithful mothers.Chances of a white woman's marriage to fail are almost half in these countries. Teenagers in these countries engage in intimate relationships while in school. Trust me;most Indian's know about these facts and this makes us think that is it really so hard for white women to have a successful marriage? Is it so hard to be satisfied with just one partner that they feel the need to find someone else? A relationship with the opposite sex is important and necessary at the right age(when one is an adult) and at the right time(when one is capable of handling responsibilities and is married)-so why is it that people in these countries begin so early? Indians can't imagine this and so we jump onto a conclusion that a usual white women is of loose moral character. We don't mean all white women but just an average white women. What I really detest is the attitude of Indian men towards white female tourists. Albeit our perception of white women, we have no right and authority to show contempt, harass or tease white women. In my view, everyone should be treated with respect; irrespective of skin color, nationality and orientation. As an Indian, I feel ashamed when I read the experience of the British tourist and her Hungarian friend. It really hurts when I read about foreign tourists being treated unfairly when it comes to offering services(like an auto-rickshaw ride) or being stalked by men. I sympathize with all those who've gone through anything from minor through horrendous sexual harassment and assaults in India.

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    1. Krishna had more than one thousand wives. Is it so difficult for him to be satisfied with just one? Why did he have a relationship with a woman at such a young age at Gokul with Radha? Why is it that he began so early? Also, why is it that people in India are, even today, marrying off their children when they are still children? Indians CAN imagine this and they've been doing this since thousands of years. Before pointing fingers at others, look at your own country, Mr. Ganesh.

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  7. Hi Erin,
    Interesting to read your story and get your thoughts on western women travelling in India.

    Some years ago a colleague of mine travelled to India with another woman, both worked with me at Westpac’s main office in Melbourne. They were in India for approximately 4 weeks traveling and staying with a friend for some of that time.

    My colleague was an attractive woman with blond hair in her mid-twenties. Anyway the stories she came back with of being surrounded by groups of men, constantly being asked if she was married had a boyfriend etc., and on more than one occasion being fondled/groped.

    One story she had, the two girls were travelling on a train they had a separate compartment, which they paid extra for yet still had men invading their privacy by knocking on the door, talking to them through the door etc.

    Here in Melbourne there is a general perception among most women I know that Indian men are sleazy.

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  8. Its a nice article !!keep posting

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  9. Ganesh why do you keep blaming women only of the failed marriages in western countries? It does not maybe show in the statistics but Indian men pay visit to prostitutes (there are villages dedicated to prostitution and red light districts in India) there are more than 2 million prostitutes in India, many of them underage, Indian men prefer the younger children they are more in demand. Indian men have extramarital affairs and young people in India have sex before marriage. Operation called hymenoplasty is getting popularity in India (getting virginity back or at least make it seem like the woman is a virgin). Wife swapping parties going on in Indian cities and what else.

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    1. I agree with everything you have written.....but let me remind you...that number of wife swappers, people having extramaritial affairs is still very less when compared to India's population of 1.2 billion(Probably less than 0.5% - same number in caucasian countries is in double digits). And, I am not putting the entire blame on women for failed marriages. Sure men in the west are equally responsible for their failed marriages. All I am pointing out is that our notion that 'white women are easy/vulnerable/promiscuous' is not a misperception - it is a fact; and I personally don't have a problem with it. In fact nobody should have a problem with it. But I get a little disconcerted when white women don't admit their promiscuity even after having multiple partners over their lifetime. How can they hate to call themselves 'promiscuous' when they are being promiscuous?

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    2. Hi Ganesh,
      I don't understand why you insist on stating that all white women are promiscuous. Women in America are more open to dating and to talk about sexuality, for sure, but that does not mean that American women are "promiscuous." Not every American women has multiple partners over their entire lifetime. Some certainly do. But certainly not all and perhaos not even a majority. But that is besides the point. "Promiscuity" is not a descriptive term, used to convey "fact" about number of sexual partners. It is a deliberately offensive term, used primarily by people who believe that sexuality outside of marriage is wrong to condemn women who date before marriage. Being called promiscuous is equivalent in American English to being called a slut (which is also horridly offensive). If you don't have a problem with some Americans choosing to have multiple partners as you say, then perhaps you should avoid using words such as "easy" or "promiscuous".

      It is also important to note that offensive terms such as "slut" or "promiscuous" or "loose/easy" are never applied to men, even when they have had exponentially more partners than women. This I think is the real issue--women are held up to some cultural standard of sexual "purity" and described by offensive words indicating them being sullied if they don't conform. Men are never socially chastised in this way, demeaned for their sexuality.

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    3. Hi Erin,

      I don't care what you think of the word 'promiscuous' or what it is understood as in American English. In India, I studied the British version and as far as I know the word can very well be used to describe both men and women.

      Please google 'promiscuity' and go on the wikipedia page. Scroll down to 'Global studies', 'Male promiscuity' and 'Female promiscuity' and read the pertaining paragraphs. You will then know why I use the word 'promiscuous'. Also read: http://www.nbcnews.com/id/19374216/ns/health-sexual_health/t/new-survey-tells-how-much-sex-were-having/#.UgcbCZJwqSp
      The fourth point from the bottom says:
      "Twenty-five percent of women and 17 percent of men reporting having no more than one partner of the other sex in their lifetime." So what about the other 75% of women and 83% of men? Isn't that a majority?
      This will explain how drenched your society is in sex. I've had educated Americans(students, professors and colleagues where I work) say 'India is a poor country' on my face even when they know that less that half of India's population is below poverty. Why can't we Indian's assume westerners are 'promiscuous' when you have more than half of your population sleeping around casually?

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    4. Dear Ganesh,

      I'm sorry but I fear you have missed the point of my previous reply. My point was not to argue that some majority or percentage of Americans only have one partner in their entire life (which is a very bad definition of promiscuity at that). My point was that the term "promiscuous" is a problem because it is not a neutral term. Language and terminology are highly political tools and are routinely used to blame, censor and denigrate people. The term promiscuous does not neutrally describe people who have more than one sexual partner in their lifetime. It is a term used by those who do not approve of sexuality outside of marriage to to connote moral inferiority and judgement for being sexually active outside of marriage.

      But 'promiscuity' aside, I believe you are missing the point of this entire post. The point is not whether or not American women are "loose" or "promiscuous." The point of this article and this blog is to raise awareness and talk about issues of harassment and violence enacted towards women, both Indian and foreign. All research related to gender-based violence indicates that "sexual attraction" and "sex" has no relation to violence done towards women (including rape!) Violence towards women is about power, not sexual attraction. Research studies show that rape and sexual assault victims are chosen based on perceived vulnerability and convenience, not whether or not they are "promiscuous." To make the conversation about American women and their sexuality (because in a thread about harassment of women in India we are talking about women) is to blame the victim rather than the perpetrator and I find that highly inappropriate.

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    5. Sorry to harp on the little unimportant point in your article and waste your valuable time but I have to make things clear about what I think and likewise many Indians think. I understood the main point of your article the very first time I read it and I know its about sexual violence in India(on both foreign & local women). I agree with everything you wrote in that article but I get bugged when foreigners like you write that 'This attitude stems from a variety of sources, but the vast majority of this comes from their misperception of white women as being loose...'. I am reiterating again and I want you to understand that this is not a derogatory statement. White men and women are sexually loose/promiscuous because it is very easy to get sex out of white men and women. White men and women don't need their partners commitment, they don't necessarily need a marriage. Now you might counter argue that the west has sexual freedom unlike India or other parts of Asia. Just because the west has the freedom of sex, it doesn't mean that they are sexually pure. They still stand promiscuous in our eyes because we know and every major religion, philosophy, science knows that sex comes after commitment, marriage or with the intention of conceiving.

      Initially, I wasn't going to write this but I still did because with all due respect, you are ignorant enough not to understand that your definition or any understanding of the word 'promiscuity' is flawed.
      Also, I have no sense of camaraderie or animosity for you. My apologies if for some reason you got that feeling of hostility.

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    6. You say that the idea of white women being loose is not a misperception but a fact. Whether or not a woman is promiscuous is irrelevant - it is not a valid justification for sexual harassment. Plus the author of this blog has made it clear that she or other white women are not interested in sexual advances from Indian men! If they say no, it means NO.

      You mentioned in one of your previous posts: "a woman's morality is tied with the number of partners she has been with". Then you go on to describe most white women as being promiscuous, hence suggesting they are immoral and less deserving of respect (and almost suggesting that they deserve/want to be sexually harassed since their "looseness" is supposedly not a "misperception").

      And saying her understanding of the word "promiscuity" is flawed? Most people would be offended if you called them promiscuous due to the negative connotations surrounding that word - you yourself said that a woman's morality is judged by the number of partners she has! The author of this blog is a white woman, and you basically said that most white women are promiscuous. If someone said that most Indian men are rapists, would that not be considered racist?

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    7. pro·mis·cu·ous:

      Having casual sexual relations frequently with different partners; indiscriminate in the choice of sexual partners
      (http://www.thefreedictionary.com/promiscuous)

      The word "promiscuous" fits perfectly, actually. Everyone is so touchy these days about their own selves, especially when they're confronted with the truth. Our dear Ganesh made it quite clear that she wasn't arguing with you, Erin, but was making her own statement about the viewpoints of Indian people who - and as someone who has studied their culture, you should have recognized this - are deeply religious. So, even if you found the label "promiscuous" to be offensive to people because you say it's attacking their morals, SO WHAT? Religious people have opinions on what's moral and what's not so, yeah, that just so happens to be how they see us white people, and I find it a very accurate label for our society, with or without the statistics. It might not have much to do with your original post but comments are comments and it only makes sense for someone else to "feel compelled to address" some problems they see in another culture, just as you did. I actually think she has a great point and I applaud her for speaking her mind. More people need to do that and not be afraid of others' attempts to shut them up.

      To the above Anon, I think you should go back through and re-read what Ganesh wrote because she never said anything was justification for sexual harassment. Please be a little more careful with your reading before you make a comment accusing someone of such a thing.

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    8. Ganesh says:

      "All I am pointing out is that our notion that 'white women are easy/vulnerable/promiscuous' is not a misperception - it is a fact; and I personally don't have a problem with it"

      This basically means that according to Ganesh, all white women are promiscuous.

      Then Ganesh says:

      "White men and women are sexually loose/promiscuous because it is very easy to get sex out of white men and women"

      -------

      Based on the statistics, it is indeed a fact that most white women will have more than 1 partner in their lifetime - when their relationship/marriage fails, both the man and the woman will find a new partner. Absolutely, I have no problem with that. Further, if you want to interpret that as promiscuity, then I have no problem with that either.

      The problem is when you take the statistics and define a group to be promiscuous, then take it out of context - i.e. men who think that a white woman will want to sleep with a man who randomly gropes/catcalls/attacks her in public. A lot of men seem to think it would work. From what I understood by reading this blog, THAT is where the misperception about white women is. The vast majority of white women will not sleep with every random man who gropes/catcalls/attacks her on the street or on public transport.

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  10. Honestly... India is not a tourist country.

    Economically it is trying to build up the manufacturing, service and tech sectors. As for your statements on western women in India...

    There are stereotypes, but unfortunately with this one, there is some truth behind it. The women are loose.

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  11. I have travelled in India six times and as a young, blond woman i experienced a great deal of sexual harassment. I was also sexually assaulted on five occasions within 6 months. Once by a doctor when i was seriously ill. At a festival i was chased with a female friend by about 20 men,who intended to rape us. Most days i would have my bum grabbed, or my boobs felt. On a train once i was assaulted by a soldier. So yes a white woman is viewed as a slut, no better than a whore.

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  12. Also, most Indian men treat all women as second class citizens. The was an astounding number of newspaper reports, of women been burned to death, due to kitchen fires, exploding gas bottles usually. It seemed quite a coincidence that all were recently married.
    Men see their wives as unequal, to be seen but not heard, children are shown more respect,often making the woman act as the family servant. This is a cultural norm in India. It is the way things have been for hundreds of years. Foreign women are shown as little respect as Indian wome, with the addition of having a reputation, as an easy slut. Asking to be touched,kissed and molested. This is not me been racist, these are just facts.

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  13. Hi Erin
    May be u have bad experience during india traveling but this country have more respect about our tourist and specially about women and we can not say that one county unsafe while few cheep class men or boys are there

    Hope u above all travel again india

    Chandrabhan Singh
    reisemitchandra@gmail.com

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  14. Hi Erin
    I am of Indian origin with English wife and children. I love my country of birth and also love the liberal attitudes in the west. women in west are taught to be pleasant and smiling this is considered polite. Unfortunately this is considered as a invitation to make a move especially amongst certain groups of INdian men.Either women should avoid travelling alone or if they are then avoid being friendly,contrary to their nature.THe INdian govt should make it absolutely a zero tolerance policy.Blaming women for being friendly or loose cannot justify these horrible acts.by the way even Indian women are trageted this way and the psyche of the nation has to change.With due precautions you still should be able to enjoy the beauty of INdia and its mostly welcoming people.

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    2. Dear Anonymous,

      I wholeheartedly agree that with due precautions travelers should be able to enjoy the beauty of India and form relationships with the many welcoming and friendly people (men and women) there. That is why I started this blog--because I think that there is much about navigating Indian culture as a foreigner that is very challenging and I hope by sharing my experiences I can provide resources for others to travel safely and enjoy India.

      I certainly also agree that if women smile with Indian men, this is considered an invitation of sorts and that foreigners should be aware of how their behaviors might be interpreted in India. And I agree that the Indian government needs to start enforcing existing laws (and probably add a few!) if women of any nationality are to be safe in India.

      I would add though that I do not think that whether or not a female is traveling alone makes much of a difference. Certainly if she is accompanied by a man she will encounter less harassment (though that is no guarantee). But I and many other women have experienced harassment or worse while accompanied by other women. This seems to happen whether the woman you are with is foreign or even when they are Indian, so I don't know how much protection traveling with others provides. It certainly helps, but again there is no guarantee.

      Thank you for your supportive words.

      Best wishes,
      Erin

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  15. Hi Erin,
    I stumbled across this blog while googling. Hope your research in
    India would be completed superbly. I am sorry, being Indian, the
    sexual harassment you had to go through in India.
    This problem is increasing day by day in India due to the mixture of
    men's illiteracy, lack of fear, inability to handle sexual desire and
    most importantly the sleeping government.
    If you would be writing this blog now, then you surely write about
    more violence because only in this year, there are numourous news
    headlines on rapes both indian and foreigner victims. The Delhi gang
    rape, rape with an american tourist, rape with swiss tourist, legs
    were fractured of a british tourist when she jumped from her room when
    she was frightened sexually by hotel manager, and most recently Mumbai
    gang rape with an intern journalist of India.
    These really devastate me and I feel ashamed when I got to know about
    these crimes more frequently in India.
    There is a blogsite of an Australian women who permanently live in
    India. She married to an Indian guy and she is writer by profession.
    Please read her blog to discuss more about these issues-
    www.whiteindianhousewife.com
    May you have wonderful time ahead.

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    1. Dear Dinesh,

      I am happy to inform you that I am in fact still writing for this blog. If you look ahead in entries, you will see that this post is actually the second out of 14 I have written since October, the most recent being 3 days ago.

      Thank you very much for sharing the Australian woman's travel blog. I am glad to hear others are writing about these issues. I will be linking her blog from my site as well so that others can benefit from her perspective as well.

      My research has been going well. I am back in the US now for some writing but I will be back in India again before too long I am sure!

      Thank you for your supportive words.

      Best wishes,
      Erin

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  16. This doesn't just happen in India or other Asian countries. This happens ALL THE TIME to white female travelers in Latin American countries. There is a distinct lack of respect for and objectification of women in general, but that increases by at least 10-fold when the woman has white skin and is of Anglo-Saxon descent. It doesn't even matter if she's of Latin American descent, such as from Argentina or Uruguay and from an Italian or German heritage, for instance. She *looks* like she *might* be U.S. American, English or Australian and is therefore an instant target for disrespect, sexual harassment and a variety of other racial slurs. Unfortunately.

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    1. Dear Akasha,

      Thank you very much for sharing your experience. I have heard from several friends and colleagues of the harassment problems in Latin American countries as well and this saddens me greatly. Harassment is a major problem all around the world including in Egypt, Afganistan, South Africa and of course in 'western' countries as well.

      Your statement that women who look like they might be from the US/England/Australia(even if they aren't)are targeted more frequently is very helpful to note. I think there is something similar that happens with Indian women in India as well. Though for Indian women it has less to do with how "white" they appear skin-wise and more to do with whether or not they wear Western clothing or otherwise engage in behavior that is perceived as more 'western.' There is a strong resistance to the influence of Western culture in more conservative areas of India and I think a lot of the hostility towards India's modernization is taken out on women--both foreign and Indian--who are seen as representing or contributing to these changes. I wonder if there might be some connection there in Latin American countries as well?

      I would love to hear more of your thoughts on this and if you have any suggestions or advice for women traveling to Latin American countries based on your experience (or that of your friends) please feel free to share them here in the comments section (or through private message to me) and I would be glad to share your thoughts here.

      Best wishes,
      Erin

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  17. Golden Trangle Tours
    This blog is very attractive through this blog I knew more information about travel and tours .It is so very informative and interesting to know about tourism information.It is a great post for every blog and for me. Obviously I want to say that this is very important post for learn.
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  18. I am an Indian and fully agree with the author. Tourists are really treated shabbily here.Ganesh Ahir is shamelessly defending the indefensible, this is the precise reason why this whole harassment thing has become such a menace in India. And, Erin even Indian girls are subjected to almost the same amount of torture by these rogues. www.searchitfree.blogspot.com

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  19. Dear Erin,

    As a Indian man I will suggest you differently,any woman in India is safe if she is brave.Just slap the guy who try to touch you and shout believe me all the crowd near by will help you and beat him up.I f some body stare at you just look at him with as much anger you have.Believe me man in India respect woman who fight for her dignity and if these incidence happen when white woman fight back and these will come media and more and more Indian man will understand that it will lead them to trouble if the disrespect the white woman.

    One precaution be sure you are in public and not alone while you fight back.

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  20. Y do people come to india? Its a place of corrupt criminal people.

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  21. Hi arin ur ex

    periance is

    true. I m from india nd there is no law n orderin streets . Its an hell for tourist. Even the indian go within their own country some stupid always try to loot tourists. In india its a place of superstition on the basisof religion. Corrupt nd criminalized governance is respinsible for this. People don't hav any fear in their mind of any crime against women. Forget about white women the indian women r also suffering a lot.









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  22. Stumbled across this blog and would like to add that Indian men overseas can also behave badly. My daughter and I were followed in thailand by around 10 Indian men, was quite frightening and was only lucky we knew a thai guy who went and got the police. My daughters crime, mini skirt about 2" above the knee, long blonde hair and white skin. They are very primative males!!

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  23. Kudos for writing this blog, Erin. A very few people actually speak up about this. A few facts from the inside, some of which don't make it out to the world:

    First, from experience with colleagues (in my engineering college as well as some old high school classmates who are now studying to be doctors as well as engineers in other college) as well as other high-class, well educated men, politicians and policemen also behave in this way. It is a misconception that it is only uneducated men that do this.

    Second, and with reference to the comments about promiscuous women, it has been openly claimed by lawyers and other well educated people in India that 'the women are responsible for their rape because they invited it with the way they dress and behave'. It is sad that they think this gives people the right to push themselves onto women.

    Third, most, if not all modern Indian(Bollywood) movie portrays foreign women as easy game and is portrays them in such a light as being promiscuous, flirty and loose with any and every man possible.
    I am a local and have seen this happening every day; but most of it goes unreported which is not surprising considering the state of the lawmakers (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/india/9069158/Three-Indian-MPs-caught-watching-pornography-on-smartphone-in-Parliament.html). While most tourists think that all the attention and photography and of the locals, especially at the beaches, concerts, etc. is a part of the friendly culture, when conversing around other locals, they are pretty open about their real intentions. Being able to speak 3 of the local languages, I have heard many such conversations, especially at the beaches. This is especially common when foreign women travel here alone.

    In the extreme case of Goa(where I am from), which is the tourist hub of India, we even get hordes of Indians from the other states that come here with no purpose other than to see and to hook up with the large number of foreign women that come to Goa. Some of them are bold enough to ask the tourists for photographs with them and then tell the male foreigners to step out of the photograph. (I am frankly quite sick of the number of these people that stop me to ask for directions to the beaches and to see them stand by and wait to take pictures with every foreign woman that passes by - yes, this actually happens.)

    Just some sincere advice to you all: Be cautious if you travel here. It is not the haven you think it is. To the women: Always travel with a male companion.

    Josh

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  24. Hi Erin, stumbled across this blog while doing some research. I am travelling to Pondicherry next week for a conference. I have been living in Botswana for the past year (I am a white South African from Cape Town) and I have been really disturbed by the amount of attention I get here. I get stared at constantly and spoken to and winked at while sitting at red traffic lights. While I don't think it would get violent, it is incredibly off-putting. I find staying at home on weekends is far more relaxing. Also what you said about locals wearing western dress - the Batswana women who dress far more immodestly than I do don't get a second glance.
    It really gives one a sense of paranoia and makes me want to go home to liberal cape town!
    Thanks for the piece - I will make sure I use my newly acquired talents of frowning at everyone and ignoring men when I travel to India.
    Robyn

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  26. Hi Erin,
    Pity that you had some bad experiences with men in India. Hope they were the last of such experiences.

    Men - Indian or otherwise are capable of predatory behavior irrespective of ethnicity or skin color of the victim.

    Regards

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  27. Beat them as much as u can when they start flirting. This is culturary appropriate in India. Indian women get raped and harrased all the time. Its just more behind the scenes. I usually carry a large stick which works wonderflly or I just kick them in their face, punch them ..etc when they stare too much or flirt.

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  28. It breaks my heart to hear what white women go through in India. But as an Indian American girl who dresses as a local when I am in India I would like to point out that I have been harassed by Indian men there as well. Of course what you have had to go through is much worse than anything I have experienced but I believe that is because you were traveling with other foreigners while I go around with my local Indian family, which makes me feel safe. If I were to travel around alone I strongly believe that I would experience sexual harassment as well. Indian women are harassed as well but many do not speak up about it. I am so sorry for what you have had to go through but I believe that you are wrong in assuming that Indian women do not experience what you have had to go through

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    1. I also forgot to mention that my mom who grew up in indian was sexually harassed (toughed on the street for example) by indian men as well, which is why I think that you are strongly mistaken about an Indian woman's experience in her own country

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    2. Dear Anonymous,

      Thank you for your feedback. I hope you will look past the inadequacies of this individual post to realize that I spend much of all my subsequent posts in this blog discussing also the experience of Indian women. I never intended to imply that Indian women never experience harassment--I know very well that they do. I have close friends and colleagues from India and have listening to their experiences many times. This post was my first post in this series, and was designed with an audience of American travelers in mind to dispel the stereotypes that many Americans have about travel experiences for women. I had no idea the range of audience this post would receive in the years since I started writing (note I wrote this in October 2012!). Since this post, I have opened up to more generally talking about issues of street harassment for women of all nationalities in India (including Indian women) and about other forms of Violence Prevention. I'm sorry if the content of this post offended you in any way or in any way invalidated your or your mother's experiences of harassment.

      Best wishes,
      Erin Epperson

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    3. Dear Anon, I believe you missed this part of the article.
      "I want to add a disclaimer that this post is not intended to diminish any cases of sexual harassment or sexual assault experienced by Indian women in India whether they are Indian-born or foreign-born or that experienced by people of any other ethnicity. I do however feel the need to single out whiteness as a factor in targeting for certain types of sexual harassment and sexual assault in India. It is this uncomfortable issue that I want to address."

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  29. Hi Erin My self Nitin From India ,
    i roughly went through your blog which may leads to cultural as well as social structure of India.
    India is country which built on religious and god fear factors.even men are never seen the naked legs of women on their routine life. by wearing such clothing western peoples may invite Indian men to act like as unusual. by seeing these half or partial naked body they get outset of their religious mindset and turned to abuse the word and lead to harassment. once the thirsty crow can hold his thrust till he reaches the water source , but one water source is open then he can not hold . in same way. In India its not open culture for sex but finally they are humans , they have their feelings. they also respect the women but in very intimate moments men dosen't. ok any way if you like to get more details on India please write me on nitin.nikam1@gmail.com

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  30. Dear white woman - there's a jealousy and status element to the Indian creeps who sexually harass white women. Part of the motivation isn't your perceived sexual availability - most white women aren't sexually available to brown skinned Indian men, and they know that - the motivation is their relative poorness and lack of opportunity relative to you, resultant jealousy, and their capacity to get away with something without getting beaten up. This is one reason I prefer a society that has widespread civilian access to firearms, then encroaching into the personal space of others is a far more precarious action with unpredictable consequences for the assailant. Plus if you're perceived to be rich/high status, you'll also be perceived to have a gun if guns are available. Just my 10 cents.

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  34. Hi,

    Being an indian girl I can assure you we go through the same thing.. And it's not even about age or colour or ethnicity any more situation is such that children too out getting sexually assaulted. I for one cover my head and hands when I go out, and I don't need to by any religion or custom. I used to get disturbed by the staring and the unwelcome smirks and smiles. I myself don't understand the reason behind this mass perversion .. But I suppose it is due to lack of education, no moral grooming , violent derogatory environments.. In lower classes. And in higher classes really don't know why.. But probably the same thing . I would just like to tell you one thing from experience that is prevention is better than cure. Please be either part of a tourist network or do your research before coming here don't just walk into a city unplanned..or have local friends who can accompany or be there in times of help. It's like men are opportunistic sharks here, you give an opportunity and the demure rickshwallah will become your nightmare.. So not only be careful be firm.. Be careful be prepared and yes carry weapons.. Hell, I carry a pepper spray. Understand the state you are going to, as you mentioned UP.. I have lived in UP for long periods of time.. And I wouldn't travel anywhere alone when it gets dark, you should be more careful. UP is known for such crimes. So I would just say the memories of such little incidents haunt you later.. Make sure from your side you don't have them. Be cautious but when faced with danger fight it out don't let fear take over.

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  35. The Vedic scriptures strongly condemn rape. So if a "Hindu" rapes, it is a sign that he is nowhere near close to a real follower of the ancient Vedic scriptures.

    I am a westerner who found out about Vedic spirituality and it was so interesting because the Vedic knowledge included the answers to all the questions that no one else could answer. I never had such amazing realizations following any other religion or spiritual path, I followed Christianity, Taoism, Buddhism, and tribalism, I had even been an agnostic at times, but none of the feelings and experiences compared at all to the amazing changes in my life that came on by following the Vedic spirituality, and I never would have even imagined such things happening in my life or heard of such things happening to others who followed other religions. I immediately gave up smoking easily WITHOUT ANY EFFORT, even though I didn't even believe it would help, by following this path. I felt strong feelings in the core of my heart that I never felt before that lasted for long periods of time, without even believing that they would happen to me, which would just be unfathomable to people who haven't experienced it. This is just the tip of the iceburg of my experiences.

    Nothing against you Erin, I know what you post in your blog is true, but it really disturb me, because every time someone says one more bad thing about India or it's people, it's one more count on the scoreboard against India's roots, even though India has gone far from it's roots. But these problems are not due to people who follow the Vedic scriptures, they are due to people who don't. The all-too common social injustices in the last 5,114 years were truly injustices, but in many ways things are getting worse even though it seems like overall things are getting better. Read the histories in the Vedic scriptures of before 5,114 years ago. That is more like how people should act. "Conservative" Hindus are just the people who distort the ancient Vedic culture and don't understand how life is meant to be lived out - with mutual respect for all, from the ant to the topmost births, our fellow human beings.
    www.krsna.org

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  36. india is a large country .crime against women and crime in general is most in the hindi speaking belt of the country,up,mp,haryana,bihar.these states in particular have the worst record for uncivilsed behaviour and pathetic attitude towards women.

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  37. I'm a blonde white British female and have been to India many times, as my husband is Indian and his family live there. I find that wearing traditional Indian clothing when out and about significantly reduces unwanted attention and harrassment. I do my best to never go out alone, and never look men in the eye or talk to them unless absolutely necessary - as would the majority of indian females in my experience. You cannot change the attitutes and behaviour of millions of Indian men, only try to minimise their negative attitude / reaction toward you as an individual, so I would say, when in Rome, do as Romans do.

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  38. A very useful blog, will recommend it to a few female friends.

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  39. Hi..

    I am Indian and i love my country. I left India 20 years ago. My wife is white and she loves India too as a tourist. i am so sorry for the situation you had to endure.. I wish we Indians, behaved with more respect to all humans white or indian or any race.. Our religion, culture both teaches us the value of women - as sisters, mothers, aunties, and ofcourses wife, if dating as girlfriends.. in all scenarios with love, care, respect.... not any other manner.. i wish Indians will learn this .. and will make India a good safe place for tourists and allow everyone to enjoy this awesome beautiful country.

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  40. You're not some white goddess that everyone is having a fantasy about. I'm African American and there is a high concentration of Indians and Middle Eastern people where I am, and these Indian men flirt with black, white, or whatever is just provocatively. They whistle and even follow women through the grocery stores. In Jamaica, they vacation there and chase the petite island women all over the island. Indian women DO NOT dress provocatively like Island and American women do. Even if you were not dressed provocatively when you were in India, you are perceived as foreign. If they hear your American accent, you are perceived as "loose" so they will try.

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  41. Very useful post. This is my first time i visit here. I found so many interesting stuff in your blog especially its discussion. Really its great article. Keep it up. thailand travel guide

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