Friday, June 7, 2013

Put pressure on the Indian government to protect women

I am taking a break from my regular posting to make a request of my readers. The recent events concerning the 30-year old American women who was gang-raped in Manali have disturbed me. While I am very grateful that the police and government chose to act quickly to barricade roads going in and out of Manali which allowed them to locate the vehicle where the rape took place and arrest those suspected, I know that the only reason the police acted in this fashion is because it was an American tourist. I have no illusions that had the victim been Indian anything of this nature would have been done. Likely the rapists would still be roaming free to repeat their violent acts against another woman.

This event gives us a unique opportunity. Because it was a US citizen who was attacked, those of us who are also US citizens can be justified in contacting the US Department of State and demand actions be taken to encourage the Indian government to protect American women, which in turn I hope will also serve to protect other foreigners and domestic women as well.

So I am starting a letter-writing campaign. I enjoin everyone who is a US citizen to please contact the  US Department of State requesting they act. If you are a citizen of another country, I ask that you please contact the equivalent agency in your country (whoever is responsible for travel-related concerns and travel safety for the citizens of your country) and ask them to act. If you are a reader from India or South Asia, I urge you to keep doing what you’re doing to convince your government to act to protect women! My hope is that if there is enough pressure from both within Indian and from outside to protect women in general, then the government may be embarrassed into doing something.

If you feel comfortable, you may even want to request your country issue a travel advisory for women traveling to India. Given that the percentage of foreigners traveling to India has already dropped 25%, and the percentage of  foreign women traveling to India has dropped 35% since the Delhi gang-rape made international news in December, a travel advisory just might embarrass the Indian government into doing what it should be doing in the first place: enforcing existing laws to protect women. I understand this is perhaps a controversial move.  However, being a realist, I know it is quite unlikely an advisory would actually be issued, so I see this request more as an opportunity to stress just how important this issue is to travelers so that the Department of State is more likely to at least do something, rather than nothing.

If anyone is wondering what they might say in this email communication, I am copying (part of!) the letter I sent to Secretary Kerry in the Department of State. Please feel free to use whatever from this message may be relevant for you. 

Dear Secretary Kerry,
I am a concerned US citizen who has worked and studied in India and traveled in India several times. I recently read that a US citizen gang-raped in Manali. This is sadly only one out of a series of gross acts of violence against foreign women in India. As female scholar and traveler, I have seen first-hand how US citizens who are female are routinely harassed, groped, and molested  in both public and private in India. I have also seen how little the Indian government and law enforcement does to protect women in India. It is clear that American women cannot trust the police or government in India to protect them and so I am writing to ask you to put greater pressure on government of India to do more to protect American women. 

I would also like to ask you to consider issuing a travel advisory for women traveling to India... which I believe would further encourage the Indian government to act to protect foreign (and hopefully domestic) women. 

Erin H. Epperson
PhD Candidate, Department of South Asian Languages and Civilizations
University of Chicago



  1. I like this approach! But the Indian government has too much on its plate to accord priority to women's group! There is militancy in the Northeast. Maoism in the East. Right wing extremism in the west. Militancy in the north. Chinese Imperialism in the north east, string-of-pearls around India. But if you write a letter asking US to exert pressure on India, I think it will be assigned top-most priority!! I strongly suggest that you proceed!

    With Best Wishes

  2. Well it's not a question of protecting women really. It's a question of changing the misogynistic mindset that India refuses to shed. Asking India to "protect" women will only add justification to their menfolk's already misguided belief that women are some kind of innocent flower which should be sheltered, mated with and ultimately, a property which belongs to them. What you guys need to do is to boycott all sorts of interaction with India. Ask the Indians to start respecting their women as equals and human beings first. Let's see what happens then. I'm pessimistic though. India rarely moves forward with regards to it's culture.

  3. No matter what happens to people around the world, you Americans are only concerned about yourselves. One demented American woman gets raped(demented because she was traveling in the middle of the night and tried to seek help from truck drivers - my sympathies for her though), a few get groped and all of this provokes you to write to the US department of state - this is ridiculous. Writing to the US Secretary of State to pressurize India wont work. America is no god that everyone should yield to. It will definitely be ignored by the Secretary or the Indian government. India and Indians know one thing very well; that is, time cures everything and this very same conception of Americans/foreigners being unsafe in India will be forgotten in a few months.

    If you are smart and can live up to the reputation of a smart PhD student you would carefully read the following:

    - Learn to accept the world for whatever it is. Grow from it and with it. Don't groan about some place not treating you properly. Many Indians are treated like crap in your country and other countries as well - our history will explain you everything. But we don't write blogs to publicize and spread slander about you. For example: the Indian student who was shot right outside his house in Boston in the Summer of 2012. Boston police didn't even come up with suspects. I have been mocked at and even bullied on public transport buses in America only for being Indian. But we have learned to deal with such situations. We never complain about such matters unless they get worst. We don't write blogs and spend hours describing about what happened to us and keep judging every Tom, Dick and Harry we meet.

    - Learn to appreciate the opportunity India has given you in learning about its religion and languages. I know you Americans have a hard time being grateful, but learn to express your gratitude instead of demeaning Indian men and their mentality all the time.

    - Don't think your country is all powered and certainly don't think that you can or your politicians can get India to do whatever you want.

    Good luck with your research.

    1. Dear Ganesh,

      I find your tone very rude and inflammatory. I don't fully understand why you have such animosity towards me for the work I am doing, but if I have written something that offends you I sincerely apologize. If you read more than the above post, you will see easily that my concerns are not just for American women but for all women, American, European, Asian, and especially Indian. As I have posted previously, I coordinate with Self Defense programs in Delhi run by local Indians and have taught Self Defense in India. So this particular post (written nearly 3 months ago) should not be taken as a stand-alone post indicating that my concern is only for American.s Rather, I know that the vast majority of my readers are from the US, so I wanted to encourage them to do something productive.

      As for the content of this blog, I would like to point out that women are mistreated everywhere in the world. We are harassed and raped in the US, Europe and probably everywhere else. India is certainly no exception. What I and the many Indian friends I have made over the years find appalling is that still today women in India are taught at a young age that if they are harassed or bothered it is their fault, that boys are allowed to say and do whatever because "boys will be boys." Street harassment and gang rapes occur at a higher frequency in India than in other parts of the world. This is a problem that I and many others believe can be fixed and should be fixed. I am not casting blame on Indian men. I am saying as many countless Indian women also say that men or boys should be taught to respect women, not demean them. There is no judgement behind this statement, merely statement of fact. I love India and want to see it change so that everyone can feel safe in India, men and women whether Indian or foreign. If you see blame or judgement, then you are reading that into my words yourself. Fact is not slander. If I were arguing that India is unsafe and no one should visit, then yes that would be slander. But I would never argue that because I firmly believe India is a wonderful place and I want everyone to feel safe visiting. So I write, teaching women about Self defense strategies so that they can feel more comfortable traveling and I write about events so that my readers can be more informed about what goes on in India. Educating is not the same as slander.

      I also have extreme sympathies for Indians who have been bullied or harassed in the States. I have several close friends that has happened to and that too needs to change. I have several colleagues who work in Violence Prevention programs designed to address issues of bullying in the US in schools, in the workplace and wherever else.

      But these horrible things are why I write and why I maintain this blog. Because for change to come, there must be an honest evaluation of the truth of what occurs no matter how ugly so that all over the world things can change little by little. I know very well that the US has no real power to do anything to change the situation. But rather than simply sit and think "Wow it sucks, but there is nothing I can do" I choose to be active and use my blog to communicate with others to share ideas and resources. I am sorry that you feel so strongly that nothing can change that you believe women (and perhaps yourself) must simply accept whatever ill treatment you receive. Certainly in the moment we have to find ways to deal with these things practically, but that doesn't mean everyone has to live their life in fear of being bullied, harassed, or worse.

      In short, I am sorry you find what I write so offensive to your sensibilities. I know many women, Indian and foreign, have benefited from the resources I have provided in my others posts on self defense strategies. Thank you for your well wishes on my research. I hope your work goes well.

      Erin H. Epperson

  4. Thanks for making the honest effort to discuss this. I feel very sturdy approximately it and wish to read more. If it’s OK, as you achieve more in depth knowledge, could you thoughts including extra articles very similar to this one with more information? It would be extremely useful and helpful for me and my friends.