Friday, September 6, 2013

India: The Microcosm That Should Spawn A Revolution

(It should be noted that this post was inspired by the recent posts about the "Save Our Sisters" and their "Abused Goddesses" campaign, as well as comments by friends of mine.)
I've been to India several times with my family. I used to chuckle at my friends in elementary school who, when I told them I was going to India, would ask if I was going to sleep in a tent. If they had cars, or just rode on elephants and rickshaws. If they had toilet paper (admittedly, in some places that question was somewhat valid).

I would chuckle and talk about my grandparents' houses, and the cars (including the auto-rickshaws), and the fact that India was mostly in the twentieth century, even in the rural areas. My mother once told me that India's elementary school education was better than the one I was receiving in the United States - though I would later learn that she was exaggerating to challenge me to learn more and try to match my cousins halfway around the world. I still hear those words ringing in my ears when I think about my life in the U.S.

I take great pride in my Indian heritage, and it's something I strive to know more about (even though I haven't taken as much time to learn the language and customs as I maybe should). I have extremely fond memories of taking walks with my late grandfather there, traveling through jungles, turning my head to take in huge cities, and viewing the most beautiful temples and palaces. In my first long entry on this blog I discussed some of the funnier things in India and my interactions there, but that was pretty tongue-in-cheek.

While I am very proud of that Indian heritage, there are things about the country of India itself in which I am extremely disappointed. And they are summed up and brought into harsh light with this ad campaign:

Normally Buzzfeed is associated with fun lists and lame information aggregations, but this is a particularly good use of the website. This campaign is beautifully designed, and I hope it reaches a great many people, especially in India. As stated in the article,
"The campaign simply and effectively captures India’s most dangerous contradiction: that of revering women in religion and mythology, while the nation remains incredibly unsafe for its women citizens."
Now, I know a lot of Indian people. I know there are good people there, I've seen them. But the bad apples make the reputation, and Indian news lately has been full of them. India tries to pride itself on the fact that it is coming into modern times and on par with the Western world. Unfortunately, even in the Western world some things have not changed the way they should. These news stories of women being abused, raped, tortured, and killed make me sick to my stomach. And it makes me sad for the people who don't know the beauty of India, because these perverse people obscure the good parts. And this doesn't just apply to India, either. These tragedies should hit close to home for all of us. Our so-called "modern Western civilization" is just as guilty of such horrors.

I remember being distracted from admiring the mighty Red Fort because my sisters were clinging to me as we walked through, because there were boys just standing to one side, leering at the girls. At least they were quiet, not making catcalls or grabbing their crotches. Just staring creepily. If I had thought anything I could have said would have made a difference, I would have (And again, I don't fool myself into thinking this only happens in India. As I progress through my medical training, I see this in hospitals far too frequently).

Unfortunately, it's a matter of culture, in so many places. It's the way of thinking, and it has been for generations of misguided men and women. The world over, far too often we see the gut reaction of, when a woman is raped or assaulted, the first questions asked are, "Why did she wear that? Why did she walk through there? Why was she asking for it?" Far too often, the right questions aren't asked: "What was her abuser thinking? Where is he and how can he be stopped from doing this again? How can we make this right?"
That is wrong. And it needs to change.

We can figure out why she wore that dress. It probably wasn't because she wanted every man to know she was "asking for it." For the most part, it was probably because she thought she looked nice in it, and felt like looking good that day. For herself. Not for anyone else. No one should think they have any right to her, or any claim over her. While there is a call for safe behavior that should be heeded, this kind of "ownership thinking" has to stop, not only in India, but everywhere, including the United States. It's disgusting, it's outdated, and while it's slowly becoming less common, it's not changing fast enough.

I don't want to speak in absolutes, and as a medical student and a scientist I don't like to use the words "always" or "never." I know that the sad things I've talked about in this post aren't always the story. But the fact that they happen at all is sad. I started this post as a rant about India and its outdated beliefs and unfortunate way of thinking...but I realized as I wrote it that this topic is globally relevant. It's a universal travesty. And, starting with you and me, it will take a global revolution to resolve it.