Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Uncomfortable Moments

During my time in India, I realized that there is no such thing as space and privacy.  So far, I’ve had four uncomfortable moments in India.   

Moment #1
On July 25, 2014, a group of us decided to visit Elphanta Island before the monsoons arrived.  The journey to Elephanta consists of a 1 hour ferry ride to the island, costing Rs. 150.  When we tried to go upstairs on the ferry, the crew requested a fee of Rs. 10 per person.  We thought that the group before us was able to get on the top for free, so we started to argue with the crew.  However, a group of men paid for us, and we were able to go up.  Nevertheless, I learned that nothing is free.  While we tried to enjoy the view, the men were constantly bothering us to take pictures with them.  We felt extremely uncomfortable and violated.  One of the men kept harassing my roommate, trying to force her to take a picture with him.  When that failed, he tried to take a picture with only me, trying to coax me into sitting on his lap or kissing him on the cheek.  That incident made all of us extremely uncomfortable for the rest of the trip, especially since we kept seeing that group of men around the island.      

Moment #2                    
While my friends and I were visiting the Elephanta caves, many people also kept taking pictures of us without asking for our permission. 

Moment #3
                On the morning of July 10, when I got off my stop, I was immediately greeted with whistles and cat-calls from the men in the train. 

Moment #4
                During the weekend of July 12, I decided to visit Ellora and Ajanta caves.  There, I was swarmed with many Indians asking to take a photo with me, or taking photos of me without my consent.  It got to the point that I could not walk a couple steps without being asked to take pictures with people.  Even refusing was difficult because I would feel bad when kids asked and it did not stop others from approaching me.      

Moment #5
                 After getting off at CST train station, I flagged down a taxi.  The driver and I began to argue how much the taxi fare should be--the driver wanted 50 rupees, and I was requesting the meter price.  After settling on the meter price, he began to try to talk to me, I felt uncomfortable so I tried not to talk to him as much.  Near where I usually got off, he parked the car in a dark corner between two buses.  Immediately feeling unsafe, I told him I wanted to get off and paid him.  As I began to get out, he reached out to shake my hand.  When I shook his, he used him index finger to stroke my palm.  After that, I immediately got out.   

                To me, all five of these moments violated my privacy and made me feel extremely uncomfortable.  It reminded me about the article by the girl from Chicago, about how uncomfortable she felt in India.
The ferry ride to Elephanta could have been avoided.  If we paid the fee instead of letting the men pay, then we would not have felt that we had to take a couple of photos with them.  I noticed that if we were back in the US, we would have snapped at the men and threatened to report them for sexual harassment; however, since India was not our home country, we all felt that we needed to be respectful and not cause a scene.  Nevertheless, even though the men were clearly in the wrong, we should have made an effort to at least scare them away from harassing us.

When I talked about the ferry ride with someone at my internship, he told me that there was no reason in trying to be respectful towards the men since they were clearly in the wrong.  He told me that they probably treated us like that because of the common misconception that foreigners were “easy.”  He said that if they kept on harassing us even when we said no, we could have yelled at them or even slapped them. 

The photo-taking was extremely overwhelming for me.  When I tried to think about it, I realized that with America, there is a diverse group of people and cultures, and such a thing does not exist in India.  Although the stares and the photography made me uncomfortable, they did not mean any harm.  Many have probably never seen an Asian or Caucasian woman before, so seeing people from other countries is a huge thing.  Also, to us, it seems like we’re overwhelmed by the amount of people asking for photos, but to them, it is only a couple of photos since they cannot tell how many people are asking for photos. 

I’ve also learned that one’s initial impression may not necessarily be correct.  One pair of guys followed me around the temple of Ellora caves, and I was extremely freaked out.  When I took a picture with a family, I was nervous and I tried to stay close to my friends.  Finally, one approached me, and merely asked me for a picture.  After taking pictures with the guys, both left immediately.  Turns out that the two guys were too shy and nervous to approach me until they saw the family ask me.     

 The thing I must stress is that these moments could have happened anywhere in the world, even in your own neighborhood.  I've documented these moments to let people know that even while traveling, one must always still be cautious of his or her surroundings and interactions.

Although I've posted these uncomfortable moments, they should not be used to make any generalizations about India being an unsafe place.  To me, Mumbai is still an amazing city with such a rich culture and amazing people.  These five incidents are only a few of a tremendous amount of different experiences I've had in India.  

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