Once at a workshop on race issues in the United States, I told an African-American colleague, “These race matters are indeed quite serious, I have one suggestion about it.”
“Don’t you have caste system in your country?” she said before I could continue.
During my usual Sunday morning calls to friends and family in India, I shared with a friend who I have known for over eight years, “Man, these sexual harassment stories in India just keep increasing.”
“Does that not happen in your America?”, he snapped.
These and many other similar incidents made me observe a pattern in the reactions. Reaction is not completely based on the content of the original comment. A significant weight on the attribute of the creator of comment goes into that reaction. Attributes can include the location, or gender, or race or countless other dimensions. What would have been the first reaction above if I were African-American? What would have been the reaction of my friend if the same remark was made by an Indian living in India?
This kind of offensive defense describes many of the arguments that many Indians have given in their reaction to the CNN narrative of American citizen Michaela Cross about the alleged sexual harassment she went through at the hands of some Indian men during her travel in India. Often, the statistics about number of rapes in America is quoted in those reactions. Before making comparison of crime statistics, we must take into cognition that rape statistics in India are the proverbial tip of the iceberg. Getting a case registered is a herculean task and the police are often a major hurdle. A few of my closest female friends told me that they have gone through some of the troubles in the recent years that Michaela Cross faced. But their troubles have never been recorded as a statistic in police record because they would never share that with police or anyone they can’t trust or feel comfortable with.
Granted that the veracity of Cross’ story and her intentions behind that story are under scanner now due to some contradicting stories appearing on web about her experiences on the same trip. But interesting irony is that if the same narrative was written by an Indian woman, the dialogue would have taken another shape. There might not be even a dialogue. Incidentally, another blog, written by an Indian woman Sahaja Patel about disrespectful experiences that Indian girls go through could not become the trending piece. Of course, the marketing dollars of CNN’s brand name too had to do with the exposure that Cross’ story received. But Patel’s story did not cause as many Indian readers to act or react. Possibly because they knew it – it was an all too familiar story. Patel is a metaphor for so many Indian babies, girls and women for whom this is an unspoken part of life. Is it any wonder then that not many attempted to defend India from the writings of Sahaja Patel but Michaela Cross’ story got attacked from left, right and center?
To the Indians who point to rape and crime statistics in US in their attempts to defend India’s pride, here are some questions. Are you concerned more about safety of women in India or in the rest of the world? Where do most of your sisters and female relatives live? Even if Europe or North America has more rape cases, would those more cases make any India safer for women? Concluding that all Indian men are predators is grossly inaccurate and dangerous. But is the observation that safety of women is a concern in India (in no relative context, but absolute context) inaccurate? Even if there is one case in a year in all of India, will Indians not be doing disservice to themselves in defending the country by comparing themselves with the countries that are worse? Isn’t even one a matter of shame?
Imagine India being a mass of land that happens to have the name India. People are trying to live on this piece of land productively and there is a safety concern for these people. Whether one of these people highlights this or some visitor to this land points it out, it is in the benefit of the people of this land to acknowledge and fix it. Visitor won’t be always enjoying the benefits of living on this safe land, but people of this land will. For a long time.
Next time when someone points to the alleged acts of Asaram Bapu, please do not mention the history of molestation of young boys at the hands of the priests in the Vatican. That won’t make him holier if the allegations are proved to be true.
PS: “Dude, you have ink on your shirt.”
“You have that too.”