I have always loved seeing new things and going to new places. I have been lucky enough to travel from a very young age – the first time I ever sat on an aeroplane was when I was just one and a half years old. Since then I have visited lots of different countries and experienced a variety of different cultures. I even travelled around Europe by myself last year – I went interrailing across five countries.
Unsurprisingly, I have also visited my native country India many, many times. I have been travelling in India too as my family – be they my parents, my uncles and aunts, or my cousins – have always taken me to numerous states and cities across India. It is something I have always thoroughly enjoyed.
However, as I have gotten older, the visits to India have increasingly accompanied words of warning, given by concerned family members of the dangers of being a young girl/woman in India. In particular, of being careful to avoid men and unwanted attention.
Much of the advice to be careful has been in the form of dressing and behaving conservatively, which includes, in the past wearing Indian outfits and now being covered up whether in Indian or English outfits; only venturing out and about with family members familiar with the area; and in general avoiding taking what family would call undue risks.
Whereas this doesn’t sound like much, these limitations permeate into the smallest tasks and in to each and every day. It starts with little decisions such as whether I should wear this top, if it isn’t too low cut or whether I should risk wearing a skirt at all (long or short) and goes all the way to decisions such as travelling around the rest of India.
I recently visited India for a cousin’s wedding and I was very seriously considering travelling to the state of Kerala in south India. Nearly everyone I spoke to tried to talk me out of it. Not like last year when I travelled around Europe solo. I was constantly warned of the dangers of travelling alone in a country where men stare, tease and relentlessly harass women. I was constantly reminded of the numerous rape cases that had occurred over the past few years.
It definitely scared me and made me rethink the whole idea, and while I appreciate the sentiment behind everyone’s words, it also made me sad to think that I may never be able to explore this incredible country without a man by my side. As an independent woman and a feminist, this made me even sadder, as I shouldn’t NEED a man for anything.
However, if I now think about this rationally, India has a population of more than one billion people. Not ALL the men are bad, despite constant reminders that this is the case. Of course, it is better to be safe than sorry. But surely, it is not as bad as everyone has led me to believe.
I don’t say this in complete naivety, as I have been on the receiving end of uncomfortable attention, bordering on harassment. But it is not, and should not be taken as indicative of an entire country’s male population.
High profile events in recent years have thrust India, its men and their treatment of women into the international spotlight. While this is a serious issue, again, the actions of a few are not indicative of an entire population – just as we wouldn’t judge the entire UK population for one person’s actions, the same should go for India and its population.
I would like to think that if I travelled across India, I would meet a variety of different men, of all walks of life, who are normal, kind and respectful of women and would not make me feel uncomfortable in their presence. Men who would have interesting stories to tell of their lives, of where they live, what they do to survive and of their families.
While I mostly only have family members to reflect on when thinking about men in India, I do have a very distinct memory of meeting a very nice Indian man when I was in my early teens on my way to India. When I am doubting the men of India, it makes me rethink my views as he was so kind to me and made my journey fun. I made the plane journey to India by myself for the first time when I was 13 – my uncles and aunts picked me up from the airport – and I was sat next to this Indian businessman who was travelling home to Bangalore after a business visit to London.
As a young girl travelling by aeroplane for the first time, the journey was quite daunting and speaking to this man made the time fly and put me completely at ease – I was no longer nervous or worried. While I can’t remember who spoke to whom first, I do remember us talking about our lives, why we’re travelling and to where. He spoke of his wife and kids – I think he said he has a daughter or two. I remember being relaxed and laughing and even that he let me use his laptop! Who lets a random kid touch their tech nowadays? No one I know that’s for sure. At the time, computers and laptops were still relatively new and exciting, and instead of being condescending, he passed his laptop over and let me explore.
It’s a lovely memory which always makes me think fondly back to how that trip to India started off in a such a nice way. It also makes me believe that not all men in India are out to tease and harass women. The sad thing is that I don’t have many memories to back up my belief.
I would love to hear about all the random acts of kindness men in India have shown to others, both men and women. Not all people are bad and I refuse to believe that India is a ‘country of rapists’ as many media headlines have stated.
I think it’s time the men of India got some positive publicity.
If you have a positive experience or story to share, comment below. And share on social media.