While I knew that day would eventually come, it’s now just a few weeks away. Many around me have already been asking about what I’ve liked or not liked about being in India. The Indians asking won’t know – not until I tell them – that they themselves are what I’ll miss the most about India. The warmth and hospitality of most people I've met in this country, especially in the south. I already know I won't encounter this kind of human warmth, except perhaps in Newfoundland and the Maritimes in Canada. What makes it so special and rare, if you like, is that it is natural without an iota of pretension.
The list of not-so-great things I won't miss at all are the often tiresome inconveniences, the horrific air and water pollution, and the way most women are treated in this country. I will never fully understand why the contradictions are so stark in India. Is it the colonial past which is speaking through Indians as they talk to white skinned westerners? I just can't understand how the many well educated and polite Indian men I meet won't extend the same courtesy to women of their own culture.
I can only count my blessings I'm no longer a young woman. I'd be dealing with the sexism and bullying of Indian men who tease, grab and often act like assholes. Most of them – the way I see it – have simply not grown into men, and I at times wonder if they ever will. They are boys whose parents in the "son loving" families have spoilt them rotten and not prepared them to respect the other half of humanity. Yes, they revere their mothers, but no, they cannot see or treat women as equals. And neither did western men until women took up the torch and changed the way we are treated as a result. Change is seldom if ever voluntary.
Yes. I won't miss hearing the horrific stories told by so many Indian women whose husbands have left them with babies and infants to raise and take back to their own first families while the hubby decided to switch to a newer model. Not that this is unknown outside of India, but here there is so very little in the family law to protect the women monetarily or socially. This country desperately needs family law reform to protect the rights of women in so many areas. Instead, it still is prevalent to see everyone blaming the woman as if the husband's sexual appetite is her fault or the victims of rape invite to be raped. Witnessing these events unfolding has certainly rekindled my old fighter instincts as a woman and as a social activist. At least I've been given great opportunities to speak with the many women here to learn more about their resilience and tremendous capacity for survival.
As a white western woman who has worked here in a western company, I meet the educated and privileged Indians – men and women. I've yet to meet though an Indian man who treats his female colleague with the same respect as he showers on the men in the office. Men interruput women when they are talking – I'm probably the only one who reminds them not to do so. Or, they simply ignore women's input and do so because they can. The women have not yet learned to tell them to put a sock in it!
Perhaps my most vivid memory is when I was asked to participate on a panel of speakers to celebrate the International Women's Day. I was one of 2 women managers invited to speak; the rest were "honorary" women, i.e., men who were invited because they had titles, such as Director, or Sr. Manager attached to their names! It still beats me how the organizers could not even fathom of inviting on the panel a few MBA’s from the sea of women in the audience who were all professional young women starting their corporate careers. The least I could do was to remind them – firmly nevertheless – that they really should not expect men to give them their rights or even opportunities – the only way to get them is to go claim them with other women!
I didn't intend to go on and on about the sexism, but it is alive and well in India. I can only hope that the many vigils and demonstrations that have been held here in the aftermath of the gang rapes will result in legal changes and legislation to protect women's rights. The Indian men are about to have their concsiousness raised in a hurry while others among them will continue to be threatened as their privileges are questioned. Let's see what 2014 brings as the national election year.