This article by Michaela Cross, an American student who visited India has gone viral and led to a massive trail of comments, several facebook shares followed by comments there, several ireport articles in response to either michaela’s own article, or to other articles posted in response to her article. At this point, I honestly don’t know what I feel. In fact, I have even lost what the point of debate here is. Is it whether CNN should have published this article or not? Is it whether her account has any element of truth or not? Or is it about whether some individual experiences are substantial enough to write rather venomously about an entire population?
I do feel that CNN publishing an account gives it additional verity and authority and in this case it’s unwarranted, because very few people would read CNN’s fine-print that this is not their opinion. Not because of what it said, but because of its tendency to generalise and indirectly portray an entire population where men are savage and sexual predators. It also makes us Indian women look stupid, that we still continue to enjoy our life in India. Nevertheless, it doesn’t negate the fact that I am not very encouraging of my international friends visiting India. I know that I’d hate to tell them to dress a certain way and that I can’t the responsibility of their safety. There is NO safety unless they only visit cities like Bangalore (which I find comparatively safer) and are always escorted by an Indian who would take them to the “right” places.
About my second question, There is no debate about whether what she described was true or not. It is all true and most women have experienced some or all of the incidents she described. While many Indians have gone ahead and apologised to her on behalf of Indians, there are also others who have pointed out her lack of knowledge of the Indian culture despite being a student of South Asian Studies. Some women have come forward and written articles describing their experience in India which was nothing like this and have mentioned how sexual harassment is a global phenomena. These women have been vehemently opposed on grounds of trivialising Michaela’s ordeal. In fact when these women have given examples of sexual harassment in other countries, some people have even called their examples as isolated events. I beg to differ. Sexual harassment is not an isolated event anywhere. The scale, yes, the scale might be smaller than India, but these countries are also smaller in population and area. Again I don’t mean to imply that it should be directly proportional to the population or area.
But a lot of people are making a healthy discussion impossible if someone even so much as questioned her judgment in visiting certain places. Please don’t get me wrong here. I earnestly feel that safety is a basic right and it should be available unconditionally. It should never be subject to terms like you’ll be safe if you dress appropriately, or don’t go out at night, or don’t visit certain parts of the city. But in the absence of this, men and women alike must exercise sensible caution, until the day that safety is no more a issue, but a given. Michaela could have specifically mentioned the places she visited to help others and substantiate her own article.
I sincerely feel that giving examples of how this exists in other parts of the world doesn’t mean that it’s therefore okay for it to exist in India. The reason people have mentioned this is to avoid India being a target as this article indirectly does. I have faced similar situations in Sheffield, UK which was otherwise a very safe place. But once on my way back home, a drunkard started stalking me and there was NO-ONE on the road for about a mile. This doesn’t make me want to generalise and say that UK is unsafe for women. I was randomly hugged by a guy on the street when I was doing vox-pop for my class. That didn’t make me venomously discard England as there were other things that defined England. Not just these incidents. The focus of Michaela’s article is misleading. It tends to imply that foreigners are treated in this way in India as a rule. That’s not true, that just further complicates a problem. India IS a regressive, patriarchal society. But is India a one-off case in the world? Are women so safe in US? Are there no rape cases? In that case, it can’t be country-specific. It’s more a matter of degree than of kind. Unfortunately, the discrimination against women is far more deep set that just at a country or culture specific level. It’s probably part of something like a collective gene pool.
What then is the conclusion? Personally, I think CNN could have tried to add value to the article by asking more data to substantiate an extremely traumatic experience. It would have made a better case. Writing so venomously about an entire country is very biased and shows lack of any journalistic fairness whatsoever. Shouldn’t she have published this then? Absolutely not. She did the right thing in putting it out there, but I sincerely feel that when you write something when you have so much emotional baggage, a personal blog is a better platform. It doesn’t help if the international community is antagonized and scared of coming to India. It only increases the problem that arises out of lack of exposure to progressive values. It especially is harmful when such comments are made against a third-world country which anyway is subjected to significant skepticism. Yes, the western countries ARE comparatively safer, more developed, with better standards of living…but even so, India is not a place that people should be afraid to visit. Cautious, yes! But it helps to be cautious in any new place. I went through the fear and psychosis associated with being a single woman traveller even in Spain and UK. What makes the article lopsided is the after effect that it leaves us with. A lot of people are going to think that the moment they land here, they’d be filmed, groped, leered at, raped. But that is part of the truth…not the complete story.