Saturday, May 18, 2013

"They don't exist"

When I told people I was going on holiday to India, many asked me why? Why would I holiday from a country with horrendous traffic, pollution, and sexual harassment to another country with horrendous traffic, pollution, and sexual harassment? Why not something fun and easy, like Spain or Greece?

I love India. It's my home away from home away from home (the other two being the US and Egypt). I love the craziness, the colors, the sounds, and yes, even the smells (maybe not so much the BO but more the spices, the incense, the flowers).

So here I am, in India. I'm visiting a friend in Bangalore and we will go tomorrow to Goa and later to and around Mysore. We are spending a lot of time with her mother, who I love. She is one of the nicest, kindest people I know.

Earlier this afternoon we started talking about the men on the street. I told her how Cairo has obviously scarred me. I see groups of young men and I instinctively tense up. It's a bit difficult to breathe and I brace myself for some kind of altercation. This is not normal, but after being groped and dragged from a moving car in Cairo (why? I'm assuming because I had the audacity to walk on the street) one does tend to make these assumptions.

Both countries' media portray sexual harassment and assault in a light way. I've seen numerous Egyptian movies where a guy will be slapping, hitting, punching, shoving a woman and the scene is obviously meant to be humorous. Despite all of our flaws, I can hardly imagine sexual assault being portrayed in such a way in the States. Our movie stars may be hoochie mamas, but our sexual assaulters are always the bad guys. According to my friend's mom, many Bollywood movies are the same too.

Like Egypt, the society here is quickly becoming increasingly conservative. Where five years ago women could wear basically whatever they want, now many choose to dress more conservatively so as to not attract attention or be harassed on the street. This is most definitely the case in Egypt. During my parents' and grandparents' time, apparently women walked around Cairo in short skirts and tank tops. Now I change out of my work clothes--which by definition are not sexy and cover the mandatory knees and shoulders--to walk home many times. Instead of wearing pants, I'll wear a long skirt, for example.

My friend's mom said her maid likes it when her husband beats her--it means he cares. This is apparently a not uncommon belief among sectors of the lower class here. Men too believe women like being beaten. I have not hear this belief exactly in Egypt, but I would not be surprised were it common.

Like Egypt, there are plenty of motor scooters (although unlike Egypt, women ride on them and even drive the vehicles themselves). I noticed when a man and a woman would be on the scooter the man would always have a helmet and the woman would have no protection. I commented on this, saying I was surprised and would have thought the men would give up his helmet for the lady on the back, most  likely his sister, friend, or wife--someone dear.

"They don't exist," answered my friend Shruti, referring to the women.

On a lighter note, as I was writing this the power cut--just like in Egypt. Ahh. It's like I'm home. 

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