18 months after the notorious New Delhi gang rape case we land in India. It’s 2:30 am, Mumbai and the atmosphere is murky and tense. 20 minutes after trying to locate the boy running the Coffee counter in the airport arrivals area a big blue sign is seen with the numbers of several taxi companies – written on the bottom of the sign, explicitly, it notes that the numbers are to be used ‘exclusively for the disabled, and women’
An interesting part about travelling, specifically from the West to the East, is comparing timelines. The last time I was in India was summer 2012. Fluctuating narratives on gender, power and culture existed then as well, however, the gang rape in New Delhi that took place 5 months after my departure cast the brightest international light on the questions and concerns on women and sexuality that were already moving through Indian soil. And now, a full year and a half after rape became the explosive global headline of the Indian nation, one begins to associate every change in the country with the events of December 2012. The sign, the gun wielding guards, the women in tight clusters, the paranoid urgency existing between formal male and women interactions. Is it a reaction? Or are we different simply because. Are the Bihari women sitting in groups at the Mumbai airport at 2 AM as aware of the issue to the level we are as we glide off Air India from a 9 hour flight from London. Are they more scared or more free? Are women now more comfortable wearing plunging necklines or are they now more reserved? These are the questions that emerge early in the morning while I fork over 1000 rupees for 5 coffees and a vegetable puff-things are certainly more expensive.
Now, let’s get back to the sign: it hangs in the background in a manner that seems taunting. I keep looking back at its dull blue paint and feel the same sense of exasperation and confusion one feels when you’re offered well-intentioned but unreasonable advice. A sort of formal billboard equivalent to ‘make sure there’s a boy to drive you girls home’. There would be a reflexive gasp from 3rd wave feminists and Western Liberals when viewing this sign. And silent indignation followed with loud exclamations – Exclusive protection of women? Leaving out men? Equating the strength and capacity of a woman to navigate herself alone to that of a handicapped human? You meet these thoughts with poor appreciation. And then you sit down, sip your coffee and take in the context. Staring at the dingy walls of the Airport and the guards not able to make eye contact with you – perhaps the sign had its place.
What is India?
- It is the low hum of the air conditioner, the distant rumble of a motorcycle, and a cry to purchase coconut. India is the dirt and garbage of its streets, it is the traffic that is unintelligible, the street side shops which are unending, and a bleary-eyed incompetence that seems to hangs off some locals like sweat.
- This country is the sum of its parts which make up an incomplete whole, constantly dividing itself into useless portions which have ceased to make sense. In this nation, which was once unified in an effort to break free from the oppressive chains of imperialism, it is so easy to see how we are still victims of a legacy which has left us stunted. It is so easy to see that we have burdened ourselves with new chains; we have willingly walked straight into traps which we have set for ourselves. The traps of complacency, indignity and loaded indifference.
- India is a hot stove top waiting for a kettle to boil over from a new victim so that our attention will, once again, be focused at the helm of destruction.
- A country which beckons you towards the depths of a nuanced, simmering cynicism because of its astounding poverty, deplorable conditions, and inescapable heat.
- India is a victim of rape.
What does it mean to be a woman in India?
For some, it is a place to push boundaries and to prove them wrong. It might mean to struggle and to worry. It frequently means to be subject to the age-old, but not religiously introduced, patriarchy which demeans, disturbs and destroys. Subject to expectations so unreasonable that a modern woman has no choice but to break free from what the horde considers to be tradition. A woman in India is victim to her socio-economic status, her family, her neighbours, her teachers and her bosses.
Recently, the women of India are prey less frequently to the aggression of the drunken wanderer, but are still targets of the tyranny of the wandering eye. Recently, the women of India have been given some semblance of a voice; they have been afforded what could pathetically be considered ‘opportunity’. But, for most women in India, to be of their gender is to be smaller, to apologize, to wander wide-eyed in despair, to cower, and to grow resentful.
What does it mean to be a woman in India?
We are trying to find out.