नहीं आदमी (No Men)

I think that if I did not have exposure to some of the men that I’ve worked with on my actual project, I would come back from India hating all men.
This entry has been a long time coming.

Everywhere I go in Faridabad I get stared at. The staring is not bad, actually. It’s a curiosity – I think there is maybe twenty white people in this city, and we’re all volunteering. The three of us here at our project are the only non-Indians I’ve seen in my entire sector (district of the city). The “Huh. White person?” look is fine.
For a large majority of the men, however, their stares are different. Male heads turn to follow me. Heads will poke out of windows of cars. Drivers of tractors will nearly run into cows so they can continue watching me as they pass me on the street.
About half of those men will also say lewd things and make kissing noises. It’s kind of pathetic, actually. Because the way they say lewd things and the suggestions they make only underscore that they have absolutely zero sexual experience at all and part of me really wishes that saying something about them not being man enough for me as I don’t play with boys (which I could actually get across using Hindi) wouldn’t get me in more trouble.

On the streets, particularly in crowds, asses and breasts are grabbed. A policeman cornered another volunteer and asked suggestively for her phone number. They do this to Indian women too. It’s called “eve-teasing.” Only recently did it become a punishable offense, but it’s kind of taken in the boys will be boys way. And when the policeman are just as guilty as the average joe on the street, why would you go to the police about it?

And there are a lot of boys.
Wherever I go, it seems like the men outnumber the women. A conjecture could be (and has been) made about the rise of the medical and financial ability of the middle class to determine the sex of a fetus before its birth being linked to this.

Not only do they outnumber the women, but they’ve been coddled and favored their entire lives. The boys in the classes I’ve taught speak over the girls, push them around and act like complete brats. They’re patted on their heads and this behavior is practically condoned by the Indian teachers. In the children’s class, there’s a boy who occasionally shows up who knows more English than the girls and gets all smart ass at whomever is teaching about it. Worse, managing them means we can’t focus on the girls, which is why we’re here. Yet no one seems to understand why we can’t teach them too (what’s one more person)?

The boys are used to getting their own way and get physical when they don’t. Wendy (who is one of the most outgoing people I’ve ever met) started giving some of the group of 10 year old boys near our project high fives. Which was cute the first time, I suppose. They now follow Katherine (the new volunteer) and me holding their hands up and they hit us when we ignore them. One boy grabbed my arm and pulled hard on my shawl, practically choking me.

When I’m in Delhi, I have my photo taken by random guys and I’m told that they then show their friends the photo and make up some story about their Western girlfriend that puts out. Most of the guys take my photo without asking, though every now and then one will walk up and ask to take my photo with me and then follow me around asking Why? Why? when I say no. This has happened to me at every tourist area I’ve been to so far, but it seems to be worse here in Delhi. In Faridabad, volunteers have been followed for blocks and blocks by men, who will then loiter outside of whatever business they duck into to try to loose them and wait for hours for them to come out. This hasn’t happened to me (that I’ve noticed) yet, but it is common.

But the absolute worst – even more than the pathetic cat calls – is when the stares are taken to another level. This is usually when I cannot leave (like, sitting in a rickshaw waiting for the rickshaw to move into traffic when the rickshaw driver’s friend jumps in the car to “talk” to his friend. And stare at me). Leering is not even the right word for it. A leer is when they look at you and you can tell that they’re thinking about you naked, or thinking about you in a general sexual manner. There are times when the leer is taken to a level where I know exactly what they’re thinking and not only is it sexual but it’s downright rape. So I’m trapped there. He’s not doing anything but looking at me, but the look in his eyes is such where I can almost feel him holding me down and forcing himself on me. I’m not psychic, obviously. But they’re not very good at filtering their facial expression and at the end of these incidents I feel violated and dirty and used and I want nothing more than a hot shower to scrub myself clean and have a good cry.

Today we started a new English class with a different group of women. We’re on the roof teaching, and I notice a group of teenage boys sitting on a nearby roof, pointing at us. A few minutes later, they’re on our roof, just staring at us while we’re teaching. As Wendy pointed out, they’re usually staring at me. Wendy isn’t old by any means, but she’s of an age that draws respect here. I’m not. Another man, who watched the entire class and I think is related to one of the women in the group we were teaching, laughed at the women’s pronunciations of the English. I left so angry about the men invading the class I was teaching, and in the future I will be very adamant about नहीं आदमी. No men. Or boys, as the case may be.

I can’t think of an environment that needs women’s education and empowerment more. These women and girls absolutely blossom when they’re in the all women classroom environment. Even when their young sons enter the room the dynamic shifts. The ten year old boy attempts to take over the class, corrects his mother or sister. Because he knows some amount of English and she doesn’t. The boys always seems shocked and pouty when we tell them to be quiet. Like they’ve never been told that before.

Part of me wonders if this ten year old boy will grow up to use his English to harass women on the street.

I know that all the men aren’t like this. It’s a large country with over a billion people in it. If more than half of them are men, that’s a lot of people to generalize about.
But it does get to me. The grabs and minor physical harassment I can handle well enough – smack them and yell loudly, as the Indian women do. But the daily, constant stares and objectification? It erodes at my ability to look forward, to meet men in the eye (which, apparently, only prostitutes and western women do), to do what I’m bloody here to do. And I hate it. I hate it so much. I want to scream at every man that stares at me. I hate that instead of screaming or being proactive, I avert my eyes and walk past, ignoring them. I hate that I sit there in the rickshaw and just take the visual rape because there’s nothing for me to do without making the situation worse.

It absolutely boggles my mind that a culture can allow this as a relative norm, that whatever percentage of decent Indian men that actually exist would allow this to be the representative of their gender.
Do you hear that, Indian men?

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2 Responses to नहीं आदमी (No Men)

  1. Йоана says:

    I’m so glad I was directed to this post. I think it’s extremely important to write/talk about this, and I think you’ve done it brilliantly.

    I spent 8 months in India in 2005/6 and I got stared at, leered at, sang at, shouted obscenities at, groped, stalked, catcalled, followed around, taken my picture stealthily, etc. ALL THE TIME. In my whole life before that (23 years of it), I’d been harassed occasionally, maybe a dozen times total. For 8 months in India, basically not a day went by without my being harassed in one way or another. At first I cried and felt horribly humiliated, then I went to the police, then I started punching them or smacking them, or even kicking them – I’d never felt such profound feeling of vengeance in my whole life, and I’d thought I’m completely incapable of violence. I think this goes to show just how dehumanizing, how oppressive this type of harassment is.

    And I saw this happen to Indian women all the time too. Calling it “eve teasing” infuriated me, because that’s so obviously a way to downplay its harmfulness.

    I’m so glad there are/have been people like you in India who are willing to talk about this. I wish Indian women speedy change with all my heart.

  2. Pingback: And The Heat Begins | mis·trans·la·tion

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