Women’s Safety Issues and Precautions in India

Nobuko is back in India and reporting about the general situation in regards to women, safety (or lack of it), and men’s attitudes. This is what she had to say:

Safety in India cannot be generalized. Certain areas are more challenging for women travellers, most notably Delhi which got a notorious reputation as the rape capital, and central and north-western states like Rajasthan, part of Punjab, Utter Pradesh, Bihar, and central Maharashtra.

I can speak for Mumbai (capital of Maharashtra) since I lived in a suburb called Santa Cruz, one hour north of the center, for three months last year. In Mumbai, I could go out till well past midnight and catch a auto rickshaw back to my place alone with no problem. No cat- calling, whistles, or groping. But I have met some European women accompanied by men being groped on streets or in trains, which are so packed!

Perhaps I got no hustle in Mumbai, because I am Asian and can appear as Nepali or someone from the northeastern states of India. Having said that, a young professional woman was raped and killed in her apartment last September in a suburb of Mumbai. The killer/rapist was the security guard of the building where she lived. And, to strengthen the stereotype, the stereotypes are from the Delhi area.

South India is like a different country, where people are civilized and many more people are educated and see women as people, not as meat. Well, even this cannot be generalized as I have heard from so many Caucasian women that in the city of Mysore, boys around age 8-9 spit out slurs like “Hey, you want f*@k?” and grope adult women! Clearly they are learning this type of behavior from older males around them.

I also have been to Sikkim state and have gone through Darjeeling in West Bengal state. There it feels very safe. I noticed a bigger Tibetan and Nepalese population. and I don’t want to come across as being racist against central and northern Indians, but I could not help guessing that perhaps Tibetans and Nepalis have a different upbringing, which gave me the impression that they are more liberal in terms of how they relate to women. Perhaps they have more self control, or getting more sex with consenting partners that they don’t feel the need to go out and rape fellow human beings.

Unfortunately, the Swiss rape victim a few weeks ago was camping (!!). I would NEVER dream of camping where she was – Madhy Pradesh, in central India, no matter if accompanied by a man or alone. If she had stayed in a guest house, I am sure nothing would have happened to her. I feel very bad for her, but here in India, visitors need to realize that they cannot do things that they are used to doing back home – including enjoying the freedom and safety to be able to camp.

Men in those areas I mentioned above are raised, in my opinion, in sick societies where respect towards women is probably unheard of. Even police and officials make public statements that justify such uncontrolled acts of men releasing their sexual compulsion by saying “Well, but she was walking / travelling alone after dark without the company of a male family member” or “She was drinking and smoking alone” or “She was improperly dressed, therefore provoking it”. This problem of violence and disrespect against women is more than skin deep as you can see.

If people in power think like this, why are we so puzzled when men raised with this type of norm go out and do whatever they want using women as their game?  They think of not only raping a helpless woman, but also hurt her by sticking a metal rod inside of her to the point where irreversible and fatal physical damages are caused?

Women in certain areas are not able to enjoy the same freedom as men do,  like going to a football game, drinking in a bar, going to visit friends after dark, or even travel to the next village alone. If she does, it’s her fault when men selfishly use her as an object to satisfy their pitiful sexual needs. Have any of these lower-than-animals thought of masturbating instead of raping? Masturbation is humane, hygienic, and convenient.

More and more I am learning that rape happens so much that people are desensitized. It’s like “Oh, yeah, my neighbor was raped last week.” “Ah, my cousin was raped last month”. But these normally happen to poor girls who are in the lower caste. And rapists are often sons of equally dick heads who hold power in politics or commerce.  So the cases go unreported.

In December, a case in Delhi made headlines, because it involved a middle class Indian woman, whose father was somewhat involved in local politics. That is why it became such a big news world wide.

And the Swiss woman was a foreigner, so there again, this made it to the news. But if the rape victim is of the lowest caste, there is no such luck, because caste society does not give a shit about those people – actually they are not considered human. Just another animal that does the jobs the others don’t want to do.

All this may result in my losing opportunities to interact with the locals, but the more time I spend (again, in certain places) in India, the more I feel it is not worth the risk of being harassed.

I’m iron-hard and cold towards Indian men. I give them dirty looks when they stare at me and am not afraid to make a scene by yelling at them to catch other people’s attention. when those scum bags approach me with distasteful, to say the least, behavior and comments.

Thanks, Nobuko, for sharing your insights here with us.

Notes from Bengalulu

Nobuko, the travel writer, posting from Bangalore/Bengalulu.

3 August 2012 from Bengalulu

The last bit of my trip was spent in a place which ended up being my favorite: Bangalore/Bengalulu.

From Pune I took a flight to Bengalulu. This was not my original plan, but I had met a very nice person from there (my travel companion on the leg from Udaipur to Jaipur), and I decided to visit him. The city is large enough without being too big. They even have a metro / subway line which, unlike the DC metro, announces which station they are arriving next. I did not get any stares or harassment which I was getting so accustomed to.

And there are bars – including one place called straight out “BAR”. Knowing that once I got to Mumbai, I could not indulge myself in any decadent pleasure of drinking, I made sure that I enjoyed it.

My friend Mansoor took me out on Wednesday night since it was ladies’ night, when we heavenly women can drink for FREE (until 10pm).  It was great fun, seeing women enjoying themselves dancing and dressed in sexy outfits. I felt so out of place dressed in a kurti and a baggy outfit which was well suitable for other places in India. Women were even smoking!!  This is a phenomenon that is not seen in the north.

The only disappointment was that bars close at 11:30pm, after which you are thrown out onto the streets, left to your own device to find food places that are still open to keep extending the night.

The next day was spent doing just fun things, although we did not have any solid plan. It was actually pretty fun meandering around the streets aimlessly and coming up with ideas to go to the planetarium – a brilliant place! But I fell asleep during the super relaxing Moon Show. The botanical garden was also very nice to be away from the traffic noise which can be relentless… but the highlight, I must say, was the Musical Fountain, a water show accompanied by lights and music. It was so entertaining and cost only 10rupees! We felt privileged to be part of the four human beings in the audience,  along with three sleepy dogs who just rested there beside us throughout  the fantastic show.

And of course, we had to go out again that night. Mansoor’s friend, who has an impeccable timing of doing and saying things that end up being very funny without trying, came along and added a zest to the night. We spent the night in the fabulous roof top bar on the 16th floor, with an unobstructed view of the city and a very futuristic decor with a lit up floor that changed the color in a moody way. Again, the place closed at 11:30pm, but we carried on at the house of the funny guy.

I really wanted to have a few more days there, but I had to go to Mumbai. I had arrived there about one week earlier and joined the health camp at the Yoga Institute. I hated the first three days, because I could not transition from doing whatever I want, whenever I want to.

I cannot leave the campus and I have to abide by a strict schedule. But now I feel OK. Today is my birthday and I got sick with the flu, but my classmates / camp mates sang me a happy birthday song and this made me cry.

I am learning a lot of songs with such poetic and touching lyrics. I will try to get a translation of one of my favorites and send it to you soon.

All is well.  Now you won’t be hearing from me so much since I stay put here until the end of October. Thanks for reading.  Next time I hope to be writing from Turkey in November (funny, saying this made me think of Thanksgiving) if things go as planned.

Notes from Ajanta and Ellola, India

This is Nobuko’s latest travel update. Since I offered to let Nobuko post here, she has become an avid writer. Way to go, girl!

21 July 2012 – From Udaipur to

Flew from Udaipur to Aurangabad (via Mumbai). Aurangabad is a town near Ajanta and Ellola, two registered UNESCO sites for their temples curved out of rocks and early Buddhist paintings. And to make this visit a specially happy one, Pratik, one of the six students from Pune, whom I met within the first days of my trip, also joined me there.

We settled on a hostel around 6pm. Pratik is full of energy, so while I was thinking about just lazying around, he was ready to hit the ground right away. So we took a rickshaw right away and went to see the Poor Men’s Taj. Such an unfortunate name for a tomb built by a prince for his mother.

Never mind the nickname, it is a beautiful building fancied up by curved marble walls – how could they make such uniformed and identical carvings without powered tools? According to Pratik, who has been to Taj, this one is a miniature of  the Taj. On the way back to the hostel, I had my eyes on a grilled sweet corn – this one was grilled on charcoal wood and finished with lime juice and masala powder.It was so good.

The following day we went to Ajanta, some 2.5 hours away from Aurangabad by bus. The side wall inside the bus had stains of streaks that looked like someone had violently puked red vomit. Pratik told me this is from people spitting paan, a kind of chewing tobacco.

Ajanta is set in a beautiful place alongside a river running in a U-shape. The caves themselves, columns and figures were carved out of single rocks. They started chiseling from the front-top section of the cave, and continued in and downward, in the process carving out columns and decorations. Impressive, isn’t it? We found a group with a guide in Cave #2 and joined them.

The paintings are badly damaged from the passage of time, weather, CO2 from our breath, as well as from people touching them. Now there are rails that prohibit people from getting close to the remaining intact paintings. The figures are amazingly well painted – very realistic depictions in regards to proportion and details. Many caves had paintings all over the ceilings as well, leaving no blank space.

Some ceilings looked like a Persian carpet – designs so beautiful and intricate. Through studying the paintings, we realized what a cosmopolitan and international place this one was: we saw figures that looked Far East Asian and African, and people carrying umbrellas that had designs from China as well as the Middle East.

After a guided tour, we climbed to a picnic area/look out point on the hill top across the river. There was a waterfall with seven cascading pools. It was a serene place. We managed to enjoy the view for a while and started our descend back to the caves to admire the paintings once more. But my touristy fate had another happening waiting for me just to puncture the day. A young guy we passed was stupid enough to make an indecent verbal assault in English. He probably thought I did not understand English, and that I was alone.

Are you getting tired of hearing about stories of such incidents?  I am – tired of it happening and retelling in emails. But I am telling it to you this time because I want to acknowledge an heroic act by Pratik. I wanted to ignore the remark, but it was the most distasteful of all that I have heard so far, so I confronted the stupid jerk. After Pratik learned what was going on, he took over and defended my honor, so to speak.

There was a bunch of other people watching the scene, and cheered Pratik and encouraged him to keep going. Pratik said it was probably entertaining for them. Good, at least somebody enjoyed it and got a laugh out of it!  And bless Pratik, he will receive an honorable citizen status in Japan if I ever become the prime minister.

Our second round proved to be worthwhile. We found details that we had missed the first time around.

For example, cave #5 is open to the public, but is also used as an administrative office and houses a small artifacts museum. A Buddha statue is in the sanctum in the back. The guard there showed us that this Buddha smiles! It was true. Depending on where we stand and how the shadow is crated, the corners of his mouth go up and you can see that Buddha is smiling.

The following day we visited Ellola, which is only about 40 minutes away. This one is known for its sculptures, caves, columns and figures, carved out of single rocks. We toured the whole site without a guide. The earlier caves are Buddhist, and a style progressing to Hindu, and eventually to Jain. Buddhist caves are simple and minimalist. Hindu caves are more elaborate and decorative. In place of Buddha, you see Vishnu and Shiva as celebrated Gods. The poses are also much more expressive and somewhat provocative.

Cave # 16 is located in the center of the series, and the grandest of all. It has an extensive amount of decoration carved onto any surface people could get to. Pratik told me that Shiva is always accompanied by a bull which is situated directly in front of Shiva, facing him. The bull takes Shiva for a ride, anywhere he needs to go. And Vishnu is depicted reclined with pillows under his head and a lotus flower emerging from his belly button, which capsules his incarnation. Jain figures are nude, but their poses are not so provocative.

After Ellola, we stopped at Daulatabad Fort. We got there at the perfect time, around 5pm, to enjoy the dusk. The crumbled fort looks authentic, because it was largely left to decay, or so it seemed like. There was a dark secret passage way which Pratik wanted to go through. I was enthusiastic in the beginning, but only after a few minutes, light completely disappeared – I mean, pitch dark without a trace of any light.

Bats were flying over our heads. They looked cute, sort of a cross between a piglet and a rat, and they even sound cute. But I am scared of them and their smelly feces. I could not figure how wide or tall the passage way was, so it felt like the walls and ceiling were closing in on me. I felt a shiver of panic run through my body and became breathless. I begged Pratik to take me back to the entrance.

There were a few other Indian guys in the passage way as well and they all encouraged me to continue. But I was so scared.  Pratik took me back to the entrance and went back into that dark tunnel. When I finally got to the exit, Pratik had already beaten me to it and was waiting. Apparently I had only mastered one third of the way.

Once at the top, we went up into the octagonal building. Pratik is so fearless that I envy his guts. He just walked on, out to the beam that protruded from the wall, in his normal stride, and sat himself on the edge of it with a straight face. I managed to get on the beam, but my butt was tingling from the fear of falling, and I sat glued to the wall. While Pratik shifted his body to get the camera out of his back pocket, I almost freaked out just seeing his body sway sideways, on that edge of the beam.  Even afterwards I had a cold sweat running down my back. I am such a coward.

We took a late bus to Pune and arrived past 2 a.m. Pratik was such a gentleman and left me only after I had checked into a hotel (Hotel Surya Villa, nice & clean place).  After getting to know Pratik better, I decided to give him (without his consent) a new nickname. Initially, I could not remember the six students’ names, so I gave nicknames to help me remember each one. Pratik was “Fluffy Hair” because he has lots of lively hair. But after learning how he, despite his young age, carries himself and speaks with such a sense of authority and confidence, his new nickname became “Prince”.

You should see him in dealing with rickshaw drivers and such. I just let him do the negotiations, which he never stretches to more than a minute or two. Then I hop in the rickshaws after the deals are done. And while I don’t understand Hindi or Maharathi, it seemed that rickshaw drivers just end up accepting Pratik’s offer – watching this I got the sense of victory and satisfaction that I so rarely attain on my own.

He should really consider offering workshops for tourists: “How to become a Successful Haggler with Poise and Style in Three Days”.

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