India: the Story You Never Wanted to Hear


By RoseChasm

When people ask me about my experience studying abroad in India, I always face the same dilemma. How does one convey the contradiction that over the past few months has torn my life apart, and convey it in a single succinct sentence?

“India was wonderful," I go with, "but extremely dangerous for women.” Part of me dreads the follow-up questions, and part of me hopes for more. I'm torn between believing in the efficacy of truth, and being wary of how much truth people want.

Because, how do I describe my three months in the University of Chicago Indian civilizations program when it was half dream, half nightmare? Which half do I give

Do I tell them about our first night in the city of Pune, when we danced in the Ganesha festival, and leave it at that? Or do I go on and tell them how the festival actually stopped when the American women started dancing, so that we looked around to see a circle of men filming our every move?

Do I tell them about bargaining at the bazaar for beautiful saris costing a few dollars a piece, and not mention the men who stood watching us, who would push by us, clawing at our breasts and groins?

When people compliment me on my Indian sandals, do I talk about the man who stalked me for forty-five minutes after I purchased them, until I yelled in his face in a busy crowd?

Do I describe the lovely hotel in Goa when my strongest memory of it was lying hunched in a fetal position, holding a pair of scissors with the door bolted shut, while the staff member of the hotel who had tried to rape my roommate called me over and over, and breathing into the phone?

How, I ask, was I supposed to tell these stories at a Christmas party? But how could I talk about anything else when the image of the smiling man who masturbated at me on a bus was more real to me than my friends, my family, or our Christmas tree? All those nice people were asking the questions that demanded answers for which they just weren't prepared.

When I went to India, nearly a year ago, I thought I was prepared. I had been to India before; I was a South Asian Studies major; I spoke some Hindi. I knew that as a white woman I would be seen as a promiscuous being and a sexual prize. I was prepared to follow the University of Chicago’s advice to women, to dress conservatively, to not smile in the streets. And I was prepared for the curiosity my red hair, fair skin and blue eyes would arouse.


But I wasn't prepared.

There was no way to prepare for the eyes, the eyes that every day stared with such entitlement at my body, with no change of expression whether I met their gaze or not. Walking to the fruit seller's or the tailer's I got stares so sharp that they sliced away bits of me piece by piece. I was prepared for my actions to be taken as sex signals; I was not prepared to understand that there were no sex signals, only women's bodies to be taken, or hidden away.

I covered up, but I did not hide. And so I was taken, by eye after eye, picture after picture. Who knows how many photos there are of me in India, or on the internet: photos of me walking, cursing, flipping people off. Who knows how many strangers have used my image as pornography, and those of my friends. I deleted my fair share, but it was a drop in the ocean-- I had no chance of taking back everything they took

For three months I lived this way, in a traveler's heaven and a woman's hell. I was stalked, groped, masturbated at; and yet I had adventures beyond my imagination. I hoped that my nightmare would end at the tarmac, but that was just the beginning. Back home Christmas red seemed faded after vermillion, and food tasted spiceless and bland. Friends, and family, and classes, and therapy, and everything at all was so much less real than the pain, the rage that was coursing through my blood, screaming so loud it deafened me to all other sounds. And after months of elation at living in freedom, months of running from the memories breathing down my neck, I woke up on April Fool's Day and found I wanted to be dead.

The student counselors diagnosed me with a personality disorder and prescribed me pills I wouldn't take. After a public breakdown I ended up in a psych ward for two days held against my will, and was released on the condition that I took a "mental leave of absence" from school and went to live with my mother. I thought I had lost my mind; I didn't connect any of it to India-- I had moved on. But then a therapist diagnosed me with PTSD and I realized I hadn't moved a single inch. I had frozen in time. And I’d fallen. And I’d shattered.


But I wasn't the only one, the only woman from my trip to be diagnosed with PTSD, to be forced into a psych ward, to wake up wanting to be dead. And I am not the only woman who is on a mental leave of absence from the University of Chicago for reasons of sexual assault and is unable to take classes.

Understanding my pain has helped me own it, if not relieve it. PTSD strikes me as a euphemism, because a syndrome implies a cure. What, may I ask, is the cure for seeing reality, of feeling for three months what its like for one's humanity to be taken away? But I thank God for my experiences in India, and for my disillusionment. Truth is a gift, a burden, and a responsibility. And I mean to share it.

This is the story you don't want to hear when you ask me about India. But this is the story you need.

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+ comments + 12 comments

August 25, 2013 at 1:54 AM

I was born in India and in my 23 years I've seen India in all its colors. I wouldn't want my kids to grow up in this part of the world.

August 25, 2013 at 2:19 AM

Wow.. Sounds like India is full of cowardly perverts.I mean seriously disturbed individuals.

August 25, 2013 at 6:18 AM

Being an Indian myself I agree that India is pretty messed up. the rape cases going on and all the other stuff that doesn't get reported. But, I'm really not liking some of the comments here. there are educated people that are not liking what going on ether !! And if you're going to treat all Indians like fucking rapists then fuck you. this world is going to hell because if you stereotypical people. All muslims are terrorists, all asians eat dogs and abuse animals, all priests molest, all americans have no morals, all blacks steal your shit... like wtf...if you're any more decent then these fuckers all I'm saying is treat people the way they deserve to be treated and not their race, skin and tthe damn stereotypes. Go spread some good vibes.

August 25, 2013 at 7:02 AM

Extremely sorry for what you faced in my country.

August 25, 2013 at 8:07 AM

So sorry for what happened to you, but guys not all Indians are bad. I have an Indian friend. He's different from the others. He's nice and fun to be with.

August 26, 2013 at 2:43 AM

I apologize.. I'm American but i didn't mean to come off as a racist.This is just disgusting and wrong.Why wouldn't people stand up for her if they saw her being abused..? This world is becoming more and more evil.

August 26, 2013 at 11:02 AM

welcome all ya: this is just d begining of d end, d worst is yet to happen just hold on to God. Doommms ahheeaadd.

September 14, 2013 at 11:12 AM

I am feeling so ashamed after reading your experience with Indian men but at the same time I hope you understand that not every men in India is like that .. many people have great experience in India, but I apologies it did not happen with you ... I believe in giving another chance ... Do u ??

September 29, 2013 at 7:08 AM

I think that is the biggest problems with the indian men, even here in saudi they usually do the same thing,they really find a way to at least touch the hands of a women.

September 29, 2013 at 7:29 AM

I think that is the biggest problems with the indian men, even here in saudi they usually do the same thing,they really find a way to at least touch the hands of a women.

September 30, 2013 at 3:05 AM

These Numbers are from USA Education
Sexual Harassment Support reports:

"Sexual harassment is common at every stage of education. Verbal and physical harassment begins in elementary school, and 4 out of 5 children experience some form of sexual harassment or bullying. Eight out of 10 will experience this at some point in their school lives, and roughly 25 percent will experience this often. Boys are more likely to physically harass and bully others, or to be physically bullied themselves. Girls are more likely to use, and experience, verbal and psychological harassment and bullying. Six out of 10 students will experience some form of physical sexual harassment."[6]

In their 2002 survey on 2064 students in 8th through 11th grade, the American Association of University Women (AAUW) reported:[7]

83% of girls have been sexually harassed
78% of boys have been sexually harassed
38% of the students were harassed by teachers or school employees
36% of school employees or teachers were harassed by students
42% of school employees or teachers had been harassed by each other
In their recent study (AAUW 2006) on sexual harassment at colleges and universities, the AAUW claimed that while both men and women were targets of sexual harassment, "women are disproportionately negatively affected."

62% of female college students and 61% of male college students report having been sexually harassed at their university.
66% of college students know someone personally who was harassed.
10% or fewer of student sexual harassment victims attempt to report their experiences to a university employee.
35% or more of college students who experience sexual harassment do not tell anyone about their experiences.
80% of students who experienced sexual harassment report being harassed by another student or former student.
39% of students who experienced sexual harassment say the incident or incidents occurred in the dorm.
51% of male college students admit to sexually harassing someone in college, with 22% admitting to harassing someone often or occasionally.
31% of female college students admit to harassing someone in college.
In the "Report Card on Gender Equity," the NCWGE that 30 percent of undergraduate students, and 40 percent of graduate students, have been sexually harassed. (NCWGE, 1997)

September 30, 2013 at 3:11 AM

If these situation in USA education field So, what you can expect from Society like India Where 40% people are uneducated !!!!
Thanks and over

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