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Being Abroad in India: India's Woman Problem

Discussion in 'Relationships' started by spnadmin, May 11, 2010.

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    Being Abroad in India: India's Woman Problem

    Alyssa Pinsker: Being Abroad in India: India's Woman Problem



    Since arriving in India one month ago, I have made many realizations and observations on the role of women. My first observation was that just as at the last Orthodox Jewish seder I went to I better cover my knees and elbows, and be sure no clavicles were showing.


    As a young globetrotting feminist and teacher I have already lived abroad in two other countries -- France and Japan -- and I know how to be a respectful expat. But at 30, I am more secure in my identity as an American who can be respectful but remain herself.

    One as a philosophy student, the other as a public school teacher. I am studying yoga and philosophy and also doing the requisite traveling. As the "mixed race" child of interfaith parents with a lightly Buddhist Ukrainian immigrant ex-catholic mother who first introduced my sister and I to yoga as children and a New York Jewish constantly shticking father, my extended family includes almost every color and faith. I have dated Jewish, Japanese, Sikh-American and now Muslim men. In New York City I often forget I am a feminist, but in India, I noticed there's a woman problem.



    India is in it's second wave of feminism, while America is in its 3rd. After a few weeks of squat toilets, and handwashing my underwear and a daily round of inappropriate sexual stares and "Where are you from?" which today was "How much are you from?" and "Sex with you -- possible? Not possible?" I picked up a copy of FEMINA, India's answer to Marie Clare. In it were sophisticated, even feminist women talking about modern problems, dating, fashion and of course health. The only twist, the health had a New Age yoga flair, and the true-life column was about a woman who committed suicide after she was raped and harassed by her teacher, and the statistics still showed 25% of Indian brides are killed for dowry with 40% unreported.



    I started out on Goa's famous hippie beaches. All karma trance and yoga, and I relaxed into the beach-life leaving New York City behind like a bad type A dream. "Why worry chicken curry? What to do katmandu?" said some of our new friends. After living abroad in Paris and Tokyo, I found India a more blended and welcoming culture, like Brazil. It even looked like Brazil with it's Portugese influence, mansions and, of course relaxed mind. I later found, unlike the other Asian country I lived in -- Japan -- India was very kind to its immigrants, providing a refuge for thousands of Nepalese and Tibetans and its dominant faith, Hinduism provided the exact umbrella of diversity that I loved in New York. I also discovered, that like New York -- life was tough, and overcrowded and often ruthless -- but on a heightened scale. It also had the backwards mentality outside of big cities that set up daily encounters as an exercise in patience.



    In Goa, everyday I'd nap in hammocks, go for ayurvedic treatments, do yoga, eat tropical food and make new International friends. The hippie inlet reminded me of Hawaii, and I started to fantasize about becoming a bodyworker in a small boho town when my sister (who was also studying to be a yoga teacher) and I had a sunset dinner on the beach. A "vata" man (kapha is slow and soft, vata, manic and quick, pita fiery and exacting) kept darting over to join our conversation. It was about how the Russians, whose mafias and tourists have flooded Goa, seem to be embracing "free love" for the first time. At least once a day I'd see a Russian spinning and smiling at the sun in a tranced out bliss. It was endearing, but the cycle for me went: hipster parents, hippie upbringing, desperate for wealth and structure, Park Slope boho bliss, New York City,


    competition, rules, rules, rules, rules, no bending, lack of wealth, Bushwick: leave.


    This Berliner joined us for supper and we got into a conversation about his being a polyamorous psychoanalyst. Not an eye batted for these New Yorkers. He went on to describe how at age 35 he lived in a loft with his artist friends (yawn) and practiced S and M zen meditation. The S and zen the only twist. He mentioned that the whip you can request from your master during zazen to wake up would greatly pleasure a masochist (Germans). We went on to discuss polyamory, the book The Ethical {censored word, do not repeat.} I read in college and tried and failed my early 20s, and the effects of such.


    As I talked I realized I am reactionary but all I could think was how refreshing either an urban lumberjack, new guido or simply a traditional male was in response to his effeminate, polysexual mind f-ing ways.


    Postmodern men, or omega men, are simply boring. I started to consider some of the date requests I got from Indian men here. And I later accepted a request and fell in love with a boy from Kerala. A Muslim who wears a skirt (dhoti) and eats with his hands from banana leaves. But, I remembered that when I dated a Sikh-American the marriage taboo, just as with my Israeli boyfriend, came up again.

    Our new highly judgmental and urbane friend mentioned the rape and murder of a 15 year old girl in Goa two years ago. I researched the case, wondering how laid back people respond to crime. And I found this: Most interesting is the comment that if bikinis encourage rape by Indian men, then Sariis should encourage rape by those from burka culture.

    A psychic once told me I was raped in a past life and I am so very lucky to have never been a survivor of this attack. But the injustice obsesses me. She was 15, her lifestyle, drug use, sex life all have nothing to do with being violently violated in a way that is almost worse than death. Goa's government was expectedly casual about it and her mother had to take photos of her bruises to prove it was a murder. I did wear a bikini, and think that culturally I was in no way disrespectful or provoking of attacks.

    I saw the men in a new light, but I live in New York City where I once as an exercise searched the amount of child molesters in Park Slope for an article I was writing to Bushwick. There were at least 40 on my block. Today on our little tour of a spice plantation with the Lonely Planet recommended Martin (I've written review and see the power of the press last for infinite years) making casual sexist jokes such as "Women only, what is this tree? It is a pole. You can do the washing and cooking."



    But then I found FEMINA magazine, and I was impressed with it's feminist empowerment message after hear. There was the story about a woman who was molested by her teacher and then committed suicide after he tried to shame and harass her entire family after she came out. There is a lot of work to be done in India as an activist, writer, journalist but there is even more work to first be done on myself.


    I left Goa and went to Kerala, a state in India famous for its communism and "God of Small Things" and man-skirts called dhotis. Men wear them at home, or white ones in public and are constantly shifting them into mini skirts and maxi skirts depending on the breeze. For some reason I became entranced by the skirts and when a young man at our "home stay" befriended my sister and I it turned into a kiss and then love.
     
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