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Is it safe to travel alone to India because there are so many gruesome incidents happening in India? When a backpacker asked me this question, it led me to introspect on the state of things in India for women.
I recently travelled to Vietnam, one of the safest countries for women not just in the news but also in reality. The riveting history of the Vietnam-American war and the quaint old towns filled with warm people make it a perfect getaway.
Another part of the trip that I truly cherished Was staying in hostels, a hub for social interactions. We travelled, partied and also shared some great stories and perspectives about trending subjects and countries. Since there were many European backpackers, and most of them preferred to travel to Asia as it is economical and a good escape from the extreme winters, there were a lot of Asia-associated discussions.
On one such discussion, a solo-backpacker asked me, “So…how is India?”
Well, I started off graciously, “We have 22 national languages, and we are so diverse in terms of culture, tradition and history. Every part of India is so distinct culturally and traditionally. Also, the dynamic engineering and detailing involved in creating spiritual and architectural monuments are mind boggling. The mathematical accuracy with which these monuments were engineered without the use of advanced tools and technology is staggering. There is really no country with such history and diversity as India. We celebrate life with festivities. There are festivals with scientific significance. Hospitality is ingrained in an Indian’s house.”
Once I finished, I realised I almost sounded like a haughty/monotonous tour guide/history teacher!
Fellow-backpacker replied, “Yes, agreed. But is it safe to travel alone to India because there are so many gruesome incidents happening in India?”
Well, I wished that I had an invisibility cloak but the question was head-on and I relented to it.
I definitely owed her honesty, firstly as one woman to another and secondly as a fellow backpacker, and so I replied, “Well, there are certain parts that I wouldn’t recommend for solo travelling but there are also parts that are safe.”
I then slurped the orange juice slowly till I finished it (‘critical thinking time but playing cool moment’) and I start off with my point of defence, “In India, where 25% of the population is below poverty line, basic essentials aren’t met. Offspring is mostly unplanned and accidental. Responsible upbringing happens by chance and not choice.
In cities, among the educated ignorant, there is a loose idea of Westernisation. But, don’t belittle us because we’re still a secular nation, recovering from the ravages of the post colonial era, thriving slowly but steadily!”
Fellow-backpacker said, “Okay, it was nice chatting up and my cab is here, gotta leave.”
I felt abashed and with a feeble voice I replied, “Bye, good day!”
I pondered over this question about India’s global perception and the reality for a long time because I was asked the same question many times during my trip in many different ways. I tried to bring in rationality to the distressed state of security for women in India. I thought, “So the blame game is on! Is it the reckless-unabashed attitude that needs to shift or is it the irresponsibility in nurturing a child?”
As a nation, as an individual, as a community we need to take the onus and the responsibility. It’s not about the educated versus the uneducated, or affluent versus poverty-ridden. Rapists have no class; rich-affluent and impoverished-uneducated have equal stakes in these gruesome incidents.
“Children don’t listen to you, they observe you.” – Sadhguru
Children observe the world around and normalize or detract ideas, which translate to a way of life. The environment in which the upcoming generation is growing is of vital importance. Critical thinking is the result of healthy upbringing; an environment where women and men thrive on mutual respect. The core problem can be rectified only if superiority or preference of a gender is eliminated. More social norms and policies in favour of gender equality to ensure equal stakes in every walk of life could ensure progress and protection of women.
There are parts of India that are unsafe for women, and that’s mostly because they embrace patriarchy and promote false ideas of masculinity. Also, the village council (mostly an informal assembly, the headmen in the village are highly patriarchal, conservative, and irrational) is the decision making body, which is outside the purview of a judicial system. Most of these bodies define women as submissive and oppress them; restrict them to household chores.
Most of the Indian movies are stereotyped and chauvinistic, women are mostly objectified and their roles are mostly without substance. Stalking is loosely promoted as ‘true love/saacha pyaar’ rather that dangerous or absurd in many Indian movies; movies are an affordable source of entertainment for the youth and a great getaway from the tough reality for the poor. In India, movie actors are idolised across classes, they are not ‘actors’ but ‘stars’. Therefore, replicating the idol is an attitude that is considered uber-cool among the youth.
We’re transforming slowly but steadily and we have miles to go before we sleep.
India’s global perception is in a low light because it is a democratic country and it is deemed to be safe for women among many other things; India hasn’t/we haven’t really lived up to the expectations. Women in war-torn and monarchic countries also face dreadful and archaic challenges but comparing issues in a democratic and a war-torn/monarchic country would be like comparing apples to oranges.
The issue lies in the root of the society and not with the Gen X/millennials. We as a society need to shape the mindset of the future generations not just at our homes but the society at large. Education is one of the strong tools for empowerment; along with critical thinking it is a powerful tool to transform the county for a brighter-safer future.
Like the National Services in Singapore and Israel Defence Forces in Israel, which mandates citizens and certain groups to serve the uniform forces, India can harness the power of the youth above the age of 18, to serve for a certain period in slums, army, village schools and others areas to contribute to the upliftment of the society.
Meanwhile in the present, the refined-responsible youth should invest a few hours/weeks/ months/years with/without monetary benefits to empower the next generation. The only way the less fortunate can experience the world from a different perspective is by creating a similar educational experience that termed us ‘empowered’. While education is essential, without critical thinking it can be a tool for self-destruction.
Education + Critical thinking = Empowerment; while education is accessible, empowerment is still a hope. Hope that shapes the fate of tomorrow.
First published at author’s blog
Image via Pexels
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