Written by Jane Merriman, (University of Wisconsin-Madison) Student Correspondent UW in India: Delhi Internship, Summer 2018
Hello, again! Welcome to the second round of New Delhi blogging, one month into our stay. I’m going to talk about an issue that comes up every time someone mentions India, which is the treatment of women and harassment. Yes, those are two extremely broad topics but I am going to tell you my experience so far with them to the best of my ability.
There are eight girls on this program alongside myself, and we have spoken openly to each other about our experiences walking along the street, on the metro, at monuments/historical sites, or just going about our day. The main thing to understand is that women are just now starting to gain the freedom in India that we take for granted in the US.
One of the girls noticed how few women there are walking out on the street, even by themselves or with someone else. The metro has a separate women’s only car, which is always filled, while the general compartment has a significantly lower percentage of women than men.
Getting unabashedly stared at is unfortunately a common occurrence in India. Men will stare at you no matter what, and even more so if you look like a foreigner. Sometimes, you just want them to go away and mind their business because it is such an odd cultural phenomenon that we’ve had a hard time understanding as Americans. Since staring is rude in the US, we were and still are taken aback by how blatant it is, but we truly just have to ignore it.
We also get our photo taken…usually without our permission. Men, children, and women alike will try to sneak photos of us, or just ask us for a “selfie” or a photo. We’ve noticed that it takes your gut instinct to know if it is okay or not. Some kids are genuinely just interested and want a photo, but if it is a man by himself or a group of men, we just say no and walk away.
The staring and asking for photos is extremely noticeable at historic monuments/forts/areas. On more than a few occasions, our moods have changed significantly from having a great time to really getting annoyed by it and not being able to enjoy our time there. Being constantly asked to take photos, getting stared at, or just having random people walk in front of us and pretend to take a selfie but it is actually a photo of us in the background – is tiring and a very real part of our experience in India with feeling uncomfortable because of our gender or nationality.
However, all this being said, it is merely a cultural difference that takes some getting used to. As much as I would like it to stop, it probably won’t. So, what has helped us work through this is finding people who have experienced or are experiencing it like we are, and to talk to them about how we are feeling. I was lucky enough that I had seven other girls who were going through the same situation as I was, and that we could talk through our common experiences.
I would encourage anyone going abroad to find a blog about a similar event or a person that you can talk to who has gone through what you are going through. Trust me, it helps. Namaste!