Wednesday, January 19, 2011

My relationship with India: It's complicated (journal entry written for

When I think about my relationship with India, I think of the Facebook relationship status ‘It’s complicated’. But like other complicated relationships, I feel like I’ve weathered the ups and downs in recent years, and am now sailing in less stormy waters.

On the one hand, there is no shortage of attitudes to dislike, especially as a woman: being discouraged from playing the more enjoyable ‘boy’ games, getting a ‘bad reputation’ when I used to stay out late dancing as a teenager, being molested several times and then learning from girlfriends that was a common experience, or being stared at by men in public constantly for wearing ‘Western clothes’ which I believe has lead to my often feeling asexual as an adult. The list would get much longer if I talked about politics, Bollywood, or our hierarchical society.

On the other hand, I returned to live in India after nine years in the US because I appreciate our generally warm nature (getting a government official to grant a minor favour through an emotional appeal), our deeply spiritual roots (reflected in my grandfather’s iron-clad ethics), the mind-boggling diversity of cultures to experience across the country, and our delectable food!

After spending some time back home in Bombay and contemplating the dislikes far more than the likes, I realized that I could only be happy if I committed my life to changing the things that most of the people I spoke to dislike. Now it makes me feel better every time I experience an instance of sexism that I run a social venture that empowers women.

But to speak more of the things I would like to change, here is my laundry list:
- Being made to feel ashamed for smoking a cigarette as a woman.
- Being considered XXL at size 16 (US) and having salesmen always tell me as I enter a store, “Madam, we have clothes in YOUR size also”.
- A general intolerance towards dating even though every Hindi movie glorifies romance, which leads to a general social awkwardness between young men and women.
- Being considered ‘past it’ as a single woman over 30.
- Feeling unsafe traveling alone in Delhi (our capital city!) at night.
- Having only one female Member of the Legislative Assembly in the state where I live.
- People assuming I am a bad driver because I am a woman.

I am interested in discussion and theoretical research about changing core social attitudes that cause sexist behaviour in countries like India where patriarchal beliefs are deeply embedded and dissent is discouraged. Since I work in the field of media for social change, I am particularly interested in case studies about successful gender justice media campaigns such as the 'Pink Chaddi' movement. Please comment if you know of case studies, research, writings, etc in this area.

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