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Re: a student recalls her travels in India

Dear Badger,

This a response to a previous feature article on the experience of visiting India.

The problem is that there was a standard set with your UIKERI experience, a standard that seems to categorise the Indian experience to a very limited one. The reinforcement of stereotypical representations of school children, threatened gender relations, and economic imbalance is problematic.

Stereotypes exist for a reason, partly because they are true. But, stereotypes generalise a very diverse public, be it any specific context. The influence of Slumdog Millionaire (not to forget that it was again, a western perspective, and a representation of a stereotypical interpretation of India), has seeped into the very ideology of realistic understanding of everyday Indian life. Most people forget that not all that shines is silver, not all that smells is rotten. The Indian people are not victims to Indian culture. The condescending description of the victimisation and accusation of India in your article is baffling.

You can’t seriously write about Indian culture when you’ve only experienced it for three weeks. I’d like to address a few of your cultural observations. Eve-teasing’ is not a euphemism from my use of the term, in the context of having spent 19 years of my life in India. It is a shortening of the term ‘evening-teasing’ attributed to the sexual harassment faced by women AND men, it is merely a shorthand everyday term used to describe and allocate the threat of darkness (historically). Although now, it has seeped through the constraint of time due to the timelessness of sexual harassment.

The situation for women throughout the world is dire. It is solely the fact that cases of rape often go unreported that we don’t see it as a prominent issue elsewhere. The norms of Indian culture are very different to a British one. There is a fault in the education system that is being rectified to streamline values to a more ‘globalised’ one. The shift from the old, conserved ideologies of Indian culture is slow; the emancipation of women and women’s rights is relatively new. Children (regardless of their economic conditions) are attended at all time to ensure uniformity and reinforce control and authority, due to their assumed innocence and playfulness. Unlike “western” treatment of childhood, (Some) Indian schools have made it easier for children, to minimise the amount of effort that goes into travel, by providing transport facilities (that act as a parallel to being picked up by mum/dad and being dropped off). Children who go to schools that do not provide transport use the local bus, or walk, or use a handy bicycle to travel (like myself). Indian culture is very family oriented, but, that is not to imply that Indian children are less independent. Guards are present beside doors to monitor who enters and leaves the premises, to scrutinise childlike behaviour and mischievousness, and to ensure that no child goes astray without reason (I’ve had my ‘class-bunking’ days). We normally accuse schools of this – homogenising and instructing students, and imposing dominant ideologies through textbooks.

The presence of threat does not depend on economic place, class, gender, race, sexuality, or age. That’s one of the faults in our education system (No, not an Indian one. Us, as global citizens). Poverty and space between classes is again, a global phenomenon. What’s more significant is the fact that there is performed action to tackle it. Everyday, work goes into minimising the distance between the rich and poor. India has made education mandatory, (and FREE!) for Children up to the age of 16, after which it is their own choice to study higher up. Schools have been developed and modernised, even in the remote villages of every state with the help of local non-governmental organisations that adopt schools in neglected regions. There is provision of free nutritious food in every governmental school to promote health and wellbeing, and check malnourishment. The literacy rate increases every year, having gone up from 64.8% (overall, men and women) in 2001 to 74.04% in 2011. There is more to the communities of India (not just Mumbai) than what you see in fictional cinema. The world is a dangerous place (constructed in the narrative of danger) for not just women, but all sexes. There are challenges like this in every locality of the world, but how do you perfect something when it is still changing (I refer here, not to just one country)? How do you completely understand a culture of a time when it changes with every micro-second? I myself am conflicted in writing this as, even as an Indian, I do not fully know Indian culture. I am conflicted because I believe that by writing this, I am forcing Indian culture into a box. For an “insider view” of a culture, you would be required to invest more than three weeks of your time, and completely immerse yourself in experiencing the culture as it comes.

India is home to those who seek it. That is its reality.

Aditi Sreevathsa 

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