Monday, May 27, 2013

"Men are pigs!” “Men only think with their smaller head!” “You guys disgust me so no, you can't have any of my salad!"

Twice a year, in spring and fall, India’s Hindus celebrate Navrati, a nine-day festival during which they pray each day to a different female deity. Navrati culminates in “kanya puja,” or a day of maiden worshiping:
Every household invites over the young girls of the neighborhood and, led by the father or patriarch, bows before them, washes their feet, prays to them, offers them a specially prepared feast of vegetarian delicacies and showers them with gifts and money.
Growing up, I would make several weeks’ worth of allowance on that one day. But this ancient practice wasn’t meant to pamper the girls. It served to remind men of the qualities—mental courage, spiritual wisdom, purity of mind and strength of character—embodied in the feminine spirit, without which, according to Hindu scriptures, the cosmos would collapse into decadence and chaos.Such veneration of women may surprise foreign observers of India, considering the recent epidemic of rapes there and publicity about the everyday harassment that Indian women face—lewd gestures, catcalls, groping and worse. Some have blamed modernity, suggesting that India needs to return to its past. But when it comes to "eve teasing" (as this practice is euphemistically called), I would argue the opposite: It is precisely the stubborn hold of India's prudish culture that has made many Indian men so callow.
Arun Arushi Narodin, who writes for the online magazine Bodhi Commons, reports that 90% of urban women in India experience harassment. But that almost certainly understates the problem. I've never met an Indian woman—rich or poor, upper or lower caste, pretty or homely, young or middle-age—who hasn't been harassed. Indeed, street-level harassment is like traffic for drivers, an unavoidable nuisance women confront whenever they leave the house. It fundamentally alters how they walk, talk, travel and dress in public. It impels them to assume a body language least likely to draw attention—to cover themselves, as it were, in an invisible burqa.
I first felt myself donning this burqa sometime in my midteens as I walked with my mother to the market near our home in New Delhi and a group of young men started hooting, whistling and singing Bollywood songs. My mother hissed at me to walk quickly and avoid eye contact. Had we been accompanied by my father, the loud harassment would have been replaced with more surreptitious gestures. This mostly low-level nuisance turns into molestation in crowded buses or public spaces, as men grope or press against trapped women. My mother instructed me to have a sharp elbow or a safety pin always at the ready, advice that is still handed down to Indian girls today.{Read on}