A long Indian Summer
These many sick days have meant that I’ve indulged in Netflix on a far more regular basis than normal. A few weeks ago I stumbled across a documentary; ‘Daughters of Destiny.’ And due to the lateness of the night and the fondness I cradle for India in my heart, I found myself consuming the episodes in one sitting. So it was that, which sparked this.
For the most part, I think when people find out that I’ve spent a period of time in India, the first thing they want to talk about is how I found it being a black woman in India.
And thats when my exterior smiles but my interior rolls it’s eyes because to be frank for once that was the least of my takeaway from such a maturing experience. But to quiet the stomach rumbling of the intrigued appetite I will say this:
It was one of the hardest tests in my life and yet I’m very happy that I was able to undertake it at such a young age. Perhaps I will leave the more descriptive episodes of confusion or blatant racism for the book, we shall see.
The only thing I want to talk about today is how my time in India impacted my very narrow, privileged outlook on being a woman.
The first thing that I noticed about India, is the unrelenting heat. As a product of Caribbean heritage and African grass roots, I can handle a little heat. But the heat in India is like nothing I’ve ever experienced. So toasty it was that I never had a chance to sweat. As quickly as beads would form is how suddenly the next wave of cremation level temperature would be upon me sucking up the salty water which was never able to appear.
Secondly, and most importantly were how women were treated. From the airport the obvious difference based on what rested between your thighs and how your genitalia allowed you to be heard was quite like a neon light on the darkest night. The only two males in our ten person group were greeted before us. Questions which any of us could answer were directed only at those in possession of a penis. Lazily gazing out of our coach window, I noted how women walked with hurried pace as if not wanting to be seen as loitering whilst young men held hands and casually caught up on every street corner as if talking about last nights football match. Later that day, after not much rest, the ladies were reminded that baring our arms or shoulders would be us taken a calculated risk and because many of us were not even close to Indian looking we should not be too offended if we were mistaken as sex workers.
Moving from Delhi to Jaipur and then finally Himachal Pradesh allowed me to get a greater scope on how these rules were less intense in different areas. By the time we had reached where we would be living, I had bitten my tongue so many times, it’s a wonder how I’m still in possession of the pink muscle today. I approached the entire trip with a journalistic mentality. Indians had absolutely no problem with asking me the most intrusive questions and as time wore on, I used our translator Anju to ensure that I could return the favour.
Working in a school in one of the most remote villages in the district many morning our jeep struggled to get us to our uphill destination. But meeting the children, especially the young girls were the highlight to our days. At ages between three and eight, they were at their most innocent perhaps unaware that the lucky wave they were riding would one day be out to sea.
Anju let us know that many of these girls would not make it to high school because educating women was just not deemed as a priority and many mothers were only sending them to school now in order to have a small slice of the day to themselves. I tried not to let the idea of their future weigh to heavily upon me and made best with the time we had.
Anju herself was a miracle. Having fled her family home to not be wedded with her uncle, she had scraped together enough education to be hired as a translator. Closer in age to us than any other member of staff in our home, she would stay up with us telling us about her hopes, dreams and hurt. Very clearly now I can see the water in her eyes when she described that retuning home was not an option.
One day, for reasons I can’t recall we were allowed to put our teaching duties aside and go and interview the locals of the village who had now become so accustomed to us ‘British’. We happened upon the house of a woman whose husband was not home. Sitting outside on what can only be described as a make shift patio, she used the material of her Salwar to hide her face.
I could tell Anju was apprehensive but the woman spoke with a fluidity usually reserved for a conversation between friends.
‘Her husband beats her.’ she says
‘It is very hard here because it is just the way it is but if she could, she would leave.’
The woman looked far beyond the age she was claiming but beneath her pupils you could tell that it wasn't a lie.
By the end of that interview, there was not a dry eye or light heart. It was one thing to be warned, watch documentaries and have general knowledge about what many Indian women suffer but it was quite another to be confronted with the truth and yet feel paralysed.
I must add that these are not sporadic stories for the women of India. Just today I read that one child Under 16 is raped every 155 minutes in India. Last week I read that a TEN year old Indian girl gave birth to a child conceived through rape as the supreme court denied her request for an abortion. The entire world is aware of the gang rape and subsequent murder of Jyoti Singh.
I was not familiar with the term ‘feminist’ before that trip but years after the fact, I still find myself clinging to the stories I heard and moments I experienced to remind me why I believe what I believe. That journey was the catalyst for why I will fight for the rights of women, globally, to be uplifted and upheld no matter the cost to myself. This is why I speak openly about abortion, sexual trysts and anything else society loves to use to shame women into a place of silence.
I came home understanding how it was that roll of the dice that decided that I get to live in a part of the world where not only do I have a voice but I could use it too. My facts and findings have not been limited to that one experience , I make it a duty to find out what I can do for women no matter where I am in the world.
And that’s where I am for now.