So I've said many times before coming to India that I knew about the cultural differences, particularly the ones concerning being a woman in India. In my specific case being a woman in rural Himachal Pradesh, India.
So about being a woman in Himachal Pradesh. I always felt really strong about my independence and autonomy. I was never good at being told what to do or what to say. Oké, even sometimes my temper is the boss of me. Anyways, I knew I would have to remain passive in more situations than I usually do. Ok. No issue! I thought: - if I live through this it will certainly improve my patient, my interpersonal/social skills, my understanding of what it can feel like being an Indian woman and my understanding of what my culture allows womanhood to be. So far I had a lot to gain.
And then it happened…the warnings started and I did not see them coming, specially since I was following the rules of conduct. The warnings about how dangerous it is for me to walk in my own neighborhood hit me hard. Specially coming from a friendly neighbor of ours. It happened three times in two months. Yeah, it was a bit past 7 p.m. So what it was already dark since 6p.m. because it's winter? I had just finished work and needed to buy some food. The worst was it came from a supposed friend. I mean, how could he not see how threatening and demeaning he was sounding. He gave me 2 of the 3 warnings. Both times I was with fellow male colleagues with whom he engaged in gleeful conversations and when the glee vanished he decided to address me to exclusively warn me about the danger I was running. It made me feel small, powerless, threatened and like I didn't own my own life. I didn't have the reaction of replying to him, but what to say?
I cannot help thinking that these warnings and rape culture are somehow intertwined, at least from where I see it. He did not warn the men that were with me. The warning was only for me, because I'm a woman. Despite our friendly neighbor naively yet truthfully warning me for my own good (I know this, cause today he told me about how I should buy a sweater (winter is coming) and beware of being overcharged) he was simultaneously contributing to carve the bars of the cage rape culture puts around all of us women in. He should not tell me to be aware of my steps on the way to buy groceries. Instead he should tell men to stop harassing people, women, girls whether it is day or night. However, how can I explain him all of this? He would not understand. Probably he would even get offended for me rejecting his good advice.
Oh well, I hope the demand for self-defense courses will soon rise among women in India. Women can and must defend themselves. It starts by rejecting a conformist position and stopping to accept this type of "advice" as justifiable. The warning can be based on true facts of existing violence. Nevertheless this violence will persist if we continue to emphasize the victim as the element that takes the blame instead of the aggressor.
When I mention learning self-defense I mean to learn how to defend yourself, not necessarily in a physical way, but in a way where you can recognize where you stand and what actually your position is about a particular matter. Learn about what in reality happens around you and what you can do to change and improve it.
Inês Ramos - Portugal
Women's Empowerment Project Manager, Rait (Himachal Pradesh)