The hostility that India has shown towards its foreign women tourists came to the forefront once again as a French schoolgirl registered a complaint against an Indian host for sexually abusing her. Paradoxically, the belief that Indians treat their guests like God is falling flat on its face.
Priyanka Yadav | The New Leam
Student exchange programmes have been an on – going practise in academic circuits in most of the universities and private schools across India wherein students are selected for an exchange with university/school collaborators across the globe.
Students are selected and exchanged amongst different university/school collaborators and under the exchange program students are made to stay at the home of the host located in the country to which she/he has come for the exchange program. This kind of exchange programme helps the student to learn about a new culture, the tradition, the practices and the environment by providing them with practical experience of the home and the host culture.
Hostile Host in India
It came as a shameful act when it was recently reported that a French schoolgirl visiting India as part of an exchange program alleged that she was sexually assaulted by the father of the student who had been hosting her in Delhi. An FIR was registered against the father based on the sixteen year old’s complaint.While the Indian student had already spent his days of exchange with the French student’s family in France during the summer break of May-June in 2018, the French student started staying with the Indian family now.
Finally when she was packing to return back, the father of the host misbehaved with her. She accused the father of sexual misconduct and stated that he touched her inappropriately while she was packing to return back home. A complaint has been filed by the victim at Neb Sarai Police Station and the Embassy of France has also been notified. Further investigation on the matter is due now. A case under the stringent child sexual offences has been filed against the man who has been absconding since the complaint was filed on October 23, 2018.
Is the Guest Really God?
Even though we as a nation vouch to abide by the principle ‘Atithi Devo Bhava’ ( The guest is synonymous with God) but misconduct faced by foreigners in India has been perpetually taking place in India. In June 2018, a global survey of about 550 experts on women issues conducted by Thomson Reuters Foundation named India as the world’s most dangerous country for women, because of the high risk of sexual violence and forced slave labour.
Japan, once issued a warning to their female tourists travelling to India, after a Japanese women alleged that a man claiming to be a tourist guide, raped her while dropping her back at the guest house. Also in another case a Japanese national in Bodhgaya was allegedly kidnapped, robbed and raped by 6 men from Kolkata.
Why do foreign women feel unsafe in India?
Foreign media and government has constantly singled out India for being an unsafe country for women, but why is this so? Why do foreigners especially women feel unsafe coming to our country and why are research studies proving India to be an unsafe land? Have we ever thought about it? No, we haven’t or are we doing anything about this? No, we are not.
We opened our hearts and doors for liberalisation and globalisation and let the cultural exchange happen over a large scale, but even decades later we seem to have not learnt anything which is visible in our moral practices or civic lifestyle except for the visibility of high consumption rates among the urban middle class. Is modernity limited to consumption, what about the modernisation of the mind-set, the archaic-feudal and non-liberal orientation toward women?
Within this neoliberal framework that operates within ingrained patriarchy, the male gaze has reduced women to a consumable commodity. The culture of media simulation accompanied by ingrained patriarchal cultures have disguised the traditional forms of violence and replaced them with sophisticated and seductive logics of the market. The woman’s body as a site for male gaze has been encouraged in our films, in the lyrics of popular songs, in advertisements and through the wider cultural orientation of consumption. Low representation in positions of power, low representation in democracy and public office have also lead to the degeneration in the status of women in India. Teasing women on the street, passing of lewd comments, inadequate bodily gestures that are targeted at women in public transportation, molesting and raping young girls and ill-treating of women even in high – end work-spaces has been a challenge haunting India.
The on-going #MeToo movement is a reminder of the fact that it is not only about small towns and villages but even in the urban landscape, the status of women is ironic. Especially if it’s a foreign woman, behaviour of men towards her will be erroneous, desperate and full of gaze. Foreign women are often considered as outgoing, loose or easily available in Indian society. Forced touch without consent is something very alien in foreign societies, there women do not hold as much a lower pedestal as what they do in Indian society, women are free and equal but that nowhere means that they are available too. Coming from such a society, it is often difficult to understand odd behaviour of Indian men leaving them in a state of shock.
The Indian government talks about its advancement in terms of its foreign relations and its position in the global order. The question is what sort of development are we talking about, when everything in the in the domestic sphere is out of shape be it the status of the poor and marginalized, the Dalits and tribals, the unequal benefits of developmental projects, the lack of public healthcare and education or the status of women. The condition of the ordinary people in the nation is so pathological that it becomes impossible to assert the tall claims made by the government.
A Long Way Ahead
Women in our country are still not safe be it at the workplace or at home. FIRs are filed, complaints registered and news is made but this will continue till the time we as a society do not stop objectifying women in movies, homes or in the public sphere and visualising women as nothing beyond her sexuality.
In a very funny yet thought provoking incident in Antigua, a man travelling to India was shifted from his business class seat in the flight to a store room compartment in the flight, after inquiry the airline officials told him that since the symbol of their airlines is a goat and in India recently a goat was gang raped and women otherwise are ill-treated in the country by men hence as a mark of protest the airlines will make Indian male passengers sit in the store compartment even after paying for a business class seat.
Organizing summits and conferences does not enhance the country’s position rather the mental progress of the society and its people is more important, we as a nation have time and again failed to provide security or empowerment to the women who travel to India from abroad or to the women of the nation. The incident that has come to the forefront today puts us all to shame on the global stage. It is ironic that despite technological and economic progress as a nation we have not enabled our women to become free and empowered.