Don’t travel to India, they tell you.
You will feel the touch of unfamiliar men and the look of unforgiving stares.
If you go, you will not dream in color and you will not find joy in the small things in life. Your day will revolve around what you must do and what you must not question. There is no happiness. There is no hope.
This is what they tell you.
You will be ambushed by a patriarchal society that reduces your every move and word to oblivion. It is not possible that you will be relevant in India. Who you are is not enough and the things you say will go unheard, or unnoticed. They assure you, in this place, you are invisible.
You are told that you will never see a woman laugh or go to a job interview or drive a car.
You will never see her visit with friends or leave the house without her husband. Independence is not a choice for her. It is a privilege she is rarely allowed to access.
Western media tells an unforgiving story about India. It is viewed as a place where a woman could not possibly be happy, because they are subjugated, and forced to be passive about the events happening around them. This account insists women do not belong.
We are shown only of the violence, the slums or the extreme poverty, which essentially represents a country as one with too many people and too much chaos. We cannot accept this as the only story coming out of India. In a place that is so rich with culture and natural beauty, we are denying India a chance to be seen and understood as something more.
Contrary to what Western media informs us, women in India weren’t always being portrayed as the victim. In fact, in the 19th century, Indian women were already attending colleges while British universities were only admitting men. Unlike many Western countries where women attained voting rights centuries after their countries became democratic, in India, it happened simultaneously with men. Women are now identifying with the concept of empowerment which takes its roots from power, predominantly within social and political spheres.
As it stands currently, the government of India has ratified several international conventions and human rights documents that work to ensure equal rights to women. Thirty-three percent of legislative seats are reserved for women, which is the 4th highest percentage of women in politics in the world. The most impressive development thus far has been the increase of women being elected as representatives at the village council level.
Women are rising up because they recognize that no one else is going to do it for them. They are calling on the government for more promotion of education for women, more reduction strategies for feminized poverty and for the elimination of violence against women.
When women understand what they are capable of, they can make independent decisions for the future of their families and for themselves. Empowerment is not easily granted or achieved. It comes from a fire within and urges you onward to promote a change in yourself or society. Many women in India have taken on the challenge to be represented as more than just victims in Western headlines, but as fighters for their rights and their undisputed dignity.
Women’s rights are, without a doubt, a problem in India, but gone are the days when women sat as spectators. The current narrative of India’s story needs to be retold. It needs a new voice that challenges the indecencies, but also recognizes that there are both men and women in India who are standing up against the stereotypes that have stained and attempted to define their country.
India is a place of brave and empowered women who do not want your pity.
They are strong, beautiful and courageous individuals who recognize that violence is a problem in their country, but not one that defines them. It’s about time we stopped letting it.