It’s a curious thing about human nature how important it is for us to have others validate our views. Many people are so passionate about something that they are always on high alert for anything that seems to go against their thinking. I had an experience with just such a reader recently. She managed to read many things into my book that aren’t there, and completely failed to see what is there just because she had a preconceived notion that expecting women to dress and behave modestly was a direct admission that women were to blame for rape. I did not say that and I don’t believe it.
What I wrote was: “While we all know that men should be responsible for their own behaviour, many men do not act responsibly, and especially in the Indian cultural context it only makes sense to abide by this reality. . . .”
Although I did not emphasize it in my book, I definitely feel that men should take the blame for rape, not women. Too many men—and not just in India—blame women for their own weaknesses and I feel strongly that this is wrong. Men need to take responsibility for their own actions and to control their passions, and they should suffer the consequences if they don’t. Nevertheless, because the culture is as it is, Indian men are more susceptible to being aroused by styles of dress and modes of behaviour that are not considered immodest in many countries, and I feel that it’s foolish to ignore this. In India, you’ll do better to save the sexy look for when you are alone with your partner.
Anyway, the reality is that India’s culture is mostly a very conservative one, and even the majority of women have the idea that immodest dress and behaviour is an invitation to sex. And, as everywhere in the world, there are many men who are either unwilling to control their urges or incapable of doing so. If you want to avoid uncomfortable situations or worse, then it only makes sense to respect the culture by dressing and acting modestly by Indian standards. If you want to get respect, you have to give it. That’s obvious.
My book is meant to be a practical one and I have made a concerted effort not to be judgmental. Of course, there are many things that do need to change in India (as is the case everywhere), but changing the culture is not the purpose of this book. If you want to work for a cause, then consider joining an NGO and going about it properly. Incidentally, if my book could be said to have any agenda, it’s merely to encourage people to respect the culture. Sadly, some people seem to think that’s an unreasonable burden on visitors. Evidently, they feel the culture should adapt to them! But India doesn’t fully open itself to visitors who have that sort of attitude.
In order to be successfully proactive about women’s rights (or any other cause), it’s necessary to respect the cultural context. Deliberately walking around in skimpy clothes or engaging in other culturally unacceptable behaviour is a bit like going around with a proverbial chip on your shoulder. It offends many people and accomplishes nothing.
Incidentally, it is unfortunate, in my opinion, that so many of my fellow Americans are bent on fixing what’s wrong in other countries—especially when we have plenty of problems at home that we aren’t dealing with effectively. One of the benefits of living abroad for a while is that you tend to get a more expanded and realistic view of the world because you have the opportunity to see other viewpoints and realise that yours isn’t the only valid one. And seeing how others view your own country can be a real revelation.