Walking through India as a white woman is hard. The stares, ogling, often blatant sexist and inappropriate behaviour from some of the men left me feeling pretty yuck. And angry.
When I was five years old I learned to dislike Indian people. I was living in Fiji for a year with my family ... some of the Indians HATED white people and would literally chase us out of their shops. Even back then, I knew it was unfair. I'm glad I had the smarts to know at such a young age that not all Indian people are like that. Just as not all white people are ignorant, racist, selfish idiots.
The women of India possess a strength borne from suffering. I was only there ten days but sensed a tide turning .... young girls are being taught they can say no to arranged marriage. They're studying, gaining independence, becoming businesswomen. It feels they are itching to stand up for themselves, their daughters, and especially their sons. (Because ingrained misogyny must be dealt with at the source.)
All of the women pictured above are part of a womens' group in rural Chhattisgarh founded and funded by World Vision Australia. These women came together and banned the men from drinking and gambling in their village. They are SO PROUD to have done that. They've started small businesses, opened bank accounts. Give an Indian woman an inch and she will take a hectare. Us white girls all sat in chairs like thrones, as our welcome ceremony went on around us. You know what the Indian women did?
HIJACKED IT. It was brilliant. The women used the opportunity as a time to vent their annoyance at being charged bank interest rates. They thought they were getting ripped off ... the men officials were red-faced, kept apologising profusely to me, Kelly, Joy, Carly and Misho. None of us cared. We told them to go on, loving how fired up the women got.
I don't know her name, but I fell in love with one of the women from that village.
She is one of the toughest women I have ever met. We stood there talking to each other for a while, not knowing what the other one was saying but still seeming to understand. She liked me just as much. She pointed to my tattoos then to her tattoos, and we were same-same.
She was cheeky, so bossy, with the hardest leather hands ever. So hardcore she belongs in a Quentin Tarantino film.
One of my favourite times in India was going on the train. Waiting at the station I looked up to see a sign:
A women-only train carriage? Damn straight. We got on and it was SUCH a relief, everybody relaxed. The Indian women looked at us with as much curiosity as we looked at them. We were all as fascinated with each other, probably because we are all actually the same. Yet India is so many different things at once; a woman dressed to the nines in her best colourful sari sits next to a Muslim woman in a hijab next to a casually dressed woman in jeans and a t-shirt.
The train trip was hilarious. A tired, young female policewoman sat lounging on the seat and everytime a man got on our carriage - and they did, at every stop - she ordered them off. They didn't want to leave, until they suddenly realised they were being stared down by a pack of women with the law on their side so they'd skulk off to the next carriage. We all laughed, every time.
Watching an Indian woman in her power is extraordinary. Watching ANY woman in her power is extraordinary. But Indians - especially now, in the climate right there today, have a sense of not putting up with unspeakable things any more.
Six men raped a woman so badly on a bus in Delhi last week that she died. From rape. Women can die from rape. Especially when an iron rod is inserted into her body so hard and so far up that her intestines and lungs give way.
Despicable. DREADFUL. I hope change happens, real change. In attitudes, cultures, behaviours, and thoughts.
These girls, wearing fresh orange uniforms to school while living in a slum .. they deserve change. And action.
We also met a lot of beautiful, peaceful, gentle men in India. Men who are working in communities to educate, improve, and change things. It's so heartening, and hopeful.
Annila translated for us, chaperoned us, aggressively bargained with taxi drivers, taught us how to cross the streets of Delhi and laughed when we all screamed like a bunch of lily-livered white girls. We watched her as she bought us street food, barged ahead, demanded, haggled, and helped. Annila moved through India in the most remarkable way. I'm still struck by it. I bought her a gift on the last day to say thank you, and I hope to see her again when I go back. (With Dave, hopefully. He can sit in the mens carriage while I kick it back with my girls.)
Violence towards women is a global issue. We need change.
The song they sang to us will stay with me forever. I wish I knew what the words were ... MAN I was intent on getting the dance moves right.