Recently, a friend posted a link to a story written by a young woman who traveled abroad in India. I was intrigued by the title, India: The Story You Don’t Want to Hear. I had this gut reaction that the girl in the photo was going to be speaking some truth I could relate to.
In her story, Rose Chasm, a student from Chicago shares the conundrum often faced when young Caucasian women travel to this beautiful, yet dangerous country:
I knew that as a white woman I would be seen as a promiscuous being and a sexual prize. I was prepared to follow the University of Chicago’s advice to women, to dress conservatively, to not smile in the streets. And I was prepared for the curiosity my red hair, fair skin and blue eyes would arouse.
But I wasn’t prepared.
I was not a student of South Asian Studies like Rose, but I had just spent a month living in nearby Nepal and thought that would have prepared me. It did not. My best friend and I often remarked about the stares that men threw our direction. Women would literally hand us their babies and beg to take pictures with us. We often described our experience traveling there as “walking around with a neon sign above our head.” The attention was overwhelming and we often felt unsafe.
Luckily for us, we were never the victims of sexual assault. We never traveled without the other, and though there was one night in particular where the man we had planned to stay with got way too drunk, we were able to lock the door and depart early in the morning before any further pain could be inflicted. We rarely speak of what happened, and I have yet to share it here on my travel blog. Rose sharing her story was the catalyst to break my silence. India is a HARD place to travel to if you are a white woman.
Sadly, we also noticed so much beauty in India. The crafts, the people, the food, the history – so many wonderful talents and such gorgeous beauty contained in one of the most populated countries on our planet. We went with high hopes and saw beautiful things. We also often say that it was the hardest five days of travel among literally months on the road together.
I hope to go back one day to have my opinion of the country re-framed. I know that I went to some of the most difficult cities to travel to – Delhi, Jaipur, and Agra, and that so much of the country is outside these overpopulated and poverty-stricken cities. I never want to seem as though I shy away from the difficult and challenging sites that are also in this world. I am hardly a traveler that only seeks beauty. I do, however, seek truth.
For any woman reading this, or anyone who has read Rose’s story, I HIGHLY recommend that you do not travel to India alone. More importantly, I highly recommend that you travel with a man who understands that he must protect you. Even better, get a local guide or friend in India and travel exclusively with him as your guide. Every bone of my independent, feminist-leaning-self hates that this is the reality. But take it from us, you don’t want to have a story like this to tell.
For more of my writings on India, click HERE.