Thursday, December 12, 2013

Public Transport, Armour and a Trainful of Gays

Feeling safe on the streets has been one of the best things about being in America. So, when I saw the e-mail from the President of the community college where I take classes, I was thrown off. It said that a student had reported a sexual assault. 

That it had happened in broad daylight, in one of the women’s restrooms, by a man the woman knew. I felt ungrounded for a moment. 

The news had created a hole in the sense of safety that I’d taken for granted for the last year and a half. And I have taken it for granted – the fact that there is no pushing and shoving and jostling when you go out. Maybe that’s just a factor of the number of people on the street. But there’s also no one, at least in the day-time, whom I’ve felt the need to defend against.

No need to make myself smaller in public transport, and no need to hold myself rigidly or be on the look-out for hands that might cop a feel. But was this always true when I travelled in Delhi and Gurgaon? Well, not always. I have taken the crammed shared autos in Gurgaon, the metro home to Delhi, the radio taxis, the rickshaws. In the last few years, Gurgaon had metarmorposed into a space where everyone was flowing in from everywhere. This flux meant fluidity. It meant freedom. It meant more and more that I felt safer, being out and about as a woman. So, I’ve had a taste of that. 

And I’ve also had the same experiences that any woman who has ever taken public transport in India has had. The experiences that left me feeling frozen, ashamed, and powerless in the beginning and that formed a crust around me as I grew older. Sexual invasion was a fact of life. It was a given. You had to learn to deal with it, toughen up, defend yourself the best you could. 

I know there is a deep schism that exists in Indian society, which talks a big talk when it comes to women, but conveniently shuts its eyes when they are victimized. But there’s also a parallel reality that affects us, the reality of a culture that demonizes sexuality so much that it actually spills out on our streets. And even though this happens, and even though it’s there for all of us to see, in all its grotesque forms, this culture cannot un-cling from its ideas of supposed right and wrong and how men and women should behave as sexual beings. 

Since that’s all we are focused on, we can’t even imagine that sexuality can exist on a continuum. The day the same-sex marriage laws changed here, I happened to take the Caltrain to San Francisco. Unlike all the other days, this time the train was full of vibrant colors, outrageous costumes and people on thei r way to celebrate the victory of having won the right to live their own way. I felt a little disconcerted by all the energy, the boisterousness, the wildness. Yes, wildness was the word that sprung to mind. These were people who were out in the world, openly being who they were, confronting the norms. 

In contrast, I felt domesticated, and not in a good way, but in a servile, complying way. I felt keenly all the ways in which I am not true to my own nature, all the ways in which I compromise. Maybe that’s what threatens conservatives, Indian or not, about the LGBT community. Maybe the wildness mocks our too-safe ways. Or maybe it is the fact that they claim their sexuality - that sex is not just a means for procreation, but a means for self-expression. Maybe we are just insecure about our own sexuality and think the devil might tempt us to cross on to the other side. Or maybe our whole life is built up on the assumption of the one-true way and an alternative way shatters that assumption. 

And maybe once we start thinking and questioning assumptions, we start walking on the edges of heretical thoughts. Thoughts like - doesn’t our religion say that the soul, the part of us that never dies, doesn’t have a gender. That it sheds one body and assumes another. So, if one soul chooses to love another soul, in whatever body that it inhabits, isn’t that okay? 

And since every being has a soul, which means that women have souls, which in turn means that they already have an indestructible, inviolate part, doesn’t this mean that we put inappropriate emphasis on the purity of their bodies? Why don’t we put emphasis on the purity of men’s bodies? Do they have better, superior souls?

Thinking is dangerous. It leads us into the wild, into uncharted territory. And we are scared of the wild. We want safety, even if it is constructed, even if it is handed to us in a package of morality, even if it takes away our right to think. Being given a set of rules is comforting in a way. We don’t have to decide. It takes away the risk of action. It takes away the risk of ridicule. We belong to the majority. 

And there’s safety in that, isn’t there? But freedom?


  1. "Maybe that’s what threatens conservatives, Indian or not, about the LGBT community. Or maybe it is the fact that they claim their sexuality - that sex is not just a means for procreation, but a means for self-expression. Maybe we are just insecure about our own sexuality and think the devil might tempt us to cross on to the other side. Or maybe our whole life is built up on the assumption of the one-true way and an alternative way shatters that assumption. "....

    Ritu... There's a good reason you din't tag me...:) ... just wanted to contextualize this---- 'one true way' way of putting this is... Is morality absolute ?? ... independent of norms..??? independent of culture... independent of progression..regression... ?? That's the question that we ought to ask... Truth by definition is exclusive...

    About homosexuality... its a sin .. in the same light adultery is... incest is... [This is where 'conservatives' ought to look....]
    On a personal level I try and tell people that we ought to love everyone[regardless of who they are.. and their lifestyle..]

    Socially speaking... prior to the Victorian England[a lot of modern day laws are intertwined from the Victorian age..]... there have been societies and cultures where homosexuality was high... (See Sparta..).. wherever homosexuality has been high the position of women in that society has been low...Or becomes low after a while... [Ask any feminist historian..]

    Most of God's laws are meant for our good... And yes 'thinking' is dangerous... Look what happened to Michele Foucault[He embodied Post-Modernism..]

    On another note... Ritu .. love your writing... absolutely love it...

    Keep it Up... :)

    Read this when you get time...

    1. Haha Hersh :)

      Our definition of morality seems to be limited to sex. Isn't leaving people starving and dying on the street immoral ? What if a gay couple were to adopt a street child. Wouldn't they be doing something true and moral?

      I don't know a lot about LGBTs. What I do know is that I believe in Live and Let Live. Every person should have the freedom to live their own lives, even if that's not the life we agree with.

      Adultery is cheating someone, incest is about brute force and betrayal of trust. But if you are gay and you are two consenting adults, that's different, isn't it ?

      I'll have to read about the link between the position of women and homosexuality. What I do know is that republicans in America are against both women's rights to their body as well as gays. They oppose both.

      Are they God's laws or people's interpretation of what God wants?

      Thank you Hersh :) It's great to hear that .. I feel encouraged :)

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    3. And I'll check out the link. Thanks !

    4. I agree with you.. in shades... but is morality absolute ?? About Insest...

      Incest is sexual activity between family members and close relatives.[1][2] This typically includes sexual activity between people in a consangueous relationship (blood relations), and sometimes those related by affinity, such as members of the same household, step relatives, those related by adoption or marriage, or members of the same clan or lineage.[3]

      I feel uncomfortable judging people... certainly criminalization of it all..
      I don't believe that homosexuality is natural...
      Ex-Homosexual Speaks....
      But when do we intervene ?? And how do we intervene... the 'live and let live doesn't allow us to think..'

      William Carey.. As an Indian I thank God for missionaries who have helped shape our culture... Sati... was eradicated by a Baptist[I hear most people in the south USA are baptists]...

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    1. As someone who defends an ideology[not the republican party]... I'll say this... the biggest issue of feminist(world over)s is not a pro-abortion... but prostitution...Sex Trafficking.. millions of poor young girls are lifted up... I know people who have worked with this issue here.. ask them about choice young girls have... where was their choice ?? ... labeling them sex-workers[that is what feminists out here do..] doesn't give them a choice ..[I am sure we couldn't have done anything if we say 'live and let live..' or 'live and let die']

      Ritu... Cmon... we know how many people abort unborn girls in India[Is it live and let live. Or live and let die..]... If you see the stats[my sociology prof had told me this].. I am sure a few northern states in India would be right up there in female foeticide( The way I see this is its not just a women's body.. first of all.. a woman cannot procreate without consummation with a 'man'... pregnant women shouldn't smoke.... they shouldn't consume alcohol ... shouldn't consume the same amount of food....

      you have a choice not to have unprotected sex... in or out of marriage..

    2. I am writing from a personal perspective Hersh. Yes, there are many important feminist issues. And maintaining the integrity of our bodies is one of the biggest. Abortion is a hugely difficult choice, but in many cases, it's a life-affirming choice for the woman. I would argue that if people are really pro-life, instead of focusing on controlling women's bodies, they look around and take care of the countless children on the streets. I don't see many people doing that.

      I also wanted to say to me feminism basically means the equality of men and women. I don't subscribe to the views of every feminist out there.

  3. Ritu... All you have to say is that its your choice when to have kids and how many to have... to procreate or adopt..[You have a right over your heart... ]... that's sovereign... freedom of choice....BUT A pregnant women... 2 month 1 months.. 1 day... regardless of the time commits an act of violence when she aborts or has contraceptive pills.....thts not a women's choice... "When does life begin..." --- it all boils down to that question...

    If it is a woman's body... then you cant do the same things with it... when you are pregnant... Ask any honest doctor... and he'll tell ya...they treat two lives... if you have a pro-abortion society like india's is.. and China's is ... you'll probably have a society where human rights don't exist...[If you research you'll get the find it.... our glorious past of caste system... ], another evidence which you'd probably agree with-----most girls who abort their kids are depressed for a long time.. is it just the social conditioning that dictates the guilt.. depression or its something else.... [A basic law of human nature so to speak...]--- why does a choice become a difficult choice... morality... right or wrong... you dint answer anything about insect... and what if adultery happens without breaking of trust... conceptual adultery[i hope you get it...]... is it right or wrong.. ??? --- where do you look at for morality.. Obama ?? Gandhi ???.Media?? .... I certainly will not look at politics ...[It has a way of talking about morality without a moral author..] --- think ... is it even moral to be moral.. ?? is good just a feeling or something else...

    While we are at it... I'd just like to say this... If you are honest with yourself... Just ask if as a society we[India] had discussions like these... woman's rights is a subset of human rights.... we have a pathetic track record at that... and human rights[came from a Christian world (I must add... before Mormonism, Jehovah's Witnesses et al..)]..along with that I believe humanity has benefited from 'gifts of philanthropy and modern science...

    Watch when you get time...

    1. Ritu... I don't want to win the argument...... "Its about seeking the truth..."

  4. Yes, Hersh. It's about seeking the truth. I agree completely that abortion has a moral implication. I could completely understand a woman getting depressed after she has one. But I can also imagine a woman feeling like that it the right decision for her.

    I disagree that being pro-abortion is the reason that human rights don't exist in India and China. They don't exist for a lot of different reasons - from bad governance to a patriarchal system where men are valued more than women. And many more.

    Being able to control their lives and bodies gives women basic choices - before they can start taking care of another life, they need to honour their own lives.

  5. Ritu Dearest[You are sounding like a mouth-piece of the democratic party]... I still think you don't get my point....... Everyone still has a choice... basic choice... have protected sex[if fearful ... have extra protection...]... how hard is that for you to understand.... its your body... your choice.... before you are pregnant.... after you are pregnant there are two one is holding a gun to your head and saying------ the purpose of your life is get married... have a ton of kids!!!

    I never said that that it(just) has a moral implication...[abortion has moral implications just as taking someone else's life has moral implications..i presented that as an evidence...for a basic law of human nature...which ou have conveniently side tracked ]....After getting accidently[if you chose to have sex without protection(or extra protection)] pregnant... You still have a choice!!!!(no one is forcing you to bring up a child)... if you don't want to(or are not ready) bring up a kid... put the kid up for an adoption!!!! [Throw them down the throats of red rebublican right wingers]

    After you become pregnant... you are deciding for someone else's life... its not your body then...

    See Ritu...there is a lot of legislation.... with the pro-life and pro-choice debate....[Some of the legislature has moral mazes.. some of them are just political rhetoric...]----- and out there... I believe there is hypocrisy on both sides....

  6. Coming back to the earlier topic----
    I don't think the state should dictate what is marriage and what isn't ... everyone ought to have the same rights... logical consistency--- out there... state gives some benefits to married couples.. that is why same-sex marriage is such a big point was you are not born gay..... its a choice[not a singular... a series of choices...]... an don't develop sexuality until you are 3-4 years old...