The Indian girl who chose to become an American woman was right about one thing. She did learn how to sit at a big round table and say things in a way that made it seem like she knew what she was talking about, and it is clear that she is perfectly capable of making a convincing argument about pretty much anything.
I knew this to be true the minute she brought about Nirbhaya. Because the Nirbhaya case was a matter of national shame, probably the lowest of our lows, something that shook us to our core. But for me, it was the incident that put the Indians who truly believed in the potential of the country to become a great nation into a defensive corner. I knew that it would be the story that many would look bring up from now on to definitively “prove” about the barbaric inferiority of my country, thereby reinforcing the ideas of being inherently lesser that colonization has deeply cemented in our psyches.
Like the newly minted American woman, I too am at an American university right now. However, I think that’s where the similarities end. Therefore, allow me to present a different perspective on the country I still, quite proudly, call home.
When the Nirbhaya case happened, I had just started with college. I started living in a PG which charged me a meager sum of money for basic living facilities, with three roommates who all came from smaller towns. We were all women, and all rattled by what had happened to a girl similar in age to us, all exposed to pretty much every side of the argument, from the feminist protest and women’s safety marches to the groups that blamed the victim, and the case became something through which we started exploring our own perceptions of ourselves and our womanhood. We had disagreements about what constituted sexual harassment, what could be called rape and what punishment suits the horrific crime. And yes, I will admit that many ignorant comments were made (there was a girl who said, “Look, if you have an expensive laptop, you can’t go around parading it in front of a thief. If you’re a woman, you can’t live with the same liberties as a man. That’s just how it is.”) Fights broke out, with me often losing my temper and yelling when women were accused of being temptresses of some kind, provoking young men to commit actions that they wouldn’t otherwise commit. But at the end of our stay together, as a result of all our controversial conversations, we all grew. We became better people, more understanding of the struggles of other women, broadening our minds and our inquisitiveness, and instead of being disheartened and wondering why we were still having arguments about injustices that are very clearly, well, injustices, I felt like I had been a small part of a small change.
When I left India to pursue graduate studies abroad, it wasn’t because I was running away from something. My grandparents on both sides were refugees, and thankfully, at least in my family, the running away from violence ended with them. My father, hardworking and ambitious as he is, had a good job he was proud of and that led us to living in New Delhi and Mumbai, and for college, I went to Jadavpur Unviersity in Kolkata. My college experience was different from the American woman’s. I went to school with students from all stratas of society, and we all became friends, and I don’t think there will ever be a day when I will not be proud of that, and I had no loans or debt because I basically studied for free. My classmates were curious, overwhelmed with work and expectations, getting drunk and waking up hung over, engaging in philosophical debates even though Hegel wasn’t a part of our syllabus. It was a fun four years, and they made me look forward to the rest of my life, even though I understood that college was a bubble and grown-up life would be different.
By the end of my 23-year stay in my country, I kind of felt like I had seen it all. I wanted to see what education abroad is like. In Europe and Japan, language would be a problem, so America would be my destination of higher education. I wanted to do research here. I like America and I think I am doing well for myself here, but I have a plan to eventually go back to my own country.
The minute I stepped in America, I became Indian with a capital ‘I’. I felt like someone who was a representative of a vast and diverse country, and therefore, felt responsible to be honest as well as dignified in my representation from it, which basically meant that I needed to hold my head up high and pray and work and root for Mangalyaan in the face of constant media coverage of rape and child marriage. Some days, this was such a hard task that I wondered if it would be easier to just get on some Mangalyaan thin and just move to Mars. But fortunately, I am not devoid of hope, not superior to my countrymen who I’m now living 8000 miles away from, and perhaps naively hopeful that there is a miniscule sense of power to bring some positive change in my representation of my country. Some of my fellow Indian graduate students call me stupid, while some have expressed admiration in my views. But my views aren’t for any of those two groups. They are for and my home.
If the Indian girl who chose to become an American woman wants to settle in the US, good for her. It is her choice, and perhaps she doesn’t know this, but many Indians believe in personal choice and freedom, even the ones who never studied abroad. But to say that India failed its women on an international platform, and using our biggest shame, the Nirbhaya case, to justify your personal decisions is, well, low, not to mention, a mockery of people like me who don’t mind putting in the belief and work to make our own country a better place. Feelings aside, her position is damaging to all immigrants. It gives ammunition to white nationalists like Richard Spencer who claim that non-white immigrants are just people who couldn’t do anything in their country and are now just trying to feed off what “white” countries have already built. The part where she says India is just a place where everybody’s just getting raped every minute is disturbing, because it makes Indian men sound like monsters who do nothing but torture women all day. How is it any different than some very powerful person claiming all Mexicans are drug dealers or all Muslims are terrorists?
Also, how does her position make sense? Should 1.3 billion Indians just move to America? Is that a solution? Last but not the least, it is important to note that there has been a recent surge of NRIs bombarding social media with their views on what is wrong with India from the relative safety of their foreign “first-world” abodes. But their constant criticism is hurting India economically. In the age of globalization, many countries need foreign investment to thrive, and who would want to invest in a country its own people are disparaging of? An example of badly affected industry is tourism. Every month, I meet an American who tells me they could never dream of going to India because of how it’s unsafe for women, and now, they will never see Kashmir, Agra, Kerala or Shantiniketan, which is a shame.
As I type up this article on my computer, passionately banging away on my keyboard after a night of not having slept, I feel a deep shame, this time not for the crime and corruption that I hope we keep fighting against in India, but for the colonial mentality that still plagues my countrymen and seems exacerbated in NRIs. Because, to be honest, I think that’s what the article was about. It wasn’t about the safety (or lack thereof) of women in India at all. It was about the happiness many Indians seem to get simply by being in a foreign country. They may not feel themselves inferior to their new mostly white, mostly wealthy peers but they do feel superior to us backward natives, and the idea of coming back to India is the stuff of nightmares for them. I am hurt and saddened by this, and wish it weren’t true, but how else can I explain someone joining the freaking American army when they seem to have not a single thought to spare for our brave armymen fighting for what is good in our country, or any of the values of the truly patriotic Indian? All this just for a citizenship?
Maybe I believe in too much and hope for too much. But here I am, being me, hoping to bring some small shred of change. And yes, I feel like superior to those who don’t even try.