Harassment and rape are the rule of thumb in India, says writer who studied there

Published: January 16, 2013


There are rules a woman should remember in India, says our writer. If you don’t, then ‘you’re asking for it.’ Submitted photo

If you are a female of any age on your own on the street, public transit or any other public place, you are a sitting duck for sexual harassment. If you want to avoid that, you do not venture out alone or do not attract attention in any other way. However, if you are bold enough to be out and about in order to get your things done, then “you are just asking for it.” That is the rule of thumb in India.

It was a hard rule to swallow for me and numerous other students from North America who went to India to study at a University in the south for four years. It was a university that hired its own private security, which made the campus area extra safe but there were strict regulations that we all (especially girls) needed to follow. We were in an all-girls residence (called hostels in India). We had a curfew that required beginners be in their rooms before 9 p.m. and more senior students before midnight. If anyone violated that, their parents were informed of the infraction.

No guys were allowed in the hostel. Family members needed special permission. In a nearby metropolitan city, they had a strict no-dancing policy in clubs because women were presumably putting themselves at risk by doing so. I remember we were warned not to celebrate Valentine’s Day because it would be a call out for danger. Coming from Canada, the rules and regulations all seemed so foreign. My friends and I would find them ridiculous and backward.

As time went on, we realized that they were designed to keep us safe. We heard several stories about students who were raped, and then threatened by senior students that if they reported it, their reputation with the university would be ruined and families would find out. There was an incident where a conservative political party led an attack to beat up on women who had gone to a local bar for a casual night out.


We ourselves, many times, got first-hand experience of feeling unsafe. If we were travelling in a train, which is a common means of transportation in the country, and were not lucky enough to get an air-conditioned compartment, we would be extra cautious to make sure that we were not alone and always surrounded by a group of friends. We would keep an eye out to check what men surrounded our compartment. If we felt a pair of gawking eyes staring at us or someone breathing down our necks, we knew it was not the time to question anything or to prove our point but instead to follow those embedded instructions. We would push up our scarves to hide most of our face and stare out the window and not ask for any more attention. Never stare back, retaliate or, better yet never sit in the third tier or what they call the non air-conditioned compartment.

If these simple instructions were not followed, well, then “you’re just asking for it.” According to a billion people that was the rule of thumb.

I never really understood that phrase “you’re just asking for it.” According to Freudian theory it is an example of an immature human defence mechanism where a man is rationalizing his animalistic urge and feeling of guilt by using the common phrase “she was asking for it.” On behalf of all women I think I can speak out loud that no woman asks to be sexually harassed in any way. So the rule of thumb needs to change.

It is the men who act, and women should not be held responsible for the dangers they face while going about their daily business. India not only needs to strengthen its laws and mobilize its law enforcement agencies but also move the minds of its millions of people through education and awareness. Perhaps only then some of the phrases can change.

Ray Grewal is a medical student who writes for Vancouver Desi.

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