Category Archives: India

The Upholstery Man Who Watched Porn

Regrettably, what I had hoped would be a dreamy account of my return to India will have to wait for now. The magic of Delhi has admittedly worn off on me over the past couple of days, and yet I remain head over heels in love with this country and culture…  so stay tuned for the highlights, which I’ve no doubt will soon follow today’s tale.

In November of last year, I wrote about a rather unpleasant encounter with an auto-rickshaw driver in South Delhi. After that incident, I was fortunate enough not to experience anything quite as unnerving. Until last weekend, that was.

Which brings me to 11am on Saturday morning, when two men arrived on my doorstep ready to change the fabric on my bed. I’d organised this job a week in advance, selected the cloth, and struck a good deal with the shop owner (in a seemingly reputable shop in Green Park). The transaction was pleasant and the upholsterers arrived on time (a rarity in Delhi!) I even phoned a friend to say ‘this is the best customer service I’ve had in weeks’. I spoke too soon. After measuring my bed and agreeing on a lower price, the first man left, leaving the second to get to work. I offered him water and turned on the AC. After a couple of hours, my flatmate left to meet some friends and I stayed in alone, working in his bedroom while the upholsterer worked in mine. The job took him almost 5 hours – an incredibly long time now that I think about it. Every now and again I popped my head around the door to see how my bed was shaping up, and the upholsterer began muttering to himself. I did think it strange, but couldn’t understand what he was saying. He was sweating, even though the room was icy cool. And, he was scratching his private parts… but let’s be honest, don’t most of us from time to time? When he had finished, I helped the upholsterer carry my mattress from the balcony onto my bed. He was looking at me in a way that made me feel very uncomfortable so I asked him to stop, and to leave. He didn’t. This man was really sweating by now. I walked through to the living room to call my flatmate and request he speak to the man in Hindi. I would pay the balance at the shop later. From the corner of my eye, I could see the upholsterer standing there. He was touching his penis. My flatmate couldn’t hear me clearly so I cut the call and dialled my boyfriend. By this point, I could hear loud sexual noises coming from my bedroom – the voice of a woman’s, not a man’s. Within seconds, I realised that the upholsterer was watching porn on his mobile phone and pleasuring himself, in my bedroom. I could hardly believe what was happening and swore at the man until he stopped. Sat on my bed, he received further abuse from the other end of my phone, to which he solemnly answered “yes sir”, “yes sir”.  The upholsterer then picked up his bag and left.What followed was equally unpleasant. Five minutes later, two men came pounding on my front door, incessantly ringing my doorbell and mobile phone. I locked all of the doors and windows and after a couple of angry phone calls they then left too.My flatmate was home within 20 minutes, and my friend (and ex Centre for Social Research colleague) drove straight over to the upholstery shop. It turns out the upholsterers are on “external contracts” – i.e. the shop keeper accepted no responsibility for what had happened.  His workmen filled us in. The culprit in my story holds a criminal record, with pending charges against him for sexual assault. He was fired three days ago from another job following a similar incident. We, too, are going to press charges. This man must be held accountable, and this kind of behaviour needs to stop.

More and more I wonder where sexual harassment and violence against women stems from. What happened on Saturday got me thinking about pornography and the effects it can have on those watching it. It’s something I’ve never given much attention to. I now realise that I may have grossly overlooked the muted, yet sinister role porn plays within society. For the uneducated, pornography inevitably substitutes sex education. That much is evident from the events that unfolded in my bedroom on Saturday afternoon. Findings on the effect of porn on crime and domestic violence are said to be inconclusive. That’s because it is extremely difficult to measure the influence of porn on sexual behaviour. In 2010, one study showed that boys who watch porn grow into men who think sexual harassment is acceptable:

“Porn is a very poor sex educator because it shows sex in unrealistic ways and fails to address intimacy, love, connection or romance. Often it is quite callous and hostile in its depictions of women.”

Another similar study in the U.S. failed to find one single 20-year-old male participant who had not been exposed to pornographic material. Not very surprising that porn may be a causal factor in crimes against women, then.

Pornography is founded on fantasy. In the absence of understanding that porn is in fact fictional, it may be very difficult for a person to separate their fantasies from reality. For many, porn is exciting, it’s exhilarating, it’s private and harmless. And then there are those that wish to indulge in those same scenarios in the real world. Out of those people, there are some who believe sex can be initiated at any given moment, leaving no room for respect or consent. But, a pornographic plot line itself is not real. For years, that’s why I had never spent any time thinking about it. I believed it to be a preferable outlet for sexual urgency and desire to oppression-cum-aggression. And yet, for the first time, I’ve now come face-to-face with the false messages pornography conveys. Last weekend I felt like an unsuspecting character in one man’s personal fantasy. A fantasy undeniably influenced by Western porn.

Every second, 28,258 internet users are viewing pornography and over $3000 is being spent on the porn industry. Pornography is something I’d like to learn more about. On discovering that a man’s imagination can run havoc on his morals and actions, I feel it’s something that parents, teachers and policy makers should also pay more attention to.

Sexual harassment is not an Indian-specific problem. It is not necessarily linked to bedrooms and upholstery. Neither is it always induced by porn. Men and women can both fall victim to sexual harassment. It can happen anywhere, at any time. Here I now find myself, advising friends to ensure they are not home alone when opening the door to a stranger for any reason. And yet, how ridiculous is that. Is it not safe to answer the door in our own homes?  Where should we draw the line?

Sex should be consensual. All sexual acts should be consensual. If anything similar happens to you or a friend, take the man to the police; file a First Information Report (FIR) against him if you’re in India, or equivalent in another country. Please.

Advertisements

Men Say NO to Violence Against Women

Today is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.

November 25 is a day to speak up and shout out against the worldwide phenomenon of gender-based violence. To mark this, and the beginning of 16 Days of Activism to End Gender Violence 2011,  Must Bol kicked off the much awaited “Men Say No” Blogathon today! The online event helps to collect ideas, thoughts & experiences on the importance of men’s role and the urgency of the issue. ‘Men Say No’ will allow bloggers and readers to really dive into the many facets of violence against women, men’s reaction to it, and everything in between. It’s a fantastic idea and should be an interesting read. Looking forward to seeing what everyone comes up with!

You can read the first few entries over at the ‘Men Say No’ blogathon. Some of the CSR team and I will be contributing to the blogathon too! Everyone is invited to submit entries for the Blogathon between 25th December & 10th December 2011. Those who write a related blog post during the 16 Days of Activism can link it up to the ‘Men Say No’ Blogathon page. If you’d like to get involved, visit http://www.mustbol.in/blogathon or contact kuber.sharma@commutiny.in.

Delhi: The City Where Angels Fear To Tread

Photo Credit: K.Brown. All Rights Reserved.  

Tonight at 10pm, after meeting for a coffee and catch up, my friend and I left ‘The Living Room’ in Hauz Khas Village in two separate auto-rickshaws to go home. On the drive to Vasant Kunj my driver struck up a regular conversation with me. “Where are you from ma’am?” “Do you like Delhi?” “Winter is nice, yes?” Before I knew it, what he was saying very quickly turned from bog standard references to the weather to sexually explicit and unnerving questions. Luckily, I understand enough ‘bad’ Hindi words to make out how inapropriate the conversation was. I also know the city well enough to gauge just how much time I had before we would hit a long stretch of road with no people about, lots of bushes and very little lighting. Needless to say, when the man began to slow down to a halt I could feel my heart in my chest.

So there I was, sitting in an auto rickshaw, with a man who I have no doubt had every intention of attempting to assault me, by the side of one of the most dangerous roads I can think of in South Delhi, in the pitch dark, with a blanket covering the side of the vehicle (usually a shield from the wind/rain), hiding me from the view of any person who happened to drive by. After protesting he’d run out of out petrol, and then a very loud phone call describing my exact location to a friend who lives nearby, the auto started moving again. By this point, I was desperate to get out and so got him to pull over a little further along the road when we reached lights and parked cars. The driver sped off. Guess he decided waiting for his 80 Rupees wasn’t worth facing the wrath of the man on the other end of my mobile phone. He also knew what he said, and what he tried to do to me was wrong.

I work for an organisation that aims to raise awareness of, and ultimately eradicate, the widespread problem of rape and sexual assault in India, so I am very conscious of just how dangerous the scenario I have described can be. I’m fortunate enough to have friends on the other end of the phone who will drop whatever they’re doing to come and pick me up off the side of the road at any hour of the day. It was a good thing I had credit on my phone and battery too, for that matter. There are numerous cases of women who don’t know, nor have any of these things, and so experience something much, much worse. By the time I was standing out in the open by the side of the road, I was shaking like a leaf. And, the moment I shut the door behind me in my apartment, I broke down into tears. I really am so lucky. Not just tonight, but in the grand scheme of things too.

What upsets me the most has nothing to do with my own experience this evening. Not that I unwittingly got into the back of an auto rickshaw with a criminal, nor that I was terrified when it suddenly hit home just how vulnerable I am here, a 22 year old woman alone in Delhi.

  • I am upset and enraged by the fact that, rather than being a one-off incident, similar stories to the one I have just told take place every single day in Delhi, over and over again. Often with a much more sinister ending. 
  • I am sickened at the thought that the man who drove me to Vasant Kunj tonight is somewhere out there in this city, continuing with his job after a very narrow escape from a serious (and much deserved) ass-kicking.
  • I’m furious that I don’t even trust the police here enough to have called on them for help.
  • I’m mad at the men who simply sat and stared from inside their cars or the side of the street as I stepped out the auto in distress. I’m disgusted that sexual harassment is not a serious issue in everybody’s eyes.
  • I’m frustrated by what I feel I have to write next….

Please please please tell your sisters, girlfriends, girl mates, mothers, daughters – tell all women – not to take an auto-rickshaw alone in this city. Especially after dark, and above all not on a journey through isolated or poorly lit areas. 

I shouldn’t have to say that, because it simply shouldn’t be like this. And I’ve never been one to point the finger, so I won’t. Just keep talking about sexual harassment and rape. Keep discussing it and making a huge big fat noise about how WRONG it is. It happens every day, all over the world, and is not just an Indian phenomenon. However, there are indeed certain factors that perpetuate violence and harassment against women in this country more so than in others. If everyone were to stand up against sexual harassment and assault then the streets and roads of Delhi would be safer for everybody. The fact that treating women this way is not a social taboo is unbelievable. I wish crime against women was socially unacceptable – unaccepted by everyone and not just some. Harassing a young woman anywhere in Delhi is illegal. It’s frightening. And, it’s downright degrading.

Please SPEAK UP and SPEAK OUT against the men like my auto driver tonight, who take advantage of women against their will. I can’t stress that enough.


6 October 2011: Delhi Belly

Centre for Social Research, India
06.10.2011
Report nos. 9 & 10


Summary

Apologies for the lack of reporting over the past few weeks, short-term karma really seems to be getting the better of me! Despite bragging about not falling victim to Delhi Belly for the first three months of my time in India it eventually caught up with me. I’ve been feeling pretty tired and sluggish for the good part of four weeks now but am definitely on the mend. I am still internet-less and looking at a laptop with a huge crack that has now splintered off across my entire screen. Work continues to be pretty intense, with new and unexpected tasks flying at M&C from all directions. It takes a bit more than that to get me down however. The sun is still shining here in Delhi and, overall, life is peachy. Looking forward to the next chapter of my Indian adventure.

Work Overview

September in a nutshell:  The week my Mum left was a sobering one for this city. On the morning of Wednesday 7th September there was a bomb blast outside of Delhi High Court, killing 12 and injuring 76. A powerful earthquake later that evening  then left everyone feeling pretty unnerved. It took a few days for the tension in the city to ease off, but it’s amazing how the atmosphere of a place after a disaster does eventually return to some form of normality, given time.

Highlights at work include a trip to the Swedish Embassy for a chat with the First Secretary. And, no, I didn’t see any Ikea furniture in there (disappointingly). Another highlight was welcoming the EU Human Rights Working Group to the office, where we had a really interesting discussion on various issues such as female foeticide and women in politics, and some tasty South Indian food for lunch. The group is made up of young diplomats from across Europe based in Delhi and it was nice to get to know them all.

The latest Gender Matters blog articles include Hopes and Dreams in Delhi: A Field ReportCSR Study Reveals Disturbing Trends in Delhi Rape Cases,  A Man in a Women’s World, and A Letter from the Director.

Creating CSR’s mailing list database felt like a never-ending task but, thankfully, the newsletter should have reached almost 2000 letterboxes and inboxes by now! You can read the Newsletter in full here.

Plans for the Coming Week

M&C is working on a big fundraising proposal that’s due next week. I’ve been doing research on sex-selective abortions in Delhi for that. We’re also working on a presentation for a couple of EU delegates who would like to learn more about the same issue of pre-natal sex selection in India.

Other

GTI have a new project in the pipelines called “Shuruaat”. It’s a new ‘activity-based learning’ service for children at our four Crisis Intervention Centres (CICs) across Delhi. Volunteers will be spending time with kids hungry for attention and affection, which is unfortunately missing from their lives. They’ll be doing artwork, dancing, singing, teaching spoken English, environmental awareness & active citizenship, and playing games with them in a safe space within their communities. We’re raising money for the rehabilitation of domestic violence victims at our CICs on Saturday at the office through an art workshop held by talented Madhubani artist, Ranjana Jha. So I’ll be participating in that and taking some photos! I’m also hoping to volunteer for Shuruaat soon.

FOR THOSE OF YOU READING THIS IN DELHI: IF YOU FANCY BECOMING A SHURUAAT VOLUNTEER THEN PLEASE SEND AN EMAIL TO SAHIBA@CSRINDIA.ORG. WE’D LOVE TO HEAR FROM YOU!

5 August 2011: Taj Mahal

Centre for Social Research, India
05.09.2011
Report no.8

Summary

Last week was one of my favourite weeks in India yet. I had an important guest visiting – my mum! She very bravely made the trip over here by herself, arriving on Monday and spending a fun-filled week with me in the madness that is Delhi. At work, most of my time was spent on the latest CSR newsletter.

Work Overview

CIC Visit:  On Tuesday a crowd of us went to Chattarpur CIC in South Delhi. The women and girls gathered for a monthly meeting at which CSR counsellors explained some basic human rights and held a Q&A session. We then ran an art workshop. We asked the women to paint/draw their hopes and dreams for the future. Food and drinks were passed around, and the girls painted beautiful henna patterns on our hands and feet. It was such a special day and one I don’t think I’ll ever forget. All of these women have been through unthinkable traumas in their past, many are still suffering in the present. On Tuesday, however, in that little shaded corner of Chattarpur, after finishing their jobs and household chores, hidden away from the hustle and bustle of Delhi life and the hardships they face every day, they were all sitting there smiling and singing – so supportive of each other, and so welcoming of us into their community.

You can find the latest CSR blog entry here: Fear in the City: Ensuring, Not Restricting Women’s Freedom.

Other

My mum and I took the train to Agra at the weekend to see the Taj Mahal. It really is beautiful.

14 August 2011: Bollywood

Centre for Social Research, India
14.08.2011
Report no.5

Summary

I said a lot of goodbyes last week, and realised that even though I’m still answering “How long are you in Delhi for?” with “6 months” –  I only really have 4 months left here now. I spent most of my week with other people – friends from work, friends from Scotland, friends from Delhi and made some new friends too. By Saturday I was ready for some peace and quiet and sat down to write letters home, read my book and get stuck into work that I’d been avoiding during the week.

 

Work Overview

I spent most of my time working on research and social media last week. The latest blog entry went live today: Broken Promises: The Dark Side of NRI Marriages.

I was introduced to ShadowLine Films on Friday and will hopefully be collaborating with them soon. Really excited about this – my love affair with China and previous work experience with a human rights film festival mean it’s right up my street. The film trailer for ‘It’s a Girl’ (which you’ll find on their website) looks fantastic. CSR helped them when they came to India to shoot the film, and some CSR staff are featured. Will be great to see if we can come up with a  project together.

Plans for the Coming Week

This week I’m working on the presentation on ‘prevention and control strategies for crimes against women in public’. It’s my main priority at the moment.

M&C has also started the ball rolling on the CSR Newsletter. My supervisor gets back to Delhi on Wednesday so I’m sure we’ll be busy with this next week.

I’m also starting work on a new series for the blog about the work that CSR interns do this week.

Other

I went out for dinner at a wonderful restaurant in a place called the ‘Garden of Five Senses’ on Thursday night after haggling for some lanterns and flip flops in a slightly chaotic but charming market – Janpath – in South Delhi. It was a friend Shruti’s last meal before she headed home to Bangalore, and my friends Michael, Michael & Maria’s last meal before they headed back to Glasgow. The restaurant is situated in a huge green garden decorated with strings of white lights, and swinging chairs are suspended from the roof to eat your meal on. On Friday we carried lots of cushions, rugs and colourful lanterns up to our rooftop and threw a leaving party under the stars for one of the CSR interns.

I watched one of the country’s best-loved Bollywood films on Saturday called Diwale Dulhania Le Jayenge. Before I came to India I shamefully hadn’t ever seen a Bollywood film… which is ironic because out of everything I’ve done here I seem to enjoy watching Indian cinema the most. This one is apparently “the” film to watch – it’s a classic Indian love story where the lead girl is destined for an arranged marriage but falls in love with someone else before her engagement. There was a lot of singing, dancing and gender stereotyping throughout.

I’d honestly been wondering what all the hype was about, but by the end of it I fully understood. Living here, you can instantly understand why Indian cinema is such an unstoppable force – it plays to the hopes and dreams of young people and gives others the drama and action they crave. More than anything, I feel that getting lost in the glitzy world of Bollywood – where the boy always gets the girl, justice is always spectacularly served against the corrupt villain, and characters break from traditional ties to do the most unthinkable acts of bravery and rebellion – is an escape for 2 or 3 hours from some of the real difficulties and problems people face in this country. Maybe that could be said for all forms of entertainment, but there’s certainly something about the mix of humour, music, colour and overall satisfaction of South Asian cinema which provides more of a release than any other film or performance I can think of. Perhaps it’s down to the fact that it doesn’t take itself too seriously.  I like that.

8 August 2011: Elephants in Jaipur

Centre for Social Research, India
08.08.2011
Report no.4

Summary

Last week I spent less time at the office because of CSR human rights workshops going on at the local University, a fun CSR team building day, relentless stormy weather and my first trip outside of the city. As I watched the sleepy slums, skyscrapers, lush green countryside and workers tending their crops whizz by from inside the train to Jaipur on Saturday morning it struck me that I had finally fallen for Delhi.

Work Overview

After posting the second part of the blog series on the Delhi SlutWalk online, I was handed a new mini-research task on ‘strategies for the prevention of crime against women’ which I’ll be focusing on over the next couple of weeks.

On Tuesday I went along to Jawaharlal Nehru Uni to listen to a speaker at the CSR Human Rights Defenders training workshop. The presentation was in Hindi, so I didn’t understand – but could tell that Dr. Kumar was very passionate about human rights from his body language, facial expressions and tone of voice! It’s amazing how much of what someone is saying you can make sense of regardless of a language barrier. 

On Wednesday CSR held a team building day for the whole office. It was a really nice way to get to know everyone better. We all took part in interactive exercises (e.g. each drawing an image that represents how we feel about our position in the org), and problem solving, where we were split into teams, plus there was a lot of dancing and food! 

Key Issues

We have a chipmunk living in our bathroom… Other than that, no issues!

Plans for the Coming Week

This week I’m working on new content for the CSR website, as well as my usual social media tasks. I’ll also be preparing a presentation on prevention measures for crimes against women with one of the other interns.

Other

I have three friends from Scotland visiting, and an Indian friend from Bangalore is leaving Delhi at the weekend so we’re all going out for a meal tomorrow night to say goodbyes. On Friday we’re hosting a party on our roof terrace for all the young CSR staff and their friends so tonight I’m going shopping for lanterns and fairy lights for that!

Travel

My first trip outside of the city was fantastic – Jaipur is an incredible place. Touristy, but also warm, welcoming and very pretty. I saw my very first elephant on Sunday… which is something I’ve been waiting to see since I was a little girl. Natalie and I were sitting in the back of a rickshaw passing the Water Palace in the middle of the Man Sagar Lake, on our way to Amer, when a huge elephant came trundling down the road towards us. Followed by 6 more!! Quite a few of the photos in this report are from my travels to the Amber Fort in Amer, not far from Jaipur city. It’s a truly breathtaking fortress – I loved the mixture of Hindu and Mughal design and the thought that thousands of years ago Rajput Maharajas and their families would have been living and entertaining guests in the spaces I was walking through.