What do Pakistan and India share? No respect for women

A foreign student was groped, harassed and even masturbated at (publicly) during her few months in India. Why?

Mahwash Badar September 05, 2013
They call us independent, free nations. Pakistan and India, after 60 odd years of being ruled by the white man, has been unable to break free of one acute problem: The white woman.

Whether it is by selling our lovely brown women fairness creams and coloured lenses or by introducing at least one beautiful American/British girl into the storyline of your favourite drama/movie, the focus on the white woman is taking a slightly grotesque turn.

The line between fascination and obsession is smudged as I go through the account of a CNN report where a female student from the University of Chicago talks about being groped, harassed and even masturbated at (publicly) during her few months in India. She explains how she was stared at, photographed, stalked, and how her experiences landed her in a psych ward for two weeks. Her roommate even escaped a rape attempt.

My snap response to reading that piece was horror, of course, but also a sad shake of the head: this is what every Pakistani/Indian woman goes through every day.

If an average South Asian woman has the misfortune of not having a car or a driver or an armed guard to protect her from leers and catcalls (or from rape for that matter), she is left to fend for herself.

If an average American/British/Caucasian woman has the misfortune of having the curiosity of discovering India, she should do so with a chastity belt or under a burqa, if need be, because she is going to be stared at. She is going to be stalked. She is going to be followed. She is going to have to dress down, not because she is ashamed of being white, but because she is afraid of being white. She is going to have to grow thicker skin. She is going to have to understand that had she been a white man, she would not have to fear the drool on anyone’s lips.

Earlier in 2004, an Australian woman was murdered and raped in India. White women have been bringing this issue to attention and India’s sexual harassment problem has reached a point where it needs to be addressed, not just for local women but for any woman who wants to pay India a visit. The real problem is that India is not safe for women, period. Once you paint it white, the problem just becomes a fully fledged danger.

And like our boundaries, Pakistan also shares India’s ugly fascination for “gori chamri” (white skin).

You can use a white girl to sell anything in this part of the world. You can use her to sell sex (pornography) or even surma (or insert anything that has nothing to do with the Western culture). Men have been known to proclaim that bedding a ‘white chicks’ is a conquest, no less. The white woman is a fantasy; something that has been built within the minds of Indo-Pak men since adolescence.

The root cause of such pathetic obsessions can be explained by either a subservient mindset or a love for our masters which we will probably take another few decades to get over. It could also be quite simply explained with the rampant problem of sexism and objectifying women.

Any culture, subculture or social structure that objectifies women, the way Indo-Pak cinema and society does, cannot be too far away from such crimes against women. While Indian cinema is filled with women (fair and dark alike) jiggling their hips to latest tunes, few flicks can survive with a dark, non make-upped woman playing a strong, independent protagonist. Once an actresses crosses the tender age of ‘appearing in her twenties’ she is shelved. Men pick on women because society itself gives carte blanche to such atrocious behaviour. We institutionalise violence against women (marital rape is still not considered a criminal offense under the Indian Penal Code) and propagate it by making a woman an object of a man’s lust and not his respect.

We are a society (this includes both India and Pakistan) which considers women inferior and powerless, of lesser brains and even lesser strength, having a lower stature. Marriage, work, friendships, relationships, economics, or politics, men have established a status quo that seems immovable to those who are paying the highest price for it. We are a society that is moving at a snail’s pace when it comes to female empowerment.

This is probably why a 23-year-old woman was raped repeatedly by five men in Mumbai recently. An unarmed, unassuming woman is an easy target. The earlier victim, also a 23-year-old, ‘Nirbhaya’ (as the people sought to call her, meaning “fearless one”) succumbed to her injuries and passed away two weeks after she was raped and then brutally attacked. Protests flared up in India to demand more stringent rape laws. Lawmakers showed movement, human rights activists have been shouting non-stop.

Me? I still find it ironic that nations are waking up to objectifying women – at the cost of women.
Mahwash Badar The author is a clinical psychologist, a mum to two boys and permanently in a state of flux. She tweets @mahwashajaz_ (https://twitter.com/mahwashajaz_)
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.


ayesha | 8 years ago | Reply All of you who have a problem with being lumped with India and have said that this does not happen in Pakistan. Please get a reality check! The recent incident of a 5 yr old girl raped and left outside Ganga Ram Hospital, Lahore is not the 1st such heinous crime committed in Pakistan. Its only the one that the media has chosen to highlight.
saadiya | 8 years ago | Reply @TheSlam: i hope that you have an example in sumbul. Pakistani men are just the same . See the ones who go abroad to western countries - they change their name from Adnan to andy, and start looking for hookers. Examples are plenty
Replying to X

Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.

For more information, please see our Comments FAQ