The article by Michaela that went viral on social media networks has produced predictable responses. Indian men are sending her more and more unproductive public apologies, some of which amount to forms of harassment themselves. Perhaps something will come of this if we ask different sets of questions.
A better set of questions to ask, for example, would be what kind of psychic formation produces the kind of account of India that makes it starkly marked by the two poles of Michaela’s experience: exhilaration and sexist torture.
How would she write an account of her home country the US?
Would there be no sexual harassment and no exhilaration?
A woman is raped every few seconds in the US. As people who have lived for long periods in the US, both authors can testify to serious public harassment of women. One of us is gay and has been sexually harassed repeatedly in New York.
Would we produce accounts of the US that are marked by two extreme poles of exhilaration and horror?
Most likely not!
Would this be because we do not have enough of an understanding of the US?
Would it be because we did our research before we went there and still continue to try to understand both contexts better instead of passing quick judgements un-self-reflexive about our own class, racial and gender positions and, finally, would it be because there is no market for sleazy stories about the US back here in India?
This is not to suggest that what Michaela experienced was not horrendous or that she was deliberately distorting her experience here with its twin poles.
It is to point out how young, naive and ill-informed she was/is about India. The stuff about the sheer beauty of India is wince-worthy and almost as embarrassing as the horror at the sexism and abuse.
We can’t help asking: What was this young girl thinking?
Image: Foreign tourists pose in front of the Taj Mahal in Agra, India, 08 July 2007. (AFP)