Ever since the atrocious Delhi rape in December 2012, I have been grappling with my perpetual love-hate relationship with India. 6 years ago I blindly fell in love with India when I had my first taste of the country through a college summer internship experience. Treated like royalty on that trip, my co-interns and I were put up in a nice guesthouse and shuttle to and from work in a chauffeured private vehicle. Since that trip, I’ve returned again and again, and my roots have settled even deeper into the country of my ancestors. Despite what current international news headlines and a recent internet story by a CNN iReporter known as “RoseChasm” (pictured left) might suggest, I never once felt unsafe or preyed upon despite the American accent and foreign dressing style that would inevitably betray my brown skin and Hindi words. I find myself struggling to understand which experience is more true – mine or that of RoseChasm’s? Most people would find the answer to be simple – my experience must be in the minority courtesy of the precautions I always took and the high-class nature of my accommodations and amenities. But I refuse to accept that as the truth. I cannot speak to the experiences of others, but I can speak truthfully regarding my own experiences. I know that all Indian men are not actively hunting women on a daily basis. I know that there is a beautiful side to India that I wish the world could learn more about. And most of all, I wish that this side of India could be paraded across international headlines as much as RoseChasm’s side of India.
For all of the above and more, I feel like my story is truly the tale of a traveler’s experience in India that nobody really wants to hear about. My experiences as a single, female traveler in India have defied most of the international audience’s expectations. I’ve lived and worked solo in Delhi and a few other cities in North India without any problems. In fact, I once found myself stranded in Delhi with no cash and still safely made it back to my guesthouse courtesy of the generosity and kindness of a local Indian man. Moreover, my guesthouses have always been staffed entirely by young Indian men – none of whom have so much as looked oddly in my direction, much less attempt to assault me. In fact, even when I called staff members to my room for miscellaneous reasons, the men never crossed the threshold into my room before asking for my explicit permission to do so. This is a far cry from experiences described in RoseChasm’s piece regarding her stay in Indian hotels. A simple search through TripAdvisor demonstrates just how many local hotels and guesthouses offer amazing hospitality and provide safe accommodations for single, female travelers. I would hate for fear of dangerous hotels and hotel staff to prevent other women across the world from gaining the type of eye-opening and life-changing experiences I have had in India. Just as the right time and place can set up one for misfortune anywhere in the world, the right precautions and a little bit of luck can enable one to experience the best aspects of international travel.
Every time stories of rape and assault in India come to light, I find myself torn between disgust with the events that have transpired and disappointment with the generalizations that inevitably rear their ugly heads in response to such tragedies. Awful stories of rape, murder, and violence come from every country – and India is clearly no exception to this rule. Why then is only India forever branded as an inhospitable environment for women and foreigners? I am fully aware of the misogyny that plagues India, but it’s not fair to let the misogynistic nature of some aspects of Indian society destroy India’s other attributes. Historically and culturally, this country is teeming with splendor. India still has a long road ahead, but it has come a long way since its inception – which many forget was barely 67 years ago. Over the years India has worked towards balancing traditional values with mainstream culture. Where else can you visit a Mughal era architectural heritage site and then walk across the street to a coffee shop blasting Western pop music? I wish RoseChasm could have experienced more of the India I’ve come to know and love. And I hope that others can stop generalizing India as this big, bad land of misogynists. India doesn’t deserve that. It deserves to be understood. It deserves to be appreciated. It deserves to be given a chance. And I’m so glad I gave it that chance so many years ago.
Farah Khan is an internal medicine resident at Emory University. After graduating from college in Boston, Farah returned to her hometown in Alabama for medical school where she was reunited with the mix of Southern hospitality and South Asian flair that had shaped her childhood. Follow her on Twitter or read some of her thoughts on her blog.