“Be careful you don’t get raped in India.”
Before I left for my trip to India this December, I heard comments like this, and others that echoed the same sentiment.
People at the grocery store, in my classes and friends back home told me I was brave for traveling to Southeast Asia alone. At the same time, I had been bubbling since the moment I booked my ticket for seven cities in 20 days. I wanted to tell people, but I was taken aback each time people who hadn’t been to India were suddenly experts on India’s rape culture.
I was finally going to get to see the colors, smell the spices, bargain with street vendors and go to a friend’s wedding. Some of my international student friends from India had helped carefully craft a plan for my trip and narrow down a list of cities I had made from looking on Pinterest and Lonely Planet, a traveling site.
I wasn’t oblivious to a scary list of New Delhi rapes that included foreign journalists and Jyoti Singh, the subject of a recent BBC documentary. I just couldn’t give up on the country of curries I had wanted to visit for nearly a decade.
I traveled all but one south Indian cities. Yes, I was stared at, but mainly in cities where there are few international tourists. As a Caucasian woman, I was stared at because of my different appearance, no differently than if a Sikh wearing a turban were to go to a predominantly white small town in Ohio.
I saw India’s beauty: Its quiet, decorated temples at sunrise, thousands of entrepreneurs in every city and vast rivers and oceans, meeting India’s banks and shores.
Earlier this month, the BBC released a controversial documentary about the late Jyoti Singh, who was brutally raped on a bus in New Delhi in 2012. Her rapists are on death row in India, except for Ram Singh, who died March 2013, and a juvenile who is finishing a three-year sentence.
The BBC interviewed one of the convicted gang rapists along with various politicians, Jyoti Singh’s parents and the rapists’ parents. The film was banned in India and taken down countless times on YouTube.
I was curious to watch not only because of some of the hype, but because of the access the BBC’s Leslee Udwin acquired.
I watched the film closely after hunting down a copy and instantly felt raw. Honestly, I cried for most of it.
The India I had come to love and had seen firsthand was compromised. I wasn’t naive to how brutal the rape had been or how a culture accepting of rape in certain circles existed.
I was naive to how naive the rapists were. I would never dream of defending them, but I don’t think they wanted to kill Jyoti Singh. I think they thought they deserved to have her, but that they could have their messed up fun and get off easy.
They were uneducated and didn’t seem to know how badly what they did would hurt her.
In the documentary interview with convicted rapist Mukesh Singh, he did not show remorse. First, he said that he was driving the bus during the entire incident and did not take turns in part of the rape. Even after list of the injuries J. Singh sustained was read aloud, he didn’t flinch.
Rape seemed not to affect him. To him, it seemingly was just a part of society.
I do think India’s rape culture is a problem, but I also think rape is a problem across the globe and should not define an entire country. In the U.S., one in five women reported having been raped, according to a 2012 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention factsheet.
India is a magical country. I wish people would see it as the vast gem it is, rather than classifying it as a rape capital.