New Delhi: In its global campaign to attract foreign tourists, the country’s “Incredible India” ads feature a young woman enjoying her morning yoga session on a secluded beach.
In reality, what female tourists experience too often is this: persistent ogling and heckling by Indian men.
“At times, I find it hard travelling around as a woman in Delhi. I’ve been groped twice in public,” said Amanda Burrell, 36, a documentary filmmaker from England vacationing in India. “I think Indian women have it much worse.”
In recent weeks, a spate of well-publicized attacks against women and a new study showing rape as the fastest growing crime in the nation’s capital are painting a less flattering picture of the stereotypical Indian male as misogynistic and starved for sex.
In India, the fact that men are being held under such heightened scrutiny is a sign of changing social rules between men and women as the country modernizes, a process fuelled by its economic boom.
While more and more Indian women move into the hi-tech workforce or rise to key government posts in the new India, some analysts say many women appear to be losing the battle to overcome centuries-old cultural attitudes that tend to devalue the role of women and keep them dependent on men.
“Many of India’s social values have not kept pace with the development of its modern cities,” said Shaibal Gupta, a social analyst for the Asian Development Research Institute, a non-governmental agency based in Bihar.
Running riot: A file picture of the molestation incident that took place as two women were leaving a New Year’s Eve party in Mumbai.
In an incident that rattled the country, dozens of young men taunted and groped two girls as they left a New Year’s Eve party at a popular five-star hotel in Mumbai. A Hindustan Times photographer who happened to be nearby called the police and recorded the melee in a shocking series of photos that ran on the front page of almost every major newspaper in India, launching a flurry of editorials about the appalling treatment of women in India.
There have been several high-profile assaults recently against foreign women in India. A British freelance journalist was allegedly raped by the owner of a guesthouse where she was staying in northern India. A 28-year-old American tourist was groped by a Hindu priest while visiting a temple in Rajasthan.
Several Western embassies have issued warnings on the dangers women often face here.
Four out of five Indian men said they have been part of a group that has made lewd comments to women. That’s according to a recent Hindustan Times survey of 500 men in the age of 20 and 45 from six of India’s largest cities. Nearly half the men surveyed felt women at a pub are “asking for trouble”. Around 60% of them prefered stay-at-home wives.
“India is not that advanced when it comes to the way many men treat women. Men here are not used to listening to women. That’s beginning to change, but it’s going to take a lot of time,” said Barkha Singh, chief of the Delhi Commission for Women, part of the governments social welfare ministry.
©2008/Cox News Service
Hindustan Times is published by HT Media Ltd, which is also the publisher of Mint.