The American Savior Complex in India
Over the weekend, CNN featured a personal account of a University of Chicago student studying abroad in India. India: the Story You Never Wanted to Hear details the sexual harassment targeted towards "Rose Chasm," a pseudonym, and her resultant post-traumatic stress disorder. Chasm shared her story in order to bring "international exposure about what women travelers and residents experience in India." She is currently on a mental leave of absence from the University of Chicago.
For many wanderlust-stricken Americans, travelling to India is a rite of passage on the road to self-discovery. The unique combination of mysticism and chaos has the ability to polarize visitors: You either hate India or love India. There is no in-between. While self-proclaimed gurus and international volunteers determine which camp they fall into, the glaring poverty and gender inequality of India persists.
The problem with Chasm's account is not the validity of her story, it is its implications — mainly that all Indian men are perverts and rapists, and Indian women need to be saved from them.
This type of savior rhetoric stems back to the colonial era, when Great Britain used sati, or widow immolation, among other things, as grounds to colonize India. In the same way, and more recently, first world feminists and politicians have used third world women as justification for intervention — just listen to Laura Bush's radio address after 9/11 and watch the subsequent flurry of activity around liberating Afghan women.
The response to Chasm's piece is similar to the response to the New Delhi gang rape and murder: outrage and a demand for action. Following the incident in New Delhi, the Harvard College Women's Centre convened a Beyond Gender Equality task force "to offer recommendations to India and other South Asian countries." The task force failed to mention the decades of activism of Indian feminists, and also the occurrences of sexual harassment and rape in the U.S., particularly on college campuses.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice's 2008 report "Female Victims of Violence," there was a total of 44,000 reported rape and sexual assaults by intimate partners. According to the Indian National Crime Records Bureau, in 2012, there was a total of 24,915 reported rape cases. Keep in mind that the population of the U.S. is 311 million and India's is 1.2 billion, so despite the amount of unreported cases and the different nature of these statistics, it is apparent that sexual violence is prevalent in both countries.
While global feminist partnerships are desirable, they must be based on a notion of equality and dialogue. Whether or not she meant for it to be interpreted this way, Chasm's account is accusatory towards Indian males who — in light of recent events — have been labelled as "sexually frustrated."
Regardless if this is true or not, it is up to Indians to find Indian solutions to the problem of sexual violence, as it is up to Americans to find a American solutions to sexual violence in the United States.
It is time to turn our attention inwards. After all, discovering yourself requires knowing where you come from.