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OPINION | Being Considered a White Whore Because of Your Skin Colour is Worst Experience in India

Campus term and travels were too short, and nine months later, I came back for a 6-month training, in the beautiful and touristic state of Rajasthan. My perception significantly changed after two-three months of living in the heart of the town.

Juliette Babinet |

Updated:January 9, 2018, 6:33 PM IST
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OPINION | Being Considered a White Whore Because of Your Skin Colour is Worst Experience in India
Image for representation only.
Have you ever wished that you were completely invisible to the outside world, wished that you were able to walk around peacefully? Well, I never wished it — I was the kind of girl who would've liked to be noticed on the streets — until my second extended stay in India.

Two opposite experiences

My very first trip as a true love story. I arrived in campus, met incredible Indian men and women who still stand by as my friends. I dived myself into this amazing culture, this beautiful mess of colors, dirt, scents, tastes, smoke and cow shit, and I was proud and sincere to pull poetry and beauty out of it. I found a second home, a place I was roaming around with passion, never ever feeling unsafe at any time. Even the people staring at me all the time, asking for selfies, trying to sell me something, were part of the trip, and I would simply accept those oh-so-small inconveniences, looking at everything and everyone with the same genuine happiness and curiosity I thought I read in everybody's eyes.

Campus term and travels were too short, and nine months later, I came back for a 6-month training, in the beautiful and touristic state of Rajasthan. My perception significantly changed after two-three months of living in the heart of the town. Stares did not seem that genuine anymore, quite aggressive actually, or interested, or inappropriate. People I thought were my friends suddenly seemed distant after I refused sexual advances or made it clear that such things would not happen with me. Despite my efforts to merge into the culture, the color of my eyes, my skin and my hair, would stand as an unbreakable wall to induction. I began to feel uncomfortable about the place where I came from, for which I'd till then only seen admiration in people's faces.

Privileges, special treatments, in a good or bad way, were only the proof that nobody here was considering me as their equal. I was here because I had found in India a second home, and India kept on reminding me that I was a tourist. All these street and online talking, attempts to flirt, to sell, even to touch me, slowly became truly oppressing. Was it only my perception which had changed? I started to review my previous trip under this new circumstances. I remembered how easy it was to make friends with guys in campus while it was difficult to connect with girls. I remembered even the insane adoration/idealisation my own boyfriend would express to me at first, on the sole basis of my white skin.

Why did all these details, which seemed innocent initially, suddenly become so petty, hypocritical and even, sometimes, ill-intended now?
But I still love India, and Indians, so I could not just start hating it without trying to understand. Now that I have taken some distance from this difficult period of my life, I can look back at that period somewhat more clearly and can express my opinion, so here it is.

Beauty is in the difference

First of all, fair skin is a beauty criterion in India, as tanned skin is in Europe, for the sake of the evergreen attraction to what one does not have, or what is rare in one's world. Indian women – and men – try to make their skin fairer, when people like me in Europe – read, forever pale "as f***" and likely to turn lobster-colored from just a little exposure to sun – suffer from the tyranny of beautifully tanned people. When I think about it, I had more compliments from Indian women than from Indian guys. At the airport security, women checking on me would look at me with admiration and just say "you are so beautiful" out of nowhere. Same happened at the beauty salon and same with some of my female colleagues. I would find them beautiful as well. Families and young ladies, rather than groups of men, would ask for selfies with me in the streets. There surely is some purely physical fascination for white people, not only women, that goes beyond sexual attraction.

A white bag of money

Secondly, the money comes into the picture. Because yes, we white women in India, face a much more oppressing harassment from people actually trying to earn some money from our tourist pockets, than real sexual harassment. At least, I suffered more from that, being resident in a city where shopkeepers and rickshaw drivers kept on jumping at me to win a customer, and look to pocket a sizeable profit. White skin would forever mean a richer customer and hence no relationship or conversation with any person in town would be free from considerations of profit and loss. Add this stupid cover of "you are my friend, I give you good Indian price, no tourist price, because I know you madam live here", and that makes for a really sad situation, when you look at India as a second home, and you realise that no matter how many years you've lived here, people would still see you as a white bag of money.

The myth of the White looking for exotic experiences

Finally, there is also some crazy belief, especially in young people, that white women are more "sexually charged", more "open to any opportunity".

I will put in that basket the numerous groups of (sometimes under-aged) boys who would harass me on Facebook without knowing me, harass me in the streets, forever hidden behind the excuse of "making friends" or "being nice with visitors", come uncomfortably close to me through a selfie request or through a "Happy Holi!" hug to inappropriately touch me, take a polite response from me as a sign of encouragement for really heavy and clumsy attempts to flirt and get me into their beds. And there was even this f***** who violently forced me to kiss him on New Year's Eve 2017 – luckily for him, I rather blame myself, I was too drunk to punch him in the face.

That feeling, being considered a white whore, is the worst thing. To be fair it has nothing to do with an actual sense of "beauty". These guys do not find us "beautiful" or "attractive” as such. There is nothing flattering in their consideration. In my humble opinion, these guys see in us an opportunity to temporarily, and un-punishingly, escape from the hard cage of societal pressure, formalities and segregation between men and women imposed in the Indian society.

Let's face it: apart from the fact that there are relatively less Indian women than Indian men, relationships between the two sexes in this country are in most places so hardly codified and watched over at every single level – the hardest pressure being from parents (I'm sorry to be judgmental here but part of my rage comes from this pressure over my Indian sisters that is clearly misogynist) that of course, people are sexually frustrated.

In that context anybody like me, representing a culture where relationships and attitudes in public along with the way of dressing for instance are freer of any social pressure or duty, appears to be sexually available.

It is the exact same mind-set that blames the clothes that a victim wears as an excuse for their rape. "You are white, so you must be interested in some Indian sexy and exotic experience..." And simple jealousy does the rest of the violence.

Besides, and to end that column, India has come to hide its own women. Apart from big cities where things have changed a lot, you just can't see them outside! Women themselves do not feel in their place in the public area. On the idea that the outside world is unsafe for them, first reaction from government, public or private administrations is to withdraw them further from the streets.

I will always remember how outraged I was when I read in the papers that a university in Bangalore simply locked up its female students during Holi night "in order to protect them", or how we, in the hotel I was training in, were subjected to curfews and stupid accommodation rules while guys of same age and those even younger could freely go out without even being asked where or what or with whom were they roaming.

The vicious circle is here: the less women appear outside, the more they go unsafe when they do – remember mass molestation scandal last New Year's Eve in Bangalore again – and the less they feel at home outside, the more they hide or are hidden to be "protected".

Obviously, in that context, white female tourists like me who travel freely and alone, in sleeper class and even roam free in the streets, in a spirit of independence, become easy preys and appear provocative, deviant, or reckless. Obviously, attacks on female tourists are more "scandalous", because people talk about it because we are white. But it simply hides a much bigger phenomenon of attacks on women, and prevents questions being asked about their participation in public spaces, their freedom of living, moving, and talking, in general, regardless of their skin color.

Sexual harassment and violence is not a white-woman concern in India. Harassment of white women is only part of a bigger problem that is suffered by Indian women, against whom violence is accepted so casually and normally that it doesn't seem worthy of international breaking news.

For that reason, only, I will continue to kiss my Indian boyfriend in public, I will continue to take sleeper trains and local buses alone, I will continue to walk at night and go out with boys, proudly, without hiding, because India needs to understand that women are also at home in its streets.

Author is Paris-based expert in tourism and services management. Views are personal
| Edited by: Bijaya Das
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