Monthly Archives: February 2013

Blaming the Victim

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The river in Kampot

A terrible thing happened last week near Kampot, Cambodia: the body of young French woman was found in the river. Her body showed signs of sexual assault. Terrified (for I too am a single girl traveling and was in Kampot just a few days ago) and curious about the atrocity, I spoke with others to find out more.

I was shocked and a little disgusted at the replies and opinions of my fellow travelers for they all blamed the victim. I don’t know if they did this out of an unconscious fear for their own safety and a thought that, “well, I’m smarter so this couldn’t happen to me” or if they actually believed their preposterous assertions.

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Sunset on the streets of Kampot

When asking about the details of the crime, I heard several different stories. One person told me that the victim was riding her bicycle, maybe in the evening or at night, when she was attacked. This man commented on how stupid the girl was to be out alone at night and how the rape and murder was “kinda her own fault.” Would I be out on the streets alone at night if I could help it? No, and I am sure that this victim wouldn’t have either (e.i. could this girl have had a flat tire that prolonged her return home into darkness?) because as solo female travelers, we have to watch out for ourselves and realize that the world, however wonderful, has its faults.

Another woman told me that the victim was cycling out to a remote beach to sunbathe nude. Someone might have seen her, alone and exposing her body to the world, and took “the invitation” to rape and kill her. “She was kind of asking for it because it’s really stupid to be naked in rural Cambodia.”

Was she really?

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Canals in rural Kampot

What happened to this poor girl is terrible, under every circumstance. No one is asking to be raped and murdered and dumped into the river. Clearly this girl’s unfortunate end was not of her own doing. It shocks me to hear “open minded” individuals, including women, suggesting that crimes like these are the victim’s fault. Yes, perhaps her sexual assault and murder could have been prevented had the circumstances been different. We will never know. The fact is that men still view women as objects for the taking–completely disregarding their beautiful existence for a few seconds of selfish pleasure.

Shouldn’t men learn self-restraint? Shouldn’t they learn to be human?

Why do we continue to blame the victim?

Note: I have received a few comments that rape isn’t just a few seconds of pleasure. I realize that in most cases it is not and personally believe that rape stems from insecurity. Please read my post titled “Rape: Women and Society in India” for more thoughts on rape.

A Keralan Holiday

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Tourists on the beautiful Varkala beach

After three months of service oriented work with women in India, I have treated myself to a vacation in one of India’s supposedly most beautiful states, Kerala (and I might have to agree on its beauty). It’s been brilliant and relaxing but strange to feel like a tourist. It feels as though I have gone from the minority to the majority–tourists–and have left the “real India” behind.

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Is this more “real” than the tourists on the Goan beaches?

A certain breed of tourists, myself included, is always searching for the essence of the country toured–“the real such and such”–not processed and packaged for the undiscerning tourist. Unfortunately for me and people like me, Kerala, while still absolutely gorgeous, has been processed and packaged for tourists seeking beautiful beaches and cheap thrills. It also caters to the spiritual tourist with yoga classes, visits to ashrams, and Ayurveda.

But its beautiful. And although not the “real” India, I love it.

And what is the “real” India anyway? My experience here hasn’t been “fake,” the opposite of real or inauthentic (although I have found that with most beach towns around the world, they could be anywhere–Spain, Portugal, Cuba, Florida, India….). It has just been different from my visits to village India and non-tourist centers.

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The Allepey backwaters-touched by tourists yet unchanged?

India is changing. As it grows economically, it has been attracting more and more attention from both media and tourists. And I also think that more and more tourists of all ages are seeking more adventure, so tourism is expanding quite quickly. Whatever India is or becomes is and will be the real India. It will change and grow into something that will still be India as India is and can be so much. But enough “philosophy” and back to my holiday and experience of India.

Not to be a hypocrite (from my Driving in India article), but I have enjoyed my rides on local buses in India immensely. My first ride on a local bus was a five-hour trip from Cochin to a village in the Keralan hills. I’m not much of a sleeper to begin with and was out the night before socializing. So, when I arrived at the bus station at 6:30 am to embark on a bus journey to a village that I couldn’t pronounce (and still can’t), I was tired. But I was also happy to be the only white person again. I somehow found the bus towards Kumily and managed to lift my 20k bag onto the bus to the seat next to me.

And then we were off. And I loved it. Tired as I was, it was so much fun. As I boarded the bus when it was empty, it slowly began to fill and soon the seats next to me where my bag was became the only space left on the bus to either sit or stand. Half passed out from exhaustion, a woman tapped my shoulder and gestured for me to move my bag so that she could sit. To where? I had to quickly figure as the bus started rolling. I had both my fully stuffed day pack and a protective sack filled with my 20 k backpack, my trekking boots and of miscellaneous items that I was too lazy to find space in over-packed bag. So both bags went upright on my lap for a few hours as my two-person seat became a three-person-and-then-some seat.

The woman next to me spoke no English but we were able to communicate about our lives–she had been married two years and had no children. She got off before I did so again I had the seat to my self where I collapsed on my filthy bag, too tired to care that my face was probably touching particles of human shit (my oh my has India been an opportunity for growth, especially when it comes to perceptions and obsessions around cleanliness!).

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I got off in Kuttinanam village and spent five wonderful days in the hills doing yoga and mediation and walking through tea fields to receive Ayurvedic treatment and massage (my brief stint as a spiritual tourist). I ended up having a bad allergic reaction to one of the herbs used in my treatments and, consequently, all over my body broke out in hives. So I was miserable for a few days but still managed to enjoy myself and the beauty of Kerala.

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I then decided to take a taxi to Allepey instead of braving the bus with hives and no sleep. I survived and even in my hot, itchy, and exhausted misery, the backwaters were gorgeous. I took a local ferry and had a lovely time drifting throughout the backwaters as locals hopped off and on as they required. Then, I took a bus to Varkala et voila!

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I’m here and leaving India tomorrow. Varkala is a beach town that could be anywhere but its beautiful and I’ve met many interesting and wonderful people (other travelers mostly). I’ve enjoyed the sun and the waves, the seafood, long conversations about everything and nothing, and riding around on a Royal Enfield through Indian villages. I’ve had so much fun.

India, India. I’m not ready to leave. It’s been wonderful and raw and I can’t wait to come back. Overall, it’s been a trip full of intense romance with this incredible country and with myself.

India, I love you. And I will miss you more than most.

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Sunset in Varkala