Thursday, August 20, 2015

He Said, She Said (A Conversation Between an Indian Man and a Filipino Woman)

I met this man from India who has been living in the Philippines for the past 15 years.  I felt an instant affinity with him soon as I learned that he is from Tamil Nadu, a state down south, which was my first home when I lived in India for two years.  He probably felt the same having met someone in the Philippines who could respond to "Vannakum" (Tamilian greeting) and also after he learned that I go to the same college in UP where I am taking my masters in Women and Development and where he got his master's degree in Community Development  more than 10 years ago.  What was a chance encounter in an Indian restaurant extended to an hour and a half-long conversation as he reminisced his student days in UP; we exchanged observations and perspectives about culture of the two countries, his and mine.

Everything was going well until he commented that cases of rapes in New Delhi increased since Western influence started coming in and many Indian women pushed their saris and salwar kameez to the back of their wardrobes in favor of Western clothes.  Of course, I wouldn't let that insensitive comment just pass.  I am after all a student of Women and Development. It was definitely an example of victim-blaming.  I asked him, "are you saying it's their fault that women get raped in India?"  He ignored my question and went on to talk about other stuff, one was about how Filipinos gave up  our beautiful culture to Spaniards, Japanese and Americans (all colonized my beloved coutnry) and that now we don't have our own identity. Unlike India who was under British rule for a long time but never allowed the colonizers to change the Indian culture.   Then he talked about rampant pre-marital sex and teen pregnancy, blaming it on Filipino mothers who left the country to become overseas Filipino workers.  And then back again to us being heavily influenced by Western culture, losing Filipino morality, etc..  I need not tell you that I countered all his wrong impressions and/or conclusions about Filipinos.  But almost everytime that I did he would say, "you have your views, I am telling you what I observe and what I learn from my interactions with Filipinos, there is no end to this discussion, let's move on."
                                                                                                                                  
I can no longer remember how the conversation drifted back to India...oh wait, I think I can.  It was when he emphatically said "we never surrendered our culture to the British people" (and that was after repeatedly saying we should move on to discussing stuff other than culture and telling me to enrol in Anthropology class).  Somewhere in the conversation I said that culture is dynamic and changes over time though I agreed that they (Indians) definitely have retained many of their ancient beliefs and practices.  But then again, he cannot deny the fact that Western culture is already impinging on the daily lives of many of them.  "True," he said  "women have started joining the work force and that is bad because women should be at home taking care of their children."  "What is wrong with women wanting to earn income?" I asked.  He explained, "you see, in our culture men are the breadwinners, women also have their responsibility to stay at home to take care of the children."
                  
"Yes, but then India has opened opprotunities for women to work outside of their homes. I spoke to many women who said they want to work and wish they could be relieved of some of the household chores," me said.

"That is wrong, when women work they cannot attend to their children anymore.  They lose the love for their children," said he.

"Who told you love is lost just because women want to be economically productive?  I know for a fact that that is not true.  I am a solo parent, I have to work so I and my child can live, my work didn't diminish the love I have for my child.  You are a solo parent yourself and you have to work, I'm sure you don't love your child less."

"You are a liberal woman, but that is not the culture of India, we have to protect our morality, our honor.  Staying at home is a protection for women"

"What morality? What honor? What exactly are you protecting?"

"When a woman works and there is sexual harassment in the office, what will happen to the family? What will the children feel? What will people say about the husband, the family? We have to protect our culture and women"

"So, to protect your culture it is okay if women cannot do what they want to do? If they are harassed or raped it is their fault because they defile your culture?"

 "We are protecting them."

"If you want to protect women, make the work environment safe for women, not prevent them from doing what is meaningful to them."

"Yes, yes, you are talking about equality.  You see, men and women in India they cannot be equal... men can go out in public not wearing a shirt. Women cannot go out wihtout shirts, or even the tank top that you said you wanted to wear in India."

"That is not what being equal means."

"No, no, if women go out without shirt what will happen to them?"  
  
"Being equal doesn't mean we should be able to do exactly the same thing.  It doesn't mean if you can lift this chair (tapping a heayy chair between us) I can do it too.  Maybe you are just physically stronger than I.  Being equal means......"

"Listen, women cannot go out in public without shirts on, men can do that in India"
 
"Can you go out in public without shorts or briefs? (or lungi)"
 
"No."
 
"That's because you are hiding your private part, right?"
 
"Of course."
 
"So it's the same thing with women, but they have two private parts to hide. They have to wear clothes to hide their private parts, long enough so they can also hide  their" I bent to touch my ankle for emphasis, and we said at the same time "ankles."    Erogenous zones for women in India include shoulders and ankles so they must be covered, but it's okay to show belly.
 
"This is becoming interesting, you obviously know our culture.  You are getting emotional."
 
"What? How is that emotional?"

Then he stood up, shook my hand, thanked me for the conversation and walked away.

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