It was seven years back, when I had come to Delhi, that I first came to know about the ‘time-pass’ many people here did. I had not experienced any incident of bullying and nor had I seen anyone experience it in my town.
Delhi was different. The people here welcomed the meek and the humble with smirks and winks. If it were a girl, then whistles and comments and what-nots. Be in a group, and you’re kind-of safe. Be alone, and you’re doomed… or at least you’re bound to feel apprehensive of some dark clouds lingering on your head till you’re home. This was the day-time scenario. What went on in the dark alleys of the nights is anybody’s guess.
And the situation can well be imagined where the victim does not know the language, culture, habits, norms and rules - Foreigners. They come to India with high hopes – as students, professionals, researchers and tourists. We welcome them. But they are welcomed by the offenders, too. In buses, on roads, in gardens, at metro stations, in street shops, there have been incidents where they get molested, offended, and provoked.
And the people just watch.
As an Indian, I feel ashamed. The ruffians taint the picture of Incredible India everyday. And what do we do? We assure the guests of our country that we’ll welcome them and click pictures with them and adore them like they are some sacred charms but if they’re in trouble, then we are sorry… helping is not in our blood.
I’ve come across many incidents of shamelessness against foreigners in the past seven years. Cases abound. They are not a result of some grudge or morbid scheme. This is all in the name of fun. Fun? How is belittling someone fun? How is making someone feel ostracized fun?
Maybe the visitors who tour the country and leave, they might board the flight back with some happy and some bad memories but for the ones who have permanently settled here or are here for a long duration, this is serious. It’s agonizing. It’s shameful. It’s unfair.
Of the many incidents I talk about, there are three that are etched deeply in my mind.
Connaught Place: Foreigners love this vibrant spot of Delhi. I distinctly remember, a blonde woman was searching her way in the Middle Circle with a map in her hand. She politely, friendlily asked a group of boys the route to some place. She was harassed.
Did I see a how-dare-she-roam-alone-in-a-strange-land look in the eyes of the people present? I can’t say.
Janpath: The mecca for shoppers. Two young foreign men – students maybe – were being brazenly asked for almost triple the money of their actual auto fares. People looked at the two men, at the autowallah, at each other and then went on with their own works.
The typical Roz ki baat hai attitude, maybe?
Janak Puri: The third was at this important hub of West Delhi. A young black guy was being attacked because he was seen as an easy prey to some nonsensical fun. Ridiculous. How stupid and shameless can one be? What calls for this behavior?
All the three incidents were downright disgusting.
The connection here is not just the incidents; the connection is the attitude of the spectators. Mute spectators. No one, and I mean absolutely NO ONE, came to the victims’ rescue. I guess, they all thought it will get resolved or maybe someone else will speak up or maybe they just didn’t care.
When I was a witness of the first two incidents, I was one amongst the silent watchers. New to the city. Afraid of the repercussions. Blah, blah!
The third incident, however, didn’t let me keep quiet. I spoke up. Following suit, many did. The rogue, despite his ego, apologized for what he did. The foreigner was thankful to the people. He smiled. He relaxed. Maybe he didn’t feel home, but I’m sure he didn’t feel alone either.
I’m not saying that each and every Indian is selfish or a coward. But there are a few who defy humanity. And the others, as responsible citizens, can always support the right thing. Always. An if and a but are mere excuses.
As for me, I now know – it’s not about how much one wants to help, it’s about helping anyway. I’ve lived with the regret of not helping AND I’ve lived with the joy of inspiring others to help. The memories of both are unforgettable. That just says, I can choose the memories for myself.
To all the foreigners who have been to India and have been left with a bad memory of this country, I apologize. As an Indian, yes, but more so, as a human, I apologize. I hope your faith in goodness doesn’t falter and I hope you don’t group us as a nation of scallywags.
Because, as far as my experience goes…
If there is a 30% chance that you’ll come across people who will take advantage of your language barrier, who will not respect your culture, who will be unaware of your mannerisms, then there is a 70% chance that you’ll meet people who will talk to you like a curious ol’ head, guide you like a friend and treat you like a family. And you know how big Indian families are, right? So are their hearts.
This article has been published in Youth ki Awaaz, too.