My Experiences of Travelling Solo In India

They say the world is a book and those who do not travel only read a page. I had a very un-travel-ish childhood. Like every other middle-class Indian family, my parents did not believe in travelling or even holidaying for that matter. The only vacation we used to take as an annual trip was to visit my maternal grandparents who thankfully lived in Dehradun – away from bad and polluted Delhi (my hometown).

I remember once complaining to my mother that I was sick and tired of going to Dehradun and Mussoorie year after year, at which my mother pointed out that my cousins didn’t even get to do that since their grandparents lived in Delhi itself. I was suddenly made aware of the immense luxury I had because of my mother’s hometown and the vast open lush green spaces it offered.

Trying to find my feet in romanticised Paris. The Louvre, January 2010

I therefore realised quite early that I have to take it upon myself if I want to ‘see’ the world. I started solo travelling at the age of 19 and haven’t stopped since then. I started travelling while on a study scholarship to Germany and visited most of the European cities with ease. Actually, it didn’t strike me that I was a female solo traveller and that’s somewhat a big deal until I made my first solo trip outside Europe – Istanbul. The usual ‘single woman in a Muslim country in the Middle East’ excuse that was used by my parents to ensure that I’m ‘careful and alert all the time’ didn’t deter me from embarking on my first true solo trip to a beautiful city – where East meets West. Apart from the usual flirting and tourist-harassing, I never felt unsafe in the city. I actually felt safer than I usually do in Delhi.

Embarking on my first true solo trip in Istanbul; nervous, excited, scared, exhilarated are some of the words that can describe what I felt at that time. At the Topkapi Palace with the Prince Islands in the background, September 2013

I’m also into adventure sports and had my first experience at the age of 19 in Berlin. I jumped from a 120 metre high building in the heart of the city. Later, I went on to do scuba diving and sky diving in Spain. I’m glad that when I approached these places and expressed my interest in jumping off from crazy heights, I was not met with the usual “You’re a small woman, can you do it?” scepticism, but was respected and encouraged for my decision.

‘Flying’ with my Argentinean instructor in Empuria Brava, Spain. August 2013

I know there are a lot of clichés about how travelling ‘changes’ your life and how everyone should travel. I understand travel is a privilege and not many can undertake it. This privilege might not always be monetary but also in terms of one’s mental and physical health, supportive family and friends (my parents have made peace with the fact that I travel solo) and ability to access places, among others.

After my foreign escapades, I decided to give my country a shot and embarked on my first solo trip in India to Goa. The pristine beaches at Palolem couldn’t have been a better place for starting on a journey which would change my perspective towards travelling and life in general.

Holiday Essentials. Goa, March, 2014

Another interesting travel I undertook was when I lived in a nunnery for a month. Most people have a very fixed image of what a nunnery looks like: austere and minimalistic living, strict and silent environment, conservative and orthodox. But Dolma Ling Nunnery & Institute, which is situated in Sidhpur in lower Dharamshala was a pleasant surprise. Dolma Ling has been built and fully supported by the Tibetan Nuns Project, a project set out to provide facilities for education and to empower and improve the overall status of ordained Tibetan women. When I first arrived at the nunnery, I was sceptical. But as time passed, I started loving this place. The joy of living your life differently, something which you’d have never imagined before is ecstasy-inducing..

The Prayer Room, Dolma Ling Nunnery. June, 2014

I don’t know if travelling has changed my life, but I can definitely say that it has altered my thought process for the better. Especially, solo travelling has given me a lot of courage and determination to do things I had thought I’d be unable to do. In 2015, I went on quite a few solo trips starting with Srinagar, Goa, Kuala Lumpur, Stockholm, and ending the year in Hampi. Early this year, I embarked on a three-week solo trip in the south of India and visited eight cities backpacking my way from one to the other. My experience till now has been more or less positive; people have welcomed me into their homes, fed me, clothed me and treated me as one of their own. I have travelled with locals in local transport while exploring the hill stations outside of Srinagar. I have taken lifts from unknown men and felt completely safe. I have been offered help without asking for it. I have made friends with the old and young and met fellow travellers and many other interesting people on my journey.

With my ski guide and his friends in Gulmarg, Kashmir. June, 2015

However, this one time in Hyderabad I was denied entry at the Charminar. The reason stated was that single women cannot go up to the Charminar. I could only go up if I agreed to be accompanied by a security guard, which I refused. I was told that single women are not allowed to go up alone because in the past a woman had committed suicide and this is their solution to prevent more suicides. When asked if the same rule applies for men, they outrightly said no. I obviously didn’t let it go without a fight, and sensing trouble, the man at the ticket counter asked me if I’m a local. Upon learning that I’m not, he allowed me to climb up the Charminar on my own. I wrote about the incident, complained to the ASI via email and telephone and this issue was also covered by some news channels, but to no avail.

With another solo traveller in Pondicherry. February, 2016

Personally, I find solo travelling very empowering. However, one should also be prepared for the low points. I have also felt depressed during my solo travels and have had moments where I felt “this entire trip was a bad idea”. Or when you see a group of friends or a couple travelling together, you wonder why you don’t have anyone to travel along with. All such insecurities do and will get to you. It’s up to you how you deal with them and overpower them. All my travels, solo or otherwise, have had both high and low points. Eventually I’ve come to the conclusion that I like and enjoy solo travelling a lot and will continue to do it. However, it’s nice to travel with your loved ones once in a while. I now balance my travel among friends, family and ‘me’ time.

Disclaimer: This article was originally published for TARSHI’s Travel and Sexuality issue here.

FeminismInIndia.com (FII) nominated for Manthan Awards 2015

Hello everyone, I’m happy to announce that Feminism In India (FII) has been nominated for Manthan Awards 2015 by the Digital Empowerment Foundation under the e-Women & Empowerment category with other prominent projects like UN Women India and Telenor Groups for using digital and social media for change and good.

Manthan nominees

I’m very happy and excited to share this news with all of you who made it possible and wants to thank each and every writer who believed in me and made this possible!

The winners will be announced at an event gala on 2nd December. FII and I seek your wishes and support. THANK YOU!

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Carol Rossetti’s Women Series Now Available In Hindi, Marathi And Bengali

Brazilian artist Carol Rossetti is popularly known as the creator of a fantastic, hand-drawn illustration series titled ‘Women‘,  depicting powerful, empowering and inclusive messages of identity and choice. She started the series in April 2014 and within a year, she drew 130 illustrations. Her initial goal was just to practice her technique with coloured pencils, but she opted for intersectionality as her theme. The world’s constant attempts to control women’s bodies, behaviours and identities bothered her. Rossetti believes, it is vital to discussracism, homophobia, transphobia, classicism, xenophobia and abelism and says, this project is not just for girls, but for anyone and everyone who identifies with it. Though started as a personal project, the images took off from her Facebook page and now have an international audience of more than 221k people (May 2015).

In her latest blog post on Tumblr, Rossetti says the project is coming to an end, the official series is complete, but exclusive postcards and prints will be available on her store. A book on the project will come out in October and new projects are already in the pipeline.

“I hope I made some difference in some peoples’ lives and inspired other artists and graphic professionals to be inclusive and diverse when representing people in their own projects.” – Carol Rossetti

Read the entire post here.

This article was originally published on Feminism In India.com and is cross-posted here for documentation purposes.

50 Shades Of Feminism: A Panel Discussion On Feminism And Pornography

I was recently invited to be part of a panel discussion by the Debating Society of Netaji Subhash Institute of Technology, University of Delhi as part of their Debating and Literary Festival of NSIT – Colloquium.

This year’s Panel Discussion was centred on the theme:

“50 Shades of Feminism”

A discourse on the coexistence of feminism and pornography

Pornography, both in the Indian and global context, is viewed as a taboo, and has been at the centre of a raging debate for a while now. An interesting contributor to this fulmination is the dichotomy that exists between the sects of who are considered to be women’s greatest proponents – feminists. With feminists dividing themselves as sex-positive and anti-pornography feminists, insight into their opposing and myriad views highlights a panorama of the moralistic considerations pornography engenders, and raises the question of whether pornography can coexist with feminism.

Apart from me, other panelists included Bishakha Datta, a feminist, filmmaker and the founder of pointofview.org, Vaishna Roy, the Senior Dy. Editor of The Hindu and Rajni Palriwala, a Professor of Sociology at Delhi University, specializing in Gender Studies. The discussion explored the following sub-topics:

    • The belief that pornographic objectification isn’t limited to females, but extends to men as well?
    • The thought that there’s a very fine line between the expression of a woman’s sexuality and objectifying her
    • Human trafficking ties to pornography.
    • Influence of pornography on sexual crimes such as rape, violence, eave teasing?
    • Women who watch porn.
    • Pornography empowering women?
    • Idea of feminist or women-centric pornography or erotica and the lack of it.

Here are some of the pictures from the discussion.

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Nominated For Femina Women Awards 2015 Under Online Influencer Category

Hello everyone, I’m happy to announce that I was nominated for Femina Women Awards 2015 under the Online Influencer category for initiating the feminist platform Feminism In India.com

Though I did not win the award, Shradha Sharma of YourStory did (many congratulations to her), a nomination next to such established and successful people was also a good thing. Feminism In India.com is just eight months old and has already received such recognition and appreciation, I’m overwhelmed.

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I Was Part Of A Report By France 2, French National Channel

Hello everyone, I was part of this super report by the national French channel, France 2, on gender and activism in India. I talk about my experience of molestation in the Delhi metro, the status of women’s safety in India and the feminist platform Feminism in India that I have initiated also features right at the end with me signing off. Do check it out, although it’s in French. I appear at 0:56

Deux portraits de femmes, deux visages de l’Inde d’aujourd’hui au féminin : Ishrat Praveen est mère au foyer et ne se voit pas sortir de son rôle traditionnel, Japleen Pasricha est une jeune féministe engagée dans le combat pour l’égalité. (Two portraits of women, two faces of India today for women: Ishrat Praveen is a housewife and is not seen out of its traditional role. Japleen Pasricha is a young feminist engaged in the fight for equality.)

African Woman On A Motorcycle: Smashing All Stereotypes

Because a topless white man on a motorcycle is too mainstream.

African-Girl-Motorcycle

This is one of my favourite pictures on the internet. It smashes so many stereotypes at one time that it’s hard not to love it. There is not much information available on the internet regarding the photograph, hence not credited. The only guess is that it was taken somewhere in Northern Africa, possibly in the late 40’s or early 50’s. Here is the original (or not) source of the photograph.

Youth In Haryana Discuss Women’s Rights and Child Sex Ratio

Recently, I have been on multiple visits to Haryana for Breakthrough India‘s campaign against gender-biased sex selection called #‎MissionHazaar‬ (love the name). I wrote a short post on its blog on one of the training where we showed some videos to the students and then opened the room for debate. The blogpost is cross-posted here for archival purposes. Read how the youth talked about women’s rights and the skewed child sex ratio.

As a kick-start to Breakthrough’s campaign Mission Hazaar on gender-biased sex selection and gender-based discrimination, film screenings were organized in various colleges across districts in Haryana. Although being a part of the digital media team at BT, I was fortunate enough to attend one of these film screenings.

It was a cold January day and three of us from BT huddled in a car set off to Rohtak. We arrived at Neki Ram College around 10 AM and I was pleasantly surprised when I entered the classroom where the screening was scheduled. It was a huge classroom, but apparently not big enough for the swarm of students inside. There were more girls than boys and the students were searching for any available tiny spot in every nook and corner of the classroom. The very enthusiastic teacher, Ms. Uma Avasthi, professor of history and in-charge of the women’s cell, was trying to make sense of space shortage and eager students. I had an opportunity to talk to her before we dwelled into the session and asked, how come there are more girls in the classroom given the general ratio of the college is somewhat skewed. To which Prof. Avasthi replied, she had purposefully put a notice only for the girls so that they are more visible and that the boys do not outnumber them given the number in the college is 1200-5000. But the boys eventually came due to curiosity (which we learned later was for the better) and hence it was balanced.

Prof. Uma Avasthi with some students outside the classroom.

Prof. Uma Avasthi with some students outside the classroom.

The classroom was jam-packed and some students were peeping in from outside. We started with Satyamev Jayate’s episode on gender-biased sex selection. The students were very receptive and watched in rapt attention. They clapped at the impact stories, had tears in their eyes listening to the sorry state of affairs and laughed at another clip. Simply put, they were touched. After the episode ended, they watched a video presentation on Mission Hazaar and were introduced to the IVRS game. I noticed a lot of students taking down the IVRS no. After this they watched three short films from Jagori on gender-based discrimination and violence.

BT Trainer Roki taking the session.

BT Trainer Roki taking the session.

Once the screenings were over, the room was opened for debate. At first, the boys came in the front and spoke how one must end gender-biased sex selection and gender-based discrimination, but still putting the onus on women how they need to become stronger. However, after a few hesitations some girls stood up and started to speak. They were still not very comfortable to come forward and preferred to talk from their allocated seats. Although less in number, the boys were somewhat aggressive and clearly steering the conversation. The debate was becoming heftier in nature and there were some confrontations among the sexes. Sensing trouble the BT trainers took over the debate and brought forward a nuanced discussion to the larger issue.

Students actively taking part in the discussion.

Students actively taking part in the discussion.

Although receiving an overtly positive response from the students and the general atmosphere during the training, it is quite evident that our journey is very long even with the youth. Young adolescents are our future and will take the way forward, but even they need to be further sensitized on gender issues and any biases stemming from age-old patriarchal mindsets need to be nipped in the bud.

I Was Molested In The Delhi Metro And I Was Scared To Speak Up!

This story is part of the 16 Days Of Activism campaign against sexual harassment and was originally published on Feminism In India here. People are invited to share their experiences and shift the onus from the survivor to the perpetrator. To know more and take part in the campaign click here.

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I still vividly remember that day. It was summer 2010. I was 20. I had just graduated and gone to North Campus to collect my mark-sheet. I was wearing a black and white sleeveless shirt and a knee-length black shorts and had tied my hair in a pony tail. (Yes, it is necessary to describe my clothes).

My metro ride back and forth to North Campus was divided into two parts: metro journey from Vishwavidyalaya Station to Rajiv Chowk and the second one from Rajiv Chowk to Shadipur. The second part was the easier one as the journey consisted of mere five stations. This incident happened shortly before Sheila Dikshit announced the first compartment of the Delhi metro reserved for women. I boarded the metro from Rajiv Chowk metro station and like every other college kid plugged in my earphones. The metro was full to the brim. I pushed my way inside and found a spot near the back doors with a few other men standing around me. Being a small built woman, I have always felt like a kid standing among taller men. The metro was unusually crowded for afternoon and there was no space to move. Every person’s body, bag and belongings were in contact with every other person.

A couple of stations into the journey, I felt something on my butt, something that was constantly touching and pinching me. It was sharp and rigorous. Given how crowded the metro was I assumed it was somebody’s bag’s buckle or zip as I felt it was sharp. I ignored it because there wasn’t any space to even turn around leave alone asking people to move their bag. I kept ignoring the pinch and was lost to the music in my ears. For a second I contemplated if somebody was groping me but ignored the thought because I feared it. As it is my station was close-by and I was just counting back how many more minutes I have to stand squeezed in the crowd.

Shadipur was next and I started to move towards the door. Whilst I was moving, I noticed that the touch was still present on my butt. I was almost at the door, far away from the group of men I was standing with. This was weird. I decided to turn around and see for myself what’s cooking. I saw a middle-aged man, somebody whom I would call ‘Uncle’ if I have to address him, standing very close to me, actually right behind me with his hand near his pants.

What I saw next horrified me so much that I never talked about it with anyone and this is actually the first time I’m publicly talking and writing about it. The man had his penis out and was rubbing it against my butt. He had been doing this since past 10-15 mins and didn’t even stop when I moved from my original place to reach the door. He kept sticking it against me and moved along. He didn’t fear that others might see it. His lust was so strong that it overcame all other inhibitions that he might have had before committing the act. All of this happened in a matter of 5-10 seconds. I was so shocked and disturbed that I froze and quickly exited the metro when my station arrived.

For days, months and years I was angry, very angry. I was not angry at that man, call me a pessimist or a feminazi but I expect this from most of the men around. I was not a feminist activist (something that I associate with and call myself today) back then, but I had always been a rebellious kid and a strong-headed girl. The fact that I endured this quietly and didn’t do anything haunted me for years. I kept thinking of various ways how I could have acted at that time, how I could have raised my voice, how I could have broken the silence. But I didn’t. I was harsh on myself, I programmed myself not to talk to strangers ever, be on a constant alert, make a pissed off expression whilst walking past a group of men on the street, not to trust men, always expect the worst and many other similar defensive and protective measures. I didn’t forgive myself.

Today, four years later, I look at it differently. I have risen above the incident and alienated myself from it. I am not ashamed anymore to tell people, that I was molested in the Delhi metro and I didn’t do anything because I was scared to speak up. I run a feminist website whose tagline is चुप्पी तोड़ आवाज़ उठा. I do advocacy on every occasion possible be it among my family, relatives, friends, colleagues or even strangers. I have embraced feminism. I broke my silence, not just for myself but for all of those who suffer because of patriarchy. I raised my voice to get heard, because your rights will never be served on a golden platter. I am, because#itwasnevermyfault.

Who Are Nero’s Guests?

Nero, a great Roman emperor from 54-68 AD, was known to people as mad and cruel. But he was also known for his grand and élite feasts which were attended by Rome’s Who’s Who. Now, one such feast is fondly remembered by the great Roman historian Tacitus who in his book, The Annals (XV, C.E. 62-65) notes:

“(they) were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination when daylight had expired. Nero offered his gardens for the spectacle.”

What Tacitus refers to is a small problem that Nero faced whilst throwing lavish feasts to the intelligentsia, the gossip columnists, certainly the political correspondents, and anybody who mattered in Rome. When dusk fell and night arrived, there was no light around for the guests to continue to enjoy the festivities. Nero came up with an innovative solution and how! The prisoners and poor were brought and burnt on the stakes party all around the arena to illuminate the garden.

However, the issue is not Nero. The issue is Nero’s guests. Who are Nero’s guests?

P.Sainath, former Rural Affairs Editor at The Hindu, looks at and reports on farmers’ suicide and the clear inequality in India’s agrarian crisis in a documentary titled Nero’s Guests directed by Deepa Bhatia.

According to statistics, in India 60% of people are still dependent on agriculture. 836 million Indians live on less than 50 cents a day. Nearly 200, 000 farmers have committed suicide since 1997, driven by debt and distress. A number of reasons have been cited by research scholars, journalists and activists ranging from monsoon failure, high debt burdens, genetically modified crops to government policies, public mental health, personal issues and family problems. Yet the mainstream media hardly reflects this reality. We have correspondents for every field including fashion, Page 3, Bollywood, but we don’t have a poverty correspondent. What does it say about our society?

The suicides have increased drastically over the years. In 1998, it was one suicide a week, by 2002 it was one a day. Then in every district one heard of 2-3 deaths. This has increased to 6-8 suicides each day. Now, the government’s policy to compensate the family who lost their breadwinner is also very tricky. The person who committed suicide might be the only working farmer in the household but may or may not own the land. In this case, the family of the suicide will not be compensated. Likewise, women farmers won’t be compensated. The society does not recognize women farmers and women in India rarely have land or property in their names.

Credits: Balazs Gardi/Flickr (Used under a CC license)

Credits: Balazs Gardi/Flickr (Used under a CC license)

The farmers feel that no one cares about them. This was clear during the protests on the streets of Nagpur, Maharashtra in 2011 which is also shown in the documentary above. The farmers feel isolated & duped and there is never enough to eat. In years of extreme hunger, i.e., 2002-2003 India exported 20 million tons of food grains when the farmers who harvest these very food grains were starving. The rate at which the food grains were exported was lower than the rate at which it was sold in India. Interestingly, these food grains were exported to Europe for the cattle. There is a small inside joke among the farmers that their dream is to be born an European cow. This is both sad and shocking and itself calls for action.

Although the poor and the farmers go hungry and starve to death in India, there is surprisingly a huge amount of food wastage. According to the 2013 Global Hunger Index (GHI), India ranks 63rd, out of the 78 hungriest countries, substantially worse than neighbors like Sri Lanka (43rd), Nepal (49th), Pakistan (57th), and Bangladesh (58th). Statistics have indicated that food spoilage in wholesale markets is hindering food availability. For example a fresh vegetable is sold at Rs.10 while a delay in arrival means a decrease in the price and a cut and a huge loss to the vegetable dealer and the farmer.

Likewise, food is also wasted by the Indian metropolis, the urban middle and high classes. A more variety and luxury in food availability has given the urbanized options to play with and discard to one’s taste buds. Grand parties, weddings and the day-to-day lifestyle just adds to it. One doesn’t need to read research and statistics, a mere look at your nearby garbage dump will give you a fair idea of the amount of food wasted.

Credits: Japleen Pasricha

Credits: Japleen Pasricha

In short, while one half of the population is starving and dying of hunger, the other part is busy in wasting food to extensive amounts. The loop that closes here is while Nero did burn prisoners, slaves and poor to illuminate his feast, there were a bunch of people who wined, dined and made merry in the glowing light of burning bodies.

I think, now we all know who are Nero’s guests.