cultural sensitivity in varkala?

I balked at posting this diatribe, but in the end, it needs to be said out loud.

I love beach-going and all the activities it entails, but its a bit of a sticky situation when it comes to conservative countries like India. Based on cultural and religious beliefs, women should be fully dressed, and dressing any other way is asking for attention, welcomed or not. I learned that the hard way in Mumbai, and have been sufficiently humbled since then.

However, what infuriates me to no end is the way Indian males amble, in groups, up and down the beach, with the sole purpose of ogling all us women in bikinis. Their ages vary from teenaged to middle-aged men, but their intents are all the same.

Nothing wrong with that, you may say, they were just walking along the beach.

But when people genially stroll on the beach, they usually follow the shoreline, either a bit beyond the reach of the sea or allowing the water to lap at their feet. Eyes wander around, and yeah, I’ve seen a few, er, mounds of skin that happen to attract more attention than others, but said stares usually don’t last too long.

I’ve seen teenagers do that, and heck, this happens in all countries all over the world, where people ogle people who walk around or sun themselves wearing nothing but itty bits of fabric. That’s, like, normal, I guess.

These men, on the other hand, walk as close as possible to the fringe of sarongs and towels, and when looping back, they walk between the towels, targeting the ones that suit their preferences. There is absolutely no mistaking what they are doing: their eyes don’t even flick towards the ocean. People on a genial stroll don’t stop in their tracks just to openly stare at a pair of mounds, y’know, they usually have the decency of at least staring from a discreet distance.

Yes, I understand, we are in their country, and if I didn’t want men looking at me I could’ve just covered up. The few Indian women I saw were fully dressed and if they bothered to wade, didn’t even venture past their ankles. They saw, and said nothing to their male companions and their behavior.

So, I’ll concede that we bikini-wearers were pretty much disrespecting the local customs by stripping off our clothes and walking around in skimpy triangles. I acknowledge that. Coulda just gone swimming with me clothes on, yeah.

But that doesn’t mean its okay for people to come to the beach and walk around looking at all the exposed skin as if it were one big strip club. Its not okay for men to stand around sleeping women and giggle at each other while pointing out certain attributes. Its not okay for them to take photos of women without their permission.

Don’t tell me its a “cultural” thing and expect me not to feel angry (or exasperated).

It. is. Not. Okay.

Its not even a cultural thing. It is disrespect. It is perversion. It is unacceptable, in ANY culture, and in any country, or at least it should be. Why the tolerance?

At least in strip clubs, the women have some semblance of a ‘choice’, as to whether or not they want to earn money by exposing themselves (I realize this is not the case in some countries, but since I come from the US of A, bear with me).

Seeing those men walk around with stupid grins on their faces, lust in their eyes, practically drooling? I was furious!

And even more so when they stood around women who were sleeping or sunning themselves with their eyes closed. They’d scatter, slowly, when the woman under scrutiny inevitably opened her eyes and left her feeling … what, I don’t know, because I didn’t dare close my eyes, lest I end up a victim of the same circumstances.

Why are there ‘women only’ sections? The lustful natures of men are acknowledged, but instead of doing something about those so called predilections, women are forced to cover up and maintain a certain kind of behaviorism and attitude lest WE be considered lewd.

Something needs to change. These men need to be made to feel ashamed of themselves, not encouraged.

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