Intro I’ve lived in a lot of places in my 20s: Hungary, Czech Republic, Argentina, Vietnam, Colombia… Sometimes I’m not even really sure which …
expat in India
When Indians Mistake You for a Prostitute
*August 2017 Update: I am not involved in any way in sex work and never have been. This blog is about about white women are sometimes mistaken for prostitutes in Northern India and in no way about actual prostitutes.
Living in Buenos Aires is different than living in India. Obviously. But I think it’s giving me some reverse culture shock. Being a Western woman in Argentina isn’t something I ever think about. Being a Western woman in India definitely had it’s drawbacks.
Honestly, I can’t believe how easy things are here.
For one, I am eating red meat just about everyday. In the grocery stores, the entire meat section is beef and pork. I had to actively seek out the chicken section. It had been banished to a small corner away from the “superior” meats.
And of course, no one notices me here. This is good and bad. Being the center of attention constantly is pretty exhausting. But then again, sometimes it was fun feeling like a celebrity.
I could launch into a list of all the reasons why Buenos Aires is easier (note: I don’t necessarily think this makes it “better”) but there is one thing that I think is the best:
No one thinks I’m a prostitute.
Being a Western woman in India is a weird mix of benefiting from racist standards of beauty and everyone thinking you are easy. Or worse. Sometimes, away from the touristic centers, they think you are a prostitute.
I soon learned that outside these tourism districts inNorthern India, many “white women” actually are Russian prostitutes. Chandigarh was a rich city. People can pay top dollar to do the dirty.
Don’t Be Caught Alone with Indian Men at 2am
It started my first month in Chandigarh. My friend, Saksham, and I were leaving Rohit’s house a bit late one evening. It was about 2am when started walking toward our Uber driver who had parked around the corner from Rohit’s house, no more than a 2-minute walk. A police officer approached. He and Saksham started talking in Hindi. It didn’t take me very long to figure out what the issue was. Saksham convinced the police officer pretty easily to let us go, but then another officer came over.
I had to show the policemen my ID cards— my U.S. Driver’s license, my University of Chicago student ID, and just for kicks, I pulled out a few BCG business cards. I guess even when they do get foreign tourists in Chandigarh, they don’t typically see a Western woman in India getting into a car alone with an Indian boy.
Don’t Be Caught Alone with Indian Men at 2am AGAIN
About two months later, the exact same situation happened. Saksham and I left Rohit’s house around 1am and were waiting in the market for our Uber. A police car pulled up and Saksham didn’t even let them get going with their questions. He very curtly told them we were leaving his cousin’s house, I’m an American working in India, and he was going to make sure that I got home safely because women shouldn’t be left alone in cabs at night in India.
This seemed to do it. They left immediately.
The Police Just Want Bribes
All my Indian friends told me that the police just want bribes. Apparently, they can’t legally take women to the police station between certain early morning hours. They are actually just hoping to scare the girl and the boy into paying them to leave. Either because she is a prostitute or because the horror of getting a phone call to your parents that you are out drinking with some girl is worth spending a few hundred rupees to prevent. Knowing this, I became emboldened when facing police.
It happened again months later when I was walking through my gate last one night. A policemen followed me home. When he confronted me I just said, “Mera house yehuh hai” (this is my house) and walked away.
Not Just the Police
Then, of course, there were a few incidents a group of guys walking by and calling some stuff out—basically the Hindi equivalent of, “’hey gurl, hey!”
Or a number of times I was walking during the day and men would ride up on their motorcycles and try to talk to me and get me to add them on Facebook or give me a lift home. They would ask in bad English if we could be “friends,” and I would kindly tell them, “Thanks, but I have enough friends.”
Once a man walked up to me in the park and asked if I would have sex with him. I said, “Ew. No.” I hope he did think I was a prostitute but that he was just so disgusting I had to reconsider my career choice.
The cigarette walla in my market asked Rohit if we were “just going around” (aka prostitution) or if it was a “shaadi thing” (aka marriage).
Not That Bad
Honestly, India gets a bad reputation. Being a Western woman in India could be hard, but I’ve been treated much worse in other countries. I never got groped. I never thought something was actually going to happen. I actually didn’t get catcalled that much more or less than in the U.S. Almost everyone was unnecessarily kind to me and treated me with respect.
That being said, it’s nice being in Argentina and not worrying that people think I’m a prostitute.
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