Western Woman in India

*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.

I’m going to die of a heart attack

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.

IMG_6963 - Version 2
Girls in India who wanted a photo with me (Oct 2015)

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.

Saksham, the Indian Hipster-Pimp

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.

Saksham and I on the second night we avoided arrest

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.

The Indian Army taking an ice cream break 😀

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).

Version 2
Most guys weren’t That bad. This guy and his friends just wanted some photos with Rohit and me (Oct 2015)

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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  1. At least I feel the police were on guard in case something bad was going to happen to you.

  2. I am sure you already learned that but reiterating, maybe for the others to read and know. India had a very conservative culture untill late and it’s not yet fully out of it. The society today is a kind of hot mess between westernization & inherent culture. For that reason, people still consider Sex a taboo topic and have wierd ways of approaching for it. More so when they see a white women, they presume for the heard reasons that western women are easy to get laid with. I too hope that changes soon though.
    For the matters relating to the police there are two aspects – 1. High level Prostitution, in India is majorly catered by the Russian white women. For a local police person it’s ofcourse hard-to-determine if the white lady is Russian or American & what her business is. So, any white women becomes a subject of suspicion.
    2. Safety : To prevent and minimize the sexual assault type of crimes that was on a rise in recent times, police in Indian cities has turned to being hyper-active after dark. They specially as well try to be extra concerned of foriegn people’s safety for country’s reputation and diplomatic relations. We say “Atithi Devo Bhava” meaning Guests are equivalent to God.

    Love to read your blogs, Keep Writing 🙂

    1. Thanks for your comment! I never felt I was in any serious dangerous. There was a sort of overwhelming feeling that as long as I was in yelling distance from other people, someone would always come help me. Chandigarh being a decently wealthy and educated city, most people seemed more curious about me than immediately assuming I was some sort of sex object.

      With few exceptions, most Indians very much upheld the “Atithi Devo Bhava” belief. Living in India could be frustrating at times, but it remains one of my favorite places I have lived without a doubt.

      I am glad I learned this about Russian women early on, though. It helped me not take things so personally and realize it was de facto because there aren’t that many young, white, single women wandering around Northern India.

      Hope you are doing well 😀

      1. Hello Dear, Just now I read your column about umur experience in my country, I personally love this place very much, but I feel so insecure here for myself and my family, suppose if someone got into any trouble which involves court, police or any criminal he will never get any justice even he will be more and more tortured, if your are in any trouble people will come to you not to help, but to enjoy the moment, only few of people are not selfish, you will always be harrashed or fooled every places either its a shop, road, train , there is no value of commitments done by govt or any organization or private institutions,,your complaints will either be not recorded, or if recorded will never be responded, cellular companies, electronuc companies, food product companies consumer care number never work, wverywhere imthere is pollution and dust. even foods vegetables and fruits are full of chemicals, I dont want to live at this place, I desperately want to move to any well established country and want to livw a peaceful life, as I dont have any kind of extra
        expenses like drink smoke or anything I dont do parties… I just want enjoy my life eating healthy food, taking care of myself and talking to good people listening their experiences.

        I am so happy knowing you are not harmed by our people, but yes every word you worte is 110% true. I wish you visit other countries and have nice experiences.

  3. Did you visit other cities in India? Actually I’m from Varanasi, India & this place is very interesting for foreigners because of culture.

  4. Read your blog.and i could relate to some of the incidence that i had to face when i was in Delhi. I am from North East, Assam.. People from Delhi thinks that i am from China..I mean they think we i am a foreigner from the east. And if i am out with a female friend who is also from northeast in the evening hours or late hours..the police always approaches us and ask all stupid question. They even asked me if my friend who have sex with them.. thinking I am a pimp.. I loved my stay in Delhi but couldnt take people starring..I left Delhi. I have no idea why we north eastern are harassed so much just because we look a bit different. Never before i knew that even people like yourself have faced this. But i am quite amazed how you have stood your ground.. which i couldn’t.. Actually thats all i had to say to you..

    1. Gwendolyn A Bellinger

      Thank you for your comment. My Indian friends mentioned that North Eastern Indians face a lot of discrimination and many of the women are sometimes mistaken for prostitutes. I’m sorry you and your friends have had to deal with this.

      I don’t think I “look Russian” but India is not the first country I’ve been to in which people have thought I was a Russian prostitute. It happened many times in Morocco as well. I think the biggest difference is that I can always “go home” to the US and get away from this type of treatment. Plus, during the day this never seemed to be an issue. It was only ever at night.

  5. Searching for prostitution article surprising landed me here.

    Sorry for your experience. I am personally sorry on the behalf of every indecent stare in our eyes. I am sorry for every catcall you have to hear. I am sorry for inappropriate touch you have to feel. No justifications, no reasons. We need to be better. We are not bad at core just every person is a reflection of his social geo political and cultural history. We used to be most open and assimilating melting pot of ideas but we stop growing, we imploded in arrogance. We gave Kamasutra yet sex developed as a taboo subject. I am personally sorry for all your bad experiences. I too am one of that crowd who was indecent to you despite being educated.

    It took me time to introspect. We are basically going through a hypocritical time these days. Prostitution is legal but gay sex is non bailable offense. We are mentally confused. Guy above told Russian thing but actually deep down we all know that is a apologetic cover up. Indians are basically sexually frustrated. From being open about sexuality we became regressive about sex. Society on name of culture made it so difficult for everybody and on top of that, rage gets fueled by marketing and porn. Basically every white girl to us is “apsara” which we can never lay our hands on. Plus being outsider we feel its easy to harass these helpless girls. So years of hypocritical indoctrinated patriarchal mindset comes out and we harass you. Every guy that came near you or wanted a pic with you had somewhere these agenda which boils down to hypocrisy, societal cultural suppression, sexual frustration and seeing a exotic scarce white girl as a once in lifetime commodity. You will see this behavior very less in place frequented by foreigns like goa because seeing white girl there is nothing out of ordinary and local do not get super excited hence less comparatively less harassment.

    I acknowledge and admit all our faults. But apart for sorry for our behavior would like to say that yes we are evolving, education and global exposure are making us contemplate these thing and yes few of strive to be a better example.

    Please do not judge us SISTER.(not that you did) 🙂 We are trying to be better, we are trying to put ATITHI DEVO BHAVA in letter and in spirit. Years of colonial feudal religious and political exploitation has rendered us starved uneducated hypocritical animals it will take time in enlightening billion souls. So sorry once again sister, come to Haryana someday. One of the most harass-able place for a white girl but nonetheless you can enjoy my mother homemade food and forgive/forget all that bad about us_/\_ 🙂

    -A Sorry Indian

    1. Thank you very much for your comment. Once again, my experience in India was overwhelmingly positive. As in any country, I had problems as a single female, but not nearly as many as the media portrays. I miss India a lot and would love to come to Haryana for your mom’s cooking!

  6. No country is bad as it’s just a mere land on this big round planet but a country is defined by the people living in it as they are the sole factors that lead to growth or downfall of a nation.As being an Indian I deeply understand how you felt like in such situation you see some people here are sick minded and sexually frustrated animals they just want to have sex with foreign girls to complete their porn fantasy and being asked for sex was really really the cheapest thing I have heard of. What the heck was that person even thinking that he asked you for it, and i can’t even imagine how you would have felt.I am really sorry for the bad experience you had relating to the people here and trust me for this single reason I hate being an Indian since I am being judged too when someone ask adventures like you about your experience in India and the very common feedback in have seen is people were staring at us and was charging higher money for stuffs since you were tourists and groping in public and catcalls thinking of one as a prostitute, thefts and other serious concern. And it’s even shameful to say all such things in this comment section but after reading your article I thought it’s a must. Being a good citizen of I sincerely apologize from part of all the Indians including Bribe taking police to sick minded people who encountered you. Incidents like this hurt me when any women who are a native or non-native of India happens to go through the situation like these, Its a big question mark for Indian Society though not all people are bad but the majority of a**holes here seem to overcast that proportion. You might have also faced really awkward situations like people staring at you in public or people trying to be friends with you and all other indecent stuff. It’s just Indians(stupid ones again they’re the majority) go crazy when they see any foreigner in white skin coz people here are so desperate to see and meet girls who are too white. It’s just like spotting a Ferrari in the crowd people tend to turn their heads back to see it coz people have seen it in media only. It’s the same for all foreign women and yes for similar looking Indian women too though I can’t compare this situation to a Ferrari since this is a serious concern. We as Indian’s are really struggling due to this because it projects we Indian’s as a whole who are too desperate to get a foreigner girl which is really embarrassing and shameful for the nation as a whole. India considers Guests as Gods as you have surely heard and seen in comments above which is “Atithi devo bhava” but the problem is these people forget all the morals and dignity and the meaning of this phase that they just tend to do kinds of stuff which are really inappropriate, shameful and cheap by human nature. I sincerely think incidents like this which have been faced by women like you must be put to an end asap. Props to you that despite all the inconvenience you faced and suffered you remained as a strong woman and choose to not be bothered by such incidents and continued to have a good trip here. My deep and sincere apologies to you and all the women out there who faced the same experience or worse. We are struggling with these kinds of issues and similar and are trying to improve slowly but I am afraid that the speed at which things are improving is rather too slow. People here don’t understand their civil duties and try to violate the human rights of others. I wish you had a much better experience and we had never given any opportunity for you to write this article. As very well said by the gentleman above in the comments we really are stuggling with westernization and our inherent culture there is our old superstions and there is rational thoughts. People with backward thinking and sick mentality are the reasons why good people like you are not able to enjoy your peace time away from your homeland and truely savour the beauty of our country and then some regret for the decision they took for visiting India. But apologies doesn’t even matter until the outcome of all this is a better more beautiful and safer trip to our land and leaving with a wide grin on the face and beautiful memories to cherish with no complaints about our hospitality and eager to meet us again. This being said it’s a perfect time for people here to understand that whenever any adventurer like you are dissatisfied and is harrased mentally or physically or both it’s directly points to lack of humane nature in us.
    We are deeply sorry for everything you and other travellers faced during your journey here in India and if i ever get any chance to face any other adventurer like you from the distant land I’ll make sure that he/she feels at home and will provide all the guidance and assistance needed as a friend and enjoy the truest and even tinest flavours of diverse beauty of our heritage and culture. I hope you visit India sooner in future and won’t face such incidents at all.
    -Lots of Love from India

    1. Gwendolyn A Bellinger

      Hi Vineet. Thank you for your comment. While I didn’t like the harassment from the police, I have told people far and wide how much I like India. It’s by far my favorite travel experience. India is like any place, there are pros and cons. While you are an outsider (and its obvious from your looks, language, and customs), you will struggle anywhere. I understood this. Of course, I got frustrated. But in retrospect, I don’t harbor any ill-feelings towards India for the negatives. I had an amazing group of friends in India and a really kind Indian boyfriend who helped me immensely. Maybe people treated me very well and forgave me when I didn’t do things according to custom (not knowing how to behave in certain situations). I’d love to return one day, and please don’t feel any need to apologize for a few stupid police officers. India gave me a wonderful experience, and I am forever indebted.

      1. Hahaha it will be our privilege to have you here again and it’s fine if you did something wrong according to Indian customs no need to worry about it who cares about that haha just be true from your heart that’s the real custom for every country and religion(according to me XD)

  7. I am sure you already learned that but reiterating, maybe for the others to read and know. India had a very conservative culture until late and it’s not yet fully out of it. The society today is a kind of hot mess between westernization & inherent culture. For that reason, people still consider Sex a taboo topic and have wired ways of approaching for it. More so when they see a white women, they presume for the heard reasons that western women are easy to get laid with. I too hope that changes soon though.
    For the matters relating to the police there are two aspects – 1. High level Prostitution, in India is majorly catered by the Russian white women. For a local police person it’s ofcourse hard-to-determine if the white lady is Russian or American & what her business is. So, any white women becomes a subject of suspicion.
    i was studing in india for the 4 years
    Email me : acheakzaiafghan@yahoo.com

  8. Very fine article , but that particularly happens in delhi-chandigarh region due to heavy presence of prostituets from Soviet countries not in all India .

    And one more thing , that pics you shared of soldiers are not army soldiers they are from paramilitary not army probably from CISF (central industrial security force ) or just common armed police force .

    1. Gwendolyn A Bellinger

      Yes. My friends let me understand why it happened, but it was still a very particular experience. Definitely not something I’m used to in other places!

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