Asia, 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

7 Comments

  1. Sid

    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 🙂

    Reply
    1. admin Author

      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 😀

      Reply
  2. Arshad Ahmad

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

    Reply
  3. Raunak Majumdar

    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..

    Reply
    1. Gwendolyn A Bellinger Author

      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.

      Reply

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