Navigating India: Week six

Rachel Borashko

Recently, I’ve spent some time reflecting on the kinds of conversations that we have been having with Indian people. As we make friends and people get used to seeing us around campus, many have become more open with asking us questions beyond our names and where we’re from. Naturally, many of our conversations, both in and outside of the classroom, have centered on differences between India and America.

Marriage and love are asked about often. “How can you trust people after having your heart broken?” “Have you had sex?” “I heard people in the United States often have multiple marriages.” “Are you married?” “What’s dating like?” In a society that has mostly arranged marriages, marriages based on love and hookup culture seem to be intriguing. Love marriages do occur here, but uncommonly so. In rural areas, it is unheard of to have such relationships.

We do our best to answer their questions, and ask our respective questions about arranged marriages, which are apparently now facilitated with the help of matrimony websites.

Gender norms in India are not like in the U.S., particularly prior to marriage. People walk around holding hands with the same gender, a sign of friendship, not of love. It is socially unacceptable, however, to hold hands with the opposite gender if you are not married. Parents are skeptical of their children even having friendships with people from the opposite gender. A few days ago, we were informed that pre-marital sex is not only socially taboo, it is illegal.

If love marriage is the hottest topic to ask us about, a close second is social inequalities. All of us are students in the social sciences, so it is natural that these kinds of conversations would come up.

The people that we encounter, be they students, adults, or professors, seem to think that America is the epitome of justice and equality. We are the society that they strive to be, with our equal rights for women and lack of religious, racial, or class discrimination. Yes, America, as the pinnacle of what a society should be.

As Americans, this is shocking for us to hear. Even if America has made improvements, we say, it is still fraught with social inequalities and we have a long way left to go. We explain that in the similar way that Indians face caste discrimination, many Americans face racial discrimination. We try to describe the delicate issue of what feminism has become in the West, and why it is not the same as misandry, and why it is still necessary, especially for women of color. The people that we speak with are often just as shocked to hear that America is not perfect as we are to hear that they think it is.

In America, we often think that when we go abroad, the people in other countries will hate us. They will think that we are ignorant and arrogant. I am surprised to find just the opposite. The idea they have of America is the idealized version that we attempt to be, not the reality. Consequently, the people that I encounter seem to be more proud of my country than I am. This is not to say I do not love my homeland, but only to say that it deserves criticism and needs improvement. It is shocking, and disheartening, for them to hear that our problems are so similar.

At the beginning, our conversations strive to understand the differences between our societies, yet we inevitably end up realizing that we’re not so different after all.