Saturday, 15 May 2010

WTF: Summit edition

Like anything, there was good and bad about the Advance summit. There were two WTF moments in particular, both coming during the session on Global Citizenship in the 21st century.

Moment #1: A panellist, a young, brightly effusive Indian businesswoman, loudly asserted herself to be a Global Citizen: after all, she was educated in the US. In fact, at a university in a town not known to be terribly enlightened. Here, she witnessed her fair share of KKK marches. But she had to be very clear here: they did not intimidate her, nor bother her in the slightest. Why? Because this brown girl is a Global Citizen, who's seen the world, who simply equates these KKK processions as another way of expressing religious fervour, much like processions marking Ganesh Chaturti, or Dussehra.

Yes, I know. Not quite the same thing.

When one of the other panellists quietly called her on it, she whipped into defensive mode and shot him down in flames. But not with a flaming cross, mind you.

Moment #2: The moderator, a former Australian diplomat to India, raised the question of how Indians could be better Global Citizens. "I'll tell you," said one young blonde attractive woman sitting up the end of the table, a volunteer with an Indian NGO. "Do something about how the men are here." She went on to recount her experiences dealing with the unwanted attention of the North Indian Male: staring, catcalling, sometimes trying to catch a grope, despite dressing modestly and locally.

Now to any woman actually living in (particularly north) India, this is a real issue. It's something I face daily (although granted, I don't really make many concessions towards dressing locally) and have encountered two incidents in my life when I've felt particularly threatened: once when I was 16, once last year. I'm not saying all Indian men are slimy, grope-happy greaseballs, far from it, but there is a real thing with many men up here: aggressive, self-important misogyny is a theme.

Unfortunately, the point was lost amongst those people gathered there in Ballroom B at the Oberoi, many of whom had flown in from Australia the previous day and hadn't really seen much of India other than, ooh, the lobby and the restaurant of Delhi's second most expensive hotel. So the moderator took the easiest route: fingers-in-ears-la-la-la denial. Stammering, he said, "That's a valid point but doesn't really fit into the remit we've been given by Advance," and moved on.

That was crap. Yes, it is a valid point and one well worth discussing further; just one that's too controversial for most Westerners to want to touch.

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