Friday, January 18, 2008

India v. Pakistan


More smells per mile than teeth in their smile!

There is a difference between a male dominated society and a female oppressed society. Neither is desirable, but there is a stark contrast. To experience it, just cross the Attari border between Pakistan and India and the change is readily apparent. It was such a pleasure to come back into India and see brightly dressed women laughing and smiling in the streets. You don’t realize what you miss until you don’t have it anymore. In Pakistan women are rarely seen in public, and when they are out they are dourly covered up especially outside the cities, often in full burka. As we were passing through one tiny village waving at the children, one girl about 14 waved at us and her friend quickly knocked her hand down to stop her, clearly afraid they might get in trouble for such a public display, however innocent. In India men run all the businesses, men make up 89 percent of elected officials, men dominate the household and men leer at the women. But, you do see women walking around in their bright saris, usually in groups, doing their shopping or chores, or working. They drive, they laugh, they even do heavy construction, often with men standing idly next to them. An example of the limits of their freedom is that the divorce rate is only 11 per 1000 because of the extreme ostracism for any women who doesn’t fulfill her proper role in the family. But it is still apparent that women have a far better chance in India than Pakistan.

The experience for males in the two countries, however, is quite different. We had dinner with 23 year old Greek motorcycle overlander Ilias Vrochidis in Agra. He has been on the road for 9 months from Thessaloniki, through Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, India and Nepal. We asked him what he thought of his time in Pakistan and he said he had a great time there last fall in September and October. The people were extremely friendly, as is the Muslim way where guests are a sign of God’s grace on the hosting family. He would often pitch his tent somewhere, and people would inevitably come over to him to offer him some chai tea and very often invite him to stay in their homes. We asked him what he thought of the Indians and he gave us a smile and a leaning back head nod coupled with the rolling back of the eyes which said “come on, you’ve been here, do you really need me to reconfirm for you how bad they are?” But, we pressed him so he continued. When he would go to camp in India, even in out of the way places, people would often come to him and tell him that he couldn’t sleep there and that he needed to move on. No one has invited him in, or tried to make him feel welcome.

Our experience has mirrored that. In our one month in India, only one time did some extremely nice young motorcyclists invite us back to their home. Even then, they warned us not to trust or believe anything an Indian told us. This was echoed by other European, Turkish, and Indian friends. We were also hosted by the wonderful Daruwala family, but they are friends from America which I don’t really count. We were only in Pakistan for the 10 days following Bhutto’s assignation and in that time we stayed in a Pashtun home, had evening meal with family of 6 in the NWFP, and were treated to dinner twice in Islamabad by a journalist I coldemailed. In addition, we were invited to tea and people’s homes in Rawalpindi and on the SWAT border which we had to refuse due to time constraints. All this on top of the fact we spent most of our time staying with Kathy and James of the RAF on a Pakistani Air Force base.

More later….

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