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Courting or harassment: What happens when Western women mix with the locals?
Many Indian men grow up having very little contact with women outside their family, cross-cultural and management consultant Rajeshwar Balasundaram wrote in an email. Men sit separately from women on public transportation and at schools and do not develop platonic friendships. When they meet foreign women, they rely on the stereotypes they have acquired through Hollywood and Bollywood movies of foreign women as free and loose. These men think they can communicate freely with these foreign women, but sometimes they get carried away.
“They think the Western woman is fair game,” says Times of India columnist Bachi Karkaria.
A foreigner might be trying to make friends, but if she gives a man her phone number, he assumes she wants to take the relationship further, Karkaria says.
Bollywood films also convey that a man will succeed at seducing a woman by continuing to pursue her.
Indrajit Chattopadhyay says he flirts with women by sending them five to 10 text messages a day. If she does not respond to the initial messages, he continues sending them.
“If I find the water is cold, I try and make it warm before taking it forward,” he says.
Chattopadhyay, who lives near New Delhi, says that he listens to women’s signals and only continues when she shows interest. He just continues a bit longer than men do in the West.
“If I send five [text messages] today and no response, and five tomorrow and no response, obviously I will trickle down to two and then one and then zero,” he says.
Foreign women here say they have learned to tame their usual friendliness to avoid being the objects of incessant attention.
When Maddie Gressel, 22, first moved to Rajasthan in northwestern India, she was eager to make friends and would freely give away her phone number, she says. But she quickly learned that men assumed she was interested in more. She started receiving text messages 10 times a day with poems like, “Love is the flower you hold in your hand.”
Gressel says she no longer gives away her number easily.
Other women block numbers on their phone, avoid making eye contact with men at bars or on the street, and stop being so friendly.
Peruzzo says she turns her phone off every night to avoid text messages from men she thought were just friends. She has also stopped meeting men through the social networking site.
“At the beginning you do it because it’s nice and it really raises your self esteem. At 35 to have so much attention!” she says with a laugh. “But then you have to pay for it, and I wasn’t willing to pay for it.”