An expat desi friend and I were discussing what it means to return to India when you have cobbled together a life in a foreign country no matter how flawed and imperfect. We have both spent over a decade outside India and have kids who were born abroad and have spent very little time back home. Returning "home" is something a lot of new immigrants like L and myself think about. We want very much for that to be an option because a full assimilation into our country of domicile is likely never going to happen. L has visited India more often than I have and has a much better pulse on what's going on there.
For me the strongest drag force working against my desire to return home is my experience of life as a woman in India. I neither want to live that suffocatingly sheltered existence myself nor subject J to it. The freedom, independence and safety I have had in here in suburban America was not even something I knew I could expect to have in India. I never knew what it felt to be treated as person first and woman after that.
I would hate for J's world-view to be shaped by a society that puts her gender before her and have that influence the most significant decisions in her life. I don't see the point of living inside the sanitized confines of a gated community so one does not have to deal with any of the "unpleasantness". That life would be a poor proxy of the Indian experience - J could end up being even more confused about her identity than she will be growing up in America.
L was not sure that my concerns were particularly valid in present day India and I was quick to chalk that up to India Shining Kool-Aid drinking. According to L, the current societal view of the gender allows for more nuance than the Sita or Slut that I was familiar with from my time and it was hardly fair to pass judgment without experiencing the transformation for myself.
Apparently, everything that was true from six or seven years ago (the last time I lived and worked in India) is null and void now. As much as I would like to believe that, I have seem little evidence of this seismic shift that L talks about, in print and on-line media and lesser still in the attitudes of the brethren who have arrived here very recently.
To have to believe that the magic will be evident upon setting foot in India is a giant leap of faith I find really hard to make. That said, it does not help to read about harassment of women in India who are in research and academia being more norm than exception.
If that is the fate of researchers and academics, chances are that the average woman will fare only much worse. When I read the comments by women on this post on their own experiences of harassment, I feel even less hopeful about what the future holds for women in India.