Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The dark side of dharamsala

Since i arrived 2 weeks ago, i have heard a few disturbing stories about the darker side of life in this area.
Whether or not they are completely true is not clear - you can only go by who is telling you, i suppose

it seems it is not completely safe here for vulnerable tourists
the mountain's darker side hides some horrendous experiences
some women walking alone at night have been robbed and attacked and often report being sexually harrassed by local indians
there is a lot of alcohol and drugs around too, so maybe this is creating the culture of inhibition as far as hassling women is concerned
strange to say it because the indian culture is very strong on respecting women especially one's mother, sisters and one's wife
however, when the 'lads' are hanging out together the social norms seem to be suspended entirely
another example is homophobia
it is always assumed you are straight and probably married with kids [unless you are ugly or impotent]
being gay is just not an option
there must be millions of closeted gay people here living lives of quiet desperation
And yet, the men walk around holding hands and can often be seen sitting together with their friends in loving embraces caressing eachother as they chat for hours

two of the most bizarre stories i have heard of foreigners being attacked recently are really shocking

a korean man was lured to a nearby village by some guys he met.
there, he was beaten severely and robbed
as if that wasn't enough, he was then sold into slavery to another group who forced him to work for them
when police finally found him he was sleeping in a kind of cage in the kitchen!

a european woman's decapitated body was found in woods not far from here and the police and horrified locals searched for her severed head for weeks before finding it in a ditch elsewhere

of course i am not saying this is a common occurence or that indians are dangerous
far from it
but it's always worth having a broader perspective of where one is and to become more aware of the reality behind such mountain paradises

in fact, the tibetans themselves are far from perfect although they are much more easy-going and socially aware of others rights and boundaries
but, sexism and homophobia are there too
i suppose such things will exist as long as men control and procreation is paramount

but for me, the darkest news i have heard is that there are chinese spies in dharamsala and always have been

although there are no Han Chinese here, there have always been tibetans and indians who are more than willing to report to beijing on events and undercurrents here in dharamsala

i don't know why exactly i find this shocking - of course it must be true

i have been told by local tibetan friends that there was a violent underbelly to all the recent demonstrations that frightened them very much
they knew monks and nuns would never resort to violence - especially here [what would be the point? who would you attack?]
but there is an element around town that was obviously high-jacking recent protests and doing their level best to turn them into something much more nasty
you could see them waiting in the sidelines til the monastics were already marching then they would rush to the front with their painted faces and heads and lead the procession with their cries and chaos trying to whip something up

for 2 weeks now, all the tibetan businesses were closed out of respect and support
but i didn't realise in more recent days they had been forced to stay closed by the very same bully element i mentioned already
these simple business people have become financially broke as a result
they have no money, their rents are due, their suppliers are demanding payment...
so today they are slowly beginning to re-open despite the threat they are under from the bullies who have promised to rampage and destroy everything if they are not obeyed

nobody really knows exactly who these bullies are
they are local homeless tibetans who have found a role for themselves in the past 2 weeks and everyone is suspicious of who is behind their threats and fearful of a mafia scenario emerging with protection rackets and so on

of course tibetan businesses should be open here
there is nothing else in McLeod
the only people suffering are the hungry tourists and the tibetans themselves who want to buy provisions

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