05 August 2005

Cultural relativism

I don’t know what "cultural relativism" means, but I became acquainted with this phrase yesterday when an anonymous visitor to my blog used it while commenting on my post ("Showing it like it is") of a few days ago. Thank you, anonymous visitor, for visiting and commenting on my blog. I would have enjoyed a dialogue, but alas, my blog only allows me to publish my words… and so, here are some more.

If you are a new visitor and find this puzzling, then let me explain: The anonymous comment on my blog was on account of a description "... you may witness an embarrassing scene: a white European or American woman sunbathing in her bikini, topless, and a gathering of Indian men hanging around, watching." And later, "… the shameless topless exhibitionism of the foreigner..."

Whether I fall into the trap of cultural relativism or not, I am embarrassed to see Indian men hanging around, watching topless women sunbathing. It’s an intrusion of privacy. So, the embarrassment is selfishly mine. I am ashamed that Indian men engage in such blatant voyeurism and, when I see this, I feel ashamed of being Indian.

Still, by Indian culture and law, topless sunbathing on Indian beaches is not permissible. If the woman had only looked around, she would have noticed this. If she had asked around, she would have found out what the culture and the law of the land is. Hence, the foreigner is an exhibitionist on Indian soil. And, through Indian eyes, yes, she is shamelessly exposing her body and femininity.

However, my blog was not about this at all. By using the "topless woman" description, I was merely trying to illustrate the naturalness of India which India offers its tourists… commenting on how Indian tourism has been able to retain this flavour of our country, undisturbed, in simple everyday scenes. I was merely presenting the "topless woman" to describe a commonplace happening, contrary to canned, artificial presentations that other countries offer their tourists.

And therein, I believe, lies India’s beauty. It’s not just in the landscape or the wildlife or the history or the culture or the people. It’s in the freedom India offers everyone. In a way, it’s cultural relativism of another kind. And, there is no yardstick to measure this. It can only be done through metaphors, and the "topless woman" was nothing more than that.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

That was a thoughtful, considered response to my comment. Thanks!

Cultural relativism: "the principle that an individual human's beliefs and activities only make sense in terms of his or her own culture" - From Wikipedia