The Challenges of Being an Interracial Couple in India
Updated: Jan 14
Being in an interracial relationship brings with it many challenges, then bring into the equation life in India, and you are faced with a myriad of additional challenges. You wouldn't even necessarily realise that these were issues, unless you were faced with them. Especially if you are native, as you probably wouldn't even fathom people treating you in the manner they treat us in some circumstances.
By far the biggest challenge living in Punjab as a foreign bride is that people stare - constantly. It is just not common to see a Caucasian Woman with an Indian Man, especially in rural parts of Punjab, since the arranged marriage is still prevalent in Indian society. Young and middle aged men will stare at me like I am the Hollywood Porn Star that they grew up with as a teenage boy. Now it's already a cultural trait for Indian's to stare, though this goes beyond the occasional awkward gaze you may have already experienced.
Many of these men continue to stare whilst they then follow you, either so they can start a conversation with you or to try and sneak in a photo. Sometimes this can progress to a grope or a sneaky slap on the bum. It doesn't help when you happen to be very pale in comparison to most Caucasian women, as there is no blending into the crowds.
This kind of behaviour is especially confronting for my husband who cannot tolerate the attention that I am given. Rightly so, when strangers have the audacity to grope me right in front of my husband, as that is sexual harassment and shouldn't be tolerated. Though given the circumstances there isn't much you can do except try to avoid the situations, as the last thing you want is for a fight to break out and the police involved. There is unfortunately nothing you can do to make these offenders see sense in their actions and will only continue to try and keep vying for your attention, so it's best to move on quickly.
Which means that we cannot go out alone together if we want to have a dinner date and always need to bring other friends or family. This helps to detract some attention away from me and to provide support for times when situations do get out of hand. Or as my husband prefers to do, simply avoiding the situation entirely by not going out at all.
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Unfortunately during my travels across Punjab I have had men grope my bust and behind on more occasions than I'd like to admit, make crude hand motions towards me, or lewd remarks. This behaviour has even been displayed by family members of my husbands friends when attending weddings. So it isn't only strangers who act in such a manner, and it isn't only men who live rurally, as this occurs even when in major cities.
I have read many articles about other foreign brides living in India who receive more respect than their Indian husband. However this is quite the contrary living in rural Punjab, as it is my husband who is given more respect than myself in most instances. Such as when we go to the local supermarket, I will hand over the payment for our groceries, yet the change is always given over to whomever is accompanying me at the time. Which is usually my brother in law or husband.
Or if I am seeking assistance in a store and the representative speaks fluent English he will always address my husband in Punjabi. Unfortunately women are just not seen as equals and men will always be favoured, having the social upper hand. This is a cultural trait that is deeply embedded and many don't even realise that some of their actions come across as being sexist. But with that said, some locals are just simply more comfortable conversing in their native tongue.
There are many things that are taken for granted being in a relationship in the west. You would generally expect that you would be able to display your affection for your partner without having to give it a second thought. In Punjab one simply does not show any form of affection towards their partner in public or at home. Only behind closed doors in a private room is it acceptable to show your affection.
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Displays of affection such as kissing or holding hands are frowned upon, even touching one another in a fond way is not acceptable. This makes it difficult to bond as a couple not being able to even display the smallest of affections both in public and around the home. I have not once witnessed any married couple, even my in laws, display any sign of affection for one another, not even the slightest touch.
Even on our wedding day I recall that I couldn't pretend to kiss my husband for photos. I would have to make sure there weren't people around to sneak in a quick photo of me kissing his cheek. However we could hold hands as we walked into our reception, though other than that my husband tended to avoid it.
Gender inequality of the sexes is prevalent in Indian Society and impacts the social aspects of your relationship substantially. Baring in mind this also depends on demographics and personal beliefs as those living in cities tend to have modernised ways of thinking. However across most of Punjab you will find that many follow traditions, and many of these customs inadvertently can come across as favouring men. Therefore you are most likely to find that this will impede your relationship unintentionally.
Such as attending social events including weddings, birthdays, or any social gathering, you will find that men and women don't mingle. Particularly at weddings and all the pre-wedding ceremonies it is not uncommon for men and women to be seated separately as men are permitted to consume alcohol and women aren't. Even at personal social gatherings you tend to find that men and women go their separate ways, so that the men can drink or smoke, and the women can chat over a cup of tea. Attending social events together as a couple is an important part of bonding, which is challenging to do when you both attend a function together only to go your separate ways.
Unlike the Western Culture where many couples go out for a social drink to unwind at the end of the day or the weekend. Here it is not acceptable for women to consume alcohol and women aren't even permitted in public bars across many villages in Punjab. Women won't even attend a restaurant should it also have a bar situated inside. It's just not seen to be socially acceptable for a woman to attend as it will create gossip within the community but more so as she should not even be near alcohol consumption.
This is because the Sikh Religion does not allow women to drink alcohol and it is frowned upon for any woman to do so, even if she is not of Sikh Religion. Especially if she is married to a Sikh, this will only impact the family's social status in the community. Once a young cousin of mine decided to play a silly prank on me and told people at a party that I was drinking. It did not go down well for him as people started questioning my moral's therefore I had to tell my husband he was spreading rumours about me. As you can guess he never played a prank on me again after that incident.
Unfortunately I can also be a financial burden when it comes to socialising out, as I usually incur surcharges when out with my husband or family. This typically only happens with smaller businesses who think that because I am a tourist I must have money. Therefore they always try to charge my husband or me more. Despite that I am dressed like a Punjabi and am with my Punjabi husband or family.
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Sometimes this can occur when dining out and there are no set prices. The price that a friend paid the other day, can suddenly increase dramatically the day we happen to visit! Though it is mostly beggars who overcharge and many Punjabi's are superstitious therefore more often than not they won't refuse beggars. Usually we end up paying an extra zero more than everyone else and it can become very expensive very quickly. This is partly why I am always told to look down at the ground and make absolutely no eye contact with anyone in the crowd. Both as to avoid unwanted attention from strange men and beggars. This can certainly put a dampener on going out when there are already so many challenges.
So as you can see the opportunities to bond as a married couple are few and far between with the Punjabi way of life. If you do not take the time to schedule in alone time it will only feel like you are drifting further and further apart. It can be easy to slip into the daily way of life and allow that to happen. Which is not that different to the busy lifestyle of the west, whereby you need to schedule alone time because life is so hectic.
Have you lived abroad with your partner?
What were the challenges you faced living as a couple abroad?
I'd love to hear from you so be sure to share your experience below in the comments field.