Book review: The Sea of Innocence by Kishwar Desai

Goa, south India. A beautiful holiday hideaway where hippies and backpackers while away the hours. But beneath the clear blue skies lies a dirty secret…

The Sea of Innocence by Kishwar DesaiSimran Singh, a 40-something social worker-come-crime investigator is holidaying in Goa with her teenage daughter Durga. All she wants is the sun, sand, and an idyllic, relaxed holiday. But all of that is spoilt when she gets a disturbing video clip featuring a young girl being attacked by a group of men. And then comes Amarjit, her on-again-off-again flame, to spoil her holiday.

He begs her to send Durga back home to Delhi and help him to find out what happened to the Liza, the girl in the video. Enter Marianne, her sister, who fills in some of the details of the crime but is deliberately vague about the exact timeline.

As Simran gets pulled into the case, she finds out more than she bargained for about Goa’s dark underbelly:

the web of lies and dark connections that flourish on these beaches. Everyone, it seems, knows what has happened to the girl but no one is prepared to say. And when more videos appear, and Simran herself is targeted in order to keep her quiet, the paradise soon becomes a living nightmare.

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Caught in a culture trap

In better times: MK Kaushik with the Indian women's hockey team

Controversy is raging around the Indian women’s hockey team, as its chief coach MK Kaushik resigned after Ranjita Devi from Manipur leveled allegations of sexual harassment against him. Reading about this led me on to thinking about the many other reports we have read in recent times about Northeastern women complaining about sexual harassment.

I experienced quite a culture shock when I moved from Mumbai to Delhi about 7 years ago. Delhities came across as being much more brash, nosier and definitely more close minded that those in Mumbai; the men are creepy; and it was the first time I felt afraid because I am a woman.

As I extrapolate those feelings to Northeastern women, I can’t help but feel enraged at the injustice that is meted out to them every day. Just because they enjoy partying and sex isn’t taboo for them the way it is for Delhites — due to which they are labeled “fast” — they are the target of unwanted male attention. Where does it say that just because a woman enjoys partying she’s lose; or if sex before marriage is no big deal for her, it’s an open invitation for men to paw her?

Freedom Jam in Manipur

There is a huge cultural difference between North India and Northeastern India — where the former is close-minded and largely patriarchal, the latter is more open and more, if I may generalize, Westernized. It’s common for girls to be out late, for youngsters spend the evening jamming together or to put up rock shows. When they come to Delhi, they find that their normal sources of entertainment are non-existent. So they do the next best thing — they go partying. For them, it’s natural. But for the close-minded North Indian men, it comes as an open invitation to be lustful. D-I-S-G-U-T-I-N-G.

When the issue got heated a couple of years ago, the police commissioner actually issued guidelines to Northeastern girlst telling them that they must dress “conservatively” and refrain from wearing skirts. What were you trying to say Mr. Top Cop? That men can’t control their urges, or that you can do nothing to protect women? That was a huge controversy at its time, just as the allegations leveled against MK Kaushik are creating an uproar now. That the lid has been blown off by a Manipuri girl just goes to show how deep rooted the prejudices are against Northeastern women.