Safety in Gokulam
Submitted to Ashtanga.com by Concerned Students and Residents in Gokulam (21 March 2013)
Gokulam, a suburb of Mysore City, is where the world famous Ashtanga Yoga Institute and Research Center started by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, and several smaller yoga shalas, are located. Every year, thousands of yoga students visit Mysore to practice yoga in beautiful Gokulam. Needless to say, this influx of foreigners brings a significant boost to Gokulam’s economy, typically during the peak yoga season of October through March. Gokulam’s residents and vendors cater to yoga students and make it a very bright and comfortable place to stay. Most visitors wish to return year after year.
However, for those planning to practice yoga in Gokulam, awareness needs to be increased regarding the relative lack of safety. This article only seeks to raise awareness in both foreigners and locals over the need to be vigilant regarding one’s personal safety—particularly women—when walking the streets of Gokulam (and other areas of Mysore). Similar to what is being revealed about the abuses and suffering that Indian women in, for example, Delhi face (as noted recently in the press), female yoga students in Gokulam are being harassed and molested, pinched, leered at, and almost raped when walking to yoga classes in the morning or when walking around in the evenings.
These repeated molestation events are often discussed on social websites and among the yoga students, and several individuals have complained to the police. The police have posted uniformed patrolmen on foot near the Krishna Temple, the water tank on the open ground near Doctor’s Corner, and on the second main road near the big shala. A police van also patrols the area between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. Reports of molestation during these times have decreased after such patrols were put in place. Moreover, the shala has hired private, plain-clothed security men to canvas certain areas in the mornings when yoga students are walking to class, and other changes are being considered to increase safety in general.
That said, although such measures are being implemented and will hopefully continue into the next peak season, we must remain vigilant about personal safety. There are many more “bad guys” out there than can be detained or chased away—boys and men who simply want to pinch, leer at, or feel up a foreigner or, at worse, rape her.
Here are quotes from female yoga students who have experienced abuse and molestation in Gokulam:
S says: “I guess it is nicer to share the bright and sunny sides of a visit to Ashtanga Yoga Nilayam in Mysore than to think of the frequent cases of harassment that take place in Gokulam and surrounding areas on a nearly daily basis. . . . Ladies being attacked by men on scooters, being groped, slapped in the face, pushed about, exhibitionists jerking off in front of them. I even heard about a girl who was nearly raped on her way to the 4.30 (am) led class one morning. The neighbours rescued her last minute. It is really a disgusting issue. I have been to India a lot, but I have never come across anything like this. I myself was victim to such an assault on New Year’s Eve in broad daylight 12.30 a.m., just up the road from the shala. There was a boy, hardly 17, who came my way, when I suddenly realised he was walking up much too close. I just managed to say ‘don’t touch me’ but it was too late. I had his hands all over me though I think it would have been much worse if I would have said nothing at all. I was petrified, unable to think.”
C wrote: “. . . I was also groped in the road down from the shala, 5 years back, we need to stay acutely aware and vigilant, before something really awful happens in Gokulam.”
A very distraught and brave K wrote: “Today morning about 8.30 a terrible abuse happened to me. An Indian guy approached, then grabbed my hair and attempted to grope and touch me. I pushed him, but he was not about to stop. When I reached my phone to make some photos, he ran away quickly. Thus, I'm leaving Mysore as Gokulam doesn't seem safe and friendly to me anymore even at daytime to say nothing about 5.30 a.m. when I usually go to the shala with my mat. So, all the girls, please, be very careful! Especially in the Doctor Corner/football ground area.”
Obviously, fear and insecurity are increasing throughout the yoga community in Gokulam and some potential visitors are re-evaluating their decision to travel to Mysore. Their comments show their dismay. We need to do more.
If you are considering coming to Gokulam to study yoga, please do come, just be more vigilant about personal safety. We do not walk alone at night in the seediest areas (or even the not-so-seedy areas) of New York City, London, or Los Angeles, or even on a college campus. When we travel to other countries, we take precautions about walking around in the dark and we respect the local customs. We must do the same in Gokulam because, as comfortable, easy, friendly, and accommodating as Gokulam is to the yoga community, the culture in India—frequently publicized in the press these days after the Delhi gang rape and the gang rape of the Swiss woman—allows males in society to believe that they can do what they want and when they want to a woman. Unfortunately, the boys and men extend this notion to women in the foreigner community.
The yoga schools are doing what they can. The police can do more. And, as residents of and visitors to Gokulam, we must—in addition to continuing to push the yoga schools and the police to do more—do more to ensure that our neighbours, friends, renters, students, and ourselves are as safe as possible in Gokulam. The first step is being conscientious and aware of the issue.