US student Michaela Cross's chilling personal account describing repeated sexual harassment, groping, stalking, and even rape attempts, she faced during a study trip to India in 2012 has got the social media into overdrive.
She posted her ordeal, "India: the Story You Never Wanted to Hear", as RoseChasm on CNN i-Report on August 18.
Drawing strong reactions from all quarters, her story went viral - it has been viewed about a million times and raked in some 1,400 comments and 85,000 shares on Facebook and Twitter.
In fact, Cross's story became the most viewed article of all time on CNN iReports when it crossed 840,000 views on Thursday.
"When people ask me about my experience in India, I always face the same dilemma. How does one convey the contradiction that over the past few months has torn my life apart, and convey it in a single succinct sentence?" the University of Chicago (UoC) student wrote in the haunting account.
"How do I describe my three months in India when it was half dream, half nightmare?" continued Cross, who was reportedly diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), forced into a psychiatric ward, woke up wanting to be dead many a morning and was left unfit to attend classes.
The fair-skinned, red-haired student of South Asian studies at UoC was in India in 2012 fall; she is now on a leave from studies after a public breakdown in spring 2013.
A University spokesman confirmed that Cross is a student at the school, but would not comment on her mental leave. He said the school is committed to students' safety at home and abroad.
While many Indians, NRIs and foreigners expressed sympathy and painted India as 'traveler's heaven, women's hell', others pointed out that Cross's account could lead to sweeping generalisations and form a negative view of India.
Vijayasenan commented on the story, saying, "We all feel sad at what happened with Cross and pray for her. But, I must add it's not as though such incidents don't happen in her own country or state. Don't tell me that girls are not raped in the US!"
Another reader commented: "If you go to India knowing that you may have these situations you should act accordingly, stay in a group, carry the mace and not be afraid to yell."
Morever, this is how others responded on Twitter:
Cross, who left India a few days before the deadly gang rape of a 23-year-old woman in New Delhi, wrote the piece to voice her anguish and help others understand what she and her classmates went through.
Struggling to find a way to describe her mixed experience, Cross wrote in her account that when people speak of India, they don't want to hear stories like her's. But her's was a story that deserves to be heard and shared.
"Truth is a gift, a burden, and a responsibility. And I mean to share it," she wrote.
Some of the other distressing details of her report include:
"Do I tell them about our first night in the city of Pune, when we danced in the Ganesha festival, and leave it at that? Or do I go on and tell them how the festival actually stopped when the American women started dancing, so that we looked around to see a circle of men filming our every move?"
"Do I tell them about bargaining at the bazaar for beautiful saris costing a few dollars a piece, and not mention the men who stood watching us, who would push by us, clawing at our breasts and groins?"
"When people compliment me on my Indian sandals, do I talk about the man who stalked me for 45 minutes after I purchased them, until I yelled in his face in a busy crowd?"
"For three months I lived this way, in a traveller's heaven and a woman's hell. I was stalked, groped, masturbated at; and yet I had adventures beyond my imagination. I hoped that my nightmare would end at the tarmac, but that was just the beginning."
(with IANS inputs)