The end of chapter one

Posted by stephanie on Sep 26th, 2008
2008
Sep 26

Each day for me brings a new adventure, and waking up each morning, I really have no idea of what will lay ahead of me for the day. I was invited to the Delhi Gymkhana Club by a Vanderbilt alum named Dr. Lalvani who did his fellowship at the Vanderbilt Medical School in the 90s. The Delhi Gymkhana Club is a relic of India’s colonial past, started by the British nearly a century ago. Nowadays it is one of the most elite clubs in Delhi, something akin to an American country club. Dr. Lalvani told me that he had been on a waiting list for 20 years to join this club. This experience showed me a completely different side of India, that of wealth, power, and opportunity. Dr. Lalvani, who is an ophthalmologist, invited one of his female colleagues to have lunch with us, and I asked her what her experiences had been as a woman in India. For her, she had none of the restrictions on her freedom that I had witnessed in the village of Hathoj. She explained to me that the main difference between what I had witnessed and her experiences was the difference between the rural and urban environments. India, as often described, is a land of contrasts, and I am certainly seeing that during my time here.


Coming into this experience, I never would have imagined I would have lunch at such an exclusive institution in India or that on the same day a terrorist attack would rock Delhi. That evening 5 bombs exploded in crowded, touristy areas, planted by a Muslim extremist group that has also been responsible for several other blasts throughout the country. I had been to most of the places where the bombs were planted only a day before. Being so close to an incident of terrorism was a new experience for me, and one I hope to not repeat. However, this incident was barely mentioned in the international press, which made me aware of how much in the world we will never know about because it is not deemed newsworthy enough, even if that event resulted in the loss of many lives. Another part of me is happy that this situation was not made into a huge deal by the international press because that is only providing more legitimacy to the group and creating more of the atmosphere of terror that such groups and acts are meant to foster. Luckily, all of the other bombs that had been planted in the city were defused, including a bomb that had been planted at a children’s play area. While this incident showed me hatred in its crudest form, India overall has only shown me hospitality in its purest form.
My time in India is drawing to a close. Tomorrow I fly to Chennai to spend three days in southern India before flying to Singapore. India has elicited a variety of emotions in me, from frustration and anger to extreme joy and happiness and every feeling in between. After nearly two months in India, I have come to a greater understanding of the culture and people, and even had the opportunity to see some amazing places along the way (like the Taj Mahal!) I know that India has definitely left an impression on me, and as I continue on my travels, I will draw upon the lessons about freedom and life that I have learned here.

A brief history of Indian independence

Posted by stephanie on Sep 26th, 2008
2008
Sep 26

While in Delhi, I had the unique opportunity to have a meeting at the India International Centre with Rudrangshu Mukherjee, a famous Indian historian and journalist based out of Calcutta. Mr. Mukherjee’s area of academic specialty is the Indian Rebellion of 1857, an uprising that occurred mainly in the North of India as a mutiny of sepoys (Indians in the British East India Company’s army). The Indians were revolting against the attempts by the British to reform India and ignore Indian culture. Christian missionary activity and western doctors were seen as an intervention of life in Northern India, and there was brewing discontent over annexations. It took the British more than a year to quell the uprising. In this way, the Indians activity during this time was an attempt for freedom from foreign rule. Not all people in India were against the British rule as some benefited greatly from the British influence. This group saw their future in western education and values, as they believed the modern world didn’t lie in the past. Before the rebellion India was ruled through the British East India Company, but afterwards the crown took over the rule. Racism towards the Indian people on the side of the British became more pronounced after the rebellion because the belief was that Indian people could not be trusted. As this racism become more prevalent, even those who were educated, western followers started criticizing the British, who were not living up to their project to improve India. They did not believe the British should have different values on their home soil from the ones they were planted on Indian soil. The Indian National Congress started as an adult discussion group with elite people meeting once a year, but it soon became a major political party in the Indian independence movement. In 1904, the viceroy made an announcement that the province of Bangalore would be partitioned because it was too big for the administration to run properly. The idea was to divide and rule the area, splitting up the Muslims and Hindus. However, this event led to vocal support from many leaders against this act and was the first articulation of nationalism and that the Indians could run themselves. The Indians also began the swadeshi movement, which meant boycotting anything British in order to hit at the economic reason for British rule. Gandhi became the national image of the swadeshi movement.

Mr. Mukherjee explained to me that the Indian independence movement can be divided into two strands—the ideology of Gandhi and that of Jawaharlal Nehru (the first Prime Minister of independent India), with Nehru’s ideology ultimately winning out. Gandhi did not appreciate liberal ideas and values. Gandhi believed that all western ideas were superficial, and that industrial capitalism was based on greed and violence. Gandhi wanted to build a completely self-sufficient individual that can look after his or her own interest without depending on anybody. In his ideology, there did not need to be a state, which he termed “enlightened anarchy,” with each person being his or her own ruler. Gandhi believed that human nature was good and non-violent, and that western civilization had alienated man from his original humanity. Gandhi was once asked what he thought about western civilization and he replied, “I think is would be a very good idea.” Nehru, on the other hand, accepted the western model, but the underlying threats to the experiment with democracy and freedom were poverty, lack of education, caste, and religion, issues that can still be seen in today’s India. India received its independence on August 15, 1947, and its Constitution was adopted on January 26, 1950. Mr. Mukherjee told me that he believes the idea of freedom and democracy in India has broadened and deepened, with more people becoming aware of their own rights and how they can further their own interest. Interestingly, India is the only country where since the adoption of its Constitution has everyone had the right to vote. Mr. Mukherjee also explained that leaders today are not all westernized. In Parliament, as more people from different backgrounds are being elected and participating in government, it can at times be unruly as they are not familiar with western protocols of government. Yet, this means that people who did not know democracy not too long ago are now participating in it, which I think is a great success for India.

Removing the chains

Posted by stephanie on Sep 23rd, 2008
2008
Sep 23

In order to describe some of what I’ve seen and learned in Delhi, I’ve decided to separate my experiences by topic rather than in chronological order. My last post focused on education, while in this one I hope to tell you what I’ve learned about development work occurring in India and how this will affect Indian freedom and what those working in the field of development had to say about freedom. This was an interesting topic for me after my month long experience in Jaipur and the village of Hathoj seeing some of the issues that affect rural areas and how change and development can come to these areas without undermining what makes these regions so unique and special.

My first stop for this topic was the Institute for Rural Research and Development, which is located in a suburb of Delhi called Gurgaon. My connection to the IRRAD came through Ajay Pandey, an alum who did his master’s of law at Vanderbilt. I was accompanied to the IRRAD by Padmanabha, a co-worker of Jane’s at the Jindal Global Law School who is in charge of designing the curriculum for the school—what a responsibility! I had an interesting conversation with him in the car that we had hired, amongst the Delhi traffic and with a driver unfamiliar with the area we were going to. He explained to me that one reason why people from India do so well in the American and European systems is because when in those countries they don’t have to worry about certain things like they do in India—such as if they will be able to get to work, how long it will take, if the electricity and internet will work, etc.! When these things are more or less guaranteed, then from Padmanabha’s experience, an Indian person can concentrate completely on their work! I know that I take those certainly logistics for granted when I am at home, but I am learning quickly how when they are not guaranteed it can take away so much energy figuring ways around it! Another aspect of Indian culture that I am learning is this “what to do?” attitude. So much is out of people’s control, such as the traffic, electricity, etc., that they take it in stride and are way more relaxed about life’s disruptions than I know I usually am. Anyone who has been to India knows that there is always something that arises that can throw you for a loop or completely change your plans, and I think that Indians are way more adaptable to these changes because they don’t feel such a sense of control over everything. That is definitely one thing I appreciate about Indian culture, and while having things not work out can certainly be frustrating, the way in which things eventually do work out or new opportunities that arise because of these changes is a source of constant fascination to me!

Back to the IRRAD, though. The vision of the IRRAD is to motivate and empower rural people across India to make their “lives more secure and prosperous through education, better health, improved skills, and supportive governance.” Unlike the program I participated in Jaipur, which was more based on voluntourism, the IRRAD draws upon experts in the different areas it works on in the rural villages to bring about change in the communities. It does this through the holistic idea of Integrated Sustainable Village Development, tackling the interrelated constraints, needs, and opportunities through programs on water management, income enhancement, life skills education, rural health, and alternative energy. What I really value in the IRRAD’s approach to rural development is that their programs are based on community involvement with the goal of the organization leaving the village in five years to let the community continue on its own. One of the challenges of rural development, though, is that when individuals become empowered and educated, they leave the village to pursue more opportunities in the cities. In this way, the rural areas continue to lag behind because their brightest people leave. Another challenge with rural development is that once the five-year intervention period is over, the communities tend to revert back to their old ways, resulting in an impermanent change in the village life. India’s Constitution guarantees a “dignified and decent life for all,” something that the IRRAD hopes to help empower the rural areas to believe and achieve in reducing poverty and empowering the citizens. However, although such a life is guaranteed in India, it is not a reality. I asked the group assembled how Indian democracy played into all of this, and the consensus in the group was that the multi-party system is a hindrance to getting things done as too many diverse groups pull for resources and legislation in too many ways for anything to be effective. Ajay brought up a quote by Jean-Jacques Rousseau that says “Man is born free, yet he is everywhere in chains.” I think this quote summarizes the situation in rural India. There is a large amount of freedom granted to people in India through laws and the Constitution, but the chains of poverty, illiteracy, ignorance, and poor health pull and tear at this intrinsic freedom we are born with as babies. Therefore, reacquiring this freedom we are born with becomes a person’s main objective in life, and organizations working on development issues are helping to facilitate that process by removing some of those chains.

My second meeting in the field of development was at the US Embassy with USAID (the United States Agency for International Development), which is an independent federal agency that receives overall foreign policy guidance from the Secretary of State and seeks to “extend a helping hand to those people overseas struggling to make a better life, recover from a disaster or striving to live in a free and democratic country…” USAID’s history goes back to the Marshall Plan and the reconstruction of Europe, but it wasn’t until 1961 when the Foreign Assistance Act was signed into law that USAID was created. USAID works in the areas of economic growth, agriculture, and trade; global health; and democracy, conflict prevention, and humanitarian assistance and provides assistance in Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, Europe and Eurasia, and the Middle East. I met with Monique Mosolf, who works on the global health aspect of USAID’s mission in India. Some of the main issues that USAID is working on in India is family planning and reproductive health, which is important as the average family size in many of the villages in India is over 7 people. Some of the problems associated with a development organization so intrinsically tied with the US government is that funding is very politically based, meaning that the funds go to the areas of the world that are more in our strategic interest at the time rather than the countries with the greatest need (although the two can certainly overlap). Monique feels that USAID could phase out of India in the next 5-10 years even though there is still a lot of developmental work to be done in the country. Because USAID is tied to the US government, I asked Monique if she had a definition of freedom that the organization worked with because it is used so frequently in the literature for the organization and by the US government. Stumped for a moment, she said that it isn’t anything that is explicitly defined by the organization and that it would probably be the same as the US government’s definition, but what exactly that is is also one of my questions! Freedom is such a hard thing to define, which is why I wanted to embark on this challenge to get people thinking what freedom means to them. In some ways, it is like trying to describe a color to someone who has never seen it before. It is something we know when we see or experience, but it is hard to define for someone who hasn’t or to find the words to express how to describe it. Even for an organization that comes from a country that prides itself on being the “Land of the Free,” trying to define the elusive concept of freedom is difficult.

School house rock

Posted by stephanie on Sep 23rd, 2008
2008
Sep 23

A lot of interesting things have happened to me since my last posting. What amazes me most every day about this fellowship is the access I am being granted to meet people doing amazing work and to the places that I am getting to visit and explore. Through Vanderbilt alumni relations I was put in touch with Jane Schukoske, who did her J.D. at Vanderbilt law school and has amassed impressive credentials through the years. After teaching law at the University of Baltimore for many years, eight years ago she moved to Delhi to become executive director of the Fulbright program in India. Jane recently left this post in April and became an advisor for a new law school that is being built in India, which is what I went to visit with her about. The idea behind the Jindal Global University, which is projected to open in September 2009 first with its school of law, is to create a university in India that imparts a globalized education on students and to stimulate research and scholarship in India in the field of law (and later in the other schools, such as business), something that is currently scarce. The Jindal Global University also plans on entering into collaborations, exchange programs, research partnerships, and other types of engagement with top universities and institutions across the globe. The idea of complete academic freedom is central to the mission of the university, and even the creation of the university and school is about freedom as the curriculum and structure of the law school is drawing from several sources, both in India and abroad, to create a new kind of institution and educational environment in India. . For students and scholars at the university, they will be given the freedom to collaborate and develop useful partnerships and research exchange relationships with other people and institutions in India and abroad. Currently in India, the educational system is very formulaic and memorization and fact based, rather than driven by creative and original scholarship and insight. Jane believes that the Indian education system is frozen in its colonial past, meaning that it is highly examination oriented and teachers are teaching to a standardized education. There is a highly centralized curriculum, meaning teachers don’t have an incentive to try changes. While Jane believes it is important for India to move away from this model, she also brought up the point that in the US, the No Child Left Behind Act is moving more towards the Indian model of a centralized education that involves teaching to a test, a move she believes is in the wrong direction. In India, 50% of the population is under the age of 35, yet only 7% go to universities, so there is an enormous pool of potential in India, yet factors of caste, poverty, and even gender are inhibitors to increasing that number and giving more of the population access to education, which I am learning is essential to achieving freedom. Jindal Global University is working to break down the restrictions of national borders, creating intellectual exchange from around the world. For Jane, on a personal level, freedom for her has been the ability to start a life and do the work she loves in a country different from that she was born in.

During my time in India, I have come to realize how important education is to overall freedom. I am currently staying with a Fulbright teacher named Breanna who is on a teacher exchange with an Indian teacher, so they have basically swapped lives for the next five months. I was invited to Bree’s school (Kendriya Vidyalaya No. 4) the other day as a guest lecturer for her students, who were completing their final day of exams. This experience was a complete ego boost! All of the students were so excited to see me and to know more about me and the United States. The enthusiasm of the students and their eagerness to listen to me and ask me questions was absolutely contagious! I spoke to Class X, Class VI, and Class VII students, so the age range was around 11-15-years-old. In one class, I made the mistake of giving my autograph to one student and was immediately rushed by about 30 students putting paper and pens in my face wanting me to sign their notebooks. I was treated like such a celebrity! Bree told the students that I had just graduated from university, and I had four classrooms full of smiling Indian children clapping vigorously, cheering, and even standing out of their seats to congratulate me. I told the students about where I am in from in America (Kansas), my family, Vanderbilt, and some of my hobbies, which resulted in me juggling umbrellas for all of the classes. Talking to Bree about this teacher exchange has taught me so much and it has also been great to have someone experiencing many of the same things I am within Indian culture at exactly the same time! I think that the idea of the Fulbright teacher exchange is great. I know that for Bree, she is having a great time and taking away so much about Indian culture as well as sharing about American culture. I think that cultural exchanges play an important role in freedom, allowing both sides to better understand a different culture and at the same time their own. Personally, I have learned so much about America while being in India reflecting upon what I miss and love about American culture while at the same time learning about aspects of Indian culture I love and want to take back with me. In these types of exchanges, you are exposed to so much and learn so much that the idea of having a single culture becomes more obsolete as the culture you are now a part of becomes so much a part of you.

Living in a man’s country

Posted by stephanie on Sep 12th, 2008
2008
Sep 12

My final day volunteering in the village of Hathoj was last Friday, and I had to fight back tears at the daycare center when hearing for the last time the chorus of “Hello, didi,” seeing the big, beautiful smiles of the children, and giving countless handshakes. It was equally difficult for me to say goodbye to the girls in my computer/English class. My last day of September 5 also coincided with the Indian holiday of Teacher’s Day, where students take over the role of the teacher and give the teacher presents. I was given many new earrings, candy, snacks, and henna art on my hand. The generosity of the girls and the village was overwhelming, and while my volunteering experience was one of the most challenging and frustrating experiences of my life, it was also one of the most rewarding. I will never know the full effect my time in Hathoj will have on the villagers, just as they will never know the full effect they had on me.

My experiences in the village have fueled a deep interest in the situation of women in India, but determining their level of freedom has been challenging, as there are so many different factors involved. I found a UN report online entitled “Women in India: How Free, How Equal?” (http://www.un.org.in/wii.htm) which discusses many aspects of freedom, including the freedom to live a long life, the right to health, the right to education, freedom to work without exploitation, freedom to participate in decision-making, and freedom from fear. The report introduces the topic by explaining, “Human development is about expanding people’s choices, enhancing their capabilities, and promoting their freedoms. Development therefore requires the removal of major sources of unfreedom: freedom from discrimination, freedom from want, freedom from fear, freedom from injustice. It also requires that citizens be assured the freedom to develop and realize their potential, freedom of thought and speech, freedom to participate in decision making and freedom to work without exploitation.” India’s Constitution is one of the most advanced in the world in terms of the freedom it guarantees its citizens. However, these constitutional guarantees are not a reality for many women, and men as well, in India. The situation for women depends on many factors—what state they are born in, the family they are born into, rural or urban environments, socio-economic status, etc. It is impossible to generalize the situation for all women living in India, but there are some general trends in India that are common amongst women that clearly limit their freedoms. As I witnessed during my time in the village, many women are tied to their homes raising children, cooking meals, cleaning, etc. What I was most startled about in the report was that even at home, many of these women have no autonomy or decision-making power over such things as what they cook, when they cook, how they clean, and many women must ask permission from their husbands or in-laws to do such things as visit their own families or go to the market. The illiteracy rate for women in appalling in many states, with Rajasthan—the state where Jaipur is located—having a literacy rate of 40% amongst women. However, this trend cannot be generalized across India as Kerala, a different state, has a literacy rate of 97% amongst women. It is common practice in India for women to move in with her husband’s family upon marriage, having to leave her own family behind and begin serving another. While this situation can work out, I have also heard so many horrible stories about the relationship between mother-in-laws and daughter-in-laws. Arranged marriages are still prevalent in India as well, so the woman also has no choice over her husband or the family that she will have to live with for the rest of her life. Many women in India are not even given a chance at life simply because they are female. Ultrasounds had to be outlawed in India because of the preponderance of sex-selective abortions, although many ultrasounds are still performed illegally. India has offered incentives to families to have fewer children, so these families want to ensure that they have a male child. In some cases, the female child is undernourished because she is fed last. India is one of the few countries in the world where men outnumber women, and the report said that if men and women were treated equally in India there would be 105 women for every 100 men. The report goes on to say that if this were the case, there should be 512 million women in India, but estimates show only 489 million women are in India. Therefore, there are an estimated 20-25 million “missing” women in India—some who were never born and some who never got the chance to survive. Of course, most of these issues are not unique to India and indeed describe many of the “unfreedoms” that women face everyday across the world. And on the flip side, this also does not describe the lives of all women in India. Many families value their female children, and many will grow up to be doctors, lawyers, or whatever else they want to be. If you have the time, I highly recommend you scan the report to learn more about some of the conditions of women in India. Again, the link is www.un.org.in/wii.htm.

What has become much clearer to me is how much of our freedom is determined before we are even born—for example, where we are born, who we are born to, and our gender at birth are all factors that can greatly change the lives we lead and the freedoms we have. Meeting women in Jaipur and Hathoj who were my age, but leading very different lives, started to make this very clear to me. These uncontrollable factors are something that I don’t really ever think about because I don’t feel any of my freedoms were hindered because of them. However, meeting people who are not allowed all freedom possible because of such factors has made very clear to me their importance.

I left Jaipur on Sunday by bus to my next destination of Delhi. In Delhi I have many meetings with people from all different disciplines, and am currently being hosted by an American family doing research in a heavily Muslim area of the city. I have been connected to many of the American Fulbright scholars doing projects in India, and have been enjoying getting to know them and learning about their projects. So far I have met Aditi, who is a recent graduate from Harvard doing research on street theater and public health, Michelle, a PhD student from Temple doing a year of research here on Nehru (the first Prime Minister of independent India), and Suzanne, who is doing research on advertising and beauty in India. Yesterday all three accompanied me to the September 11 remembrance ceremony at the American Embassy, which included a flag ceremony and a short speech by the US Ambassador to India David Mulford. Afterwards there was a short reception where we all get to meet the Ambassador briefly and described our projects. It was strange being at a gathering of diplomats and powerful people and feeling rather unimportant (as well as under-dressed).

I will be in Delhi for two more weeks and am looking forward to all of the people I will meet during that time and all the various perspectives on freedom from those in varying disciplines. I am also adjusting to the different atmosphere of Delhi. Delhi has more of a feeling of a large city that could be located anywhere in the world, and while I certainly don’t blend in, I don’t feel as if I stand out so much as this is very much a global city. I do feel like I have to be on guard a lot more here, as there are scams galore, especially in the touristy areas. The one I encountered while walking in a popular area called Connaught Place involves a young man coming up to you offering to help you find the place on the map you are looking for. He then proceeds to take you to a shop where he most likely gets commission for bringing in customers. Several of these types of men approached me yesterday, and it is hard to discern who really wants to help and who is taking advantage of you. After getting fed up with this, I found other tourists from the western world and asked if I could walk around with them. The two people I found were Alex and Angeline, lawyers from London on a two-month holiday in India. What amazes me the most is that if you are walking with a male, so many of the problems are traveling in India as a female vanish as you are effectively ignored. Being ignored was a nice change of pace yesterday, but only goes to further show the male-dominated culture of India and the challenges of being a woman here.