India Part I: Delhi & Vijayawada
My time in India is at once both a cliche and yet not at all. Tourist sites are forgone for sitting in dusty classrooms, hearing girls cry as they spoke about being saved from marriages at the age of nine. It has been spent on bumpy buses, staring out the window. It has been spent absorbing everything around me, and thinking so very hard about what it all means.
We arrived in Delhi, a city much colder than I had anticipated. Bundled in three jumpers, for Abu Dhabi has made me more sensitive to the weather, our days began. We drove from meeting to meeting, having lunch, and tea, and coffee, with a host of fascinating people. We talked to a judge about the death penalty, to a feminist lawyer about how ‘women's empowerment’ can come at a cost to the real cause, and to a PHD student about the need to educate men in the quest towards gender equality. We walked through the Sanjay Colony, a slum, and observed the quiet businesses operating within the rooms, the children attending school in shifts to ensure maximum attendance, the doctor who saw 100 patients a day in his one room surgery.
From Vijayawada, two flights away and fifteen degrees warmer, we drove to a small village and met with social action committee members. Tears dripped down a woman's face as she recounted the abuse from her husband before telling us about her subsequent escape; the woman is now a leader in her district and highly respected. We sat in the aforementioned class room as girls chanted the number they could call if they were being forced into marriage. I witnessed so many telling of stories, of women and girls, and men and boys, who were fighting against practises that were damaging their people.
These people are changing things about their communities and their country, and they are challenging patriarchal norms. They inspired me with their determination, with their local solutions to national problems, and with the scale that such groups have grown up to. They had seen things they didn’t like, and they did something about it.
Writing this blog post made me nervous. I don’t want to exoticise the country, nor do I wish to portray any imperialist notions, though I fear my education is teaching me that as a white woman the two are almost inescapable. I sit uncomfortably with my feminism at the moment, not sure where female empowerment turns into harmful gender binaries. To say that I desire equality is a given, to say that I don’t know what that means is a troublesome reality. Does my awareness of this make it better? Is it something I can reconcile? I hope so.
Our next stop is Hyderabad, a city in Andrah Pradesh. I hope to show you more, to tell you more, and to learn more.