Saturday, July 19, 2008
The back-story is that I met a great friend at yoga class. Mira is a German student who is working for an NGO in New Delhi as well. It was great to meet someone who is sharing so many of the same experiences. She is working and living in a Muslim neighborhood called Nizamudin. She invited me over to take a tour guided by one of the students that she is teaching English to. Nizamudin was yet another mind-blowing New Delhi experience. It is an sort of village/neighborhood that seems almost entirely made up of alleyways that twist around ancient Muslim tombs, shrines and Mosques, all of which are in incredibly good condition.
Our tour guide had been trained by Mira's NGO to guide people through these winding streets to find these Muslim sights. The NGO is hoping this will help young people generate some income. I was more than happy to support. Mira had taken the tour 2 or 3 times before and was still just as enthused about going on it again. I can definitely understand why. Nizamudin is really fascinating.
While we wound our way through this village-like neighborhood, I couldn't help thinking that Nizamudin was a very convincing urban version of Narnia. When I stepped out of my tuk-tuk I was still a stone's throw away from sky-scraping highrises and traffic contested freeways, but in the Middle of Nizamudin it could have still been the 1600's under Mughal rule.
I thought it would bother me to walk around with a head scarf on, but it wasn't really that big of a deal. I wanted to be as respectful as possible and so a head scarf was definitely a must. It wasn't the head scarfs so much as the shrines that made me aware of being a woman in a Muslim holy place. Mira and I weren't aloud inside any of the shrines, but rather had to sit outside with all the other women.
The most incredible place we went was the Mosque/Shrine in the center of Nizamudin. Again the stark contrasts: we stepped off the dirt streets filled with goats and stray dogs into at least a couple square blocks of sheer white marble. Our tour guide showed us one tomb at the very corner of this beautiful ancient complex that was sort of walled in, there were 3 beautiful white-marble graves with deliberately placed rotting pink flower petals on them, and a scraggly but determined little tree. Our tour guide explained that this was the grave of a daughter of Shahjahan, the man who commanded the construction of the Taj Mahal (he built the Taj as a 'monument to love' after the death of his wife Mumtaz). It was said that his daughter's dying wish was to be buried somewhere with green nature around her. Because Nizamudin no longer has much of any kind of green nature, they planted a tree next to her grave. People also leave flower petals to rot on top of the graves in hopes that the mud will someday grow grass on top of her tomb.
After our adventure, Mira and I found a local 'restaurant' that looked fairly sanitary. We had a blast. I am really hoping that she applies to the JHU graduate writing program so everyone back home can meet her.
On our way out of Nizamudin to meet my tuk-tuk, we decided to pop over to the giant pink Hindu temple on the edge of the neighborhood (just to be religiously well rounded). We were led by an adorable older woman who showed us around and chattered on in Hindi explaining each religious relic. She seemed charmed that we had stopped by and was completely unphased by the fact that we couldn't understand a word she was saying. Mira and I nodded along and admired each of the beautiful statues.
Other than that adventure, I have been desperately trying to pull the report on my research together. As I have told many people, it is excruciatingly hard to keep to one thesis but I am giving it my best shot.
I can't believe I am home in 10 days. AH! I'm already dreaming about the pint (or 3) of Ben and Jerry's I am going to eat.
much love everyone.
Oh!! I got skype! Email me if you have a skype name!
p.s. I will post pictures from Nizaumdin above after this post. I am sorry to say that I couldn't take any pictures of the main Mosque/Shrine in the center of Nizamudin. But I still got some great pics of other places.
Friday, July 11, 2008
In my interviews the most salient issue that surfaced was that of maternal health and public health in general. Hardly any of the women I interviewed ever went to a hospital or consulted a doctor throughout their pregnancies. Nearly all of them had birthed each of their children on to the dirt floors of their huts. One woman recounted how they cut the umbilical cord with a twig. The same woman explained to me that she didn't go to the hosptial because she couldn't afford it, and she was also afraid of "the medical knives".
The most moving interview by far was with Nandini. She is 19. She had her new born baby with her. I have tried to put into words several times what it felt like to sit across from a girl my age and her baby and try to hash out the issues of motherhood with her. I have failed miserably in trying to articulate the experience. The best I can explain it was the sensation of looking into a weird mirror, or parallel universe.
What was more disturbing was comparing notes after with the other staff member. Apparently many of the woman leave the village leave the village in the middle of the night and solicit along the road to Gurgaon. The most horrific stories are the abuses (sexual and otherwise) that they suffer from the police.
Another facet that came to light during the interviews was the issues of the rising cost of living. One of the women in my interviews cited the fact that she could not afford to send her kids to school due to these rising costs. This was fascenating to me. We all read the news: oil prices are up, the cost of food is soaring. But what is it to us? It costs a little extra to fill up the SUV? The grocery bills go up by a few bucks? It is a sobering experience to see and talk to the people who are living on the margin. Here are the people who simply cannot survive if the cost of food goes up. These people are prostituting themselves in order to feed their families already. A food crisis is simply not acceptable.
Half an hour away the Prime minister of India is negotiating for nukes....I guess we all need to take a hard look at priorities....
Monday, July 7, 2008
Here you go mom...another post!
I am nearing 3 weeks to go...and in the last two weeks I have seen some amazing things in Delhi.
1) Delhi Comes Out of the Closet: I attended New Delhi's first gay pride parade. It was absolutely amazing. This was the first Pride parade in a country where homosexuality is technically illegal. They were expecting only a few hundred people to turn out, and instead they had over a thousand supporters. The parade was part protest, part moving dance party and part candle light vigil. Everyone was incredibly respectful. I was incredibly moved.
2) Red Head takes on Old Delhi: Old Delhi is pretty much indescribable. It is a complete sensory overload. Mallory (my fellow blonde intern) and I took on the Delhi Bazaar by storm. I bought some incredible spices...and yes, I intend on making my own masala with them tomorrow. This is very exciting.
3) Visit to Gandhi's House: Mal and I also took a trip to Gandhi's last residence and the location of where he was shot. It was an incredibly moving place. Again, words fail to really describe a place like that. I will get pictures up on the blog asap/asaigtfm (as soon as i get them from mal)
4) Field work in Nagafgharh: I went with some of the staff to do interviews in another Apne Aap field program in a very poor community on the edge of Delhi. When we arrived in the village, the kids (ages 2-7) were all waiting for us. (I will post pictures). Again, I was absolutely floored by how amazingly cute these kids were. I interviewed 4 women. 3 of the women were commercial prostitutes. All three had been arrested for soliciting sex. Soliciting, in India, is illegal. However buying sex is legal. Clearly there are a lot of issues that arise due to this discrepency....
...in other news, the research is going alright. It is a lot to handle doing research and writing up information and interviews on an incredibly heavy subject. There have been little hiccups in the otherwise fairly smooth research process. For instance: I had taped my interviews in Bihar in hopes of getting a better translation when I got back to Delhi. It turned out they were talking in a special dialect that no one could translate. CK helped me track down a graduate student at JNU who helped me out....
oh! I started taking yoga! Yes...I'm in the birth place so I decided to give it a try. Thus far it has been great. It is such a cultural thing here...almost religious? Absolutely fascenating.
Much love! And thank you everyone for the emails!
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
Saturday, May 31, 2008
Friday, May 30, 2008
Thursday, May 29, 2008
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
Friday, May 23, 2008
First of all, thank you to mama for bringing me to the train. I miss you so much. I love that you were bugging me about my retainers up until the last moment...thank you daddy for your attempts at an indian accent and for being so insanely supportive...and to annie and joe I miss you both so much I couldn't possibly explain. Annie: who are you bringing to prom? and Joejoe: bring the heat man, finish your TWO baseball seasons strong.
...so we arrived in Delhi.
My sister annie has a way of personifying the sports she plays as different kinds of boys (eg: crew=the abusive boyfriend, soccer=the old faithful best friend, hockey=the bad boy) If I were to characterize Delhi this way he would be an agressive, mysterious blind date. I am continually surprised by this city. He is hypocritical and completely bipolar but at the same time I can't help falling a little in love a first sight. There are cars everywhere, and yet there will be the occasional cow unappologetically lying in the middle of the road. There are 5 star hotels with a family of 7 living under a tarp next door. There is incredible pollution, and beautiful gardens. In the middle of monsoon weather you will see a homeless family trudging through 2 feet of water, the kids smile and wave at us and the mother is wearing a bright pink and gold salwar-kameez. Delhi is becoming one of the most expensive places to live in the world, yet the poverty is immidiate, in-your-face, overwhelming and humbling. This city is as captivating as it is confusing.
The visit to the UNDP headquarters in Delhi was great. I was able to sit in on meetings but also hang out with the younger staff (late 20's) working there (the self named "funky bunch")...some of the most impressive people I've ever met (especially Caroline who "babysat" me). I also got to meet Reecha, a friend of my aunt who set me up with my internship here. Honestly, I want to be her when I grow up. (And by grow up I mean, like, ten years from now). She moved to Delhi to work for an NGO because she wanted to do work in the field, not just in a cushy UN job in New York. She took me over to meet people at the NGO, I can't wait to post pictures of the "office". Reecha and Caroline got to share in many of my fist adventures in Delhi and I can't thank them enough for their help.
Annyywayyy, I am writing from a tiny village in the district of Orissa on the Bay of Bengal. After a long series of meetings yesturday on Disaster Risk Reduction, we actually got to see DRR in practice today. After a two hour plane flight from Delhi we were greeted at the airport with flowers and bowing. Travelling with Kathleen is really like travelling with royalty sometimes.
We drove and drove and drove and drove through the most intense poverty I have ever seen. It was hard to take in so many swollen children's bellies and starving cows. After sitting in sterile meetings discussing how bad disasters can be for these areas yesturday, I actually SAW these villages that have been washed out 10 times in the last 8 years. When we got to the village it was hard to catch everything with the Hindi flying over my head. One of the members of the disaster response committee walked us over to the village's school. The entire village was sitting infront of four chairs set out for us. They were clapping and yelling...I turned to kathleen and said "sooo this is what it feels like to be a rock star?"
The village explained their disaster response techniques...and then actually acted it out. It was pretty incredible. The warning of the village of a cyclone included a little boy on the back of a bicycle banging a pan. Their first aide kit consited of dirty water and gauze. Their stretchers were bamboo with sacks slung between them. Their search and rescue team was all the teenagers of the village. Yet despite what from an outsiders point of view might seem pathetic, these people were incredibly enthusaistic, proud, and hopeful. Every single person in the village was involved in the recovery. It is easy to see how incredibly important this all is. These efforts on the part of the village could truly save more lives than was ever possible in the "super cyclone" of '99. This sort of response as well as the cooperation with the Indian Government and other NGO's is essential to dealing with the yearly flooding that these villages live through as well as the devestating tsunamis and cyclones. It is easy to compare these successes to the utter lack of disaster relief or risk reduction in Myanmar which is Kathleens next stop (she has one of maybe 100 visas being given out for UN and ASEAN officials to meet in there, she is gearing up for an incredibly hard trip)
I guess this might be the right time to add a side note about how insanely thankful I am that my aunt was able to have meetings in India and help me with everything. I'm so in awe of everything she does. Last night she casually ran through her schedule: disaster relief in india, help me move into my apartment, myanmar for 2 days, then she is giving the keynote speech on how military personell can help stop violence against women in armed conflict (K: "oh you know that 'stop rape now' organization...C: oh my god yah I was on their website the other day K: oh yah well Im giving the talk for them....Im the president or chair of that or whatever. C: oh. my. god.) To Kathleen, I could never thank you enough. je t'adore. bisous bisous bisous. Aussi, mon oncle! I couldn't do this without you.
Okay back to India: After Suripur we had lunch and stopped at an incredible Hindu temple to the Sun God. I will get a picture asap.
After that we went and looked at a cyclone shelter in another village. Again the whole village came and sat infront of us and the leader described the techniques for responding to the cyclone.
Now we are at another village in the UNDP office waiting for our flight back to Delhi.
I got an Indian cell phone (I can text in hindi on it...YESSSS) if you want the number/want me to call email me and I'll get an international calling card asap
Tuesday, May 13, 2008
So the general idea of what I will be doing is helping A2W2 to develop a training module on gender and trafficking to conduct trainings for its members. The training module will make linkages between gender relations, violence against women, masculinities, caste discrimination and the vulnerabilities women face as trafficked victims and in forced prostitution. The development of the training module will require field work in the Bihar and Kolkota A2W2 field offices.
For any one who is interested, here is the description of the NGO that I am working for, their mission and approach as well as some general statistics about the sex trafficking industry in India:
Apne Aap Summary
There are approximately 15 million prostitutes in
These figures have a significant impact on
1. The majority of girls and women end up with HIV and AIDS as they are mostly in slave-like situations and cannot negotiate unprotected sex with their “clients.” This in turns compounds the AIDS epidemic as men go back with AIDS and pass it on to their wives and finally it is a huge health burden on the state exchequer.
2. Increasingly India’s productive work force declines as more and more young girls are enslaved in brothels without education or job skills and more children grow up in red-light areas.
3. Organized criminal syndicates become more powerful as human trafficking gives them access to ready cash, huge turnover and control over enslaved human beings whom they use for petty crimes as their foot soldiers.
4. It tears apart the fabric of families and destroys social capital in
The issue of human trafficking for prostitution or child labour is no longer a disease –it is a malaise. It cannot be ignored. It will chip away at human capital and erode our social capital.
Emmy-winning journalist Ruchira Gupta established an all India NGO, Apne Aap Women Worldwide (A2W2) in 2002 to confront human trafficking with some success and acclaim. She has been awarded for her work at the UK House of Lords and the White House and has been nominated by the Government of India to sit on the Steering Committee of the Planning Commission for the 11th Five Year Plan, the Working Group of the Ministry of Women and Child and the Task Force of the National Human Rights Commission.
In its short six-years, Apne Aap’s work has had a significant impact on reducing human trafficking by setting up easily accessible community centres in red-light areas that provide legal
protection and education to more than 5,000 prostituted women and children directly and transform the lives of over 25,000 people every single day. It has:
1. Broken the cycle of inter-generational prostitution ie daughters of women in prostitution are no longer pulled into prostitution like their mothers but are enrolled into mainstream schools and protected from perpetrators in safe hostels or community centres run by Apne Aap even among communities like Nutts, Bediyas and Devadasis who are marginalized into inter-generational prostitution.
2. Created viable and sustainable options for prostituted women to exit their exploitation by creating small self-help groups (cooperatives) of women in prostitution that are provided with livelihood training and market linkages.
3. Shifted the focus of Indian policy makers to dismantling the organized crime networks running the trafficking chain by training police officials and prosecutors all over
This three pronged attack on the trafficking industry of prevention, protection and prosecution has already begun to yield results with a minimum cost. Apne Aap spends about $ 250 per woman or child for a FULL year and leverages education and legal protection.
Its model of organizing self-help groups in red –light areas not only facilitates leadership among women and children, but transforms into small community based organizations, managed and led by community members. Apne Aap does not set up homes and shelters but is in the process of transforming entire communities in red-light areas so that the areas become non-red light areas. Its first success has been in Khawaspur,
A2W2 today has 5,000 members and works in Bihar,
- Education: literacy classes to children and adults, girls hostels to provide bridge education (catch-up classes) in safety
- Vocational training and setting up small scale collectives/cooperative ( self-help groups) for women and girls so they have livelihood choices other than prostitution
- Legal protection to women and children in the red light areas and slums so that they can safely stop engaging in prostitution
Uniqueness of approach: Apne Aap has developed an innovative strategy to counter human trafficking which has several different components-each one inter-connected and equally innovative. For example we have the Kishori Mandals in each red-light district where we form teenage girls groups with their own office bearers and provide rights training and help with education, combined with building resilience through art. These girls now cannot be seduced tricked or forced into any situation of exploitation. But the success of this is linked with our other strategy of forming self-help groups of prostituted women with their own bank accounts, training in production of goods for markets and linkages with markers. These self-help groups are also mothers groups who are trained in understanding their own rights. The empowerment of the mothers helps the mothers take decisions to protect them from prostitution and participate in the Kishori Mandal activities.
This strategy is then inter-linked with establishing easily accessible community centers in the red-light districts and not taking away the woman and girls to shelters and homes. These centers provide legal protection and education both vocational and literacy, plus a safe space for the women and girls to organize. And as the women and girls get more empowered the community watches and learns- so the transformation is at all levels, even in the community itself.
These successes hinge on the art resilience programme that we follow as well-which build self-confidence through, dance, drawing, mime and music to victims and survivors
Our achievements have been two-fold with this strategy:
a) Breaking the cycle of inter-generational prostitution
b) Creating sustainable, viable options for women to get out of prostitution.
Alright I think that is enough for now :)
Alright I think that is enough for now :)