Saturday, May 31, 2008

bihar, kolkata, and the mayor of kathmandu

it's official, I leave on tuesday and I won't be returning to Delhi until the 21st. Good news is that I might have intermittent internet access on my little jaunt to Kolkata and Bihar.

I had a meeting with Ruchira, CK and the other intern Mal today. Mal and I make a pretty funny pair in New Delhi: one snow-worshipping red head from New England and a bubbly blonde from southern Illinois. 

A little background on my work in Bihar. We are working with a community that used to be a nomadic tribe called the Nutts (sometimes spelled Natts in English script). This group is classified as one of the "other backward classes" in the insanely complex and troubling caste system of India. When the British colonized India they exacerbated the system by deeming the Nutts as a "criminalized caste". The scope of these terms and their effects is hard to express, but in the end the tribe continues to suffer from desperate poverty and has resorted to trafficking the women into prostitution as one of their sole means of income. In some families the intergenerational nature of this business reaches 4 or 5 generations of prostitutes. Apne Aap has begun several projects in the community, especially focused around education of the women and their children in both literacy and vocational training as well as community mobilization (women, mother, teenage girl and children's groups). 

What seems sad, becomes devastating on further reflection. The village that I will be working with is one of two places in the world where polio has not been eradicated. The efforts to end polio in the region have been stalemated due to the deep corruption that exists in Bihar (e.g.: the mafia works with and through the police force....)

Mal is working on the public health aspect and I am working on women's rights/, no worries! We should have everything straightened out by the time we get back to Delhi. Ruchira is having Mal and I stay in her own ancestors house (apparently it has 20 rooms?). Weekend in Bihar anyone? 

The comedic relief of my day happened when I got completely turned around trying to get to work. New Delhi came close to its first experience with my infamous claire-tantrums (circa 2 years of age). Whilst I huffed and puffed, stomping and sweating around Anand Niketan, I ran into a security officer and asked for directions. He got really animated and started pointing at one of the cars. I walked over and a very dignified man in the back seat asked if I was going to see Ruchira Gupta. I said yes. He confirmed he was an old friend of hers and (I know, I know) against better judgement and desperate to get out of the heat accepted the lift to the office. He told me he was from Nepal (which explained his amazing accent but not his perfect English). When we arrived we shook hands and I headed to office upstairs while he went see Ruchira. He reminded me of the Nepalese version of my Grandpa Jim. During my own meeting with Ruchira later on, I mentioned I had met her friend from Nepal.  She replied, "Oh! He's the ex-mayor of Kathmandu! He's just serving in parliament now..." After a quick google search I realized he must be Keshav Sthapit, recently forced to step down by communist rebels. Go figure. 

more soon,

Friday, May 30, 2008

cows in my commute and a shameless plug for Obama

There has been more buzz about the Gujjar protests in Delhi. No worries. I buzzed around South Delhi all morning and hardly hit any more than the usual traffic. (interesting sights out and about: three cows in middle of busy intersection, ferarri sticker on back of my chosen tuk tuk)

I actually find the protests really interesting. Growing pains of democracy. I had promised myself that I would go to a protest in Washington this past year and I really regret that I didn't. Guilty of college-born complacency.  No worries, mom, I don't have a sudden urge now to throw stones or burn a few rogue bicycle tires....however if the presidential nomination doesn't go to Obama asap all bets are off. On that note, I still get my daily Obama news in The Times of India and the Hindustan Times. It seems as though everyone is really tuned into this election....annnddd I haven't met a Hillary supporter yet. huzzah!

Currently avoiding writing the mammoth survey that I will be using to interview the women in the community houses in Bihar and Kolkata. I am supposed to be pulling together a list of questions to discuss one on one with women who have come to Apne Aap in hopes of leaving the life of prostitution they were trafficked into. I feel incredibly obtuse trying to form these questions. There is no way I could ever truly understand what these girls have gone through. I feel overwhelming sympathy (it is at least part of why I'm here), but I could never truly empathize. I only hope the girls won't find my lack of experience insulting. I have to finish the questions by tomorrow so we can get them all translated into Hindi for the interpreter. Selfishly, I am inwardly glad that there will be a translator there. I'm not sure if I could handle these interviews mono-a-mono. I'm not so naive as to think that the force of the responses could be diminished by translation. However, it will be nice to have an older person in the room when I interview girls my age who were trafficked at age 7.

I'll try not to let the blogs get too heavy and depressing...promise.

So it looks like I am going to be heading to Bihar sooner than I thought. Probably Tuesday. And I will be gone for about two weeks. Ah.


Thursday, May 29, 2008

tuk tuk adventures and the death of a hair elastic

Today I woke up, rolled over, grabbed my computer, and tried to figure out if it was a good idea to run around south delhi. The Gujjar protests have been looming, but it sounds like they are not going to hit really...a few burning tires here and there perhaps, but nothing compared to Jaipur. 

I grabbed one of my precious nature valley granola bars (yes, I brought them with me) and headed over via tuk tuk to Jawaharlal Nehru University to do research for my Apne Aap project. The tuk tuks tend to gather in the morning at the end of my little road, in front of the big white temple. The drivers are perpetually trying to rip me off. I don't really blame them. I find myself arguing with my 2 words of hindi shaking my head "Naiy, I am not paying 100 rupees to go to Anand Niketan, 80 rupees. That's it." I have won all the barters recently. And I do a little victory dance in my head every time.  No more little-miss-ignorant-tourist. They're beginning to get the picture. 

Tragedy did strike however. My hair elastic broke. This is no small issue. In the open air tuk tuk my hair managed to balloon out in a foot long radius around my head. I've taken to wearing a head scarf over a tight ponytail, which cuts down on about 10% on the stares, if I'm lucky. Without the hair elastic all was lost.  The knotted mane made bouncing all over the extremely male dominated campus of JNU very interesting. I wasn't exactly blending in.

I got a visiting membership for the week at the central library. I have a weird fascination with libraries (a genetic gift from my mom). This one was really really incredible. Afterwards, I had to make a trek to find another tuk tuk to take me home. I stopped by the mall on the way home to buy more mangos (my current addiction, and it's becoming a real problem). 

The rest of the day was research in the flat. I tried to run errands in the market down the road but really picked the wrong time of day. At around 5 the temple has a ceremony of some kind and then gives out food to the poor. The hungry poor sit along the opposite side of the road from the temple.  The kids really kill me. Every single one is painfully adorable and painfully malnourished. My reoccurring day dream when I have to walk by is rounding them all up, taking them to the flat and giving them all a good bath and dinner. If only I could fit all 50.

more soon,

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

monsoons, motherhood, and mangos

so I have posted a link to pics of my flat...mainly for my mother's sanity. There's a pic of the guest room...weekend in delhi anyone?

The last few days have been an absolute blur. Delhi continues to be a sensory overload but I am loving it so far. 

I woke up on my first day of work and was INCREDIBLY nervous. And, of course, Delhi decided to bless us with a monsoon that morning. GREAT. A touch of control-freak-facing-natural-disaster  sent me on the fritz. Luckily I had was able to pull myself together to call a car...we got stuck twice in 2 and 1/2 feet of water...which didn't phase the driver at all...oh goodness. 

Starting work at Apne Aap has really grounded me. I take a "tuk tuk" to work every morning (I will post a picture) which is an adventure every time. I am one of three woman working in the Delhi resource office which is fantastically small, two rooms and a patio (patio serving as conference room). Chatakandra (one of the women) has taken on so many rolls in my life...she is constantly trying to get me to eat and drink tea, encouraging me to explore the country, and celebrating my every wrangled word in Hindi.

 I was able to meet Ruchira Gupta the founder of Apne Aap (I will post a link to her bio), whom I completely worship. I tried to stay composed while she casually walked through the office, moving the tea around, looking for something in the "library" (our two sets of bookshelves), rattling off some hindi and then smiling at me *swoon* asked if I would come meet with the one other room of our office (more like a glorified terrace). She explained to me three projects she had in mind...and then asked me to choose whichever I would like *swoon#2*..... I feel a little bit like a monty-python skit with my change in direction with this Ruchira and I talked about my selected project I couldn't resist thinking "okay claire, annnnnnddd now for something completteelly different....."

so, the new and improved project for the next 9 weeks of my life...the end result will hopefully be an approx 30 page report on the concept of motherhood in the lives of women in prostitution in India. As Ruchira and I talked, the intricacies of this subject fascinated me more and more. Two of the myriad issues include the fact that as mean age of those trafficked into prostitution continues to drop, girls are being force to have their first child as early as age 13 and 14. This has been used as a tactic by traffickers and brothel owners to try to ensnare the girls more deeply into the system. Another complicated facet of the identity of motherhood with WIP is the degradation of the Hindu tradition of Devadasi. The tradition which is technically illegal still occurs a great deal in India where girls as young as 10 years old are "married" to (ironically) the goddess of motherhood (or other gods/goddesses) and then become a temple prostitute. Yet another major problem is the concept of intergenerational prostitution....

In order to properly construct the report I am going to have to do field work in Delhi, Bihar and Kolkata. The organization is planning for me and a fellow intern to travel to the community house in Bihar in order to administer surveys on the subject as well as interview the women  and girls for about 10 days. We are then going to Kolkata to continue the work for about 5 days...Just when I was getting used to Delhi......

I will be (almost completely) out of contact for that period of time (about 2 weeks) tentatively beginning June 9. I am  appointing jimmy, zach, and the brown family as the support group for my mom & co. 

In other news...Kathleen was quoted on BBC as well as in the Wall Street Journal about Myanmar. Need I rearticulate my awe of her? I'm so proud of her! I will always remember us practicing for that press conference driving through monsoon-soaked Delhi. I'm posting the link....

There's some music/chanting going on in the Hindu temple down the street so I am going to go look into it. 

Thanks so much for all the emails etc. 
Thinking of you all with a tummy full of mango!! 

Friday, May 23, 2008

...from a little tiny village far far away

Sorry I haven't been able to post from india until now!
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. 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

more soon

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


So I thought I would figure out how to do this now so I wouldn't have to stress about it when I am in Delhi a week from today...Hopefully this blog will help me keep in touch with the friends and family (actual fam, college fam, shalalicrave, lamda delta fam, and my room/soulmate S. Grant)

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

The Issue:

There are approximately 15 million prostitutes in India. Bombay, not Bangkok, houses Asia’s largest sex industry center. What is causing alarm both in governmental and Non Governmental Organizations’ circles is that the numbers of those trafficked is going up and the ages are coming down. 60 per cent of those trafficked into prostitution are adolescent girls in the age group of 12 to 16 years. These figures are corroborated by a study done by the Department of Women and Children.

These figures have a significant impact on India’s overall development.

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 India which in turn will lead to instability and violence and an unsafe business environment.

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.

The Response:

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 India on use of the Indian law to address the Demand for human trafficking and lobbying with stricter laws against traffickers in Parliament. Apne Aap has already successfully lobbied the UN on this and the UN protocol on trafficking, Especially of Women and Children very specifically targets the demand for Human trafficking.

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, Bihar.

A2W2 today has 5,000 members and works in Bihar, Delhi, Mahrashtra and West Bengal and eight community centres to provide:

  • 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 :)