Taking a rest from the demanding job of escorting a group of 30 North American teachers through the streets of Delhi.
Visit to all girls government aided school today… I finally found where all the girls in this country were hiding!
India has completely taken my breath away, it is a country of total freedom and complete suppression, simultaneously infiltrating every day life.
Let me explain…
As Westerners we are well aware of the highly reported violence and rates of oppression in the country. What comes to mind first is the rights of Indian women, the ongoing culture of rape, the violence against my gender and the continuous attempts of halting the births of any more baby girls. I will not deny that spending time in this country has only reaffirmed the media coverage and statistics. (I have seen quite a few Governmental signs, similar to traditional red stop signs with “Stop Raping” printed in large block lettering).
I have trouble finding women. People are everywhere, there are crowds that swarm more crowds, and once you turn a corner you are only flooded with more. I have been trying to not look directly at anyone (as per my directions), but I can say for certain that by scanning the masses of bodies that surround me that men rule the streets. Enough said.
The suppression of widespread poverty is yet another living truth that is impossible to ignore, and this includes the poverty of the land, the waterways that are flooded with garbage, the streets that are entirely poisoned by human waste and total filth. The country’s city centres and villages have what looks like layers upon layers of pollution that only seems to multiply.
When comparing these ways of life with those I am thankful to be used to, it is easy to fall into the mindset of “The west is so free compared to this place…”
But someone brought this idea to my attention…America is free. but India is REALLY free.
I realized this on my first drive from the airport upon my arrival. There is no reason why oncoming and ongoing traffic should not take up the same lane. Also cows. And tuck tucks. And bikes. And stray dogs. Also elephants.
If you have money in India, you can do anything. You can open a school, you can open a shop, you can build a house, you can cut down the tree on your front lawn whenever you want to, you can have a cat or a dog and not need any serial number on their collar (the list goes on and on, you get my drift). The treasure hunt of applications and legal paperwork that lead you through the governmental maze to then possibly, hopefully, finally reach the O.K from someone sitting behind a desk reviewing your file two years later to finally let you go ahead and widen your driveway, just does not happen in India.
I am not necessarily suggesting we adopt the Indian way, but next time you drive past someone of this heritage on the Canadian highways and she/he seems completely unaware that lanes exists, well…it could be that they are having trouble giving up that freedom.
I have experienced this strange and intense hightened sense of self awareness when traveling in Asia, the color of my skin a magnet for the eyes of all those whom I pass. A constant feeling of the omnipresent gaze. I remember the first time a local Malasian woman asked to be photographed with me at a Buddhist site. She was much more interested in my features than the monuments.
Perhaps it is the sky rocket increase in population in India, but many MANY more locals snap photos. Most try to be discrete about it, walking by with their phones near their hips clearly filming us. In ten minutes I was able to count 17 different photo taking occasions (all without our consent).
However, many do request that we pose with them and their families. We represent the Hollywood, the white celerity of the west, as crazy as this sounds. I never really had any problem with having my photo taken, I think it’s quite comical. And besides, they are often very grateful for the little effort.
I’m writing this post partly as a venting opportunity… As we walked through the famous Red Fort of New Delhi, myself and four other teachers from the US were stopped and asked to pose. One woman whom I have gotten to know over the course of this trip then said “they want us to line up so they can shoot us probably” and followed the comment by “they will probably use this photo for target practice later!”. Now this woman is here, in India to learn how to bring the Indian concept of ahimsa (nonviolence) back to her school (which she is the founder of and principle. A school priding itself on social integration and peace. She constantly would remind us of this school motto…) .
This leads me to question many things but above all, what it means to be “racist” and “race tolerant”.
Just a thought…. How does racism differ when you are the dominant race in a country vs. entering a country and being the minority. Does the fear of being, all of a sudden, the minority change our internal value system? Or was that system always in place, and we simply shift away from it depending on how comfortable we are in set situations….
This woman has been priding herself this week on being one of the elders of the group who has contributed her teachings of peace to her community in America and now here in India.
But truthfully, a teacher stops teaching when they stop learning.
Delivering my first workshop on the power of art in teaching Ahimsa (non violence) and community empowerment. Thank the gods for good Chai when you’re jet lagged!