Monthly Archives: October 2015

Some perspective…



India is a country with the diversity of a continent.

The cultural differences among geographical regions is so drastic that I am wary of any statement about in “Indian Culture”…Indian people traveling to different states will be faced with language barriers, unfamiliar ways of eating unrecognizable foods, different clothes and fashion, and many more “new” experiences. Traveling within India may be a very “foreign” experience to an Indian. In the same way, traveling within the United States as a U.S. citizen can evoke feelings/awareness of alienation or cultural contrasts. Therefore, as a U.S. citizen in India, I have to be cautious tip toeing around these two large categories that are often tossed around. I have no place to speak for the United States culture (whatever that means), and by interacting with small pockets of the Indian population, I have not gained an awareness of Indian culture (whatever that means). I am attempting to keep this point at the core of this blog and encourage you, reader, whether in the U.S., U.K., India or Pluto, to refrain from thinking of any country as a single story. Pakistan is not the story of terrorism and Osama Bin Ladin, India is not the story of curry and Hinduism, the U.S. is not the story of capitalism and greed. Countries are political constructs, they are not reflective of the people living in them.

HOWEVER, in order for us to understand the system of globalized politics and systems of power, these  political constructs become unavoidable. So, here are some interesting statistics that may help you frame India as a political entity.

According to, India’s population is 1.25 billion people, 50% of which are under the legal voting age (18). The rural population in India is 825 million and the urban population is 401 million.

The U.S. has a population of 316 million. The rural population of the US is 59.2 million and the urban population is 257 million.

The population density of the U.S. is 34.56 people per sq. km, while the population density of India is 410.6 people per sq. km.

India is 2.97 million sq km while the US is 9.16 million sq km.

India is divided into 29 states, which are outlined in the map below. These states politically function within the Federal Republic of India in the same way states in the United States of America function in the Federal system.



On November

This map highlights the capitol city, Jaipur, of Rajasthan, the state in which I have spent the majority of this semester. 




This is a map of Asia and the countries that directly boarder India. To view a larger image of this map, visit the link below. india-map-2

All statistics used in this post are from:


Women Rising

Ah fresh air has never felt so…fresh!


Last Sunday I boarded a train with 5 classmates and two teachers, bound for the Himalayas of Himanchal Pradesh, a state in far northern India. We weren’t just headed for the mountains – oh no. Our final destination was the mystical grounds of a grassroots feminist organization, tucked within one of the ‘holiest’ cities on Earth, Dharmshala. Dharmshala is the home of the Dalai Llama and Tibetan refugees. The town is a top destination for the spiritual tourists who flood to India from the West. There are many Tibetan Buddhist monasteries and nunneries in Dharmshala. I had the opportunity to visit a few. As a religious studies student, I was in nirvana. I find Tibetan Buddhist philosophy to be fascinating, and the Tibetan monastic life lead by the refugees in Dharmshala posed great contrast with the Zen monastic life I experienced this summer at a monastery in Oregon.

MonasteryI could spend months delving further into the Buddhist community in Dharmshala, but the point of this journey was attain an understanding of Jagori, the highly esteemed rural feminist NGO. Ultimately, my week at Jagori blew my hesitancy towards feminism out of the water. I have never known how to interact with the feminism I’ve been exposed to at school and in the U.S. at large. I have what, many may consider, a radical relationship to my humanhood and the various colors that paint it “woman”. I’ve struggled with find the common ground my experience as a woman has with feminism. Jagorian feminist philosophy supports and encourages equanimity above all else. This equanimity is not restricted to gender or sexual orientation, but extends to all forms of life. Feminism is not a concept concerning only females, but encompasses the livelihood and well being of all. Today, women in rural India lack an autonomous voice to call attention and demand justice regarding the plethora of issues many face, including domestic violence, sexual assault, and verbal, physical, and mental abuse.

All over India, but especially in rural towns, marriage is the crux of life. Women are considered a burden to families, as they are useless to the family once they turn 21 and are married off. A family will select a their child’s future husband or wife, which is known as arranged marriage. In the marriage process, the female leaves her home and moves into her husbands’ family house. Living in her in-laws’ house is not an easy adjustment. Now, the newly wedded woman must take on the burden of cooking, cleaning, and taking care of the entire family. In addition to these household demands, she must emotionally process her first sexual relationship with her husband. The transition may be extremely rough depending on nature of the in-law family. Jagori runs a woman’s court, which I had the opportunity to observe, and the case at hand blatantly illustrated just how difficult and messy marriage can be.

039016A bride to be

The court was initiated 12 years ago for the benefit of all surrounding communities, bringing any issues that may lead to legal action into conversation with 8 women, the court members. The aim of the court is to help people avoid bringing problems to the corrupt legal system, which may take years to deliberate and settle a solution to any problem. The majority of cases brought to the woman’s court are successfully solved in the court. The court hearing I was at looked like this: 8 women, sitting on the floor in a half moon formation in a small room, the family whose case was being considered gathered in front of the assembly (the entire family came, sisters, brothers, grandmas, aunties, grandfathers, even the local government panchyat representative). In this case, the trouble concerned the new addition to the family. The families’ eldest son had recently married a young woman and she had been living with his family for a few months. When she moved in, it became clear to the family that she had some mental disorders. The family informed the court that this girl is mentally inept, while the young woman sat right there. The trouble was that the girls’ family never mentioned any of these mental conditions (apparently she was extremely reserved in the new house and seemed to be slow to respond or react to things) in the marriage agreement. Her in-laws had taken her to see a doctor, who prescribed her heavy psychotics (one generic drug used to treat schizophrenia) without articulating a diagnosis. This was challenging for me to digest – here this young woman sits in front of her new family who has brought her to meet these strangers, ultimately to complain about how inept she is. The trouble was, the family she was raised in would not allow her to come back home. An unmarried woman is an embarrassment and burden to a family. She was unwanted by anyone.

Nothing was resolved, the family was asked to return in 2 weeks to further discuss what action they want to take. I’m haunted by the encroaching awareness that this woman has no control over her body or mind – shipped off to a new family, drugged, and now discarded.

This story of woman as an object for marriage and familial labor has been pervasive in my experiences in India – I’m constantly challenged by my own “woman-ness” in these circumstances and brought to question my potential as a fellow woman to empower the victims of gender based oppression in a cultural context I am more or less alien to.




Social Justice Tourism

Today I had the ‘opportunity’ to visit a Pakistani refugee community in Jodhpur, a city in eastern Rajasthan. The refugees’ situation is frustrating. Most refugees left Pakistan fleeing from religious persecution – the population of Pakistan is majority Muslim, yet a minority population of Hindus lives in Pakistan. When the current border between India and Pakistan was drawn, many Indian Hindu farmers were incorporated into Pakistan and their families have remained in Pakistan since. Recently, tension between Muslims and Hindus in Pakistan and India has increased, resulting in much persecution of the Hindu minority in Pakistan.

The refugees I spoke with explained that legal justice for Hindus was impossible in Pakistan – if there was a crime committed against a Hindu family, such as theft, the courts would always over rule the accusations. So, the people I spoke with decided to take on the long process of leaving Pakistan, which required acquiring a passport and visa for every member of their family. After getting passports and visas, usually for the formal purpose of pilgrimage, the families board a train and are brought to Jodhpur, one of the closest cities to the boarder. Once in India, applying for citizenship takes 7-12 years. That means that there are large numbers of displaced people who will remain displaced for a decade. Without citizenship, the refugees are unable to leave Jodhpur, unable to receive the rights of an Indian citizen to health care, education, or a bank account.

A translator facilitated a conversation between 5 refugee men – there were no women present – and myself/other students. Our conversation was rich and each shared their story and reason for moving to India, but the stories were short relative to the dominating aspect of conversation, which was the struggles of living in the community they did. The land was given to the refuge population by the government. There are absolutely no amenities – no electricity, running water, arable land, or waste facilities.

The men became frustrated with our conversation as they began to explain their living circumstances and asked “What are you going to do about this? Why am I telling you my story, what are you going to do to help?”

This was challenging to respond to. This program is not dedicated to studying the situation of refugees and this meeting was, in truth, a ‘side note’ to the main focus of this course – sustainable development. Honestly, I was not and am not in a place to help this community have a voice in India’s government. I was jolted out of my complacent student paradigm and re awoke to my ongoing struggle to understand my role in India is a cultural tourist.

People have migrated, up rooted their family trees and transplanted to new soils for various push and pull reasons throughout history. But only with the dawn of this globalized age have people begun to hop around for extended periods of time without their families, entering intimately into life styles of others’ in home stays and various situations by choice, as a privilege. The refugees were confused about how we could afford to be there – when the concept of traveling to a city 100 km away is beyond imagination due to expense and legal restrictions, the idea of voyaging to another land without a push or pull reason necessitating the movement is unimaginable.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESWhat is my push/pull motivation to be in India? Am I comfortable with my current awareness of being a social justice tourist, hopping around like a bunny surveying different scenes without getting blood on my hands, extracting little snippets of life to add to a collage referred to as a “worldly perspective”?

Again, I am left questioning my purpose, my moral compass, and my role in globalization.