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India

I have already talked about this topic some in my post “Lesson #6“, but just today my beautiful friend Divo shared the following article from the Guardian with only the simple note “READ!”.

“Delhi Rape: How India’s Other Half Live”

I felt it necessary to pass the article along it here because as I read this, I realized that this girl, 9 yrs younger than me, grew up and lived in the part of Delhi known as Dwarka. This horrible crime didn’t take place in Dwarka, but the neighborhood was her home and where she was headed as she boarded the bus that evening. It is that same small part of Delhi where I lived, worked and taught for 4 months in ’03.

Dwarka at that time was not a big place. Apartments were just being built and you could walk the whole neighborhood, which means I knew this girl in spirit even if I never met her. I probably sat next to her on a bus, walked by her in the street, stood next to her at the sweet shop, or danced with her at the wedding in the apartment next door or at the Diwali festival down the street. Heck, I might have had her as a student in my morning enterprise workshop or afternoon English class.

When this story first came out, I wondered why I so viscerally responded to it.
Yes, it is terrible and tragic, but terrible and tragic things happen all the time. Why could I not let this one go? Now I see that it was because this story is in fact a part of my story. It’s intricately interwoven with my own life and my own path.

I share this story here, because by following this blog all of you are now also intricately interwoven with me.

So if you have heard about this case and thought, “What does that have to do with me? Why do I have to keep hearing about this? I am half way across the world.” Reevaluate, and realize that you are closer to her and closer to this story than you could have imagined.

By realizing this, you can begin to change the story, one lit candle, one smile, one intellectual debate, one good intention at a time.

What we do shapes the world around us, and, as we see in this case, the world just happens to be a little smaller than we think.

If beautiful handmade products are your thing,

Embroidery artisans doing initial sketches at a design school in Gujarat.

there is no place to be like Gujarat. Art and embellishment are everywhere — in the markets, on the women, and laid out on the front porches. There are numerous traditions in Gujarat: tie dye, embroidery, printing, weaving, copper bells, lacquer, woodcarving, and jewelry.

I am personally partial to the textiles, which are amazing in this part of the country. Delicate mirror work, labor-intensive tie dye, block printing, and painstakingly counted embroidery are staples. For full access to the amazing artisans producing this work, the only requirement is an 8-hour train ride to the end of the line and the desert town of Bhuj.

As you step off the train, it is almost as if you’ve been transported back in time to the Wild West. People here eek out a living in a mostly inhospitable climate and hold strong to their traditions. This is a region torn apart time and again by politics and religious conflict, and yet as soon as you enter the villages you would have no idea. Temples and mosques are as close and intertwined as the Muslim and Hindu neighborhoods they serve. Hindu embroiders work on cloth tie dyed by Muslim artisans, and copper bells and woodcarvings are sold to and used by both.

The best of the artisans here make their living by cleverly joining innovation and tradition. They use their art as a way to interact with, tell stories to, and enchant Indian and international consumers alike, while holding strong to techniques and forms that have been passed down through families for generations. The combination creates something that is authentic and unique.

This, to me, is art at its best.

The initial stage of tie dying – setting the pattern.

A sari covered in thousands of tiny blue knots, ready to be dyed – next to it, a completed piece in green and yellow.

I have been collecting notes on this topic for a while, but it wasn’t until after the second side-of-the-road “toilet” stop 5 hours into our 8 hour bus ride that I finally put pen to paper. Both times now I have watched as the men scurry off the bus to relieve themselves, while the women sit patiently, deciding to forgo the opportunity for relief given the high cost of lifting their skirts with hardly a rock or tree to hide behind.

At this second stop, I make my way up to the driver to ask when a stop with an actual toilet might be expected. “Only one hour madam,” is the response I receive. Translation: not any time soon. I look around at the other three male employees on the bus. Their complete indifference and inability to sense even the smallest problem with this dichotomy is beginning to get to me. Something about the innate humanness of the situation makes it feel even less humane.

I make my way back to my seat and begin to take note. The places within India that this lack of facilities problem has been the most apparent to me are also, not coincidentally, the places where there still exists a strong male-female divide. And it makes sense. If a woman is meant to stay in the house, there is no need for an infrastructure to allow her to move long distances easily. But how can such a large, dynamic, democratic society truly develop if almost half of its population is living under a virtual house arrest?

In the situation above, why should a woman that is constantly sexualized by men, need to make such a choice for lack of a better option? Shouldn’t that protective nature that keeps women in the house also protect them when they are outside the house? Even today in India, it is a common scenario for a girl to drop out of school once she hits puberty because so many schools lack sanitation facilities. Why should only one gender be asked to make this choice?

Slowly the men trickle back onto the bus and we continue on our way. 59 minutes more until the women on the bus can have the same right that the men have already had twice. Trying to ignore the bumps in the road, I busy myself with this thought:

Which comes first, the women’s restroom or women’s empowerment?

For more on the sanitation problem in India, check out these links and the pictures in the following gallery.

BBC – India woman leaves home for lack of toilet

India Sanitation Portal

BBC – Indian Sanitation in Pictures

Rajasthan is without a doubt one of the most interesting and difficult places in India. Where else can you unknowingly make a deal with the train mafia, almost get trampled by an elephant while shopping in the market, marvel at huge stone fortresses, and get swept away in the romance of a camel ride, all in a few short days? …It is a place like none other.