A Year in India

Student Film: Freedom
May 11, 2009, 1:28 pm
Filed under: Video | Tags: ,

Below, an Adobe Youth Voices film, Freedom, that students from Barlane Government High School recently finished. The video is about the way female children are treated differently than their male peers.

An interesting side note: Freedom was spearheaded by 17-year-old Mubeen, whom I’ve previously written about here (and who is the film’s leading lady). Toward the end of the video, you’ll notice an older woman being interviewed about why she loves her son more than her daughter. Keep in mind that the interviewer in that interaction is Mubeen; the interviewee, her mother.


March 25, 2009, 11:58 pm
Filed under: Indian Development | Tags: , ,

I recently received some noteworthy advice from Kshithij Urs, a friend who has worked in India’s development space for 15 + years. He’s currently Karnataka’s Regional Manager for Action Aid India, an anti-poverty agency. During a conversation about my experience as an American doing social work in India, he told me the following:

1. Unlearn what you’ve learnt. That is, don’t stick to the way you’ve been taught to understand society.

2. Do as much research as you can about India’s caste system. It deeply influences modern Indian culture.

3. Think about making media to mobilize communities. Documentaries are often made to raise awareness about social injustices but are targeted at audiences that are not undergoing these injustices. What if we were to make a documentary to raise awareness within a community undergoing an injustice? Could it inspire them to take ownership of their situation?

Thoughts to ponder.

Random Acts of Kindness
February 3, 2009, 4:20 pm
Filed under: Day to Day | Tags:

Yesterday, on my ride home from work, my auto rickshaw passed another auto driver who had run out of petrol.  Beneath the hot afternoon sun, he was pushing his vehicle down the street.  My driver pulled to the side of the road and proceeded to drive the next 4 kilometers with his leg outstretched against the other auto, pushing it forward as we drove along.  He refused to take money from the other driver when we reached my apartment, instead sending him towards the petrol bunk with a wave. Smiles all around.

December 9, 2008, 8:22 pm
Filed under: Mumbai | Tags: , ,

My coworker and close friend, Chandan, had a unique perspective on the Mumbai attacks.  Most have been looking at the situation and placing blame on Indian politicians, “the system,” and the Indian government’s culture of corruption.  These forces, to them, are behind India’s poor security and intelligence; these forces explain the haphazard fashion in which the media is portraying the incident; these forces fuel government officials to react to the attacks in unsettling ways.

Chandan took a more ground-level approach and laid some blame on Indian citizens themselves.  He gave me one simple, concrete example.  Why, he asked, does he encourage police force corruption by paying off traffic cops (a common practice here in India) every time he gets a driving ticket?  If the Indian people are disheartened by their government’s corruption, shouldn’t they do whatever they can – even in small ways – to curb it?  Since the attacks, Chandan has decided to stop bribing policemen and instead pay his traffic tickets legally.  Individual responsibility at its best.

Mumbai Conversation
December 7, 2008, 1:23 pm
Filed under: Mumbai | Tags: , ,

Yesterday, my dad and I had a long conversation about how India and the US should react to the Mumbai attacks.  I was telling him that there has been a lot of rash talk from Indians here about attacking Pakistan with help from the US.  My dad took a different approach, citing the problems that arise when the US tries to impose its ways on cultures it doesn’t understand.  Given his professional background, my dad looks at this issue from an international business perspective.  He uses his cross-cultural business experience to shape his ideas on foreign policy models.  For context, take a look at Geert Hofstede’s research on international business strategy and culture.

Based on Hofstede’s research, my dad used US foreign policy in the Middle East as an example during our conversation.  Invasion and war, he explained, is not always the smartest long-term option.  War can draw attention to and provide quick fixes for certain situations, but it often cannot solve deeper, cultural conflicts.  If peacekeepers are to get to the root of these conflicts, they have to be able to understand them.  The US mindset is so different than the Middle Eastern mindset that it’s virtually impossible for this understanding to exist.  Therefore, a middleman is necessary.  For example, a better idea than sending US troops to Iraq might have been creating a Middle Eastern peacekeeping force supported in part by US funds.  The force would be made up of countries that understand Middle Eastern culture – countries that are in close proximity to one another and have large Muslim populations themselves.  With the right monetary support, the force would create effective peacekeeping strategies because its perspective would be closer to the Iraqi mindset than the American perspective could ever hope to be.

Maybe this approach could work in India and Pakistan as well.  That is, the US could be involved in providing funds to enable India and Pakistan to create their own ground-level, culturally specific ways of peacekeeping and negotiating in order to handle terrorism and Hindu-Muslim conflicts.   A tall order, I realize, but something to consider.

To Quote
October 24, 2008, 6:40 pm
Filed under: Day to Day | Tags: ,

Today, our water-delivery man and I got into a fragmented bits-of-English/bits-of-Hindi conversation.  As I live in a largely Muslim neighborhood, we spoke about the number and treatment of Muslims in different areas of the world.

As the conversation came to an end, he said to me, “Muslim, Hindu, Christian – not mattering.  Our hearts, our blood, the same.”

October 22, 2008, 11:30 am
Filed under: In the Field | Tags: , , ,

… And speaking of interactive learning, the slum kids who attend Christel House School recently put on a Founder’s Day Show.  It involved song, dance, and theatre drawn from several different Indian cultures.  I was blown away by how excited the student performers and the student audience were.  It was a real tribute to the value of arts education.  You’ll see how talented, engaged, and cute these kids are in the following little video montage: