Thursday, June 14, 2007

getting to know the "other India"

As we learned in our India Orientation, India is a country often depicted as being split between the super rich and super poor. To me the divide has been pretty obvious as though nice cars speed on the highway one can not help but notice the struggling rickshaw pullers hauling insanely large loads on the side of the road. Working with Deepalaya, we also get a chance to visit the several colonies and settlements that house this "other India".

I am working on an educational survey with my teammate Yamilee and two Rai Foundation students- Meenu and Priya who are fluent in Hindi and English. We met the Deepalaya community education mobilizer, Nemrata (she motivates people to educate their children and raises awareness about schools and scholarships), who led us into the Transit Camp. There we were able to survey 10 households and try to gain an understanding the hurdles a family has to go through to educate their children and the reasoning behind why they may not educate their children or why their children may drop out of school. Transit Camp is one of the nicer settlements with concrete, sound homes and relatively clean conditions.

Some families we surveyed in a settlement courtyard. (photo by Cat)

The next day, Thursday, we visited a J.J. colony (J.J. stands for "thatched roof" in Hindi) which supposedly is much worse off. Through there was a greater amount of garbage and mosquitos and perhaps more cramped conditions I was still wowed by the sense of community and cheerful color that pervaded the settlement. I was able to step into a family's living space, a small cramped room about 8'X8' with two small beds, tiny stove top, a fan, shrine, and TV. I couldn't believe that a family of 5 lived in this and that they were still in good spirits. A TV also seems to be a necessity in these places.

Some families in J.J. colony. Many of the women look much older than they are and have on average 3 children before the age of 26.

After our data collection and community interaction which is often from about 11-2pm, we eat lunch at a local place called Nuta's Sweets. It has absolutely fabulous dishes and I've been exploring and even larger variety of foods then I have been eating at our guest house. On Wednesday we were lucky to stop by one of India's architectural wonders, the Ba'hai Lotus Temple on our way home.

The Lotus Temple is composed of 4 layers of 9 petals covered in marble. All visitors must remove their shoes a distance before entering. In the noonday heat it's a very painful experience walking on the burning tile and we were all hopping on our toes into the temple! It's one of the most beautiful religious places and most admiral feats of architecture I have ever been in and definitely worth a visit.

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