India, I’m back!

Megumi HaraLSE

 

In the summer of 2015, I travelled to Delhi, Rajasthan, and spent 1 month in the world’s yoga capital, Rishikesh. Despite having nearly gotten scammed in Delhi within 30 minutes of landing, despite the insecurity I felt the entire time as a single female traveller and resulting exhaustion from constantly having to be alert, and despite having lived in rural East Africa and somewhat used to being in the “developing world,” India left me an enormous and distinct impression on me.

Its strong smell of spices in the air, vivid colors of women’s dresses, and shocking sights of poverty alongside the laughter of lively middle-class youth in Jaipur and Delhi, all intrigued me and puzzled me at the same time. India seemed like a vastly diverse social space with an extremely complex web of hierarchy—where different religions, races, and genders all struggle to secure their own positions. As a Tata Social Intern, I am grateful to have the opportunity to learn the workings of this fascinating society in Jamshedpur. Below, I outline two points that I learned about Indian culture during my so-far two-week stay.

First, different groups of people co-exist and share the same space, but they rarely integrate. Mumbai’s newspaper dedicates a section for people wanting to get married, posting contacts of potential partners by castes, religions, occupations, and even HIV status. A friend of mine had shared her struggle with convincing her parents to allow her marriage to her boyfriend, who is from a lower caste. Born and raised in extremely homogenous Japan, I had always assumed that diversity in society would automatically lead to tolerance and integration. It seems to me that in India’s case, diversity resulted in high cultural tolerance, but not in integration. The positive side of it is that one can observe a wide range of cultures within such a crowded space. I think this has important implications for countries that are accepting a large number of immigrants and refugees.

Second, women live in constant threat of sexual harassment and terror. Educated Indian people like to talk of female empowerment—they provide women with skills trainings and safety coaching, and send girls to schools. The women I know in Jamshedpur are extremely educated, talented, intelligent and capable. But the harassment and discrimination are still daily occurrences. Since it is the victims that risk hurting their reputation and status, the vicious cycle continues. I compare it to my home in Japan and have some hope. Japan is still a very patriarchal society but has improved a lot within the past few decades. According to my Indian friends, so has India. In addition, I feel that women in India have much more feminist attitudes than educated Japanese women. I therefore look forward to seeing the crucial and much needed cultural change unfold.

After spending two weeks in Jamshedpur, I already know that India has secured a special place in my heart permanently. I know and believe that India will follow the path of development that no other country has followed, with its enormous population and being the racial and religious melting pot as it is.