Breathless, small change

I just remembered that I had been planning on writing a blog post on the trip to Jodhpur/Bikaner, but I never really got around to it. I’m bone tired after another week in the Himalayas, but things are going well.

I’ll just do a quick bullet point post of Jodhpur and Bikaner:

*Visited a girls’ school, made friends with girls, was hit with many a scarf
*It was very hot in the desert
*Visited a village in the desert
*Said villagers seemed quite jaded to our presence
*Talked to the village midwife, and a blind woman
*Saw lots of camels at the Camel Research Center
*Talked with Hindu refugees from Pakistan
*Almost went on a camel safari
*Camel safari was ridiculously inconvenient for one night in the desert
*Rode the bus home, and read almost an entire book

All of those things should be talked about more. Really, they should. But I didn’t really have time to write up a whole big post on them. Just ask me in person.

I am on Day 2 of Being Back in Jaipur. I just got back from a week-long internship with the Rural Litigation and Entitlement Kendra in the Himalayas. This was by far the most successful NGO that I’ve had the chance to visit, and also coincidentally the one most closely related to my research.

The six of us in our impressive van.

 

The organization, like I said earlier, was pretty impressive. They actually work with the UNDP on some research projects, run classes on human rights law, and have fought some of the most important environmental litigation cases in India. Their work on pollution and deforestation policy was essential in passing India’s Environmental Protection Act.

All of that really cool environmental justice law, and I didn’t get to see much of it in action. We ended up spending most of our time up in some Himalayan villages. Going in to the workshop, I had very little idea of what to expect. I didn’t think that I would be in the villages, I thought I’d be spending more time at RLEK’s center. But I’m very glad to have done what we did.

We were able to talk to three different women’s groups. RLEK grades its women’s groups based on level of empowerment – there are three tiers, A, B, and C. We were able to talk to groups on each level. The women don’t necessarily find out what level they’re graded at, but it helps the RLEK team to figure out what needs the different groups have so they can better facilitate them. The first group we talked to was at a C level. They still had to ask permission of their husbands every time they wanted to go to a meeting, and were very afraid of creating conflict within their families. They were also very shy.

The second group we talked to was probably … a B+? I’m not sure. We weren’t really told. But they hold many meetings a month, and are participating in exposure visits that RLEK puts together. They had a very interesting issue with one of the visits. They’d gone to Haryana, which is in the plains region of India, and observed how high-producing dairy cows had helped women there to thrive economically. They decided to buy some cows from Haryana to implement a similar thing.

This ended tragically. Because the Himalayan climate is so different from the climate of Haryana, the cows all either died or couldn’t produce milk. So we sat in on their meeting, as they were trying to determine what to do about the loans they’d taken out to pay for the cows.

My group with some of the women, including the leader of the village.

The third group was very different. They were most certainly at a level A. The men had come so much to accept the women’s group as a positive, that they would remind their wives to attend meetings. The women were very involved in the village school. One of their major successes was to get rid of a schoolteacher. The teacher was exploiting the schoolchildren by making them do the teacher’s personal chores. They were a very, very inspiring group.

Women in the Himalayas tend to have a more equal status socially than women in the plains. I feel like I have a bit of a hopeful, skewed perception of women’s issues because most of my experience is in the mountains. I feel so much more at home there as well, just at peace.

Our first night out, we traveled nine hours up very windy roads to spend the night in a Himalayan village. It was storming wildly, and the electricity went out. I just couldn’t believe that somehow, life had taken me to this remote village in the mountains halfway across the world from where I was born, experiencing a culture so different from my own. India. I’m in India? Yes.

Even though I’ve been here for two months already, it still strikes me every once in a while. And then I realize how used to India I am, and I surprise myself. I am so, so blessed and thankful to be here right now. Big thank you to the powers that be.

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