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Immersed In India

By September 20, 2020November 11th, 2022No Comments

Montage Initiative Student Advisory Board Co-Chair Klevisa Kovaci shares her insights to our Student Immersion Trip to India, visiting New Delhi, Vrindavan, Agra and Jaipur, dealing with women’s issues surrounding Gender Equality in a Patriarchal Society.

In December 2015 and January 2016, I was fortunate and privileged to make a humbling trip to India with the organization that I have long been involved with, Montage Imitative, a student group from my alma mater Fairfield University, and of

course our hosting partner organization, the Guild for Service. We stayed in the cities of New Delhi, Vrindavan, Agra, and Jaipur, in the states of Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, and Rajasthan.

The purpose of these travels was an immersion and service trip into the main issues facing India today, particularly gender equality. We embarked on field visits to NGOs, poor villages and schools, engaged in discussions with some of the most inspirational women and men in policy and grassroots development work. We interacted and worked with women and children in adopted villages, and the widows of Ma Dham shelter. As such, we got a glimpse of the real India beyond the numbers and claims of “economic boom.” This gathering of insights into the major challenges in India today is of particular interest to me, as a graduate student of International Development.

Sharing this journey and experience with my colleagues from Montage Initiative and Fairfield University has been a privilege. It is rare to be able to experience one of the most amazing countries in the world, some of the most beautiful sites on earth, and tackle the world’s greatest challenges like gender equality – all with your close friends by your side. Yet, the presence of us 14 or so Western, young, light-skinned females in such a heavily patriarchal society, turned the heads of nearly every male around.

Most importantly, meeting the people and getting a glimpse into their lives was humbling and flattering. While India faces unprecedented levels of poverty, the diverse people of India – from the children to the elderly women – show true strength, spirit, energy, and vitality that inspires and awes me. The dignity, care, and respect that the people who I met is gratifying. These writings are the culmination of my experiences, thoughts, and observations of the scenes and faces encountered in India.

Introduction to India

Walking through the streets open-air markets in Delhi India, one is bombarded by sights, sounds, and smells – an overbearing feast for all senses. The colors of the clothes in the markets, the smell of the hot fried foods on the streets, the shouting of sellers inviting customers, the roaming dogs (or undisturbed cows in the case of Vrindavan) all creates a unique sensation of embracing the chaos.

Passing the central mall complex of Delhi, the lights of the mall read Gucci, Louis Vuitton, and other names forbidding to anyone below the 0.1% of income in India. The main private malls, are on high level of security, due to threat of safety and terrorism.

Next door a few meters away lie shanty shacks with rudimentary structures of wooden or metal sheets that serve as shelter for the homeless. But these huts are not isolated to certain areas; they are everywhere. Indeed, traveling for hours between cities, one sees mainly these poor slums of temporary shelters consisting of cardboard, wood, or metal sheets (I think), just enough to literally keep a roof over one’s head. Yet in major cities like Delhi, many sleep on the streets and burn garbage to keep warm at night.

The colossal scale of the raw poverty in India is stupefying and paralyzing. The struggle for survival is raw and reflected clearly in almost every sight and contact. It is overwhelming, and I imagine that is what Atlas must have felt like when carrying the globe on his back.

India, known as a land of contradictions, has it all. One witnesses the highest level of affluence to the most despairing poverty; rapid progress next to languid stagnation. In a modern city atmosphere, the buildings of booming technology, banking, and engineering industries, filled with busybodies and high stress levels, loom over homeless beggars and shantytowns below. In one scene one sees life and death side by side: crowds of people walking by dead animals on the ground, or by lactating dogs feeding their puppies. The majestic Taj Mahal and other historical monuments of the Mughal empire and earlier civilizations loom high and proud, attracting millions of tourists, most of which are Indian; merely meters away are slums on dirt. One views the constrictions of women in daily life to the private sphere, yet their public sexual exploitation in music videos and beyond. The largest democracy on Earth has a vibrant civil society, although it suffers some of the biggest assaults on civil rights. India is indeed in full transition.


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