Saturday, July 4, 2009

Day 1 in Delhi

It's my first day in Delhi with a group of eight on a two-week women's studies trip from Claremont Graduate University to Delhi, Baranas, and Agra.

So far I have learned that India has a woman President as of May, 2009, from the National Congress Party--in control for the first time in many years.

There's also a woman in the position of Minister of Education and a woman governor for the state of Delhi. Our leader, Prof. Nita Kumar of Claremont McKenna College, says that education is the greatest need of India. 40% are illiterate and another 40% barely educated. Nita grew up in India.

A sad note in education: a 17-year-old girl committed suicide in East Delhi because her entrance exam scores of 58% were not good enough for entrance to colleges here to earn a BA (report in July 2 The Times of India, Delhi ed.).

When I tried to find the article online to provide a link, there were other such stories, one dated in March 2009.

We visited the Red Palace today, Karim's restaurant, and the Janpath street market near Connaught Circus--many children, men and women of all ages persistently following us for blocks, hours, begging or selling necklaces.

One woman in a beautiful bright pink sari was carrying an infant girl with one eye blinded by some kind of white cataract. She hoped for surgery for the child. I finally gave her a 100 rupee bill. She lifted her scarf to soothe the child by nursing--yet she herself was such a small thin person with a limp brown breast.

Nita told us not to give money to the children begging because it is an industry and many are kidnapped into the business and trained/worked as slaves to do it--as in the film Slumdog Millionaire.

Before I was given this instruction, I was followed by four-year-old boy for blocks, weeping and begging. I finally tried to give him a 100 rupee bill ($2), but when I pulled it out, an older boy snatched it and ran off.

One charming 10-year-old girl followed us for hours, smiling and flirting with us, finally selling us a few beaded necklaces.

We visited the Friday Mosque--women are allowed to enter before 6 pm, only if their heads are covered and their bodily shapes obscured by a loaned loose colorful full-length overdress. We looked quite comical.

I bought a scarf for covering my head in future visits to mosques. Everyone had to leave shoes at the entrance, then walk across a large central square with the paving squares burning our feet in the heat.

Now we sit in an internet shop before dinner--and I collect thoughts on my first encounters with women in India.

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