Saturday, February 23, 2013

Journey of India - Letters to The Column

The Letter

To The Column-

Today as I write this, there are millions of Hindu pilgrims arriving in the north of India where the Ganges and Yamuna rivers meet the mythical Sarasvati River to celebrate the once-in-every-twelve-years event known as Maha Kumbh Mela (Grand Pitcher Festival). There has perhaps been no larger gathering of human beings in the history of our planet. The significance of this pilgrimage is not to be understated, but it is merely a side effect of the ever-increasing Indian population. Eighty percent of India’s population of 1.2 billion (and growing) practices Hinduism, and many of the religion’s members are devout followers who will, indeed, travel hundreds of miles to take part in its rituals. 

AP Photo by Rajesh Kumar Singh

But what I wish to write to inform my readers about is not this fascinating Hindu festival, which I admit I know next to nothing about. I would like to address two worldwide issues, those of gender and poverty, with India as a case study, for the purpose of highlighting the importance of what I will for now label as “awareness.” 

The recent highly publicized gang rapes in India have opened up a dialogue about the country’s troubled understanding of gender roles. India’s female population is subject not only to widespread sexual harassment and thousands of rapes each year, but also a quietly accepted practice of feticide and infanticide of female babies that has led to large gender ratio discrepancies – the national average is approximately 914 girls for every 1000 boys under the age of 6. The preference for male children is ongoing, and the result of many sociocultural factors, with the dowry system playing a central role. 

There also exists a widely known disparity of wealth, which can be seen as a residual effect of the caste system. The poorest slum dwellers and rural villagers and people who live like kings with servants and chauffeurs are more commonly depicted than someone we might consider to be “middle class.” Recently, an Indian friend remarked to me that he takes an airplane rather than a train to and from his city and Delhi not because it is any faster but because “the poor people have gotten poorer.” Whether this assessment is true – it’s hard to measure – is anyone’s guess, but it makes the income gap clear. 

I personally love India and the study of its culture, but why does this ancient civilization matter to Americans? I’d argue that there is so much to learn from India, particularly because it is diverse in so many ways. The traditions of the United States and its melting pot of cultures have roots that are much less deep than those of India, but as cultures we share a multiplicity of identity. As Americans seek the newest, sleekest, easiest, fastest, and “best” ways of life, we assume that the other peoples of the world want the same, even if it means shedding their culture. If we are to look deeper, however, we will find that there is something to be said for old ways, even if they are not without flaws. In looking at two of India’s greatest concerns, we see problems that are omnipresent in almost all cultures, those that surround inequality. Until we treat all members of our communities with respect, until we can say with certainty that we would assist a sexual assault victim or other person in need we saw on the side of the road, until we strive to be the truest versions of ourselves – until then, we have as much opportunity to learn from India (its realness, its faithfulness in adhering to its values) as India has opportunity to grow in equality.


Kayla O'Neill

My Response

Thank you so much for sending in your letter. I apologize for the vast delay in you sending it in and me getting it posted. I've been very behind on my blogging, so thanks for providing some quick and intelligent material for me to post! This is an excellent piece of writing and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. I think you did a great job trying to boil down your points in a very short piece, especially considering the vast complexities of the issue you are dealing with. I've been learning about the Hindu caste system in my religion class this semester and I also just recently incorporated Indian identity into an application essay that I wrote. Identity is becoming a very strong interest of mine, so it was nicely coincidental that you happened to write on it. I love that you tied in gender inequality which I personally think is often overlooked. Thanks so much again for writing in. Hopefully your piece will inspire others to write as well! Comments on this letter? Be sure to leave some behind for Kayla to check out. 

Interested in learning more? Check out this article by the Los Angeles Times. Kayla also recommends reading Behind the Beautiful Forevers which I will be starting next week in my World Politics class. This is now the second recommendation I've received for this book, the first coming from other guest blogger Azeezat Adeleke!