Learning about India

 Posted by Ines at 5:38 pm  India
Dec 262010

Hello everyone, I’ve finished my first full week in Ambedkanagar slum. My life here is not all about the work I am doing. I have met young people from around the world, Finland, Denmark, Japan,Italy and America. I have also bee sight seeing and shopping. The main focus of my visit though is to work with the under privileged and learn more about how they can move forward in this fast changing society. For one hour a day I teach basic English to a group of married ladies. These women have not had any opportunity to have an education in the past and have an extraordinary curiosity and desire to learn. One of the highlights of my week was the morning that Sitadevi came to class and recited the entire English alphabet after only a couple of days exposure to it. We all clapped. At the end of each day I go to the house of one of my pupils. The women in my class are being assisted by the Idex group. Their children are likely to be getting funding for their education and I am helping to profile the lives of these families. On Friday, Christmas Eve, I went to the house of an eighteen year old girl, Tulsa, who is to be married in a couple of months time. She is the oldest of four children. Her younger sister, Maya, who is sixteen was to be married at the same time to the brother of Tulsa’s future husband but she decided she was not ready for marriage yet and the contract was broken. Tulsa and Maya have two younger brothers and it has been Tulsa’s job to manage the household for the past ten years since their father died. Their mother works in the public gardens and is gone for ten hours of the day, seven days a week earning 1300 rupees a month, which is approximately $US26.00. This family has been classified as living below the poverty line and so is able to have food subsidised by the government. The family of five sleep in one small room, which is where I sat and chatted to them. The room is swept clean and their meagre belongings are packed on a couple of shelves on the wall. A cow tethered outside mooed during the interview and the sound echoed loudly through the concrete building. I asked Tulsa, through my interpreter, whether she was happy to be getting married. She says that her husband is reputed to be a good man and handsome, although there is some concern about his drinking and gambling habits. As is customary for a new bride,Tulsa will leave her home and move in with her parents in law and their family. She would prefer this to living exclusively with her new husband. On the down side she will live in a village away from the city and she does not think she will like village living. On the plus side they have a nice house. I asked if she wanted children straight away and she answers in the negative. She wants to work and to become an English language teacher. She feels that her future mother in law is of the opinion that a new wife should limit her skills to making chapattis for the family. I discover that Tulsa has no understanding of what happens between husband and wife and wonder how she will prevent babies. I am told that the pill is readily available. Tulsa herself becomes uncomfortable with this line of questioning and is able to say in English that this in not polite. I insist for a while thinking that it is more important to discuss these matters than to be polite but my next question is obviously not translated as the subject has changed. What will she do if she is not happy in her marriage, I ask. She replies that she would want to kill herself. I tell her that she appears to have great strength of character and wish her a happy future life. I wonder how Maya will fare when her sister leaves. She is an exceptionally pretty girl and it will fall on her shoulders to look after her younger brothers when Tulsa leaves. Maya smiles and says she wants to be with Tulsa but she is very happy that she doesn’t have to get married now. The day before this interview I had news of an attempted suicide in another slum in Jaipur. An unhappily married woman set fire to herself and is now in hospital. A volunteer in my lodgings, who had been teaching this woman was told to stay home on Friday because of the unrest this incident caused. I have been hearing other stories of the caste system and the rules that are still adhered to, all of which seem to be detrimental to women. The young teacher that I work with, who speaks some English and has a little daughter was apparently sold by her first husband for 80000 rupees. Fortunately the story has a happy ending as she much prefers her second husband. She appears embarrassed that I have been told her story and whilst she says it is all right for me to know it is not something that she wants to discuss openly, and especially not with the women in our class. This dark undercurrent to the lives of poor Indian women needs to be publicised but the women themselves do not want to talk of it.


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