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July 9, 2013

… the beginning

by bathshebaokwenje

I arrived in Delhi three days ago.

I see echoes of home (East Africa) everywhere. I see it in the architecture, the chaos, the smells, the food; I even hear it in the language and see it in certain customs. East Africa is home to a very large population of Indians the majority of whom descend from the Gujarat region of India. Although largely segregated from the African population, their influence extends deep into our cultures, impacting our language, our food, our homes and some traditions.

My first impression of Delhi, therefore, is that of a strong familiarity, forcing me to think about what we carry with us as move through the world, what we pass on through the generations and what we attach identity and belonging to. The familiarity I feel here in Delhi is also a testament to the strength of a specific Indian culture – that it can survive multiple generations in a faraway region (East Africa) and I, an East African, can come to Delhi and find echoes of my home here.

Nupur and I are here to do work on gender politics and sexual violence. My understanding of the underlying drivers of gender-based violence is that, among other things, it resides in certain social norms and cultural ideas of masculinity and femininity.  It is through the prism of this ‘knowledge’ that I have been trying to understand what I’m seeing around me. In the many social spaces that we have been to in the past three days I see public demonstrations of a certain egalitarianism between the genders. The women are very present and vocal and the men aren’t overwhelmingly patriarchal. Most conversations we have entered into with strangers, both men and women (and unprovoked by us), have been about gender politics in India. A man we met one evening said he felt that the only way to address gender-based sexual violence in India is by enforcing harsh draconian measures on the perpetrators, which we took to mean enforcing castration or even the death penalty. Another stranger we spoke to, the sole woman in the company of five men, said that she was a feminist. When we asked how she defined feminism, she said that to her it meant a belief in equal rights for all people, women included. One of the men in her company disagreed with her and didn’t believe we were all entitled to the same rights, as an example, he asked us whether he had the same rights as President Obama. His concern was about equal rights across social stratifications as opposed to gender lines.

We were at a party last night and everyone was free to smoke and drink and flirt and dance without judgement, recrimination or segregation. But again, this was a public space and a public display. As I looked around me at the party last night, I wondered what happened in the private spaces, in the homes, where traditions are passed down, identities are forged and social norms are first learnt? Does the public display of egalitarianism reach into the home? Or maybe yet, could this public display of egalitarianism actually originate in the home?
For the rest of the week Nupur and I will be meeting with activists, artists and members of civil society. These meetings have been organized by Pattie Gonsalves, our focal point at the IDEAS NGO. We will be using these meetings to inform our understanding of the politics of gender in India and to shape and sharpen our ideas about our outputs for the fellowship.

Patti Gonsalves and Bathsheba  in Discussion

Patti Gonsalves and Bathsheba in Discussion

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