Holy Cow!

Trip Start May 14, 2010
Trip End Jul 25, 2010

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Flag of India  , Gujarat,
Monday, May 24, 2010

Monday, May 24th, my internship sent me to Ahmedabad to meet the Chairperson of the Dalit Foundation, Gagan Sethi, and the Director of the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), Nupur.

My trip to Ahmedabad was the first time I traveled alone in India. Second week and already traveling by myself. Independent woman!  As usual, I was running around like a chicken with its head cut off, without enough time to even think about my trip let alone get nervous about traveling by myself.  So, nerves wasn't an issue. 

When I arrived at the domestic airport, I was pleasantly surprised to see that Indian airports operate much like American airports.  They may even be a bit more organized, which is a plus! 

My flight to Ahmedabad was a breeze.  Exhausted from not sleeping much the previous two nights, I slept for most of the flight.  Another plus about India air travel is the plane opens on both ends, so people sitting in the back can exit at the same time as people sitting in the front.  My seat was located in the last row of the plane, so I was able to get off quickly and head to baggage claim.

Once I retrieved my luggage, I headed outside to meet my driver.  As we drove to the office, I was captivated by the number of cows roaming the streets.  They were everywhere!  In the middle of the road, on the side of the road sifting through garbage and laying on sidewalks.  My roommate had mentioned seeing a cow in Delhi on her way home from work, but I had not, so this was a first for me.

I arrived at the office later than expected, due to a delay with my flight, so I was unable to meet Nupur on Monday night. But, I did have a chance to sit and talk with Gagan for a little while.  Gagan is a very impressive man!  In addition to being the Chairperson of the Dalit Foundation, he is also heavily involved with the work done at CSJ and co-founder of the Navsarjan Trust.

Gagan explained that CSJ trains attorneys and "paralegals" to provide legal aid to the poorest groups of people.  I placed paralegal in quotes, because a paralegal at CSJ has a different role compared to a paralegal in most American legal offices.  Gagan described them as "grassroots paralegals" and analogized them to nurses and midwifes.  At CSJ, paralegals develop relationships with clients, as opposed to doing legal research and writing, as is most often the case in America

CSJ paralegals are sent out into the field to meet with victims and accompany them to police stations to file First Information Reports (FIRs).  A FIR is the first step in Indian law for filing a complaint.  In oppressed Dalit communities, many times the police refuse to file FIRs on behalf of victims, and in some cases will file FIRs against the Dalit victim instead of their attacker(s).    

Sidenote: Before we started our discussion, Gagan made me the best cup of coffee!  For those of you who know me, you know I enjoy a good cup of coffee.  India is known for many things, but good coffee is not one of them.  At breakfast every morning, I have a sugar-laden, milky drink they call coffee. I drink it more so because I'm tired of drinking water, not because it gives me the morning boost I'm looking for.  So, needless to say I was in heaven when Gagan prepared a BIG, good ol' cup o' jo!

During our discussion, Gagan introduced me to yet another group of oppressed people in India, the denotified tribes.  These tribes were originally listed under the Criminal Tribes Act of 1871, as criminal tribes.  Once a tribe became "notified" as criminal, all its members were required to register with the local magistrate.  Failing to do so led to criminal charges under the Indian Penal Code.  In 1952, the Criminal Tribes Act "denotified" the tribes; however, ever since 1871 members of these tribes have been targeted by police and marginalized in society. 

My meeting with Gagan only lasted a short time, but in that time I received a wealth of information that has undoubtedly contributed to my understanding of Indian society. 
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