Jonathan: Goodbye, Jatan Sansthan

I have reached the end of the second chapter in my story of India.  After six weeks, I am preparing to leave Railmagra and Jatan Sansthan for a quick seminar in Jaipur, followed by nearly three weeks of traveling.  But more details on that at the end of this post, for now it is time to reflect on all I’ve learned and done here.  I’m pretty sure I start every post on this blog with struggling with where to begin, but you must believe me this time — I am forcing myself to somehow summarize and contextualize an experience which is still unfinished.  It is necessary, however, to first explore issues in migration which I’ve come to learn much about, and follow that with a short description of the work I’ve done here, now that my curriculum is completed and in the final editing phase.

Rajsamand District, as I’ve mentioned before, is a community in transition.  With estimates of labor migration as high as 50% in some villages, it is a place that is confronting globalization in a way I have not yet completely understood.  Railmagra, where I have been living, is an interesting case study in this phenomenon.  As an important transportation hub it has developed into a relatively bustling small town with an active fruit and vegetable market, plenty of sari shops, a 2:1 population to juice stand ratio, and most necessities that are unavailable in the smaller surrounding villages.  As a bustling local hub, it has come to develop into an important intersection point between the smallest of villages and, well, the rest of the world.  Globalization and changing patterns of migration mean that many young men migrate to find work (some estimates as high as 48-52% of a village population).

With this, of course, comes a significant number of effects.  In theory, families begin to see increased income (although the realities of exploitation negatively affect this to some degree) and expanded opportunities.  But much more frequently, these (mostly) young men experience injury, poor health, occupational hazards, substandard living conditions, and a number of other hardships.  Their sisters and wives also experience migration.  They may be able to attend school with the added income, and many find their power and control in household decisions expand without men living there full time.  What’s more, the money that they may make if they work outside the home is within their control.  This, of course, is all tempered by the fact that the primary income generator is far from home.  Pregnant women, for instance, may lack any support, emotional or financial, as they attempt to navigate complex systems and structures which they know little about.  They may be forced to work outside the home to supplement an unexpectedly meager remittance or if their husband, son, or father is injured (this, of course, being very different than if they chose to work outside the home).  They may be exposed to STIs including HIV if their husband does not use protection while working far from home or is exposed to an unsecured blood supply after injury.  Both men who migrate and the women in their lives and communities are profoundly affected by migration, and it is irresponsible to make any evaluative statements about it: migration is a part of their lives, improves it, and sets them up for great hardship.

As a testament to our changing world, this is all conducted under the umbrella of globalization.  As men travel outside the home, some just a few hours to Udaipur, others many days away to Mumbai, they come in contact with new Indias.  New clothing, new ideas, new technologies.  This has a curious effect on village life, especially for women.  As George (2006) notes, the increased exposure that is provided to Indian men may change their own attitudes and style of dress, but it too breeds insecurity that they are losing their ‘Indian-ess.’  They thus place their fears onto the women in their life and demand even more strict adherence to cultural traditions.  Indian men confront their own insecurity about loss of culture not by addressing it directly, but rather by focusing even more strongly upon the maintenance of women’s roles.  In a feminist dialogue based around agency and choice, this clearly brings a number of thorny issues to mind.

It is within this context that I was instructed to write the youth group curriculum, which I titled “Power and Effort! Developing youth capacities for change in rural Rajasthan” (which, for the record, totals 64 pages).  At its core the curriculum is concerned with, as the title suggests, capacity building.  One can think of the lessons as ‘managed globalization’ or ‘managed migration;’ taking the processes that would inevitably occur and giving youth a chance to approach them responsibly.  It is interested not in providing adult made solutions but rather in giving young people in village communities the tools, vocabulary, and space to develop their own approaches to change.  The curriculum is broken into four major units: Migration, Health and Wellness, Social Violence, and Collective Action.  In “Migration,” groups will discuss the effects of the phenomenon on their families and villages, as well as explore their own workforce participation.  “Health and Wellness” addresses puberty and sexual health, providing a foundation for positive decision making.  This is followed by “Social Violence” which focuses on both interpersonal and institutional or societal violence, examining a number of issues including domestic violence, gender discrimination, and early marriage.  The final unit, “Collective Action” contextualizes all of the prior lessons by exploring modes of community change, culminating in the youth groups conducting a community needs assessment of their own design.

I am, to be frank, not ready to leave Railmagra, or the curriculum for that matter.  It is only in the last week that I have begun to feel fully confident here — able to conduct all of my business with the ease that comes with time.  My Hindi and cultural knowledge has improved tremendously, giving me both access to new spaces but also to new relationships.  I stop short of living in the delusion that I’ve made friends, because deep relationships have their limits when you know less of the language than a toddler, but there are definitely people who care for my well-being and I for theirs.  I too have no delusions that I have become a part of the community: after all, my time here has always been highly limited and with a definitive end-date.  However, there is truth to the fact that I have begun to feel comfortable.  I know people now: I have homes to stop by when I walk past, and (milk-free) chai to drink (I am relatively certain that at least half of Railmagra’s 6000-10000 people know of my milk allergy — word travels fast here).  I have a small network of shop-keepers who monitor my supply of various products (mosquito-repellant coils, laundry detergent, namkin, sweet limes, minutes on my cellphone).  Most importantly, I know where to buy the best samosas and cachori.

As I prepare to leave, I am honest with myself regarding the circumstances.  I am a temporary visitor who was lucky to be given hospitality from those around me.  I am a temporary part of their everyday, one who may strive to understand their reality and is lucky to receive their hospitality.  My limited language skills and cultural context are just one part of my separation: in the end, I will leave, go back to America, and they will stay here.  They will continue to have five to seven power cuts a day.  To have the nearest medical facility with a safe blood supply and fully stocked pharmacy be an hour away.  To have schools where teachers do not bother to show up.  They too will continue to have each other and the support network that they have developed.  I will not be a part of that, no matter how hard I try.  My experience here has been amazing, and I am thankful and lucky to have been afforded such tremendous opportunities.  I have been able to engage in a mutual process of sharing ideas: providing my technical knowledge in youth organizing and sexual health and learning about their approaches and methodologies.  Together we have developed the “Power and Effort” curriculum, and I am given solace by this knowledge.

But alas, these things end, and I am soon off to Jaipur for the final seminar.  Afterward, Chapter Three in this adventure will begin.  After three transition days in Delhi, I will fly to Darjeeling with my friend Claire.  Located at the cusp of the eastern states, near Nepal, and in the foothills of the Himalaya, it is perhaps best known for its tea and 70F weather.  Next, we fly back to Delhi and catch a train the same day to Simla, the unofficial summer capital of the former British Raj (too in the foothills of beautiful mountains).  We will then travel about 10 hours north to Mcleod Ganj, the home of the Dali Lama and his government in exile.  All will conclude with a stop in Amristar, the location of the Golden Temple, one of Sikhism’s holiest sight.

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