The Beginning...

Trip Start May 14, 2010
1
5
Trip End Jul 25, 2010


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Flag of United States  , Indiana
Friday, May 14, 2010

Today, I leave for India!

The reality of living in India for the next ten weeks hasn't hit me yet. I have been so busy the last few days preparing for my trip that I did not have time to really take it all in. 

Last Sunday, I met a remarkable woman named Kathy Sreedhar.  Ms. Sreedhar is sponsoring me and two other students in the program.  She is the Director of the Holdeen India Program based in Washington, D.C.  Ms. Sreedhar has been to India numerous times and works directly with the NGOs, especially the Dalit Foundation.  I will be interning with the Dalit Foundation for the first six weeks. 

My classmate and I had the pleasure of picking Ms. Sreedhar and our professor, Jay Krishnan, up from the airport on Sunday.  As I drove back to Bloomington, I especially enjoyed listening to Ms. Sreedhar and Professor Krishnan talk about India and their experiences. Ms. Sreedhar spoke a lot about the leader of the Dalit movement, Martin Macwan (a close friend of hers).  She shared his inspirational story of turning a devastating tragedy into a lifelong mission to fight for the rights of the Dalit community. 

When we arrived in Bloomington, the four of us had lunch at a Turkish restaurant (Bloomington has an amazing variety of ethnic cuisines).  The discussion over lunch was also wonderful.  Professor Krishnan shared his background and how he ended up at Indiana University (this is his first year at the law school).  My classmate and I shared how we chose IU as well.  

As I shared my story, I mentioned the driving force behind my decision to apply for the India program was my professor, Kevin Brown. I shared that in Professor Brown's class he teaches his students that the law is applied differently for different people.  Ms. Sreedhar immediately connected with this reality, and expressed the same can be said about the law in India (perhaps universally).  

Before leaving for India, I read an article by Professor Brown and Vinay Sitapati entitled, Lessons Learned from Comparing the Application of Constitutional Law and Federal Anti-Discrimination Law to African-Americans in the U.S. and Dalits in India in the Context of Higher Education.  The article is a comparative analysis of African Americans' and Dalits’ fight against oppression and discrimination.  I was humbled to learn Dalits are inspired by the accomplishments of African Americans, and look to the progress of African Americans as encouragement for their own fight against oppression.  One concept Mr. Macwan has instituted in the Dalit community is the establishment of Dalit schools, similar to Historically Black Colleges and Universities. 

Ms. Sreedhar, aware that I attended Spelman College, mentioned I should visit Ahmedabad where the Dalit schools are located.  God willing, I will get there and have the opportunity to share my experience at an HBCU with my colleagues and the Dalit community.  Spelman has truly shaped me into the woman I am today, and I'm sure the education Dalits receive in Dalit schools will shape their development as well.

Needless to say, Sunday was the beginning of an amazing journey.  

For the next three days, my classmates and I attended an India immersion class with Professor Krishnan and Ms. Sreedhar.  In class we learned the basic legal foundation in India, as well as the cultural and structural barriers that prevent the legal system from serving India effectively and efficiently.

Ironically, India is a rights-based country.  The Constitution provides for numerous fundamental rights and guidelines to ensure rights are protected.  However, there is a lack of attorneys and structurally sound organizations fighting for the rights of the less privileged, especially the poor and Dalit community.  The organization I will be working with seeks to empower the Dalit community by informing them of their rights and providing the resources to fight oppression.

Wednesday evening, Ms. Sreedhar and Mr. Macwan called me from Ms. Sreedhar's home in D.C.  Words cannot express the excitement I felt after speaking to Mr. Macwan.  He is truly inspirational.  I am always fascinated by individuals who put their lives at risk for the good of others.  I sometimes wonder if I will ever be that brave and altruistic.

Mr. Macwan, who is currently working on a book at Notre Dame, was unaware of my internship at the Dalit Foundation until Ms. Sreedhar informed him.  Now that he is aware he assured me he would make my experience worthwhile by setting up visits to the rural areas, where Dalits live, and expose me to a legal organization that also assists with the Dalit movement.

After speaking with Professor Brown, Professor Krishnan, Ms. Sreedhar and Mr. Macwan, I really want to make an impact in the short amount of time I'm in New Delhi.  I am aware I can only do so much in six weeks; however, I hope I can make an impact by meeting Dalits and expressing my sincere concern and dedication to the protection of their rights.  Professor Krishnan informed me the mere fact I am there will mean a lot to the community.  The Dalits have been marginalized and unacknowledged for so long (thousands of years) that many have internalized their oppression and do not believe anyone cares about them.  I do.  

I am incredibly grateful for this experience, and I hope you enjoy reading my posts as I document this once-in-a-lifetime experience. 
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