Thursday, January 15, 2015

Country Overview: India

It is so good to be back in India. Two and a half years ago, I was halfway through my internship in Delhi. Mumbai is in the south of India and on the coast, so it's very different from my previous experience. However, in many ways it feels very familiar. The colors, the traffic, the smell. I stepped off the plane, took one whiff and said, "I'm back!" The whole country smells like curry. It can be quite overwhelming at first, but you learn to truly love it.

Before I went to India the first time, someone told me to ditch all of my expectations. There are a lot of countries and cultures that can be compared to others. India is not like that. Nothing can prepare you for the experience, and no one blog post can cover enough to provide an accurate image of the country and culture. What's more, the country of India has an enormous problem with trafficking of women and girls. One post will not scratch the surface of the reasons for this.

I will do my best to write a decent overview, but that's all it is - an overview.

The Basics

India has the second largest population in the world: 1.2 billion. Walking through a train station at rush hour in Mumbai, it's easy to believe. This is the most populous city in the country, but Delhi is the official capital. Hindi and English are the official languages, but dozens are spoken by the population overall. The Indian economy is one of the fastest growing in the world, but the country still struggles with extreme poverty, poor health conditions, and human rights abuses. The gap between the rich and poor in India is astonishing. Wealthy Indians stay in opulent hotels like this one, just blocks away from slums and desperate families.

India and My Project

According to the 2014 TIP Report, millions of women and girls are estimated to be enslaved in the sex trade in India. Most of these victims are young girls between the ages of 10 and 14 - minors even by Indian standards, where women are considered adults at 16.

Here are some of the questions I am looking to answer during my time in India:

  1. With a problem as big as the one in India with trafficking, how can organizations best partner to address it?
  2. What is the role of culture and family in aftercare for victims in India?
  3. How are the police and government actors involved in the fight against trafficking in India?
  4. What makes women and girls most vulnerable to trafficking in India?
  5. How does the traditional role of women in India play a role?
  6. Is there anything about the history of India that affects the current situation?

Prostitution is legal in India, but pimping and running brothels is technically against the law. Unfortunately, though, this results in the worst of both worlds for victims in India. The part of the law about pimping is rarely enforced, but the law being in place means that prostitution can flourish without any legal repurcussions. The law also does not require any kind of regulation of prostitution. This not only contributes to the problem of illegal pimping and brothels, but also means that women are at risk for serious health problems like STD's and HIV.

India's history also plays a huge role in this issue. Colonialism by the British Empire ceased only recently in 1947, and memorials to this time are scattered across the country. Less tangible remnants of this time can be found as well (more on this in a later post).

What I just explained is a very simplified summary of some of the factors related to the problem of sex trafficking in India. Keep an eye out for more in depth posts across my two months in this country.

I want to add an important note here. Sex trafficking is not the only type of trafficking going on in India. Forced labor is an enormous problem in this country with the largest population of slaves in the world. While my project is not investigating this form of trafficking, I do not want to add to the misconception that "modern day slavery" only refers to bondage of a sexual nature.

First Impressions

What first struck me about Mumbai was the chaos. My experience in Delhi was certainly hectic, but compared to Mumbai it is a quaint, bustling city. When riding around the city in a rickshaw, half of the time you feel like you are about to die. Crushed by a bus or suffocated by exhaust - one or the other seems possible at any moment.

One thing that isn't different about Mumbai is the color. I fell in love with all of the colors that India has to offer. It is amazing that a country so dusty can be so beautifully vibrant. Also, the chai might be even better. It is certainly good to be back.





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