This time last week I had just spent the day interviewing children and their families in Ajmer for a now-extensive study I was doing on our vocational counseling programme for disabled adults. I was arriving at home for what I hoped was a quiet evening that I could spend writing my biweekly report for Indicorps.
Two hours later, I was boarding a bus to Delhi for a conference hosted by the National Trust on behalf of Arunim for their E3 competition. I had no idea who Arunim were or what the E3 competition was.
Only in India is it not only acceptable, but completely common practice, to travel on an overnight bus for nine hours to arrive at your conference three hours before it opens; to spend the next two hours in the basement of a Sikh Gurdwara dodging fights between boisterous Punjabi men; to spend the entire conference wearing a jacket, scarf and gloves; all with the expectation that the triumvirate of Hindi, Bangra and English is a perfectly viable way to conduct a workshop. I am clearly not at ease with India quite yet.
The conference was nothing short of awesome, completely unexpected. The E3 competition (economic, enterprise, empowerment) is a chance for NGO’s working with disabled people to launch private enterprises that can provide employment to the disabled people they work with, offering mentoring, finance and support over three years of a business plan. The three NGO’s with the best business plan and team to back it, as judged by an eminent panel of entrepreneurs and senior government officials, will win the competition.
The conference ran through the expectations of the business plan. It was a short course in enterprise, sustainability, entrepreneurship and creativity. Myself and my colleague, Ranjeeve, left feeling we could launch a sand manufacturing business in the middle of Rajasthan and succeed. George Osborne needs to tap this.
I want to mention about the differences between Delhi and Chachiyawas (which are black and white, if I needed to point that out). I was definitely more at home in Delhi than my colleague, Ranjeeve. The Delhi I saw was international, a little more liberal, and a lot more English. In fact, everyone spoke some version of English. I was surprised that one of the facilitators, Delhi-born, used English as his mother-tongue and spoke a very basic, stuttering form of Hindi (albeit fluently).
I was also completely flabbergasted by the female attention. In Chachiyawas, I’m not even allowed to look at women, much less talk to them. During the conference, I was touched (shock/horror), I was hugged, I was given a massage, and shared my lunch with a lady I’d never even spoken to before. She told me about her work liberating sex workers and filming documentaries on child prostitution, completely taboo discussion even with members of my social justice NGO.
It is odd that I felt this was completely inappropriate. I felt violated and I felt that the women were behaving in an ill manner, dressing like – dare I say – western girls. It’s odd, and obviously – if I needed to say – it’s only because I’ve had to distance myself from women in Rajasthan that I feel this. I sincerely hope that in six months when I arrive back in the UK that I have not developed a female-phobia.