DISCUSSING POVERTY; INTERVIEW WITH A PRIVILEGED INDIAN WOMAN
Although very contradictory to one another, privilege and poverty are two very important topics that frequently cross my mind – and I’m sure the minds of many others. For those that are privileged, coming to terms with your luck can be confronting – but so important.
Today, I’m here with Madhurima – A beautiful woman that I met over the web, who was kind enough to tell me her story of life as a privileged female in India; both the beauty and the struggles of being privileged in a country where poverty is so very rampant…
Hi Madhurima, please introduce yourself!
Hello! My name is Madhurima Chakraborty – I hail from Kolkata, West Bengal.
I am an MBA graduate, working as a business analyst with an MNC in Bangalore. In my 28 years of life, I have lived to work or study in three major metropolises of the country; Kolkata, Delhi and Bangalore. I run my blog Orange Wayfarer to scribble down my experiences as a traveller, of India and abroad. My ancestors came from Bangladesh, erstwhile East Pakistan during partition and settled in suburbs of Kolkata and in the district of Bankura.
You’ve grown up in India – a country dealing with extreme poverty – so how would you describe your personal situation?
On my way to school, I once witnessed a man’s ordeal to find a morsel of food from a dustbin under the famous Howrah Bridge. He was wearing close to nothing; his hair unbrushed, and beard unkempt. I was fifteen years old and this is my first vivid memory of the bigot society we live in.
In front of our school, the road once housed a number of people who were making a living with the minimal arrangements. The incessant monsoon rains, the scorching summer, the maddening festivity of Durgapuja… Nothing seemed to change their order of life. Life, death, sex, the birth of a baby, moments of high with Marijuana; all happened on the road.
I remember a woman trying to cook a chicken’s feet, with skins and claws intact, on a makeshift “Unon”(the clay oven, traditionally used to cook food with wood or coal as fuel).
Every time I visit Kolkata I see them there. I could even spot the children, now grown up who were once newborn babies during my time in high school.
My mother is a homemaker – she has a couple of maids helping her with household chores. She hired a maid once we shifted to our new house. Her name was Rakhi – Rakhi was married to a Rickshaw puller, who also happened to be a drunkard, a serial offender of domestic violence, and fathered her only daughter… An eight YO girl. I remember the girl tagging along with her mother, standing by the door as I would study or apply lipstick and go back to sweeping again.
In a year’s time, Rakhi was diagnosed with cancer and breathed her last breath, leaving the girl on the road. A year later my mother told she was a lost child. My sin knows no bound for I did nothing to help her.
Compared to a lot of the Indian population, what makes you classify yourself as a privileged woman?
Firstly, my surname Chakraborty denotes a Bramhinical identity. That, itself is a privilege in Indian society.
On top of that, within two generations, my refugee forefathers had fought the trauma of displacement and embraced the fierce rat race of attaining success. As a result, I belong to the minority female populace of the country who had studied a masters degree, let go a government job, can avail medical facility from the premium hospitals of the city (sometimes, even take a second opinion), never faced discrimination basis on skin colour or food preference.
At large, I can practice my democracy and vote for the government I align with, in a political thought process. Privileged I am, like hell.
My father is a government employee and the guy I am dating is an investment banker. I have a younger brother and there had been no discrepancy in the expenses for our pursuit of education.
I practice my choice of independent living, have let go the idea of marriage and practice agnostic lifestyle. I have openly expressed my opinion against right-wing nationalist policies of the government without a fear of life.
Many people are fearful of travelling to India due to the danger – predominately as women – do you think this is a reasonable or an unnecessary fear?
Travelling in India as a solo woman can be quite intimidating. A countless number of times I have witnessed uncomfortable incidents; while going for a morning walk in Bangalore, waiting for the office cab in Delhi and travelling by bus in Kolkata, as a school student in school uniform.
In 2010, I remember watching a couple of guys passing abusive remarks to a white-skinned woman in front of Red Fort, New Delhi. What a shame! What a shame! And unfortunately very little has changed since.
The first time, at the age of 22, I started my search for a job in Delhi – I will always remember the weary eyes of my parents.
In the capital, I voluntarily shut myself indoors post 5 PM. It was the winter of 2013, the shockwaves of Nirbhaya incident rocking the capital city. Half a decade later, I have travelled an extensive part of the country solo – met wonderful people, blogged about the genial meets, yet cannot let go the horror I felt in Delhi from the men.
However, if you are a traveller, I urge you to visit India, for it is so much more than the headlines of Rape (pardon me if this statement points to belittle the trauma of a victim).
Few practical suggestions would be to dress modestly in rural areas, travel with a group, secure a stay in a decent hotel, always stay connected and do not venture into the wild or off beaten roads without company. You shall be fine – More often than not, I have experienced the warmth of local people and their friendship. Be it a drive back to home or offering a homemade Roti in the train or home remedies in Goa… The list will never end, really.
This is a country of a billion people and the rotten apples have not yet spoilt the whole of the bunch, and hopefully, they never do.
What do you believe is the biggest problem in your country at this time?
Caste discrimination and corrupt political system. It is so hard to get work done by the government official without offering a bribe. Oh, and I almost forgot the predominant patriarchal, misogynist bigot society!
In terms of the poverty that you’ve encountered, how has it personally affected you?
Of course, I feel I am lucky. With that, I also feel it is unjust on my part to long for more wealth while differences remain so stark and rampant.
From a local’s perspective, and in terms of the undeniable penury in India, how do you feel about the statement that ‘travellers do more harm than good’?
Travellers never harm a place, I strongly believe this. Travellers are the clan that helps unite people and widen thought process. However, tourists do.
What I detest the most is tourists taking a selfie with local impoverished children, and pretending to be the saviours.
India has a history of welcoming travellers from far eat (Xuanzang) or the Mediterranean (Ibn Battuta) from time immemorial. It is a pleasure to read their account and connecting the dots over the vast timeframe. Also, the traveller’s money adds to GDP of the country, fostering growth for the people.
So how do you believe foreigners should deal with the difficult sights they encounter when visiting the global south?
This is a difficult question for I have spent sleepless nights after encountering such sights, and I know nothing better to do. While visiting Bastar, Chattisgarh, the heartland of the tribal populace of India, I found this Banzara artists village, specializing in bell metals. Bell metal dates back to the age of Indus civilization – their age-old wisdom has been stolen at large by the aggressive business of the outsiders.
The jungle has been demolished. Their tombs are forgotten, left in disdain. They preserved their learning in “Ghotul”, the local schools that have been robbed of pride. It was heartbreaking talking to the elder generation of the village. So much pride in their heritage and the fight continues to preserve the same with meagre help. Mainstream media hardly portrays their ordeal.
By day, a whole of civilization is getting wiped out from the jungle, and we are doing so little to preserve it!
If someone from the global north feels as though they want to help the situation in India, what is the best thing they can do?
While I personally despise the idea of bordered nation and limited national identity, I do understand real world functions in a complicated way. However, to help a fellow human being, you must not hesitate. In the case of India, there are a number of NGOs operating across the expanse of the country. Do get in touch with them to extend helping hand.
Please do not try to help the children on the train, bus or road by giving money. If you can, provide some food instead.
So in general, what advice would you give a privileged traveller wanting to experience your home country?
+ Familiarise yourself with the history of the country. It is huge and can be trying, but nonetheless, it is rewarding!
+ Understand the ongoing political situation.
+ Refrain from visiting conflict zone for your own safety (we have many stated undergoing turmoil).
+ Respect local culture; dress, eat and drink accordingly.
+ Make friends with locals. More often than not, they will be eager to show you around. The Sikh community is the most hospitable of this country… I can tell you from personal experience!
As I’m sure you’re well aware, there is a lot of negativity based on travelling to India… So to lighten the mood, please tell us why you love living there!
I love my country. I think one lifetime is not enough to explore the varied culture, deep-rooted history, rivers flowing from prehistoric age and the mute jungles, that knows history.
It is a world in itself and every state differs at large from the neighbouring one. I love the textile industry and homegrown fabrics of India as well – The majestic weaves of Saree!
Thank you so much for being so honest. To finish off, give us some words of wisdom!
I strongly feel that working towards creating a more equal world is the call of the day. Equality is the distribution of social resources, quality medical services and education for all. And transparent and able governance is what we need to expect at minimal.
However, I strongly feel the need for information for all – and not those only promoted by social media. The honest information, opinions and personal experiences can actually help foster creating mass awareness and change!
Let’s keep this discussion going – We need to keep talking about issues such as poverty, so don’t ever be afraid to speak your thoughts. Discussing positive solutions is such an important thing!
Also, please spread some kind words to Madhurima in the comments down below!
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