The time in India is going by so quickly, I can’t believe it’s already week 3! This week is ~excursion week~ and we get to spend the whole week in Jaipur! Jaipur is in the state of Rajasthan and is known as the pink city!
Monday morning, we had our last anthropology course for India and discussed social justice and the capabilities approach. We talked about the difference between functioning’s and capabilities and the idea that trying to establish equal income for everyone may not be the best approach to eradicating poverty because people have different ways that they chose to function. Rather, it is the choice to be able to function in whichever way desired that is the function. After, we had a guest speaker, Mrs. Hennu Singh, come in to discuss the Childline 1098 Initiative. The initiative is the country’s first, and only, toll-free telephone helpline for children in distress. Mrs. Singh is the head of the North Regional center for the foundation.
Afterwards, we took taxis to the train station and boarded a train to head to Jaipur. We took an overnight train, even though our ride would only be 5 hours, which means that the seats were beds that came with sheets and everything. It was a cool experience! We stayed at a guest house for the week that had a really nice view of Red Fort from the rooftop.
Tuesday morning, we went on a site visit to Jaipur Foot. Jaipur Foot is an organization that works with rehabilitating the disabled through prosthetic limbs. The organization is founded on the beliefs of the Jainism religion and solely runs on funding from outside sources. All of the limbs are free of cost for every patient and many are distributed to individuals that are not living in India. We have taken a critical eye to the sustainability of the organizations we visit, so this was an interesting aspect of an organization that has been around for so long and is so large. We asked if they have thought about implementing any income-generating activities or are concerned about funding running out in the future, but the question was answered with the upmost confidence that the abundance of money would never be an issue. We were given an in-depth tour of the organization and were able to see the several processes that go into the construction of the limbs. It was amazing to see the efficiency and attention to detail that every part of the process had.
After the visit, we went to a nearby café for lunch and then went to see the Hawa Mahal. This city truly is beautiful. We were told that Jaipur was a great place to shop, and they were definitely correct. We walked through one of the Bazaars that had a bunch of shops and grabbed dinner at a place that was recommended to us by our country coordinator, as well as friends I have at home that have been to Jaipur.
Wednesday morning, we drove for about two hours to get to a place called Barefoot College. We spent the day here learning about the different programs that they have. Barefoot College is an organization that primarily works with connecting rural communities with education, and solar and water technologies to help communities increase their wellbeing. Women from rural villages not only in India, but in other countries, will spend 6 months at the Barefoot College to learn about solar technologies and other skills, such as sewing, to bring back to their villages. All of the different programs that Barefoot College offers to the local community is very expansive and I was a little overwhelmed by how many different things they have going on. They have an entire garden and health supplement section, a radio station, a sanitary pad section, and more on top of all the work they do with their solar technologies and education for women. The organization was kind of set up like a campus with each different, I guess you could say department, in a different area of the huge space that they had. They also had an incredible gift shop that I spent way too much money in, but I got lots of goodies for my loved ones at home. It was an exhausting visit with the intense heat, but it definitely seems like Jaipur is the place for organizations that are doing really cool and effective work in India.
After we got back, we went to an AMAZING vegetarian restaurant that was right near the guest house we were staying in. Veg restaurants are very common throughout India, and it is not uncommon for many families to be vegetarian as well. Arthur and I split paneer butter masala and dosa (a popular South Indian food) and it was super yummy. I wish I could have it again while I’m writing this. Afterwards, Sanne and I walked to the City Statue Garden that is all lit up at night. On the way there we passed a huge science museum that was stunning from the outside. The statue was in a little park that was so lively and had so many kids and families hanging out in.
We went to yet another site visit on Thursday. We went to an organization called Jaipur Rugs, and I was much more critical of this one than the others. Jaipur Rugs is an organization that works with women’s empowerment and economic sustainability for women in the rural villages of India. They manufacture rugs that are hand woven by the women and then sold throughout India, as well as internationally, at a very steep price. Our first part of the site visit consisted of going to one of the villages and visiting the women while they were weaving the rugs. Up to 6 women work on one rug at a time and it was crazy to see the impeccable speed that the women worked at. All of the women seemed so happy to see us and to be doing the work that they were doing.
We went to the headquarters after and saw where the designs for the rugs were made and were given a sort of showcase of all the different rugs. This is where I started to become a little skeptical. The entire organization is based on the ideal that they are working towards women’s empowerment. Yes, women are receiving compensation for the work that they are doing and do not have to travel far from their home to get to work, however out of everybody that is involved in the process of producing a rug these women are by far putting in the most work. For that work they receive about 35% of the profits made from selling each rug. Each rug sells for about $4,000, give or take, which means that if there are 6 women working on one rug they are each making just over $200 per rug. Not to mention that each rug takes many months to make. Yes, it can be argued that the conditions they are working in and the profits that they are making are far better than most places. However, the huge emphasis on women’s empowerment throughout the organization did not feel right to me, especially since most of the rugs are sold to foreigners (mainly white foreigners) and the face of the company is scene outside mainly as the people at the headquarters, not the women themselves. Jaipur Rugs has won several awards for their work, and their rugs are beautiful, however, empowerment to me would have voices of the women making the rugs be the true front of everything they do, not just a sweet story that increases profits that are widely distributed to places other than what the company says their sole purpose is for.
Maybe if there wasn’t such an emphasis on empowering the women making the rugs, I would have felt better about it. It just seemed as if they were taking advantage of the situation and making it seem like they are doing greater work than they actually are to make the money that they do. This visit definitely gave me a lot to think about.
After the site visit, we headed to another one of the Bazaars. I found such great deals and purchased some beautiful things. I had to buy another bag that I can check for the rest of my flights. Yes, that is how much I am buying, and I have no regrets. We went to a beautiful rooftop restaurant for dinner and I had a delicious curry. We had a henna night at our guest house! I had both the fronts and backs on my hands done and the designs were beautiful on everyone!
Friday morning, we had a woman come in to talk to us about the organization she works with, Sachentan Initiative. This initiative works with empowering women in the local and rural communities through the practice of crafting. She brought some of the crafts that the women made with her and I bought this BEAUTIFUL rug for 200 rupees (about $3). It may have been the best purchase I have ever made. In the afternoon, we all went to City Palace. Jaipur is by far one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. All of the buildings and places to visit are stunning and I felt like I was living in a dream. Of course, there is still lots of traffic, but I have grown to tune that out now. After City Palace, we did some more shopping and yes, I bought more things. It’s being to become a problem, but I am still okay with it.
We had our second cohort time in India Friday evening and we went to this fun place called Chokhi Dhani. The point of this place was to be themed after a Rajasthani village. There was a bunch of different games to play, things to see, and places to walk around. They offered elephant and camel rides (I did not approve of this, you could tell that the elephant giving the rides was extremely unhappy). We had a traditional Rajasthani thali for dinner. A thali is a round platter of food that has a variety of different dishes on it. This place was definitely very interesting and had a lot going on. It felt a bit like a circus. Not everybody in my group loved it and thought that it was a poor representation of what a Rajasthani village is actually like (I don’t disagree with this), but it was a cool experience and the majority of the people there were Indians, not foreigners, so it seemed like a popular fun thing to do.
We headed back to Delhi on Saturday, but we still had the morning to ourselves to explore. A few of us went to Amber Fort which was the main residence of the emperors of the Mughal dynasty. This place was huuuuge and it was crazy to imagine that people actually lived there, especially since it was up pretty high and far away from everything else. Just like pretty much everything in India, it was gorgeous and so nice to spend a few hours walking around and exploring.
We took a train back to Delhi and arrived in the late evening. Jaipur was such an incredible place and added to all the love I have for this country. We were really lucky to have had our entire week excursion there and I would go back in a heartbeat!