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India: A Land of Contradictions

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I wrote a few blogs ago about how the country of India is referred to by many as "Mother India." A dinner conversation a few nights ago with my friend Lotta however made me reflect and question this warm reference to India.

Lotta said, "For a country that desecrates the land and treats women as second class citizens, I am not sure how it has earned that title." This struck a chord because on my recent trip to India, my husband (still need to legalize that in California!) said something very similar.

So, as I once considered India my role model in many ways - for its dedication to spirituality, its long history with yoga, and for its unexpected delights, I am now looking at it with a wider lens and seeing not only the beauty, but also, "the beast."

Violence against women in India is frighteningly frequent. Many point to its roots in the male dominated socio-economic, legal and political order in India. In some parts of India, women are actually considered "private property" to be looked after by a certain family, community or caste.

I was stunned to learn about what is called "bride burning." This is a form of domestic abuse often disguised as an accident or suicide. Women are burned to death over wealth (or rather...lack of wealth). Since the dowry system is well in place in India, husbands who think their dowry is too low actually kill their wives. I read recently that because of this an estimated 6000 women are murdered each year by their husbands - and that in fact the numbers are probably much higher because many cases go unreported! In rural areas, girl killings are prevalent because girls are considered second rate to boys. I heard that when children are ill, the fathers prefer to pay for their sons' treatment over their daughters, so that more girls die. Adding to these excruciating realities, abortion of yet-to-be-born baby girls is surprisingly common.

As I was taking the train from Delhi up to Rishikesh in the north, I noticed an outstanding number of men on the streets, in the villages and generally out and about and a remarkably small number of women. In fact, there was a period of time when I didn't see ANY women. I learned later that women in fact are not free to move about in the villages of the north and also experience severe restriction in the south. They must ask permission to go to town or visit friends. One report I read said that 85% percent of the women, except in larger towns, do not have any freedom to go about in public as they wish.

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In looking further at the "beastly" aspects of India, by one estimate, according to The Economist, only 13% of the sewage India's 1.1 billion people produce is treated. In other words, India's sanitation is terrible! There is garbage strewn about everywhere, cow dung lining the streets, and major air pollution. It is this poor sanitation that causes water-borne diseases that are a big reason why India's children are so malnourished. According to studies, India has 60 million malnourished children, which is 40% of the world's total!

I don't mean to trash on India (because it certainly doesn't need that!), but I am in favor of getting out the information and reality of what is happening there. I admire India in many ways - for its colorful life energy, for the smiles of those living with the minimum that life can provide, for its great gift of yoga that has been passed on for thousands of years, and for its ability to make a number of things function quite well with such an enormous population. I do however believe that India can and should do MUCH MORE for its citizens.

I look to myself now and wonder "what can I do?" ..."How can I help life be a little better for my global sisters and brothers over there?"

How about you? Are there any countries (US included of course) that you feel passionately about and wonder what you can do to help life there become a little more humane for its people? Have you done something? Please share your story!

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