Chat n Chai: 2014 Student Fellows share their research and travel experiences

Each year ICI provides six New School students with a travel and research grant to study in India or China. Students work in the field and conduct academic research. The 2014 cohort of Student Fellows joined us in a special Chat n’ Chai series focussing on their work. East student discussed their research methodology and presented their findings at the Theresa Lang Community and Student Center in The New School.

Carolina Coviello: Carolina explored the improvement in Chinese labor standards. She also investigated how this process has impacted both the manufacturing market and the relationship between China and the international companies, like Adidas, which have outsourced there.

Joe Wheeler: Joe engaged in discourse with women working toward gender equality externally (via national reform) and internally (via community reform) in India. He explored how the Uniform Civil Code is understood by both sides, the advantages and disadvantages of both solutions to this complex problem, as well as the lived ramifications of discriminatory Personal Law and real world persecution of religious minorities.

Mikaela Kvan: Mikaela looked at China’s labor laws and used China as a baseline to evaluate the growth of Cambodia’s garment industry through the voices of women who work at various levels throughout the garment manufacturing process. The research assessed the physical effects of the growth of this industry on emotional outcomes in identity and personal expression. Her study took place in Shenzhen, China and Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Tomas Uribe: Tomas researched how music is used as a tool for empowering youth and analyzed and evaluated the applicability and relevance of music education in the lives of at-risk youth based on two case studies in Mumbai (Mewsic) and New Delhi (Music Basti).

Marina Kaneti: Marina traveled to Hong Kong, Guandong, and Shanghai to conduct research of archival collections at several locations. This research, part of her broader PhD Dissertation work, examined the links between migration and business at the end of the nineteenth – early twentieth century.

Below are videos of the event including as well as some candid conversations with the students.

Chat n Chai – 2014 Student Fellows:

ICI Conversations – 2014 Student Fellows:

They’re not as serene as they seem to be

Minimum wage violations perpetuate modern-day feudalism on Assam’s tea plantations

Recently had the opportunity to be published in the Hindustan Times as the co-author of an op-ed developed with Francesca Cespi Feruglio during my time with Nazdeek as part of my research fellowship with India China Institute.

Colonial-era labour structures, faulty trade union practices and corporate greed are responsible for unjust wages…  The current state of the plantations is nothing short of modern-day feudalism—taking the migrant population, placing it in social isolation and ensuring the people live in abject poverty with little to no access to education, health, food or an alternative livelihood. Plantation owners eliminate any opportunity for social mobility.

See the full article here.

Hope through music


Mahesh's Interview

Mahesh’s Interview

Dharavi, being one of the biggest slums in the world, has many challenges regarding waste management, transportation, garbage disposal, and clean water. Clearly, families living in Dharavi cope with this situation by taking part in traditional and ludic activities such as praying, dancing, singing, and celebrating religious holidays. While working at Dharavi, we were invited not only to interview the children’s parents in their own homes, but have the opportunity to share with them some time, talking about music and art, and how Mewsic has influenced positively their children’s lives.

With Sachin and Kaajal

With Sachin and Kaajal

One of the interviews we conducted was with Sanjay (Mahesh’s student)and his mom, a women head of household, who just 4 years ago lost her husband due to asthma complications. She lives with Sanjay in a small yet humble, 9 sq mt house in the middle of Dharavi; a little over 15 minutes away from the Mewsic Center. While interviewing her, one could sense her devout religiousness and hard-working attitude. Being a single mom is definitely not an easy task, but she was confident when saying the communication with his son has improved immensely since he started playing the guitar and flute at the Mewsic Center. She saw Sanjay perform at the Music Mela (a performance event with music presentations) and was so overwhelmed with his performance, she couldn’t help it and started crying while her interview. One of the several testimonies we got this day in Dharavi (in addition to Kaajal and her mom), also from parents who see in their child hope of a better future, serves as an example of how music empowers these children, and how through music, they have a chance of gaining another perspective of life, despite their socio-economic situation. Continuing with more footage and looking forward to additional tutor interviews and parents with their kids.

Interviews at Govandi

Dance kids at Govandi

Dance kids at Govandi

Our visit to the Govandi music centre was very productive and proactive. We met with the dance tutor, Sachin and witnessed a remarkable dance session with the children. Having experienced yesterday the Dahihandi festival (or Govinda sport) in the streets of the Mahalaxmi area, it is clear that dance and music is key to their cultural development and traditions, both individually and collectively. The Dahihandi festival celebrates the story of Krishna, trying to reach the top shelves of the house and eat a bowl full of buttermilk. Numerous groups of children (both girls and boys) team up and strategize to build human pyramids, resembling Krishna’s effort to reach the top. It consists of an entire day of festivities, where multiple politicians and their political parties support financially the festival.

Similar to the music heard at Dahihandi, children at the music centre were dancing to Bollywood item numbers, contemporary music, hip hop, and dub step beats with carefully selected choreographies taught by Sachin, their music tutor. Their energetic faces and bodies make them seem as truly professional dancers and artists. We started the interviewing process for the documentary with a 10 year-old girl named Nida. She lives only 4 blocks away from the music centre in the middle of Govandi. We had a very interesting conversation, facilitated by Astrid and Sachin (serving as translators), about her talent as a dancer, what her thoughts for the future were, and her experience at the Maharashtra dance competition where she participated. We continued with Sachin. He talked more in depth about his dance expertise, his background, and how he plans to have his own dance academy for the community. He stressed the fact that he likes to send a message with his choreographies, considering the social problems they face both as a community and as a country.

Nida's Interview

Nida’s Interview

Mewsic has several advantages in the community. Many people have been following their activities and concerts, which is why they have several collaborators and mobilizers. The mobilisers help to spread the word about music classes and programming around the community, while also bonding with the children’s parents and families. Thanks to one of the mobilisers, we met Nadi’s family. We visited their home and spoke to her for a while. She stated she likes to see her daughter dance (Nida’s oldest sister also danced at Mewsic, and now she attends college for a BA in Commerce). Even though Muslim families have different perspectives about artistic and musical endeavours, Nida’s mom is a complete fan of her daughter’s dance skills, and supports her as long as she goes to school and remains with good grades. All in all, great footage and a truly enlightening day. Tomorrow, we’ll speak to other students at Dharavi music center.

Trip to the Lotus Temple

Day 22 in New Delhi

For my last afternoon in Delhi, I wanted something calm and relaxing so I headed south to the Baha’i Lotus Temple, an astounding piece of modern architecture. I had the opportunity to walk the grounds, learn a bit about the Baha’i faith, and sit in on a service. Baha’i works to find the unity in all major world religions, and for the service I joined practitioners read verses from the New Testament, the Hebrew Bible, the Bhagavad Gita, and the Quran followed by a period of silent, personal prayer and reflection.  This gave me time to think back on my experience with Nazdeek, plan out what might come next for the project, and prepare for the start of my last year of graduate school–courses start just a week after I return.

Coming from a background in both religious studies and architecture this was an amazing experience both in terms of the content of the service and the design of the space. I couldn’t think of a better way to end my trip. Photography was not allowed inside the temple, but here are some shots of the exterior:

A view of Mumbai

Incense and prayer

Incense and prayer

Throughout the weekend, since it was mainly about Independence Day, most governmental institutions and venues were closed except museums and other tourist sights. Considering filming and shooting without permission in Mumbai is against the law, due to the 2008 terrorist attacks, getting footage for the project has been quite a challenge. Most of the footage I’ve been aiming to get while not working with Mewsic and the children is from the city, the traditions and cultures one can experience in urban settings, traveling by auto rickshaw, train and taxi cabs, and through common day-to-day activities. In some of the temples, people are OK with tourist taking pictures and watching their prayers. Here’s a photo from the popular Jain Temple in the city. Particularly, policemen can be found in every single train station, and they will make you delete any snapshots you’ve taken with your camera, let alone any semi-professional DSLR’s or similar.

Man near CST

Man near CST

After a week staying in Mumbai, I’ve gotten the hang of the train system. Quite different than New York’s complex yet efficient system, Mumbai’s railway system is a bit more tough to handle and manage. Orientation in the city is not that hard; trains go from north to south and have both western and central railways. The first couple of rides tested my ability to fight for a spot within the 1st (100 INR or more) and 2nd class (5-10 INR) cars. Clearly, the 2nd class cabins are packed most of the time. Men are the common customers in 2nd class since it is too packed for women to travel (given the circumstances in gender violence cases). Train travel is a great option to check out the city and get away from the hustle bustle of constant honking in the streets and chaotic pedestrian walking. One thing to admire is the great railway system implemented by the British more than 100 years ago. Unfortunately, most of the architecture of train stations as well as buildings and classic British houses have been left without any restoration, making most of Mumbai’s views and urban scenery old and grey. Mumbai’s main train station, Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus – CST (Victoria Terminal) is a beautiful building, also designed while the British empire ruled Mumbai. Major local, express, and city-to-city trains leave and arrive from this station, making it one of the busiest around town. I’ve been able to get great footage if Mumbai’s citizens, seeing how they live, how they relate to one another, and how they are part of a huge dynamic metropolis. The city of the 7 islands, or how the Portugues used to call it, Bom-Bahia… Bombay.

Jain Temple

Jain Temple

Man at Jain Temple

Man at Jain Temple

Trip to Red Fort and Jantar Mantar

Day 21 in New Delhi

After an exciting three weeks of work with Nazdeek and a day of celebrating Indian Independence on the 15th, I took a trip to the famous Red Fort, the walled residence of Mughal emperors from the 15th to the 17th century.

On the way over, however, I stopped at Jantar Mantar, a fascinating architectural complex designed for astrological observation in 1724. Having studied Jantar Mantar in architectural history courses, I was quite excited to experience this little known wonder in the heart of Delhi, only to find that the complex is currently under renovation. While the construction did interfere with my visit, I was happy to know that the site is being preserved after years of disrepair.

Sounds from Govandi

Children at Govandi

Children at Govandi

Govandi has many things to offer. After the day spent at the Dharavi slum Mewsic center, we traveled east to Govandi, where the other music center is located, and where other children attend. Govandi is mainly known for the surrounding waste dump, one of the three that Mumbai has. It also offers a diverse palette of cultures and religions all situated in a very close and dense area. From the three-story rooftops, one can see the mosque which through its call to prayer gives the community an every day soundtrack. When we first arrived, there were no attendants. On the first floor of the community center, a group of hindi women were having a meeting and watching an instructional video about birth control. While we waited on the second floor, we spoke some more with Mahesh (music tutor) about the concept and idea for the documentary project. He gave very valuable insight regarding the children’s backgrounds, why they chose to learn music, and some of the feedback he has gotten from the children while at Mewsic.

At Govandi Music Center

At Govandi Music Center

After a while, the room slowly started to be filled with after-school kids, since usually the music classes start around 12:30 or 1:00 pm. Almost half of the children came thinking the session was for dance, but chose to stay and watch the guitar and keyboard students practice their Bollywood item numbers. This session was also very intriguing. We played with the harmonium, adding more depth and texture to the songs they were playing. After the session, we walked around the community, not only getting some footage, but also observing the day-to-day activities of the people, their micro-businesses, and inevitably, the conditions they currently live in.

Elephanta Caves

Elephanta Caves

With some time to spare today, due to the Independence Day preparations, the Elephanta caves were an ideal destiny to start immersing myself in the hindi culture and tradition. The tumultuous ferry ride (due to the unpredictable monsoon weather) takes around 45 minutes. After a 10 minute walk uphill, 7 caves and many monkey thieves welcome people. Looking forward to Independence day celebrations!

Trip to Humayun's Tomb

Day 19 in New Delhi

After my last day of work with Nazdeek, I decided to take a sunset trip to Humayun’s Tomb, just 10 minutes via auto from my office. Humanyun’s Tomb is precursor to the Taj by about 100 years, but the two possess many architectural similarities. A beautiful site to say the least. Below are the photos from the visit.

Every Mother Counts: Storytelling to Combat Maternal Mortality in India

Day 17 in New Delhi

As part of their ongoing mission to bring access to justice closer to marginalized communities in India, Nazdeek was recently awarded a Grant from Every Mother Counts, a non-profit organization dedicated to making pregnancy and childbirth safe for every mother.

Nazdeek, with the support of Every Mother Counts, is working to make pregnancy and childbirth safer for women like Sonali to ensure they receive the maternal health care they are entitled to.

Nazdeek, with the support of Every Mother Counts, is working to make pregnancy and childbirth safer for women like Sonali to ensure they receive the maternal health care they are entitled to.

In India, 50,000 women die from pregnancy and childbirth related causes every year; this accounts for 17% of all maternal deaths globally, more than any other country in the world. Culturally accepted discrimination against women—particularly poor women from lower castes and indigenous communities—drive India’s high rate of maternal deaths.

Key members of the Nazdeek staff were essential in the landmark case that first recognized maternal mortality as a human rights violation and the right to survive pregnancy as a fundamental right protected by the Indian Constitution.  Expanding and protecting women’s access to maternal health has been a central tenet of Nazdeek’s work. Funds from Every Mother Counts’ Impact Grant will enable Nazdeek to train activists and lawyers to document maternal health and infant health rights violations and use legal advocacy to demand better healthcare for mothers.

I has a chance to create the following photo series to kick-off Nazdeek’s work with Every Mother Counts. The amazing photographs were provided by Rajan Zaveri and Carlo Ghidini, I did content selection and photo-editing. The series is meant to exposes the current barriers to maternal health care on tea gardens in Assam, India.

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Every month, Nazdeek will be releasing another storytelling piece highlighting the impact of their projects in Delhi and Assam. With the help and support of Every Mother Counts, Nazdeek will continue to combat violations of  maternal health rights and work to put an end to preventable maternal deaths in Delhi, Assam, and across India.

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