CISLI Fellow Lu Yang on the Doklam Standoff

We are excited to share a new column in the Indian Express written by one of our current CISLI Fellows Yang Lu. In her column Lu argues that despite the border tensions in the Doklam area between India and China, “something positive is also happening which would contribute to a better understanding of India in China.” Here is a brief excerpt from her article.

Alongside a very strong nationalist sentiment since the middle of June, Chinese official and social media have witnessed a soar of reports on India. The content of the reports are not only about issues related to the Doklam stand-off and geopolitical discussions, but also cover a broad range of topics about India including its political parties, history, nation-building, religions, ethnic groups etc. In China, India has been very under-studied in comparison with other industrialized countries such as the US, France, or Japan. The Chinese public has usually paid more attention to the developed world and to East Asian countries in China’s periphery. The emergence of a large numbers of articles on India in such a short period has reflected Chinese efforts to understand this giant neighbor.

In other words, the enthusiasm on India created by the success of Aamir Khan’s film ‘Dangal’ in May 2017 indeed suffered a sudden blow by the stand-off at the beginning, but in the long run the desire for a deeper understanding of India has been unexpectedly boosted against the crisis.

India-China relations are multi-faceted and have many components. Strategic and geopolitical issues are only part of the relations. Exchanges in culture, education, science, and business have been proved to be effective in bringing depth and vitality to India-China ties. It would be regretful if we understand relations only through the lens of security and if the development of relations in other areas are hijacked by the border dispute.

You can read Lu’s entire article on The Indian Express.

Former ICI Fellow Shreya Sen & the Rohingya Refugees in India

Refugee by Ani BasharWe are happy to share a recent article which included an interview with former ICKCBI Fellow Shreya Sen. Sen is currently the executive member of the Emerging Scholars and Practitioners on Migration Issues Network and a doctoral fellow at the University of Calcutta. In her comments she raises the importance of legal changes to Indian law, and some of the obstacles to stronger humanitarian protections when national and international law are in conflict. Sen offered the following analysis of the problem in her interview:

“The news about the Rohingya deportation is shocking but certainly not surprising,” said Shreya Sen, executive member of the Emerging Scholars and Practitioners on Migration Issues Network and a doctoral fellow at the University of Calcutta. “It needs to be remembered that international law can be applied in India only if this undergoes a transition into domestic law. This too can happen only if the provisions of international law are not in direct conflict with Indian municipal law.”

She said that domestic legal mechanisms for regulating immigration flow remain absolute and supreme, their authority unquestioned, enabling India to disrespect the principle of non-refoulement. This fundamental principle of international law protects a refugee or asylum seeker from being forced to return to a place where his life is likely to be at risk, and is one of the major elements of the 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention. It is also believed to constitute a rule of customary international law, which refers to international obligations arising from established state practice. For instance, the United Nations Convention against Torture (1984), which India is a signatory to, bans refoulement on grounds of possible torture. But New Delhi has not yet ratified the treaty, which means its provisions are not legally binding.

You can read the entire article on




So our last stop of the trip was in Rishikesh.  I had wanted to go because of a recommendation to speak to Swami Shivanandji at Matri Sadan Ashram a bit on the outskirts of Haridwar, the next city over from Rishikesh, along the Ganga and also a holy city for pilgrimages.  I became interested in this ashram because of their devotion to justice for the Ganga.  Most religious devotees do not acknowledge the polluted state of the river because this contradicts its ancient identity of purity and strength.  This is a really interesting intersection.  When does religion come to terms with politics and science?  This is one of these times.  Matri Sadan has remained devoted to their practice of worshiping Ganga but at the same time works tirelessly to save her physical health.

I had the chance to venture out and speak with Swami Shivanandji after a nail biting thirty minute bus ride on which my friend and I were the only females, and a chaotic rickshaw ride–mind rickshaw not autorickshaw, this was the first time we had been carried such a long distance solely by manpower aka man on a bicycle and I held my breath the whole time, feeling heavier than ever–followed by walking a dirt path into a field.  We spoke of many things: history, religion, veganism, political corruption, and our thoughts of universal balance.  One thing among many that I found interesting was a form of protest that the men at Matri Sadan take part in in their struggle against pollution of the Ganga.  It is called tapas and it is a historically religious practice to purify the body by means of fasting but has been turned into a political act somewhat resembling a hunger strike.  I was fascinated to hear about this practice because it manifested to me as a way to really put one’s body on the line and make a statement about the separation of humans and nature.  It is an extremely powerful act and I was deeply moved to hear this especially when I learned that a man of the ashram had recently died in the process, allegedly poisoned by a state official when in the hospital after fasting for an extended period.  The participation in this collective protest reads as a way to reclaim bodies, a site of collateral damage as the Ganga remains disrespected as–in the words of Katy Dammers– politicized vehicles of action.

Swami Shivanandji also reminded me of the root of the word Ganga meaning to flow continuously, which is why he sees hydropower projects–or more specifically dams– as the biggest threat to the Ganga.  He spoke of the ability of Ganga to always flow as her immune system.  So the question is, how can Ganga deal with all of this pollution if we are also killing her immune system.  We have locked this river into an inevitable fate and our destruction only produces even more destruction.  I had met a man in Nepal who worked on hydropower projects and he informed me that during dry season, regulations dictate at least 10% of water must remain in the water and in others, industries can drain as much as they please.  This is an astonishing number and it is no wonder dams completely disrupt ecological flow and disable a river to maintain balance.  My main concern for the majority of this trip has been sewage management but Swami was not even concerned.  There is a legislation right now that has been stayed by supreme court after being passed by the Uttarakhand high court, granting the Ganga human rights and naming it a living entity, as it has been regarded in spiritual communities–it being hard to find a secular community in India this is the overwhelming majority–for centuries.  I asked what it would mean for this legislation to pass and what would be the first actions to take place.  Swami replied that the dams must be taken away and no new ones can be built.  I asked if there would be new sewage treatment centers and he disregarded this responding only that the dams must be taken away.  This really helped me understand another intersection of Matri Sadan’s religious devotion and activism as well as the importance of an immune system to a river.  

I remember learning this year at the Hudson River Project in New York that the if you dropped an orange into the river it would be in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean in just three days.  I thought about how this fact was spoken of as integral in the restoration of the Hudson River in efforts to clean it after the Clean Water Act.  I also started paying attention to the contrast of the the Ganga passing through Rishikesh as opposed to the Ganga when I viewed it from Varanasi.  Varanasi is farther down the river than Rishikesh and therefore by the time the water has gone through Kanpur, where it takes on a BOD load of 634,915 kg/day.  The Kanpur-Varanasi is known as “where Ganga dies many deaths.”  For example during this stretch, 3,000 MLD of domestic wastewater is discharged into the river.  I can’t help but now think that this could be why the river at Varanasi was awfully still, stagnant, and placid.  Whereas, when I was standing on Laxman Jhula looking down at the river below me, I felt like it could have swallowed me up even at my distance.  There, the water was fast moving and lively; this is due to a slew of reasons the most obvious being that Rishikesh is closer to the source, Gangotri, than Varanasi is.  Despite this, I couldn’t help but notice that there was less activity along the river here.  The city is raised and there is no clear way to walk along the river therefore the city’s structure doesn’t really allow for consistent interaction aside from nightly poojas which are without doubt serious events and the sparse ghats. But while it was clear that the Ganga played an important role in the lives of the locals, it didn’t seem to be the central and driving force that it was in Varanasi.  While the water in Varanasi was less alive biologically, the human activity in relation to it created more energy than the dams that stifled it.

ICI Scholars on the India China Border Issue


We have already shared some of the recent articles by ICI Fellows and affiliated scholars on the developing story of the most recent border tensions between India and China. Today we offer several more recent articles from our ICI network, including Professors Nimmi Kurian and Mahendra Lama.

Kurian was recently part of the ChinaFile discussions hosted by the Asia Society titled “Why are India and China in a Border Standoff?” A handful of prominent scholars were invited to share their thoughts on the border dispute and what their take was on some of the underlying issues and concerns. In her piece Kurian argues:

Part of the reason it has ended up with a bad bargain with China is that India’s crisis diplomacy has often worked without a credible notion of what the endgame is. This could well be a problem of not knowing what the problem is. For instance, the confidence-building measures India has negotiated with China have by and large aimed at conflict prevention, content with only “managing” differences. This explains why the 1993 and 1996 agreements and confidence-building measures have not segued into a higher order goal of conflict transformation. By setting the bar of peace low by design, is it any wonder that India has ended up hitting lower?

You can read the entire piece from Kurian, as well as read the other contributions to the discussion, at the Asia Society website here.

The other piece comes from Professor Mahendra Lama. His Op-Ed on the topic appeared in the Nepali newspaper Kathmandu Post, “No One Wants War.” Lama argues there is already a history of cooperation that should be built on to restore the temporary rifts between the two countries, and that neighboring states need to also play a more constructive role as mediators. Here is an excerpt from the piece by Professor Lama:

It is critical for these two Asian giants to move towards cooperation and integration instead of a competitive-rivalry framework. This would result in a win-win paradigm of an Asian Century. The bilateral parleys that have been occurring over the last 30 years have been reinforced by exchanges between President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. However, there are a number of forces—rumour mongers, war jingoists and intolerant institutions—that are trying to drive a wedge between the two countries. These negative forces thrive in a situation of instability and conflict. A majority of the countries in South Asia share a common border with both China and India; as such they will have to calculate the costs of conflicts on societies, economies and geographies. Regional civil societies therefore, must come together to prevent conflict.

You can read the full Op-Ed on the Kathmandu Post website here.

What are your thoughts on the border issue? Let us know in our latest online poll.  Take Poll


CFP – Envisioning the Future and Understanding the Realities of India’s Urban Ecologies


Envisioning the Future and Understanding the Realities of India’s Urban Ecologies

An Interdisciplinary Conference hosted by Kennesaw State University and Georgia State University
In partnership with the Consulate of India, Atlanta

March 15-17, 2018


About the Conference:

India, a land of ancient wisdom and cultural world heritage, is home to the world’s first cities. In the last twenty years it has experienced unprecedented growth, development, and change, altering its physical, cultural, and social landscape with dramatic effect. Today, its cities embody a paradoxical mix of globalization, modernity, and advanced technology with regionalism, tradition, and religion, juxtaposed with extreme poverty and inequality. Sustainability, in all its facets has emerged as a key problem in India’s development story. Urbanization is not an
independent variable of development, but an integral part and product of the development process itself. Therefore, there is a need to understand urban issues as part of a larger development process affecting both rural and urban communities and livelihoods, employing historical and contemporary perspectives (with regional and global implications). Building off research in the fields of Sociology, Biology, and Architecture, the conference will examine contemporary urban growth in India and its effects on the everyday ecologies of its people. Our goal is a more holistic understanding of India’s urban ecologies, their interdependence, and the need for more sustainable strategies for urbanization. India’s cities can provide applicable lessons to the more global concerns of urbanization around the world.

More information available here on the conference.

Potential topics include:

  • Is there a distinctly ‘Indian’ Urbanism?
  • Rural Urbanization and Urban Planning
  • Balancing Growth and Development
  • Colonial and Postcolonial Cities
  • Dispersed Cities
  • Infrastructure and Innovation in Historic Cities
  • Global/Smart City Development in India and its Implications
  • E-governance and Technology
  • Green Cities and Sustainability
  • Current Trends, Future Projections, and Key Challenges for Sustainability
  • Inclusive Growth: Slums, Urban Villages, and the Challenge of Urbanism
  • Value Struggles: Waste, Work and Ecology
  • Agrarian Crisis and Land Acquisition
  • Corporate Social Responsibility and Social Entrepreneurship
  • Impacts of Urbanization on the Environment
  • Urban Health and Quality of Life
  • Global Warming, Climate Change, Environmental Degradation and Re-emerging Diseases
  • Infrastructure & Industrialization: Impact on Air, Water, Sanitation & Pollution


Guidelines for Submission of Papers: 

To participate, please submit papers of no more than 5000 words. The entire paper submission (title page, abstract, main text, figures, graphs, tables, references, etc.) must be in ONE document created in either Microsoft Word (.doc, .docx), or Rich Text Format (.rtf). Please include your name, institutional affiliation, position or title, contact phone number, and e-mail. If you wish to propose a panel, please submit the names and institutional affiliation of all panelists.

Attach the document to an email message. Type “Year of India Conference” in the subject line and send it to Dan Paracka.

Deadline for Submission of Proposed Papers is September 8, 2017.

Select Papers will be eligible for publication in a Special Issue of KSU’s peer reviewed Journal of Global Initiatives focused on India.


The Importance of National Legislation for Refugee Protection in India – Shreya Sen

Image credit John Flannery: Flickr. are pleased to share a recent article written by one of our former ICKCBI Student Fellows Shreya Sen. She is currently a Doctoral Fellow at the Department of South and Southeast Asian Studies at the University of Calcutta. Sen’s latest piece is titled Understanding the importance of a national legislation for refugee protection in India. Sen argues that “the establishment of a domestic protection regime for refugees is of utmost necessity” in India, noting that only some kind of a formal mechanism can truly respond to the “interests, concerns and requirements of refugee and asylum seeking groups residing in India.” Sen agues one way to do this is by incorporating the UN Convention on Refugees into India’s legal framework, a move which she argues would require establishing a national law for refugees that would be able to respond to and help asylum seekers.

Here is an excerpt from her piece.

India is not a signatory to the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees or it’s Protocol of 1967. There is also no uniform national legislation that caters to the well-being of refugees in India. Policies adopted for refugee welfare in India are usually ad-hoc in nature, their implementation depending entirely on the whims and fancies of the political parties in power. Yet India has been home to refugees for nearly seven decades, with asylum seekers arriving in large numbers from as far and wide as the African nations of Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo and Somalia as well as from neighboring South and Southeast Asian countries like Myanmar, Nepal, Afghanistan, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka and from East Asian countries such as China.

This paper looks to assess the importance of domestic legislation for refugee protection in India through: 1) a discussion of India’s international humanitarian obligations, with particular reference to its reluctance to accede to the 1951 Refugee Convention; 2) an examination of the prevailing legal conditions for refugees in India; and 3) a scholarly analysis of the various ways in which national legislation can benefit the refugee population in India. In conclusion, this paper argues that the establishment of a domestic protection regime for refugees is of utmost necessity, as it is only such a regime that can successfully respond to the interests, concerns and requirements of refugee and asylum seeking groups residing in India.

You can read the full post online at Rights in Exile.



On the last leg of our train ride to Varanasi (hour 12) I got my first glimpse of the Ganga. It was a reassuring feeling that my remote fascination had been realized into something truly great.  I intended to come to Varanasi to spend time with the Sankat Mochan Foundation after seeing all the work they had presented on their website.  I had gotten a government perspective on the Ganga from the Centre for Science and Environment in New Delhi, and now I wanted to see what grassroots organizations were doing on the ground.  So once we arrived, my travel companion, Zoya, and I started a journey from Pandey Ghat, where our hostel is, to Tulsi Ghat, where the foundation’s headquarters lie; dodging shouts from boat drivers and making risky climbs to avoid flooded areas.  We even balanced on a two inch wide ledge, about eight feet above the toxic Ganga.  When we finally arrived, we found the place deserted and dusty.  Only a chalkboard meant to chart water quality, but left unfilled in, and a life size paper tree in a dusty old room.

We even asked a local man what had happened and he told us to return in four hours.  When we returned we again were told by a random man to return in two hours.  After that time, there was no one around to even ask.  It was frustrating and disturbing and I felt that my trip had been for nothing.  But as I sulked back to my hostel, I realized I had learned something from this failure.  Along the way to this non-existent water project we had picked up a friend we ran into on one of the ghats along the river, a man sang two Hindu songs to us (free of charge) as his son played with our straw hat, we witnessed people ceremoniously bathing, children fishing, young swim teams diving and doing cannonballs into the river, devotees praying, teachers teaching, skilled old men fixing ancient boats, and women washing which transforms the landscape into a maze of flowing colorful blankets, scarves and sarees along with the rhythm of banging the wet fabric against rocks to dry.  We slid down walls when there were no stairs, we looked at murals painted along the ghats, and I learned how to play the ukulele.  I didn’t need to interview someone from an Australian sponsored institution to hear the story of the Ganga because the Ganga could speak for herself.

The river is truly a mother.  She produces life and is the center of all activity in the city.  Everything comes back to the Ganga and one lives in full awareness of it.  This is really how my interest began in this river.  I began by taking a class with Dr. Pasang Sherpa, a post doc fellow here at the New School, about Kailas mountain.  It made me start to think about how one’s landscape affects one’s life.  For example, in New York, one lives looking up, but also feeling small.  Here, the Ganga is omnipresent and bursting with life despite its dramatically low oxygen levels and high fecal content.

These daily interactions are a quotidian choreography.  I see dance as a chain of relationships and exchanges between bodies and space, therefore Varanasi is a city that dances.  Especially when I witness poojas, or ceremonies, I can’t help my excitement at the exchanges of energy among all the bodies in such a sacred space.  In addition to this, I trained in Martha Graham technique who is known for her ritualistic repertoire.  Ceremony and ritual is comforting to me because of the way that pieces come together like cogs in a machine to produce something reverent and beautiful.  A specific piece of Martha Graham’s like this is Rite of Spring, choreographed to Aaron Copland’s famous score.  One night, myself along with some friends went to a ceremony in the Golden Temple.

We stood in two lines facing each other with a walkway in the middle in front of a room in the center of the temple.  A young boy in the room lit a plate of candles while the Holy Man kneeled.  While this was happening young boys fiercely played damaru drums, which are two headed drums designed for shaking really fast, and others rang loud bells.  It was chaotic and disorienting and at first I was afraid but at some point I found my headspace in all the intensity and was then overwhelmed with admiration for what I was so privileged to be witnessing.  The fire was then taken out of the room and people placed their hands over it and directed the energy to their face before we walked processionally around the temple.  I felt that for a tiny moment, I was a part of an ancient dance older than Christianity, older than my nation, older than I could even imagine.  I was allowed into this world for a brief respite; everyone was caught up in each other’s shared energy.  In addition to this ceremony we attended nightly poojas and even had the good fortune to be able to witness the traditional burning of bodies along the Ganga.  We always watched from a distance, but it was still humbling to be in the presence of such a deeply rooted tradition as well as those passed.  Both events are powerful and an intense experience.  I didn’t want to be overly intrusive but this is a picture from the boat view of one of these ceremonies.  The smoke, fire, loud chanting, and young children hopping from boat to boat selling offerings with a fierce business mind can be overwhelming but I was in complete admiration of the rhythmic chaos as well as the deep connection that was being oiled and strengthened by these actions as it does every hour of every day.  This lasted until I questioned the fact that women were not allowed at the funeral because they are too emotional and may throw themselves onto the fire out of desperation, when I was kindly chased away.

In regards to the pollution of Ganga, I found mostly bad news.  I found remnants of a movement to clean Ganga but no real action or progress.  I saw murals, signs, and adverts acknowledging the crisis, such as the picture above but not visible actions.  The most devastating and awe inspiring moment was when I happened upon Nagwa Nalla, which is upstream of the main city.  Nagwa Nalla used to be called Assi River but it was renamed because, as Sunita Narain writes, rivers without water are drains; and this drain flows directly into the Ganga.  The Nagwa drain has a BOD load of 4,000 kg per day, placing right above the Varuna drain at 3,888 kg per day.  Essentially, BOD load is used to express the quantity of wastewater passing into a waste treatment center or body of water and the greater this number is, the greater the levels of pollution.  Wastewater contains contaminants such as carbohydrates, proteins, oils, and fats which are degradable by oxygen.  BOD is an acronym for  bio degradable oxygen demand therefore this measurement tells the amount of sewage in relation to the demand of oxygen required to break down and treat that water.  I looked at Nagwa Nalla from the main road, which is a bit raised from the river so there is a railing that separates the two.  I couldn’t help but gaze in awe of the massive heaps of garbage and waterfalls of toxic sewage as if it were the Taj Mahal.  As of January 30th of this year, the fecal coliform count at Nagwa is 4,100,000/100 ml.  Every day, Varanasi produces 233 million litres of sewage per day but only 25% of that is able to be treated by the city’s three sewage treatment plants (STP) and the remaining 75% is discharged without treatment into the Ganga river.  This is assuming all three centers are functioning which they rarely are.  The main STP is Dinapur, following that is Diesel Locomotive Works, and Bhagwanpur.

Varanasi sources 38% of its water from the Ganga and the rest comes from 220 tube wells that pump groundwater which is managed by the organization called Jal Nigam.  Jal Nigam is led by a chairman appointed by the state government and is a product of the 1975 Water Supply and Sewage Act.  However this supply only covers 69% of Varanasi’s properties, leaving out Varanasi’s poorer areas, of which 42% is covered.  The remaining 58% of poor areas rely on hand pumps as opposed to taps, such as the one in the picture to the left.  Regardless of the method of extraction, groundwater is hardly better than that of the Ganga.  Household as well as industrial waste is disposed of in low lying areas of the city and easily contaminates groundwater which travels through cracked and penetrable pipes.  It seems that here there is a similar distrust of distribution networks, just as Dr. Mahreen Matto of New Delhi’s CSE Water Team had.  This is another case in which decentralized water systems would prove resourceful.

Nevertheless, of course I was always carrying a giant water bottle in my hand and went through multiple a day.  It occurred to me that packaged water companies are soaring in these hard times when a local that I befriended made a comment about the packaged water company.  The bottles are not the typical Poland Spring, Aquafina, and Fiji that we know so well, but actually smaller names like Drop, King Kool, and other odd off brand types.  Basically it seems like bottled water is the temporary fix to fill the void created by government failure to address basic services but it is this mass consumption of bottled water that adds to the problem.  Probably more on that later…

I’d like to close in a crude vignette of me crashing around in a rickshaw on a bumpy road drinking one of these off brand water bottles and deciding to take a closer look at the wrapping, only to see “Save Ganga!” scrawled along the heading.  I know, ironic right?

Healing the India-China Border Trauma – L.H.M. Ling


We’re pleased to share another engaging and insightful post from former India China Fellow (2008-2010) and New School Professor L.H.M. Ling. In her latest piece for the Asia & The Pacific Policy Society, Professor Ling engages the renewed border tensions between India and China, and calls for a different approach to the traditional Western power politics and border securitization discourses as a solution to strengthen historic India-China relations. Here is an excerpt from her piece.

On 20 October 1962, Chinese and Indian forces exchanged fire in Ladakh and across the MacMahon Line in the Himalayas. A month later, the war ended as mysteriously as it had begun, yet has shadowed Sino-Indian relations ever since. A ‘trust deficit’ keeps tabs on a series of mutual grievances: the disputed borderlands of Arunachal Pradesh and Tawang; China’s support of Pakistan and presence in Kashmir; India’s ‘Look East’ policy (that is, closer relations with the United States) combined with its unswerving support of the Dalai Lama and his exiled Tibetan community in Dharamsala.

These tensions have flared again recently. Both India and China have been upgrading and expanding their military presence in the Indian Ocean. As two of the world’s fastest-growing economies, they compete fiercely for crucial energy resources in Asia, Africa and Latin America. With one-third of humanity living in these two nuclear powers, a mere skirmish between them could destabilise the region and affect the security of the entire globe.

Still, conventional analysts of international relations would shrug: what’s new? After all, isn’t the international arena just like Hobbes’ state of human nature: “nasty, poor, brutish, lonely, and short”? And doesn’t this kind of power politics apply to everybody and everywhere, regardless of history, culture, language, religion or worldview?

In this view, non-Hobbesian, not to mention non-Western, ways of thinking and doing, relating and being, do not matter. At best, India and China can expect a third, more powerful actor – that is, the US – to intervene and enforce a temporary salve. At worst, war breaks out.

Read the full article by Professor Ling on the APPS Policy Forum website.


“Smog Rules the City”

Today I had a great experience at CSE (the Centre for Science and Environment).  A wonderful woman named Mahreen, the program director of the water team there, took time out of her day on short notice to sit down and extensively talk about what the water team does as well as explained key information about water systems in India.  I captured audio and video of the whole experience for my amateur documentary but basically she explained their work in decentralizing water treatment facilities and using natural processes.  I learned about bioremediation as well as the process that CSE uses in their very own treatment facility on their beautiful campus.  The process is extensive but the most interesting part was one of the final stages in which local, hearty wetland plants filter out remaining sulfur and phosphorus necessary for their survival while the remaining water is left behind, with dramatically lower levels of phosphorus and sulfur.  The water is used for on campus horticulture.
I want to talk about the interesting signage I have seen as well as the gender dynamics I have experienced so far.  Many counters for ticket purchases will be separated by gender, there are separate metal detectors in subways and malls for male and female, and even seats designated for”ladies” on subways.  On the other hand I admire Indian women in delhi’s “badass-ness” in their ability to ride motorcycles in flowing traditional indian attire as well as balance perfectly on the end of one that a man drives as they carry two babies and a flat screen T.V., their bargaining ferocity, the way they cross streets with no fear of being run over by crazed rikshaw drivers, and the way they balance huge bags on their heads and walk with confident, nonchalant looks like they haven’t just done the most incredible thing.  I thought I was tough but I’ll be lucky to pick up 2% of the strength of these women.

Lastly take a look at this no nonsense sign

outside of our airbnb to the right–>

It makes me look every time because it is so shocking to me to see official signage that addresses the implications of an everyday act such as littering (that I personally despise and anyone who spends time with me will have been scolded more than once for throwing trash on the ground).  It reads, “What is the point of your education if you still throw garbage on streets to be ultimately picked by an uneducated person.”

Have yet to even see water but already have learned so much.  Will check in again soon…

Four Days Until Departure

A personal reminder of my inspirations

I leave my home in New York for Delhi in four days and I’ve never been so scared.

I looked back on a statement of purpose that I wrote a month or so back, this morning to remind me of why I am doing this and inspire myself once again.  These are my plans and ideas surrounding this adventure thus far:

Goal: Comparative Research Process analyzing the actors and interconnective aspects of ecosystems centralized on the Rivers Ganges and Yamuna.

While studying Ecology, I learned about systems thinking and the worldview of identifying relationships and interconnectivity.  In this project I ask, “How can I identify the relationships between a geographical feature (Body of water-Ganges/ Yamuna River) and the life that surrounds it.  I will be experimenting with the idea that ecology can be not just limited to nonhuman lifeforms (rivers, vegetation, animals, weather, climate), but include art/expression, ritual, sacrality, tradition, cultural norms (gender roles, customs, hierarchy, daily routines).  I intend to explore each of these actors and how they come together to manifest a living breathing ecosystem as well as what these roles mean to inhabitants of the ecosystem.

One important relationship to the Ganges River is the Save Ganga movement.  I will speak to activists involved as well as explore what it means now that the Ganga and Yamuna have been granted human rights by the government of Uttarakhan.  To accomplish these goals I will use the tools of digital media such as audio, video, and photograph, inclusive survey design, ethnography/ participant observation, and textual research in 5 different locations along the Ganges or Yamuna in Northern India.  These tools will help me develop an understanding of how individuals perceive and respond to environmental conditions, as well as how individual responses are linked across space and time through social, economic, cultural/artistic and political institutions.  I will first arrive in Delhi, where I will take advantage of the Save Ganga Headquarters and research/ activist centers as well as other cultural institutions.  Then, I will carry out the remainder of my study in Rishikesh, Haridwar, Dehradun, and Varanasi, which are all along the Ganges.  

No matter what the central construct to a city is, one lives in full awareness of it and it is not just there when you want or need it to be.  Whether it be a skyscraper or a river, its presence is intriguing to the functions of an ecosystem, in a broad sense of the word.

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