While I was in India, I posted nothing about my time there. I just couldn’t bring myself to write, as India is an experience which one needs time to reflect upon before truly understanding it.
India was one of the countries I was most looking forward to, as I love everything about Indian culture from what I’d experienced at home in Canada – from the food to the clothes to the movies – it all drew me in. I knew before I arrived that India was defined by the stark contrast between the wealthy and the poor, but nothing can prepare someone for the poverty that is India. We have poverty in Canada, certainly, but India is a whole new level. I truly, genuinely wish that everyone opposed to foreign aid could experience India. It broke my heart.
To start with the positive, the food, clothing and Bollywood experience did not disappoint! The food was even better than I hoped and as soon as I get home I plan to take some Indian cooking classes. Indian has become a weekly necessity to me.
The struggle I encountered was when I got to Delhi. Where I stayed in Mumbai sheltered me from the poverty there, but there was no hiding it in Delhi. I struggle to write this even after many weeks have passed, as I want to do this proper justice so people really understand.
First, the amount of physical disfigurements was something I had not known about before and was not prepared for. Not just people missing limbs, but men and women begging whose arms go backwards instead of in front, their lower leg twists up instead of down, keeping their foot at their waist. Shoulders curve backwards, elbows backwards, any kind of natural body position we don’t ever have to think about, there are so many people born differently. After reading up on it, I can’t find exactly why this phenomena is so prevalent in India. People offer answers that range from polio, to a lack of vitamins and supplements, to exposure to toxins, and so many more reasons, all of which are awful and should at this day in age be avoidable.
Which brings me to my second point. The amount of homeless people in Delhi is like nothing I’ve seen before. I would walk outside the door of my hostel, which inside was a different reality to just outside the front door. People sleeping everywhere! From the moment you walk out, there’s always more people than you can count living outside. And what really struck me here was why they were there. So often at home, homelessness is attributed to addiction, mental health issues or an unstable family home. But in India, much of what I saw was predominantly clear rejection from birth. The disfigurements alone in India are cause for family shame, so parents rid themselves of the shame (their kid!) from the time they’re born. It’s heartbreaking. Not only are these children and adults having to deal with the reality of their physical challenge, but they are also rejected from society. It’s like they never had a chance.
My greatest personal struggle was my desire to help but feeling utterly helpless. The sheer volume of people alone makes it impossible to make any positive change in their lives. I read once that the best thing you can do for homeless people, if you can’t donate or buy them a meal, is to always acknowledge their presence, to always say hello, I’m sorry, to just have some kind of communication with them. This is something I’ve always tried to live by, but in India when you do this, then you’re followed and to such a degree that you worry about your personal safety. The last thing I want to do as a human being is to ever not acknowledge someone else just because our life circumstances are different, but in India it was a “ignore it or face the consequences” mentality. It was awful and it made me feel like an awful person for having to be like that.
I’ll write later about the sites I saw and the history I took in, but I just needed to share the heart break which I was witness to. The Indian government has so many challenges on its hands, which will only multiply with population growth. They need all the help they can get.