With Intent and Purpose, I Remember to See
India is a place of great beauty and hope, and a place of great loss and tragedy. Traversing through the streets of Delhi, Jaipur, and Kolkata, one might miss the obvious without purposeful seeing. For there is an artistic flare to the shuffle of day-to-day life in India as cars, buses, rickshaws and people merge seamlessly through crowded intersections headed towards their ultimate destinations. There is an undeniable beauty captured in the many colors of deep reds, oranges, and gold of flowing Saris that greet you at every turn. Further, there is an ease at which one is lulled into complacency by the spectacular décor of places such as the Jai Mahal Palace, with its marble staircases and quiet privilege that date back to 1745 A.D.
India also brings with it the temptation to rest comfortably in the progress that is enshrined in places like the Gandhi Museum – a memorial preserved to honor the place where Gandhi last laid his head, prayed, and took his final breath. It is inspiring to hear of the forward momentum since the years of Gandhi – a legacy that is now woven permanently into the fabric of India’s politics and prose – Let us not forget the Last Person.
Then there are the amazing women and girls – Ruchira Gupta, Devaki Jain, Aruna Roy, Sayeeda Hameed, Kavita Srivastava, Shama, and many more. One might think we have arrived as each embodies the spirit of ones full potential – unimpeded by the socially constructed images of what it means to be a “woman” that is too often maintained by the force of the hand – and at times the bullet. And the circle of Apne Aap girls, with eyes filled with curiosity and innocence. They, as so many just like them, maneuver through adolescence – the treacherous life of a girl. And yet one might be comforted and inspired by how far we have come as they speak with voices demanding that we hear – “I know my rights!” Yes, there is great beauty and hope in India.
But then there is the other India – a place of great loss and tragedy. The India of abject poverty and gendered violence from which arises the Last Girl, soon to be the Last Woman, and eventually Gandhi’s Last People. At its most violent extremes, it lines the streets of Sonagachi, – just like the streets of Thailand, Amsterdam, southeast DC, and the electronic links of Backpage.com. Glassy eyed. Smiling. Childhoods forgotten. Without purposeful intent one might miss them – the women and girls for sale – standing among sounds of street festivals, the aroma of local foods, the rituals of evening prayers, and the sights of grandmothers and skipping children. But they are there.
They are there among the men of Sonagachi. The men who quickstep erratically through crowded streets with Rupees in hand. Or the other men who appear to encircle strangers who dare encroach upon their “livelihood.” You must look with intent to see – it is in their eyes – glaring – “I know why you are here. I will kill you first. You should know.”
Without purposeful seeing, it is this side of India and the world that remains hidden. Hidden behind day-to-day life, guarded privilege, and academic ramblings of “the Oldest Profession” (i.e. “the Oldest Oppression”). So let us not forget to see with purpose and intent, as we walk through the lives of women and girls. Do not be distracted. The destruction is glaringly clear. Laid out bare for all to see.
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