Hello:

My name is Aniuska Luna.  I am one of the student members of Americans for Informed Democracy.  I’ve been raising awareness about modern day slavery and human trafficking for the past couple of years.  This summer, between semesters, I am volunteering in Kolkata (formerly Calcutta), India, with The Emancipation Network.  I asked AID to allow me to blog about my experience here and hopefully show the need for other fellow students or people to participate and volunteer either overseas, in the United States, or any other region you are in with organizations that help in the rehabilitation and rescue of either victims or vulnerable populations. The posts will encompass not only observations and experiences related to the volunteering experience but also my encounter and familiarization with the context (including the traditional tourist visits).  Autumn is allowing me temporarily to post under her name until I am provided with a password of my own.

Brief background on modern day slavery:  There are approximately 27 million individuals held under slavery today.  According to the Department of State, about 600,000-800,000 of them are trafficked worldwide and 14,000-17,500 into the U.S. 

Anyone is vulnerable, slavery is no longer rationalized or legitimized on the basis of creed, race or gender because it is now illegal everywhere.  What is important to the slave handler is that you are vulnerable (e.g. you have a low self-esteem and can be easily seduced and then forced into prostitution; you are poor; come from a broken family… you name it). 

If you want to know more about the facts of modern day slavery let me know and I’ll post a couple of useful links.

With that said, here’s the first entry:

Kolkata

15-17 July 2008

15 Miami-London (7-8 hrs flight), 16-17

London

New Delhi

(8-10 hrs flight), 17 New Delhi-Kolkata (2 ½ hrs flight)

I was late to check in my bags at MIA so instead of flying Miami-Boston-London-New Delhi-Kolkata, and staying one night at a hotel in Boston between flights now the American Airlines staff arranged for my traveling directly to London, staying there for about 12 ½ hrs between flights (no sleep) and then following the trip on its original itinerary, with another 6-7 hours between flights in New Delhi. By the time I got to my first stop in

India

and into the plane for Kolkata I was so tired that I – who never sleep in airplanes but for very small intervals of time – could barely keep myself awake until the flight began. Then my neck went on a 45 degree angle to my left without my ordering it and before I knew it I was asleep, with my head against the window. The flight attendant broke my mojo time when she woke me up and explained that because I was sitting on an emergency exit I would have to stay awake until the airplane was in the air, plus I had to agree to follow the emergency exit instructions and take on the responsibility of pulling the leveler. Yeah, yeah, yeah, as long as I get to sleep, sure, sure, sure – no problem I told her. At that moment I thought of the film ‘Mr. Bean goes on Holiday."

Thought about his going to Cannes, driving with the French actress and the director’s son, and how he had slapped and burnt himself with a cigarette burner (that was out of the question for me, I already stood out as a foreigner last thing I needed was someone calling me a mad woman or restraining me); I wished I would have had the sticks to tape to my eyes and hold my eyelids from closing. I managed temporarily and as soon as it was possible me went to sleep till we arrived in Kolkata. It was sweet and smooth.   

Although the trip was a long one, I actually appreciated the transition it allowed me to go through. From a multi-cultural city such as Miami, with a predominant Hispanic community and an increasing number of non-Spanish speakers and people from other parts of the world (e.g. India and Brazil), staying for nearly 12 hrs at Heathrow allowed me to become familiar with other sorts of diversity. It was there that I saw a lot of airport personnel wearing head turbans, several Orthodox Jews with their traditional clothes and hairstyles, the men dressed in black from head to toe and the long curly bangs hanging in front of their ears; there were Indians there too with many women dressed traditionally and other Asians; and people from all over speaking in different languages you don’t often hear in Miami.

Then I get to New Delhi and the transition continues. Here are some things that you notice that indicate that the place you are has a different context and needs from the one you are coming from:

  • Colors:  The airport guards and policemen don’t wear a definite olive green, or navy, or beige uniform – I can’t quite define it. Theirs is more like a mixture of beige and a light, yellowish green (?).
  • People:  Guards have rifles or pistols inside the main terminal, and there are posts with them every so many meters around the perimeter of the airport. In the States I think I only saw such a situation during the year after 9/11 but nothing like this. Becky (from TEN) explained that it is over concerns of terrorism given the situation with

    Pakistan

    and additional regions in and out of

    India

    .

  • Situations: I noticed in

    New Delhi

    that a lot of the passengers were men, and there weren’t that many women. To my surprise when the time came to go through the security check I was told to go through the women’s section; that is, an enclosed rectangular box (like an over extended door frame) with curtains at the entrance and exit where one woman checks you.

    • The next day when I took the metro another ‘separate gender’ situation occurred. The train cars that had gone by had the women seated in the center and the men at either side. I figured it must be something traditional, but it is actually more like a law. Once I sat down in the section, across from me and below the window there was a sign that read “Ladies.” It was explained to me that it is done for females’ protection so that they are not groped or abused by the men. Apparently Indian feminists support such measures precisely because it deters their abuse. I wonder though if it should be a measure of deterrence by separating the sexes or of punishment for violators and reeducation of the public while aiming for the integration of both genders. Doesn’t perpetuating separatism also perpetuate misogynism and inequality? – seems like a ‘what comes first the chicken or the egg’ kind of question.

§ Paper work and bureaucracy (which is extraordinarily cumbersome over here) also reflect the gender difference in status. For instance, while getting a cell phone I had to include my father’s information along with passport and visa copies.  To sign up for Bengali or Hindi classes I must find a male sponsor to include in the application.

§ Women and men cannot be roommates if you are renting a flat unless they are relatives.

§ When the shuttle was taking us from one terminal to another in

New Delhi

I saw cows walking among cars in a parking lot.

§ Realized at some point, as I was waiting for the flight to Kolkata, that I was looking for friendly Western faces, people who seemed to come from “The West” and the world I left behind. In other words, some one with whom I could identify. It seemed too early to start doing that even if unconsciously. 

 

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