Photo Courtesy: Mukul Gupta
Encounter India: While the title might seem self-explanatory and simple; it still has great depth which I cannot fathom. For me, Encounter India was the trip of a lifetime- a platform where I ‘encountered’ the new. The program was all about familiarizing oneself with the issues and problems people face and challenging preconceived notions in the context of the Indian subcontinent.
Being hugely diverse in every aspect of human society, be it cultures, religions or ethnicities, India offers a safe space for people to appreciate the complexities of humankind as a whole. Even though I had readied myself with this expectation before I embarked on this beautiful journey, there was still much more to come. Energy was overflowing; enthusiasm was above normal and my excitement ever increasing as I boarded the train for Pune, impatient for the beginning of my month- long journey.
We spent the first ten on our campus, with several insightful sessions every day. We explored a variety of ideas including, but not limited to, power structures, privilege, poverty, development, agriculture, education and gender, and every person contributed a new and profound perspective to the discussion.
However, just sitting in a classroom and discussing about issues is never enough to have a lasting impact. So, we explored the valley around us taking with us the knowledge we garnered from our sessions. As part of this hands-on experience we visited women who work with the Sadhana Self Help Group, a local NGO, to interact and learn from them during our overnight stay. They graciously accepted us into their homes for us to see a different way of life. We helped them farm their lands, do their household chores and experienced their way of living.
Out of all these activities, farming had the greatest impact on me. After a day of hard labour, reality struck as it dawned on me that the food we eat with such little thought is brought to our plates by people who work tirelessly to fill our stomachs. After this experience wasting food, for me personally, became a thing of the past.
Soon after, we began our beautiful journey to the north. Our first destination was in Uttar Pradesh where we worked with the organization ‘Khabar Lehariya,’ an awe-inspiring newspaper that publishes local news in vernacular languages, with its main focus on gender and education. Additionally, we went to an impoverished village in UP where we learned about the problems they face and brainstormed possible solutions, practicing the things we talked about in our sessions at UWCMC.
Our stops in Delhi and Khajuraho weren’t solely about admiring the beauty of these places, the markets and monuments, but also about noticing the intricate patterns of society and its structures reflected in these edifices.
Finally, our journey took us to Dharamshala, where we interacted with the brave-hearted and optimistic Tibetan people from the Tibetan Council for Conflict Resolution. Through their perspectives, we learned about the history of Tibet, their culture and how they keep it alive while living in India. While I walked down the colourful streets of Dharamshala, I, as an Indian, thought about the encounters I had during the program and realized how much my country had to offer and how I could continue this journey even after the program ended. But these thirty days were just a taste of what is still to come, especially now that I know of the limitless possibilities that exist in India.
Atul Vyas (India, ’16)