“You want to see what a real Haryanvi is like? Look over there,” he said.
I turned my gaze to see a tall, strong man with a solid mustache. Suddenly, we were shaking hands. The next few moments were a semi-understood blur of pleasantries in Hindi, Haryanvi (a language used in India that is also sometimes used to refer to people from Haryana, where the language is spoken), Punjabi and English.
Then, amidst the smiles, he pointed to his arm and one word was clear: “khoon.” He was referring to the blood in my veins.
This was his message to me: “Your blood will never be Punjabi.”
Try as I might, he was telling me, I would never fully fit in.
Despite the unpleasant nature of the remark, there were elements of truth to his statement. My turban and beard, which I wear because I am Sikh, make me look to some like I would be a natural fit in India. But that doesn’t mean that I can relate to people there.
The same is true in my research. I spent the last year as a student in California trying to better understand the challenges women in India face, and in particular their role in the state of Punjab.
Even though I might understand intellectually the pain a woman suffers as she works long hours in a stranger’s home in some distant city in order to provide for her children, I will never fully be able to tell her story. I don’t know if I would be able to escape the labels I had already unconsciously created for her: mother, worker, poor, etc.
So I came here, to Punjab, to study and to help Global Press do initial research toward their goal of operating an independent news desk, staffed by local, female journalists, here.
I can tell you that Punjab has one of the lowest female labor participation rates in India (and probably the world) at roughly 10 percent. I can tell you that Chandigarh, the capital of both Haryana and Punjab, has a sex ratio of approximately 800 women per 1,000 men. I can tell you that many Indian households have a “hierarchy of labor” that places a higher value on women remaining at home. And I can tell you that India could potentially increase its gross domestic product by $2.9 trillion by 2025 if it completely closes the gender gap.
Around 30 percent of the news in India is written by women. Even though there are strong laws dealing with crimes against women under the Indian Penal Code, actual convictions are often vaguely stated, carry light penalties or are poorly enforced. In fact, one study found that out of 51 cases of sexual harassment reported in the city of Jalandhar in Punjab, only five people were convicted.
However, I don’t know what the consequences of all of these things actually look like for the people that have been directly affected, which is one of my motivations for being in India again after nearly 10 years. I want to gain a better understanding of what all of these gender disparities mean on the ground. Unfortunately, these issues are manifold and are constantly changing.
That is a large part of the reason why I believe it is important for women to be increasingly included in the conversation in order for change to begin to happen; change that clearly can have an impact on all of India.
In fact, there is already evidence that the more women are included in the conversation in India, the more likely they are to have their needs met. A study by Raghabendra Chattopadhyay and Esther Duflo found that the reservation of village council seats for women in India affects the types of public goods provided. They found that “leaders invest more in infrastructure that is directly relevant to the needs of their own genders.”
One way to help amplify the voices of women, who may already be leaders in their own communities, is through expanding the work of Global Press Institute into Punjab.
GPI is building a network of professional female journalists throughout the world who earn a fair wage for reporting on their local communities. Their unique coverage of issues overlooked by mainstream media contributes directly to the development and empowerment of their communities, brings greater transparency to their countries, and changes the way the world views their people and cultures.
GPI’s ability to bring authentic local stories to a global audience makes it a powerful tool for bridging the gap created by xenophobia. Supporting their efforts is my best response to any comment on the origin of my blood.