India Study Tour, 2012: Reflections - Day Four


India Study Tour, 2012: Reflections - Day Four

Posted on February 13, 2012 by Rabbi Elyse Frishman

Patna, Capital City

Spread over sidewalks, cardboard and ragged plastic shelters are strung together, men, women and children sleeping on the ground beneath them. Or just as likely, there’s no shelter, perhaps a blanket, perhaps not. Dust coats the roads, vegetation, people in this dry season.

The cows, the water buffalo, the dogs roaming everywhere, grazing in garbage piles …

Contrast with the boisterous sunset wedding: city streets filled with hundreds of people, the chaotic band followed by nightlong recorded music blaring through loudspeakers, spinning sparklers and fireworks, a celebration of life that lasts through the night…

And we white folk, we westerners, seemingly come to watch – but who is in the zoo, us or them? Our guide Rahi shares how when he was a young boy, he’d go to the Ganges River to watch the foreigners. He also thought all Americans have huge homes, with one room filled only with money…

Truly, we’ve come to learn, and learn we do.

We flew into Patna, a large city in the impoverished state of Bihar, next to Nepal. The border is only 150 kilometers away. As crowded as Kolkata, Patna has a different urgency to it: more chaotic and uncertain.

Cars honk incessantly, all hours of day. There’s no respite from the noise.

We met Ginny Shrivastava, founder of Ekal Nari, advocating for single women in large state of Bihar.  Ginny grew up in Canada, fell in love with an Indian at the University of Toronto and moved here in 1970. After her husband died, she experienced the radical deprecation of being single.

She stood before us now:, gray-haired, white-skinned, wrapped in a burgundy sari, strong and powerful. Her commanding voice described the outrages on women in Bihar State. This strong person, a victim? Not by choice. But because she was educated, she found her calling and shared her voice.

Ginny introduced us to fifteen women, all single -- never married, divorced, widowed -- from around the state, many of whom traveled for hours to reach us. Their ages ranged from 26 to 65; they appeared older than they were.