Searching for India’s Identities

Hello everyone, my name is Callie Hannah and I am guest-blogging for the group today. 

The first thing I will note is that there is only one week left of our stay here in India. The time has flown by and we have been so busy, as you all have been learning by reading the other blog posts. 

At the beginning of the trip, every student was assigned a certain job. These jobs range from people who help to report on other group members’ moods and wellness to people who help with transportation and getting everyone where they need to be. My job is being a part of the “We are Elon and Maryville College” Team. This job allows me the pleasure, along with Ginny and Kelsie, to introduce our schools and our course to the people who host us at their homes, or to people who come to speak with us about a certain topic, or to introduce ourselves in any other situation that is deemed appropriate. My job is one that requires my responsibility almost every day. Because of the frequency of my job, I have developed a sort of spiel. This includes talking about the different elements of our course (religion, caste, and gender) along with highlighting the places we have already visited and the places we have yet to see and also trying to show people the goal of our course. The purpose of my guest blog here today is to expand upon my spiel in describing what our course has helped us as students accomplish. 

India’s Identities: Religion, Caste, and Gender. That is the title of our course. Looking with particular attention at the religious aspect, we have been to many places which have shown us diversity: St. Mary’s church in Fort St. George in Chennai, Armenian Church, San Thome Cathedral and Basilica, many Hindu temples, multiple Jain temples, mosques and dargahs while in Madurai, and tomorrow we will see a Jewish Synagogue. We have also interacted with people who do not necessarily consider themselves religious or devoted to any one religion in general. In many religious spaces, there have been some common threads such as respectfully keeping quiet, removing shoes, and not taking pictures. But for the most part, there are many differences between every religious space we have entered. For example in the mosques, it is important for the females in our group to keep our heads covered whereas in the Hindu or Jain temples, head coverings are not necessary. But while we have physically been able to experience the differences between the religions, they are also easily identifiable from a distance. The mosques are structured and decorated differently than the Hindu temples, the Jain temples, the synagogues, and the churches. Because of the collective similarities and differences among the religions in India, our class as a whole has come to appreciate the diversity. 

While I cannot generalize to the entire group as I can only speak for myself, I have noticed something interesting about the Caste section of our course. One of the many goals of our course is to be able to identify when caste does and does not matter within contemporary Indian society. I have begun to conclude (though my time here is not over) that caste really does not matter much the way it used to. It is difficult for me to differentiate, without being told, between who is Brahmin, or among the highest caste level, or who is “Backward Class”, or among the lowest of caste levels. The main things that seem to be important to people do not have to do with caste, so much as jati, or sub-group that people in India use as a classifier. 

Finally, there is the element of our course related to gender. I know (again speaking for myself) that I had a lot of schemas already in place for what I was going to see in terms of gender roles and characteristics before coming to India. Many of those stereotypical ideas have been confirmed, and there have been others that have been deconstructed. For example, when having the pleasure of listening to a lecture from Lalitha, we heard her tell us about her routine: get up early in the morning, cook the meals, do some work, take care of the children, take care of the husband, cook some more….basically do her duties as a wife. That, for me, is the traditional pattern of thought for me when thinking about the typical Indian woman. However, our class also had the pleasure of talking with Geeta, a female lawyer, and we listened to her tell us about her feminist inclination, how she is not married, and how she has worked hard to earn her place as an important lawyer in Chennai. Geeta is one of those examples that, for me, has helped to break down the stereotypes that I had about gender going into this trip. 

India has a complicated story. Lately we have been discussing the importance of colonialism in the state of Kerala, but also for India as a whole. As we are now in Cochin, we have been learning that the spice trade has had an enormous impact on the prosperity of the area. The Portuguese, the Dutch, and the British were all very intrigued by what they found upon arriving in Kerala. The variety and numerousness of spices here was incredible and enticing to other countries and they are what helped spur the development of what is Kerala today. As a group we have concluded that Kerala is a blended state, with architecture and religious influences from the Portuguese, fashion and language from the British, fishing nets from China, and many other blended elements from other places.

Our time in Cochin is coming to a close tomorrow morning after we visit a Jewish Synagogue. Then we will be moving on to Sunil’s village!! More posts will follow.

Best wishes to all friends and family,

Callie

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One thought on “Searching for India’s Identities

  1. Gail Spach

    Having lived in Portugal, I would love to visit Cochin and see the Portuguese influences there. That must be fascinating!

    Reply

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