The past few weeks in Mumbai have been amazing to say the least. It’s been great finding my bearings and slipping into the rhythm of this city. I’ve really welcomed this change in pace. Although I love the laid-back lifestyle in New Zealand, the constant hustle and bustle of this city has been exhilarating – from the arts festivals to the daily street vendors to the chaotic rickshaw rides I take every day, I am in constant awe of everything this vibrant city has to offer! The past few weeks have been filled with so many incredible experiences, people, and memories that I will cherish for a lifetime. It’s difficult to communicate how impactful my time in India has been– but let me try my best by updating you on some of the highlights and key reflections I’ve had over the past few weeks.
Interning at the Vipla Foundation – Lessons and Reflections
I’ve now settled into my role as an intern at the Vipla Foundation, working in their anti-human trafficking initiatives team. I work with the organisation’s Head of Legal on a range of legal research and writing tasks that help advocate for women and children who have been sex trafficked. The law governing this area in India is very complex, and different to New Zealand given that prostitution as an act is illegal India. However, it has been promising to see how robust the legislation is here. The law not only supports the prosecution of perpetrators but also has a rehabilitative arm, which focuses on ensuring that women who are trafficked receive proper care following their rescue to mitigate any vulnerabilities that may leave them susceptible to re-trafficking in the future.
It has been important to me to share the work that the Vipla Foundation do, as they engage with stakeholders across many industries and sectors. The organisation not only undertakes victim inquiries for the court, but also runs trainings for the Mumbai Police so they know what to look out for when they come across a sex trafficking case. They also run educational workshops for victims and vulnerable women and hold panels to raise awareness on the issue, which in turn helps to de-stigmatise talking about sex trafficking in communities. While this work has been incredibly rewarding, it has equally been quite emotionally taxing. Reading through hundreds of case studies detailing these women’s experiences has been difficult and at times I feel helpless and wish I could do more to support them. It has also brought to the forefront of my mind, the incredible sense of privilege I have. The fact that I have a loving family who are financially stable and can encourage my pursuit for higher education is what many of the women who are sex trafficked do not have and are key vulnerabilities that lead them into sex trafficking in the first place.
I think it is also important to note that the Western media perpetuate an image of India as a society and community who do not care about these issues. While I do agree that the legal system needs be strengthened, the work of NGOs like the Vipla Foundation should not go unnoticed. I have seen first-hand, how many passionate advocates there are in this industry and many others who work day in and day out on a multitude of causes. They are change-makers, and I would encourage everyone to consume their media critically and if possible, to visit India themselves for a true representation of what the country has to offer, as the heart and soul of this country is unlike any other I have visited.
Delhi and Agra – Interstate Adventures
Aside from my internship, the past few weeks have also been filled with adventures as we embarked on our first trip outside of Mumbai! We travelled to Delhi and Agra over the weekend, and it was truly amazing to see more of what India has to offer. Something I’ve appreciated during my time here is the diversity seen between each state or territory. The people, food, cultural history, and climate differ greatly according to where you visit, so it was a great privilege to step outside of Mumbai and learn more about the rich culture and history of both New Delhi and Agra.
We visited many incredible historical sites during this weekend. We started off in New Delhi and visited Qutub Minar, also known as “victory tower”, built in 1193 by the Muslim conquerors of Delhi. We also managed to squeeze in looking at Parliament House and driving past India Gate during sunset which was breath-taking. The next day we began our 4-hour drive to Agra to see the Agra Fort and the Taj Mahal. We managed to see the Taj Mahal at sunset, and I think it’s safe to say that words and pictures could not do that experience justice. I have been wanting to see the Taj Mahal since I was a little girl, so it was a very special experience to tick that off the bucket list and share that experience with 14 other people who were just as excited to be there as I was.
After a whirlwind of a weekend, we made our way back to Mumbai on Sunday night, filled with a new sense of excitement, adventure, and a deeper understanding of India than we had just a few days prior – ready to settle into our new normal again for the work week to come.