I am currently sitting in a café in New Delhi looking out at the crowds of brothers being adorned by their sisters for Raksha Bandhan which is a Hindu Festival that celebrates the bond between Sisters and Brothers. It is a joyous holiday with plenty of Mehndi (Henna), Rakhi (Red Cloth Bracelets), and of course Mithai (Sweets). Earlier in the day I visited our Delhi partner Salaam Baalak Trust (SBT) where Commit2Change sponsors 10 girls at the Arushi Home in Gurgaon. While meeting with the girls it was hard to miss the excitement in their eyes as they waited for their brothers to arrive. Many were dressed up in their festival clothing and adorned with bangles’. At the entrance to the home was a Rahki station that ensured the girls would be ready for when there brothers came. It was a true sight to see, one that made me feel lucky to be sharing it with them.
For the past week and a half I have been here enjoying all that the city of Delhi has to offer. This is in no way my first time in the crazy, crowded capital of India and I felt nostalgic of my time working here. During this first week I have been able to meet with SBT and learn more about the work they do. Saalam Balaak Trust works with the hordes of street children one is so accustomed to seeing beg at the intersections day and night. Despite the exorbitant numbers of these children, NGOs’ that work with this population are limited making SBT’s mission quite unique. Throughout the capital region the organization has a total of 6 shelter homes and 12 mobile day centers. The Arushi Home is one of two that are gender specific to girls. When I visited the home for the first time, I saw a number of girls lounging in the open areas throughout the home and could not help but think how something so simple, lounging in a home, must be shocking to someone who is used to having no place at all beside the pavement. It is understood that these girls have tragic stories, some of which are told to me by the counselor at the Shelter Home. Stories such as being subject to the sexual abuse of a parent, being sent out of their village to work as domestic help, or simply being kicked out because they had the unlucky fortune to be born a girl in a home where that is viewed as just another mouth to feed. During my Focus Group Discussion at SBT where we discussed the usual ideas surrounding Choice, Confidence, and Gender Inequality the girls joined the growing ranks of other Commit2Change beneficiaries who appear to understand just how important it is for a women living in the world today to be confident and independent. During the talk I give a scenario of a girl who is being forced to marry by her parents and ask the girls how they think they would handle this situation. The answer comes from Pooja, a fierce girl of 16 who speaks perfect English, “It’s my life and it’s my choice, no one can take that away from me. Only I choose when I will marry.” This quote is quite reminiscent of something I have said and heard in my own country and makes me feel closer to the girls than before. It appears that despite the tragic lives these girls have led they still have fight left in them to go against the grain and be part of a new independent generation of Indian women.