Over the holidays, I was asked countless times about how my “trip” to India was. I found this question hard to answer as my short, polite response did not feel adequate to encapsulate the complexities of my internship experience. This is because the six months I spent in India were characterized by a diversity of new experiences, discomforts, routines, misunderstandings, and friendships. And that is just it – India is so diverse, complex, and sometimes contradictory that it is challenging to quickly sum up my experience in the country. However, because this is my final blog post, I want to take the opportunity to reflect on my overall experience as a CAPI Intern and consider some of the emerging themes of my internship experience.
I left India feeling humbled by the stories and experiences I shared with friends and colleagues and hold a deeper understanding of my own positionality because of them. One of the most important tools I had for understanding and learning about social issues in India and my own relationship to them was the ability to analyze and interpret situations through an intersectional lens. Intersectionality is a framework developed by feminist scholars and is the understanding that different identities (such as class, caste, race, and gender) do not exist in isolation, but rather intersect with one another to form complex human identities. This in turn aids one in understanding how social and economic injustices emerge, as complex socio-economic systems intersect with unique identities to create different experiences depending on an individual’s unique positionality.
While I often reflected on the positionality of my housemates, friends, and those I met through fieldwork, I do not fully understand their position nor their experiences in Indian society so do not wish to share their stories here. However, I can speak to my own experience living in Delhi, which taught me a lot about the ways in which my positionality influences my urban experience. Through an intersectional analysis, I came to better understand what my privilege means in terms of safety, access to space, comfort, and mobility in the city. Safety is culturally contingent, but understanding one’s safety also rests on the ability to understand an individual’s positionality. Considering “safety” in Delhi through an intersectional lens helped me contextualize my own experience; my positionality directly relates to my ability to say that for me, Delhi is a safe city. I have the freedom to make my own judgements on what “safe” is, can access spaces considered “safe” (from perceived danger, pollution, traffic, etc.), and have tools available to manage risks when appropriate. This however is not a universal experience. Instead, people from India who perceive Delhi as “unsafe”, (as many of the girls I lived with did), came to that conclusion through the lens of their unique social positions. While I cannot objectively say whether Delhi is safe or not, I do believe that people understand safety differently depending on their personal experiences and relationship to socio-economic hierarchies.
The concept of safety is just one example of how I found an intersectional lens a useful tool for understanding complex social issues while in India. As I had the opportunity to interact with people from diverse socio-economic backgrounds during my internship, I found an intersectional lens useful for understanding different interpretations of place, space, and cultural dynamics. Although it was sometimes confusing to hear different and often conflicting interpretations of religious festivals, food choices, and cultural traditions, it was also one of the most rewarding. Living in India afforded me the opportunity to live and learn from people from all different backgrounds and I am incredibly grateful for that experience.