Barbarians at the Gate: 10th February 2011

It is always a struggle as to how much to reveal about the harsh realities of life here.  Tonight was another riot at our gate; the police responded eventually.  No, we are not safe here.  I don't know what the next steps will be.  I write at 1:45 am (now the 11th February) as I cannot even think about going to sleep.  The girls have just gotten to sleep.  Four of them started a new school today.  It was so exciting;  I'm so proud of them. 

We live in a "bad" neighborhood, which is different here from in the US.  It's a mixed neighborhood, with some wealthy people, middle class, and then what i'll call working poor, and criminal poor — or not so poor.  But this is just in our lane, our little area.  In the US, we think of cul de sac as the place for kids, quiet, off the road.  But in India no one wants to live away from the road because of safety.  Over the past four years, in many ways the area has become worse.  There is constant fighting and screaming outside at night.  Sometimes it quiets when i go out and plead for quiet so kids can sleep.

A store has been built right next to our house, just a little store that blasts loud music, and the people here who rent, all rent from the same person who owns the store.  This is all probably irrelevant.  I'm writing without much censoring. 

Tonight I actually thought someone was being killed… and went out to see festivities and asked that they just lower the volume.  Usually that is enough but tonight they got nasty, men and women, drunk and nasty and saying they wanted us out of here.  That was the gist.  The girls and I talked a little while ago.  They heard the following:

"We will kill her.  This is our community, and we don't want her here."

"You are all beggars and she is using you to make money and become rich."

"Send her back to America!"

I stood up to them, because I can't live as a frightened victim.  I took their pictures, which the police later told me was illegal.  Apparently I'm not allowed to take pictures of people on the street screaming at me, shaking my gate, saying they will kill me.  One man had reached through the gate to grab my camera, but just got the strap and a fight ensued (which I won — he did not get the camera) but apparently I am at fault.  I need to see a lawyer about that.  Of course, reaching through the gate might be illegal too, and might even be assault, but no one would pay attention to that.

What I did get to communicate to the police was the amount of money I used to pay this one man (the one who objected to picture) for protection as he had told the government inspector AND my Board that if I didn't give him the money he would make it unsafe for me to have children.  I paid, and kept paying for a while.  I told people I'd paid for the new clothes this man had worn last Puja.  Then we had trouble he would not help us with and I stopped paying protections.

There was a funny moment when this man kept yelling, "why did you take my picture?" and finally I said, "Because you are beautiful!" and everyone in the crowd cracked up… yeah it lightened the tension.

In the chaos I'm not even sure the picture came out as the camera wasn't working right…

Oh yes, remembering, they told the girls they wanted to buy one of the handicapped children.  The men here have wanted access to my girls from the first day.  This same man insisted he be allowed to enter any time he wanted and I refused.  There is a perception that because they girls are orphans, everyone else should have access to them.  I've had threats against my life.  A constant refrain is that I be sent back to America.  One night when there was a riot, the first one, and I was quite terrified, I had called the local councillor — really afraid — and he said, "Don't worry.  They won't hurt you.  They only want your money."  They really imagine I am making money here.  And tonight they told the girls when I first came I gave classes to the local children.  I did, and I loved it.  But in the time I wouldn't pay the extortion, the local thugs wouldn't let the neighborhood children come. Parents kept the children home.  The thugs punished me by not letting local kids come here for free classes. 

 My relationship with the girls is really strong.  People kept trying to get them to take me inside and I wouldn't leave our front area (inside the gate of course — my property) and the girls tried to explain I DID understand what they were saying.  I was just refusing to go inside.

The enventual arrival of the police was good as these people have more than once told me they control the police.  And other than being scolded for my "illegal" use of my camera, they were nice.  But along the way two very bad local men came into the house with them, acting as "negotiators" and the girls were upset later about that.  I said I had no control over the gate once the police were here.  They let them in.

I worry most about my children, my two daughters and son in law reading this.  It's always been, do I tell them or not — they prefer to be told or they worry more.  But it's also a way of saying publicly that we are not safe here, which makes it harder if not impossible, for me to turn around and say, "Oh it was nothing."

We have to move.  I am exhausted from current work, too much of which is not done… Where do we get the money?  Where do we move?  Do we try to stay close to here, but out of this enclave?  Can we ever live someplace where the girls are not called beggars?  If these were "my own" children, what would I do.  That makes it easy.  I'd move.  I might not even find a better place, but I would not have stayed where my daughters were called beggars and their mother threatened with being killed.  I also found the safest neighborhoods I could find when raising my kids.  This is a neighborhood filled with hateful people.  But I just answered my question.

I have been told of institutions where local men are allowed in at night to use girls.  That's how the places are allowed to exist.  We have to move.  I wouldn't have kept my two daughters here.  I can't keep my 12 daughters here.  I guess we will be moving, ASAP.







February 2011
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