Foes Into Friends

Yes We Did!

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Standing outside the CWC after our success.

Stress has been high.  I couldn’t sleep; Ganga screamed with nightmares in her sleep.  I needed a plan. Ialso faced another problem with the CWC, namely permission for three girls to go on their class trip out of West Bengal.  I sometimes forget they are still under the court.

So I went into this internal space where I seem to come up with plans at times, and I found one.  We would surprise the CWC by showing up for the permissions.  We would come with big smiles on our faces, pretending that Monday never happened.

So, first we prepared the request letters, with copies of each girl’s school ID, and attached their academic achievements, as well as the itinerary of the trip.  They wore their Shishur Sevay dress uniforms.  I wore a hand painted silk sari I bought once at the airport in Bangladesh when I was renewing my visa.  I believe that sometimes costuming makes us feel stronger, or at least it does for me.  When I was with J&J, dressed for the corporate world, I actually used a lot of make-up designed to make me look natural.   I thought of it as putting on my war paint as I got ready for work… these primitive rituals have meaning.

Seema Gupta, Purba Rudra, and of course Sudipendu Dutta, my Secretary, would go too.  I learned today i had missed the meaning of some of the discussion on Monday on why you couldn’t mix “handicapped and normals.”  I’d heard the Chairwoman say that it was too dangerous, that they could murder… and given that OUR problem was that one of our “normals” had attacked one of the kids with disabilities, I thought the Chair was saying we had to protect them from the “normals.”  No, she was talking about people with disabilities murdering and raping normal people and that’s why they couldn’t be together!  I had been upset for Sudip without realizing it was much worse than I’d understood.

Well, how to describe how wonderful it was…. there was only one officer there, but he was the one who was so horrible to me weeks ago.  We smiled.  Seema explained why we were there and gave him the papers.  The letter for one of the girls described her current study of art and he asked her if she would give them a picture to put up in the office.  Tides were turning.  Seema also talked to him about the comments about separating groups and asked up front about whether he thought Sudip should be separated from us.  The man responded with a strong no, and talked about the importance of inclusion.

The girls reminded me of the video and I took out the iPad and showed him two dance clips from yesterday afternoon, our kids all dancing together.  He remembered the mother and baby we had taken in and was thrilled to see them both happy.  Our girls knew things were going well and had happy smiles on their faces.  What a team!  What a presentation!  What a turning of the tides, foe into friend.

Seema chatted with the officer and suddenly I heard times being mentioned, times that would be good for us for a visit on Friday.  I said any time was fine, that it didn’t matter.  He smiled, a friendly smile, as if he suddenly understood I am genuine, So it looks like it will be Friday  morning.  I can breathe more easily even as I write this.

On Friday we will have gifts for the CWC, and flowers to present to them. I’m not worried, well about 90% not worried.  There is a certain unpredictability about life, everywhere but here a bit more than usual.

The support of all of you who have written feels really important.  It strengthens me.  I get my strength from many sources, from God, from Kali, from my kids and family, from my friends, from the love and support and prayers that are sent to me.  I guess they all go into that internal space where plans are made and discovered, and I find lights along the paths out of my fear.  I find strength in the memory of my grandmother who would point out across the ocean and tell me never to forget the starving children….

I would not have said that turning foes into friends is gift of mine.  I might even have said the opposite.  So maybe this is a new skill, a new light, a new path I’ve learned to navigate.  Protecting the girls forces me to grow.  I love it.  I’m smiling.

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I’m White

Child Labor Law Violation 1

Child Labor Law Violation

I had a bad time at CWC today.  I didn’t go alone, but it didn’t matter.  No one was listening to anything I said, and they were rude and angry if I did try to defend myself.   One of the consequences of my tough decisions in the last couple of months is that not everyone was happy, of course.  For matters of privacy I will be brief, but will say that adolescents, and I believe particularly adolescent girls can be very destructive, and very charmingly convincing that they have been wronged.  In fact this girl has been so wronged CWC now wants to see if the other girls are likewise being exploited in violation of Child Labor laws.

It sounds silly but I remember as a kid cleaning the house with my mother, playing music, talking…. taking care of our home.  I was told today though that in India this is not done, that girls/women don’t clean their own homes.  But what about my girls?  Should I assume they will all be affluent enough to hire servants to cook and clean?  You think those are the families they will marry into?  I think I somehow really challenged a cultural norm.  I think these people at CWC are enraged that the girls clean.  Maybe it’s my being a white American and some image of my exploiting them?  I tried to tell the CWC that I clean the bathroom, which is true, but they weren’t listening to anything I had to say.  I clean the bathroom for several reasons.  First, no one else wants to do it.  Second, in my mind, cleaning is honorable work.  Third, the girls have come to really appreciate a clean bathroom.  They take care of the other bathrooms. That’s not a bad thing.  And of course the hippocracy of all this is that in India it’s the middle class who most uses child servants in their homes.

They seemed enraged that a girl was expected to change the diaper of a child with disabilities.  I’m thinking this is all an April Fools joke and they are dead serious.  So the issue of diapers let to a sudden reaction that I had “normal and handicapped” in the same home and that had to end!  I said that CWC had given me these girls, but that wasn’t relevant either.  It was really ugly, and I expressed my feelings about it, which is to say I was not submissive.  I finally got one person who was lecturing me that this was a court, to understand this court had jurisdiction over the child but not over me.  They simply do not have the authority to force me to take a violent girl back into the home, however much she sheds tears.  Their plan was for me to take her back but not give her work to do.  Yeah, right!

I am not dealing with a rational system here.  I heard it described as judicial anarchy, and I think this is true.  There are no real rules.   Our home has been inspected seven times, with the same kids, same mix of “normals and handicapped” as they continued to describe them.  There has never been a problem.

Would this all be playing out differently if I were Indian?  I’m thinking yes.    It’s been the divide until recently even within the home.     Are they seeing me as the White lady using Indian girls to clean her house?    If this is the stereotype can they  even see beyond who I represent?  This is personal.  I have visited NGO’s where they show off the weaving being done by five year olds (vocational training), and no one says anything.  I reported a home almost ten years ago where girls were being used as servants instead of being sent to school.  I had proof, documents, school records, attendance records, but I could not get anything changed.

This is the CWC where I brought the eight starving children from Aunty’s, where three children there have died since then, but no one will do anything.  The last time I was there, I was standing outside and Aunty told me to move because the feces was coming down over the balcony and she didn’t want me to get dirty.  Government inspectors came but they ignored everything.  I was there.  They ignored me.

Now it’s 2:30 am and I can’t sleep.  I tried.  I’m also in the middle of major dental work, as things seemed a bit quiet and I took the time.  Well, I guess from the tension this evening, the temporary bridges and crowns cracked and my mouth hurts.  I’m afraid to leave Shishur Sevay until this “surprise” CWC inspection happens this week so I’m not sure what to do, except drink a lot of liquids only, and keep my mouth closed… not so easy…

We told the girls what was going on because they will be interviewed, and because we will be sprucing up our paperwork, which needed doing anyway.  So a friend told me to have them prepped and all I could think of were the custody cases in the US where the first question is always, “Did your mother/father tell you to say this?”  Nope, they will say what they want and I will deal with it, whatever it is.

I know we will survive this — but I’m scared.  I’m also pissed.  I’m a seventy year old doctor, psychiatrist, and obstetrician and gynecologist.  I have 45 years of clinical experience working with woman and children.  Actually I wrote that in my report today but they ignored it.  Even when Seema Gupta translated it into Bengali they ignored it.  They are out for blood, my blood, this White woman’s blood.

The Seventy Year Old Doctor

The Seventy Year Old Doctor

Here is my testimony:

Dance and Movement, Inclusive as it should be

Dance and Movement, Inclusive as it should be

This is a picture from our new Dance and Movement classes three times a week.  On the days between classes the girls like to put on the music and practice.  Six years ago I promised Ganga she would dance one day, and now she does.

We live as a family.  We eat together, sleep together, watch tv together, pray together.  We don’t separate by abilities because we all have so much to give each other.

OOPS!  Another picture of all of us together.  no separate  beaches.

OOPS! Another picture of all of us together. no separate beaches.

The group who came with me today was

1.Seema Gupta, Board Member, Joint Secretary, and Deputy Registrar of Calcutta High Court.

2. Purba Rudra, Ph.D, our Academic Director

3. Sudipendu Dutta, my secretary.  (I hired him as assistant, but in India, Secretary is higher, so now he is my Secretary).  Sudip is an incredibly hard worker, sincere, responsible, and cares so much about what we are doing.  He also has Cerebral Palsy and walks with sticks.  He manages.  I kept wondering what it was like for him, listening to all this about not having “handicapped and normals” together.   What did this mean for his life, his family life, his work life…. Was it OK that we were all together or should there be separate accommodations for him?   He is also an activist working with others on creating a residence for people with disabilities…. and has been talking about the success of inclusion, Shishur Sevay as a model of how good it can be.  What was he thinking?  I’ll have to ask him in the morning.

Now it’s 3:30 am and I think I’m ready to post this and try to sleep for a couple of hours.

April 2013
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