Thursday, 20 April 2006

Final goodbye to India - last days in Delhi

This will - for now - be my last post with pictures from India. I spent my last few days back in Delhi, and I will show some last pictures showing two characteristic features of Delhi, the city I could call my home for 6 months.

Here I am in one of Delhi's fashionable new lounge/bar/restaurants, Q-bar. Delhi has plenty of such establishments, many of which are just as trendy as anything you would find in Copenhagen, London or New York.

This picture shows a part of Connaught Place, a huge circle in the middle of Delhi, where also Q-bar is situated. In colonial times this is where the British ladies came to do their shopping, and also today it is filled with wealthy westerners shopping here. But these days there are also plenty of wealthy Indians, who come here to shop for the best Indian as well as Western brands, including Levis, Lacoste, Pringle, Adidas, Tommy Hilfiger etc.

The point I am trying to make with the above pictures, is that Delhi is an island of modernity in an otherwise underdeveloped, rural and socially, deeply conservative country. Certainly there are a few other such islands, for example Bombay, Bangalore, Calcutta and a couple others, but after having traveled around India, I can see that the VAST majority of Indians live in a very different world, even those living in big and important cities. In most cities - even some state capitals - there are very few modern shops, and certainly no trendy restaurants or lounges like the one above. Many places such establishment would even be against social norms, as alcohol is frowned upon or even banned in many states. Most places outside the cities, arranged marriages are the norm, the caste system is still firmly entrenched and physical power and money directly equals political influence.

And then I haven't even begun to describe the massive poverty that can be found in these regions, but I will leave that for now. All these things are very easy to forget when one is living in the extreme comforts of Delhi, and much more so when living in Denmark or Germany.

But Delhi is not just a modern commercial city - it is also the capital of a democratic country with more than one billion people. That means that many people are constantly dissatisfied and these people - often rural farmers or poor city dwellers - come from near and far to protest in the streets of Delhi. Here I came across one such demonstration. After no one reacted angrily to the Danish flag I had on my backpack I concluded that it was probably not a Muhammed/cartoon-demonstration so I dared talk to a few of the protestors. None of them spoke english particularly well, so I never managed to learn the exact purpose of this demonstration, but there was enough riot police present to handle a coup d'etat in a small African state.

Some of the demonstrators. Why Indians always bring big bamboo sticks to demonstrations I do not know, but maybe it has something to do with the before mentioned riot police.

The bigger point with these two last pictures is to show the contrast between these and the two first pictures. Modern, commercial, individualistic, capitalistic Delhi vs. traditional, agrarian, communitarian, poor India. This clash was not just present on this day, but is in fact one of the major and consistent rifts in Indian politics and public life these days. The Indian government led by the legendary Congress Party tries hard to balance the need for liberal, economic reforms with an increase in the tax base and welfare polices to reduce poverty and stimulate development in rural areas of India. But conflicts are still very common when the elite and the people cannot agree on the pace and form the change should take.

Also in social areas rifts are apparent. Magazines write constantly about the changes that are taking place in the way young people think about love, sex, marriage, family, religion, career etc. On Valentine's Day a youth organization with ties to the extreme hindu nationalistic organization Shiv Sena sent out action groups to catch young couple interacting in a bit too intimate ways, after which they meant to drag the unfortunate young lovers home to their parents and force them into marriage! This kind of story is only too typical for the India of 2006 - an India that is changing at the speed of light, but where millions and millions of people don't seem very ready for that change. The world will certainly hear more of this schisma.

And so I left India behind...

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