Kotwara Experience Discussed at Hinckley

Colorfully draped in traditional Hindu garb, five students who traveled to India this semester related their experience to a campus audience on Tuesday.

While in India, the group met with government officials, generals, city planners and other VIPs. The students and supporting U employees also “saw the dirty side of India,” said Ted Wilson, who accompanied the group and is the Hinckley Institute of Politics director.

Although Wilson and other U employees who went spoke for most of the time, the five students spoke very positively of the experience.

Michelle Sullivan said Americans generally look at third-world conditions in India from the perspective of what the United States can do to bring people there up to the U.S. standard of living. She suggests, rather, that Americans look at what amenities they can do without.

Lucas Anderson found the way religion in India is played out on a day-to-day basis “amazing,” particularly in regards to the Ganges River, which Hindus regard as a “really holy river.”

“In India, every single day is religious,” Sullivan said, not just Sunday. There’s a temple or a statue on every corner and most of them haven’t been cleaned for the entirety of their existence.

Religious conflict between Hindus and Muslims has intensified in certain regions of India in recent months, most notably in Gujerat and Ayodyah in northern India. Enrique Arce Larreta expected to see more tension between the two faiths, but didn’t.

“This is a culture where people have lived in peace for thousands of years,” Arce Larreta said. The group came as close as 60 miles away from the regions in conflict.

Arce-Larreta was interested to learn more about Islamic people in the context of the war on terrorism, given that about 12 percent of Indians are Muslim. He said Indian Muslims he met do not support Osama bin Laden, the militant responsible for masterminding the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

“They were terrified just like we were [on Sept. 11]”, he said.

Because India is so populous?more than 1 billion live in a country roughly a third the size of the United States?”poverty is magnified, wealth is magnified and political problems are magnified,” said Sheena McFarland, who is also a Chronicle news writer.

McFarland felt “completely safe” in India. Born in India but raised in the United States, McFarland’s impressions of her trip to India were published in The Chronicle while the group was abroad.

“I’ve never felt more welcome in a country before,” McFarland said. When the group first arrived in India, McFarland asked the predominately white group how it felt to be in the minority.

Dominique Chambless said she will remember the relationships she made with children at the school in Kotwara most of all.

“I met just some amazing people that I’ll never forget,” she said. “The kids were so excited we were there. They would jump up and not pay attention to their teachers.”

Chambless said the kids would playfully pull on her hair “just because [she] was so blonde.”

Although everyone who participated spoke glowingly about the trip to India, Hinckley Institute Intern Coordinator Tim Chambless reminded the audience that India has a 37 percent poverty rate.

“Indian life at times is awful,” Wilson said. “The usual cliche is it attacks every sense you have.”

Wilson described going through a slum and seeing naked children and people looking through garbage for food.

“That is something that any one of us has to think twice about,” he said. “Any human being who sees that and walks away without being touched is a poor student or a poor professor.”

Most of the students indicated the wanted to return to India at some point, and Wilson said he will lead the group again next year.

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