I flew in on an October afternoon to the hot, humid city of Mumbai. It was the first time, and I was in awe of the haphazard way the city is pieced together like a rainbow jigsaw puzzle. Fully expecting to be overwhelmed by the heat, the crowds, and the noise, I exited the airport and was met by a University of Mumbai representative. While the heat did not disappoint, the crowds at the airport were largely controlled, and in no time I was on way to my new home with the first of many bottles of water in hand.
After spending a couple of days at the University to address some bureaucratic necessities, I was taken to Snehasadan 12. As a researcher currently focused on the adoption in literature, I felt well versed in plight of orphans and underprivileged children in India. I had done my homework, and thought I was prepared. Snehasadan is organization devoted to improving the lives of street children, and currently operates 15 homes. In these homes, children of all ages are food and clothing, access to education, and a stable and welcoming home environment for as long as they need or want it.
As it turns out, I was not met by the poverty and squalor I had been preparing for. I arrived in Mumbai ready to be saddened, amazed, and overcome by grief and sympathy. I did not know a lot about Snehasadan before moving to live with them, but I knew that I was going to live with the nuns who run a home for boys, and I was cautiously optimistic but ultimately somewhat fearful. Instead, I was met by family, community, and humanity. I was met by family, community, and humanity.
Even the children who had what to me, seemed like the most challenging backgrounds were respectful and fiercely protective of the Sisters and the smaller children. I was welcomed into the home immediately. The Sisters in the house were attentive to my needs, and very helpful. Of course, I tried to make myself a help rather than a hindrance, but it took me a few days to adjust to the routines of the home and the strict schedule kept by both the Sisters and the children. Everyone there works very hard. I put a lot of my energy into helping the boys practice their English and prepare for their exams, particularly the younger ones. With the older children, I talked a lot about the places I have been, and about my home in Canada. Many of them asked if they could come back with me. As a special treat, I arranged for some of the older children to Skype into the classroom of a rural Canadian school with the students of one of my University friends. The differences were astounding, and I think that both sides learned a lot.
After a few days in Snehasadan 12, I was taken to visit some of the other homes that the organization runs. I went to see several homes for girls, and came to understand some of the differences between operating a facility for girls and boys. I also went to the contact center. The contact center is a fascinating place. Located behind Mumbai’s famous CST station, the contact center is where social workers bring the children the round up around that station to decide how they can best be helped. The individuals employed there assess the needs of each child, and decide what type of help they can offer. Sometimes, children are returned to their natal families with some additional supports put in place. Sometimes, children are sent to homes like Snehasadan, or other homes to meet their specific needs, such as those for young mothers, HIV positive children, or those with other pressing health issues.
After 10 days that felt simultaneously like forever and a very short time, I moved on from Snehasadan. I returned to living at the University campus, and began a placement with Majlis, a legal and cultural organization in Mumbai that deals with identity politics and women’s rights. Starting with the culture department, I watched some of their many documentaries and short films about the development of Mumbai to a world-renowned film hub, as well as some works about feminism in the city. Majlis culture helped me to understand how so many people ended up in the streets of Mumbai: the draw of the bright lights of Bollywood attract both young and old.
After a few days with the cultural department, I then began to work with the legal department, in both the domestic violence and sexual violence divisions. Relatively unfamiliar with the Indian legal system, my days with Majlis were largely spent gaining an understanding of how the organization works, as well as their plans for the future. I also had the opportunity to accompany some of the lawyers to the various courthouses throughout the city, which not only enlightened me as to how the law functions in various different ways and the interactions between law and the different locales of the city, but also served to help familiarize me with the different neighbourhoods of the city.
All in all, CASII’s numerous connections in the city of Mumbai helped me to network with the right individuals to further my knowledge in the areas of adoption and the rights of street children, feminism and the law, and the film industry in India. The semi-structured program that was developed personally for me, as well as the constant support and flexibility made my transition into India as seamless as possible, and provided me with numerous opportunities to reflect on my own subjective positions in relation to my work and those it may affect.