It’s been an interesting two weeks in India. While some of it is incredibly familiar – writing reports and hanging around the coffee machine – some of it is so amazing different. As I write this, we’re eating coconuts and mangoes (mangos?) in the office. As a side note, I’m determined to prove to Sarah that Indian mangoes are the best kind.
Our work here has been unexpected but very exciting for me. With the election of the new prime minister and his new Cabinet, several lobbying bodies have sent out proposed roadmaps – policy wishlists ranging from food security to tourism. DICCI, being the only body working for the interests of Dalit entrepreneurs, too will send the new administration a wishlist – an agenda for ST/SC entrepreneurs for the next five years of the new Prime Minister’s rule. That’s where we come in – our role is to draft this agenda, and so to research current Central and State government policies, to conduct interviews with DICCI members on the current issues they face, and to formulate the agenda in line with the new PM’s vision for the country. It hasn’t been an easy task, but even though I never thought I was interested in public policy, it has gripped me. We’ve had to start from scratch – neither Sarah or I even understood the Indian governmental structure, or the legal definition of “Dalit” or ST/SC. We have gone through innumerable long reports, policies written in legal-ese, language barriers and news articles with obvious bias in our quest to research and understand the political and economic landscape of the country, and how minority entrepreneurs fit into it. It’s incredibly interesting to me, slowly understanding the complex interplay it takes to formulate policy – for each item on my agenda, I wonder how the new government will ever fulfill any of it, with all the other factors they must take into consideration. However, I, like many others in India, are cautiously optimistic about the future. The new government is professedly pro-industry, and they have long called the MSMEs (Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises) India’s “engines of growth”. For DICCI, the future seems bright, and I am so excited to have a hand in shaping it. Otherwise, too, Pune is a study in contrasts. The income inequality is evident, but is just one of the many contrasts about this city. Driving through the city center is frankly terrifying, with gruff auto-drivers, horrible air quality, and traffic rules seemingly optional. But then we enter a gorgeous Starbucks (better than the American ones!), or shop at an exclusive little boutique, or meet students going to a rock concert. It is bizarre but familiar – like coconuts at the office. I think the best way to deal with it all is as Sarah said in her earlier post – have no expectations, and take the contrasts and contradictions of this amazing, confusing country as they come.