Understanding Difference, Embracing Similarity, and Acknowledging Privilege

As Aparna has alluded to in her “Bangalore luxuries” instagram, we’ve been living a very pampered life here in the city. I take hot showers, have never had to use a “squatty potty,” and I have so many comforts available at my fingertips (like the nutella crepe I just ate…). Although my work brings me in contact with factory laborers who experience a very different reality, our interactions are usually brief and limited due to language and cultural barriers.

Our recent trips to Odisha and Mysore have made think a lot about my own lifestyle here in India and how I can or can’t relate to the very people that I’m here to work for – migrant laborers. Through my studies on anthropology and international development, I’ve learned a lot about the various types of personal and professional relationships that are formed across cultures and socioeconomic classes. These relationships are often affected by the power dynamics between the two individuals or groups. One of the most difficult things that I’ve found in making these relationships is knowing where to acknowledge the differences between me and these other individuals, and where to embrace the similar experiences and emotions that I share with them.

Trips to Orissa and Mysore:

circleboatfeet circleboat beach

Awesome circular boats in Mysore

home landscape

Mysore Landscape (reminds me so much of the view from the Appalachians)

rissa landscape

Odisha Landscape

house orissa

Village in Odisha

This might sound theoretical, but here’s an example – I am currently studying anemia here in the garment factory amongst a population of migrant workers from very poor backgrounds. We often conduct interviews with the women in order to better understand how they view health, nutrition, and anemia, and what barriers may come in the way to accessing a healthier lifestyle. Dealing with my own anemia was something that fueled my interest in the issue, and I will often share this with the women I interview. But, whenever I do this I feel some type of ethical dilemma. Anemia is determined and measured through hemoglobin counts. By the standards used here in the factory, my levels would not even be considered unhealthy or alarming. Further, I have the education and access to resources needed to investigate my symptoms, learn what causes them, and develop an understanding of how I can fix them. I can also visit doctors and purchase a syrup supplement to deal with the problem. Considering all of this, I am always unsure if I should use my anemia to better relate to these women and understand their experiences, or whether doing this only emphasizes my own privilege and distance from their realities.

hostel visit photo

A picture with the factory workers who live in hostels after conducting interviews

On the other hand, there are some moments where privilege, language, and cultural barriers seem less obtrusive. One on of our first days exploring the factory floor at Shahi, we befriended a few workers who showed us how to conduct a puja (Hindu prayer). Although the language barrier was difficult to navigate, we watched them set up the flower arrangement, ring the bell, light the small, candle-like object, and remove their shoes to pray. Instead of being the interviewer or teaching the workers about proper nutrition, we got a wonderful experience as students of a new culture. The cultural differences themselves were what helped us forge new friendships.

pooja man pooja deity

Puja (Not the one on the factory floor – this is from the temple at the unit 7 Shahi factory)

Puja (Not the one on the factory floor – this is from the temple at the unit 7 Shahi factory)

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About amysindiabound

My name is Amy Summer and I'm a cultural anthropology major at the University of Pennsylvania concentrating in medical anthropology and global health and minoring in international development. I'll be a rising senior this coming year, and I'm hoping to work in the non-profit field for a few years once I graduate. I love to travel, cook (and eat, of course), and write. Over the summer I'm working on the Shahi experts internship team in India. I'm hoping to experience what it might be like to work in international development or the corporate social responsibility division, all while gorging myself on naan, dosas, butter chicken, and biryani.