Culture, Colors, and Colonialism

I’m now a little bit over halfway done with my time here at Aravind. For all of my dedicated readers (that’s you, mom and dad), I’ve been thinking a lot about what I’ve learned since I’ve arrived and how these lessons have changed the way I think about the world. 

I’ve always considered myself to be relatively aware – I read the news every night, I watch documentaries, and I check my breaking news apps at least four times a day. My classes at Penn have taught me the importance of cultural relativism and ethical principalism in global health, and others have presented me with the lasting impact of colonialism on the modern, developing world. However, actually having to face these in the real world is quite different from discussing them in class or reading about them on my phone. 

Surrounded by beautiful colors, incredible foods, and world-changing people, constantly bombarded with the hustle and bustle of everyday life, it’s easy to forget that most people living in the Western world see India as a land of violent crime and unimaginable poverty, and occasionally, a place where people go for a mid-life-crisis-yoga-meditation-spiritual-awakening (yes, I did read Eat, Pray, Love last month).

Even I think more about the “Slumdog Millionaire” India when I’m at home, and when India and Indian citizens are portrayed in media as no more than their suffering, given no life beyond poverty, it quickly removes the beauty and richness of the culture, the long, long history of the country, and the fights against corruption and for growth happening all over the subcontinent. These stereotypes evoke the idea that people in India are incapable of helping themselves (I did some research, and over 70% of Americans actually think this).

In doing so, we are ignoring the inherent social and economic structures in place that have sustained this poverty over the years, many of which were created in the interest of British colonialism. The exploitation and destruction of resources, the decimation of the Indian textile market, and theft of human autonomy that occurred under British rule have made India a “poster child” for third world poverty, and this has set the stage for the cultural disrespect and disconnect that has simplified the Indian experience to simply “poor.”

I know what I’ve written here isn’t all-encompassing – it’s more of what I thought about on the treadmill at the gym over the past few weeks – and, by no means do I have any authority to lecture anyone about the influences of Western media and British colonialism on India’s challenges. But, I have had the privilege to see Aravind addressing the structural changes necessary to alleviate poverty. By providing free care to anyone who needs it and championing affordable and efficient care all over the world, Aravind serves as a reminder, to me, of the transformative power of the Indian population and as an example of the inspiring change that is occurring.

at the beach in Rameswaram 🙂 in case anyone was wondering, we love paneer!

One thought on “Culture, Colors, and Colonialism

  1. I agree that it’s been amazing to see how Aravind addresses socioeconomic structural tensions by just offering free care to anyone who wants/needs it. So impressive and inspiring to see the ways the doctors and staff selflessly serve the patients! Can’t wait to hear more about the book you’re reading about the history of the British colonization of India 🙂

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About anjalicmahajan

University of Pennsylvania