Today I made a Facebook post–– my first overtly political Facebook post–– that read:
“Today I hand glued 7 stamps with Gandhi’s face on them onto a makeshift envelope. I handed it to the man behind the open-air counter at the dusty postoffice. We spoke in short Hindi sentences, “I’m a student,” “50 rupees,” “how many?”–– the usual.
Then he looked at me, then down at my ballot, and then right in my eye and said in plain, slow, clear English: “Are you voting for Donald Trump?” My friends and I laughed as if it was still the joke it was a year ago, and said no, and he agreed to send our ballots.
This election matters to the world, reaching far beyond the United States where we have this insane privilege of getting to participate and influence this moment. I can’t go a day here without being reminded of the the imperfections of our Democratic system and yet also that desperate importance of my participation in it.
Thank you to all my friends who have put so much passion and work into making voting more accessible–– both at Georgetown and in North Carolina–– and for reminding me to vote even from across the world. You all inspire me everyday.
Oh, and in case you were curious what was in that ballot, you can bet your a$$ that #imwithher. (and Roy Cooper too).”
I’ve begun to receive amazing feedback, by which I’m very flattered, although I longed for a platform which would allow me to elaborate more on my political experience during this election in India.
This is a lengthy and imperfect and largely unedited teasing out of that post. Proceed with caution.
The entire process of voting here has been miraculous. Leaving a country which prides its self on being a beacon of freedom and democracy only to be welcomed by the largest democracy on the planet with substantially high voter turn out. I live in a somewhat rural and incredibly religiously conservative city in Uttar Pradesh, a state with high rates of illiteracy, poverty, and pollution. I came from Washington DC. I don’t need to describe the political climate of Washington DC. In fact, just about the only thing these two cities have in common at face value is their literal climate: disgustingly humid.
Coming to Varanasi at first felt like a political oasis, with scarce wifi and no eager Georgetown Students arguing with me about such and such amendment and so and so’s new policy on such and such crisis. That statement seems terribly insensitive but during this election cycle, my psyche needed a break from it all. But then I started talking to people.
Quickly, if not instantly, upon declaring my American nationality to my new friends, acquaintances, and even strangers, I was greeted with a slew of “How is Trump?” “Who will you vote for?” “I’m scared?” “Do you know you need to vote?” “How can you vote from here?” and the list goes on and on. As it turns out, the Varanasi population is incredibly up to date on the United States presidential Election. It also, to no one’s great surprise, turns out that they (in my personal conversations) unanimously back Hillary Clinton. Everyone from the Rickshaw walas to my fellow University students at the elite Banaras Hindu University are quick to say that she is a “Smart Lady” and then the proceed to not have English words to describe their sentiments towards the other leading political candidate.
In fact, there was recently a debate watching event at BHU where the students got to vote as if they were American citizens at the end of the debate. There was not a single vote for Donald Trump.
These conversations startled me at first; then I was embarrassed. The US presents India in the media as one of “those countries”–– the “developing” world, the “third” world, the world that needs our help. Here they are, with their ~70% voter turn out rate, a well respected Prime Minister Modi, and a history of female Heads of State and they look at me as if everything they thought about America was wrong.
“America’s a very good country!!”
“Yes it is.”
“I want to go there!”
“Come visit me in the capital!”
This is a direct transcription from a conversation I’ve had countless times. It’s superficial and flattering and often is followed by chai or asking me to buy something. But when I’m with my closer friends and we discuss America, they sometimes get nervous. They fidget and prepare to say something controversial, as if critiquing the United States is a greater taboo than showing your legs in public.
“Why do they say those things about women? About Clinton they are so… like sexist?”
I never know what to say. I’m a guest in a country where I feel as though women are oppressed, objectified, and treated as lesser, and yet my friends here look at the news, at these Western Women–– one of whom is running for the highest office–– in all of their autonomous glory being oppressed, objectified, and treated as lesser on an international stage.
I still don’t know what to say.
I love the United States of America. I love living there. And I even love my home state of North Carolina. I might even call myself a patriot if you catch me on a good day. But we have a lot to learn.
Sometimes, when I look at Facebook I cry. Sometimes I feel disenfranchised but never do I feel apathetic. Mostly, I cry tears of joy and pride. I watch my friends from home from the distance of thousands of miles and my computer screen advocate for all. They work their asses off to make it easier for people to vote. They work on campaigns. They put their money where there mouthes are. They are passionate. They are all aware of this imperfect and broken system but they are too self aware of their privilege to just give up and transcend it.
From Varanasi I watch this election not as a young, passionate, millennial, college student at an elite University. I can’t escape that, but my opinions have faded, glazed. I’ve started listening. I’m curious and even when my heart hurts I am happy to be on both sides. I had the vast privilege of voting today. And with 7 stamps, 50 rupees, and a few too many absentee ballot requests, I voted for who I hope will become our first female President of the United States.