On Saturday, Dr. Shveta’s husband, Amol Singh Dhaliwal, offered to drive us to Khalsa College. Located in Mahilpur, the college is about 130km (or ~82 miles) and a 2.5 hour drive (or longer if the cows are stubborn) from Patiala. And, Seerat came along for the ride. It was an expedition!
We arrived late but still took time to enjoy tea with our hosts and the assembled academic speakers. The opening ceremonies were different than those at RGNUL but still lovely.
After the presentation of flowers, including a good sprinkling of petals on my forehead, we ate a sweet. Then Mr. S. Jagg Singh asked me to cut the ceremonial ribbon to begin the academic portion of the seminar (see headline picture).
Professor (Dr.) Manvinder Kaur (seated to my right on the dais) gave the Keynote Address. I followed as the Guest of Honor. I presented on the comparison between Indian and American legal efforts to affirm the rights of women and to champion the dignity and equality of LGBTI and gender nonconforming people. I spoke about Jyoti Singh, the medical intern who was brutally murdered in Delhi in 2012, and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. I contrasted the 2013 Indian criminal prohibition on sexual harassment and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. I spoke frankly about definitions of the word “sex” and how it could be interpreted to protect members of a particular chromosomal sex, the expression of gender (including nonconforming gender), or sexual expression. Indian sexual harassment law protects only chromosomal females. I encouraged these future leaders to work for the extension of Indian protection and tolerance regarding sex-based harassment and violence.
After the break and in addition to her more formally academic presentation, Dr. Shveta also spoke about her humble beginnings. She relayed how she has had the opportunity to advocate for human rights and present in Africa, South America, and Europe. She encouraged the young women to work hard in their studies and to believe that they can accomplish anything. She added that if she could from her humble background, she was confident that they could go much farther. She spoke in Punjabi, sprinkled with English and Hindi. Many of the participants at the conference spoke English as a third or fourth language so much of the proceedings were in Punjabi. However, my PowerPoint slides and pictures conveyed my message and I have no doubt that the conversation continues.
Quite a few of the women gathered after the day’s presentations to chat outside of the dining hall where we eventually had our lunch. I took pictures with many of them who seemed very interested in me– the foreigner. I realized that I had not seen another foreign-appearing person in three weeks. I understood their curiosity.
We expressed our gratitude to our hosts and took one more picture before starting the long drive back to Patiala.
Life is not easy here and getting the message of change and reform to the more remote corners of India takes time and dedication. I am here for just another week. Dr. Shveta and the other educators in India will carry-on with a perseverance that is beyond admirable. My thanks go out to the individuals, families, and groups who are living the change that they want to see in India.