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Andra Bosneag | Posted September 26th, 2013 | Uncategorized

My parents recently fundraised and donated $800 to Vikalp (thanks guys!). All the proceeds will go towards providing shelters from violence, which support victims of domestic violence, child abuse, rape and sexual assault, as well as persecuted members of the LBTI community in Western India. A HUGE thank you to the following people for supporting Vikalp’s incredible work through their donations:


Shirley Hill, Doxa, Yelena, Carl Hutto, Michael Gordon, Mary Low Sissconi, John Forgaty, Sunita, Sadna, Kelly Jhons, Robert Chacey, Thea


If you would like to support Vikalp’s ongoing campaign, please visit http://www.advocacynet.org/page/vikalpDONATE

To find out more about Vikalp and its work, please visit http://www.advocacynet.org/page/vikalp It’s new website will be up soon!!


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Guidebooks in Ahmedabad

Andra Bosneag | Posted July 9th, 2013 | India

Phrasebooks are written for tourists. They contains sentences such as “I don’t want to stop at the carpet shop!” or “I have a prescription for this drug.” When you live in a place for a prolonged period your phrasebook begins to fail.

Last week, I found myself in the city of Ahmedabad, about an hour and a half northwest of Baroda. Jasveen and I joined six women of the Nari Adalat Women’s Court (NA) on a field visit as they were supporting Nirali, a woman whose divorce proceedings started nine years ago. Every month, she makes the trek to the state court in Ahmedabad where her in-laws live. Although she has a good relationship with her husband, talking to him almost every day, he is unwilling to stand up to his parents on her behalf. Nirali eventually left when her mother-in-law tied her up and attempted to strangle her. She has lived with her parents since then.

Nirali decided to try the NA after years of support from VIKALP. After several hearings, she asked the court to help her confront her in-laws so she can move back in with them. The NA tried to dissuade her from this decision, but when she proved unwilling to change her mind, they agreed to accompany her. Nirali is confident she can stand up to them.

“I never said no when they abused me, now I know better.”

While this decision might be hard to understand, her choices are limited. For divorced or separated women, widespread alienation and discrimination regularly result in violence, poverty, and a lack of independence. At the very least, Nirali wants her possessions returned and the financial maintenance her husband owes her.

When we arrive at the house, a shouting match ensues through a gate as the in-laws do not want to talk to Nirali, maintaining that the courts will reach a decision. The shouts attract curious neighbors who come out to see the commotion. Some of the neighbors are family members who question Nirali’s claim.The women boldly and patiently describe Nirali’s case, stating they are from the NA. There seems to be reassurance in being from the NA even in a community unfamiliar with the women’s courts.


 Neighbors “talk” to the Nari Adalat

Telling the NA to leave

After getting nowhere with the in-laws, half of the women go to the police station and half, including myself, stay behind. When I try to communicate, the words “neighbors”, “crazy”, or “arrest” do not show up in my guidebook so I smile instead. After about an hour, two of the women return with two police officers. We find out the in-laws snuck out of the house from the side street we were not watching. The police officers find their absence suspicious and we all go to the police station.

There, the women solicit the advice of the Vikalp main office several times. While they might be unsure of the proceedings in this situation, their presence gives Nirali strength to tell her story, and the police officers listen. Nirali files a report that will help her document the attempt to confront her in-lawsThe police officers will try to contact the husband and write a report to the judge in charge of her case.

The impact of our visit remains to be seen. The women are hopeful the intervention will speed the process, and the judge will have an account of Nirali attempting to talk to her in-laws. Since we were unable to have a productive conversation, our actions might seem limited. However, the greatest improvement seems to be in Nirali’s attitude. On our way back to Baroda, Nirali keeps repeating the word “daring” and saying statements such as: “I never thought I could be so daring”, “I stood up to my in-laws”, “I’ve never spoken to them like that.” Such empowering changes are the beginning of the fight against traditional gender roles that relegate women to silent bystander status. Nirali cannot stop smiling and recounting the story. She stood up to her in-laws, surrounded by women who encouraged her to voice her grievances and reclaim her life. Since the fact-finding mission, Vikalp helped Nirali transfer her case hearings to Baroda, forcing the in-laws to travel and incur the expenses instead.

As we were saying goodbye, Jasi, one of the leaders of the NA, smiled and said in Hindi, “We give people stress, we don’t remove it.” My phrasebook does not recognize the words “give”, “people”, “stress”, or “remove”.

4 Responses to “Guidebooks in Ahmedabad”

  1. Kabir says:

    Great story Andra!

  2. Liz says:

    What a good story! It’s great to read about the support provided by the NA. Is it generally the son that has the responsibility of providing for his aging parents? If a daughter does not have any brothers, does she bring her parents to live with her?

  3. aditya says:

    I am happy to see you making a difference andhra ben. Being indian i have witnessed such things but never tried doing anything about it. Hats off to such an uncommon summer .

    Hope you dig the cops.

  4. Caley says:

    Beautiful story! Never underestimate the power of small, everyday actions to make a huge difference in a person’s life.

    Is it a common occurrence for sons to always defer to/obey their parents, even in cases of violence?

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Nari Adalat: FAQs

Andra Bosneag | Posted June 19th, 2013 | India

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Here are some initial FAQs about the Nari Adalat court. I would love to answer your most burning questions!

How are the judgments enforced?

First, both parties are eager to resolve the case. They might have been stuck in the Indian judicial system for years, are ready for a divorce, or want to negotiate compensation. For the sake of closure, the willingness to commit to the final judgment acts as a strong motivator in enforcement. Second, people attending the courts are doing so in front of their community, under the scrutiny of public pressure. I was surprised by the number of bystanders watching the entire court session. In many instances, fact-finding missions require the stories and signatures of neighbors in order to establish the truth, therefore adding another layer of accountability. Lastly, when judgments are reached, they are notarized and signed by the local elder.

Are the judgments recognized by the state?

The women’s court utilizes legal norms and cites state and national laws. They employ state-based mechanisms: filing First Information Reports (FIR) at the police station, getting medical examinations in case of injury, seeking security from a protection officer, and writing letters to the Human Rights Commission, the State Women’s Commission, and the National Women’s Commission. According to the Arbitration and Conciliation Act of 1996, cases settled in panchayats and other community courts can be recognized in judicial courts.

Does the court act as an alternative to the legal system or complement it?

In many ways, the court acts as both an alternative and a supplement to the legal system.

Alternative: When the judicial system fails to address issues in a timely manner, people utilize the court to speed up the process. Additionally, the court deals with issues in a more holistic manner, often times employing its participants’ knowledge of village life to examine various causal factors. For example, if a husband cites suspicion of his wife’s activities, the women’s court know this often times refers to a sexuality issue and can encourage deeper discussions.

Supplement: The court can also be seen as an alternative dispute resolution mechanism, complementing the Indian judicial system. India has a long tradition of these mechanisms through panchayats. This assembly of the panch (five) elders, traditionally all men, is in charge of settling disputes at the community level. Similar to a voluntary arbitration procedure, the council deals with issues on which agreements between the parties can be reached. In trying to find a middle ground, the court attempts to ensure a successful compromise for both parties. In panchayats, the women typically sit outside the circle allowing men to speak on their behalf. The women’s courts enhance this tradition by providing much needed spaces in which women are encouraged to present their case and articulate their wishes.

Vikalp sees the court as providing several benefits to women and their communities:

1) Ownership of justice mechanisms by marginalized community

2) Subverting gender norms

3) Providing restorative instead of retributive justice for both sides

4) Trauma healing for women who can present their stories in a safe and supportive space

5) Transformative potential for the women participating in the court: some of the women bringing cases eventually became part of the court while others continue coming every week to see court cases and learn about their rights.

Looking forward to your questions about the courts and their procedure!!

10 Responses to “Nari Adalat: FAQs”

  1. Anne Johnson says:

    Your notes on community enforcement of the court’s judgement reminds me of a section of Bill Easterly’s “White Man’s Burden” that I read recently. He discusses how, when well-intentioned rich-country bureaucrats come in to “formalize” a country’s systems, their efforts simply exist alongside the more community-minded systems that have often existed for generations. Since these “formal” systems don’t have the benefit of years of built community trust and accountability, he argues, they are often weak and can even undermine community members’ trust in formal government systems generally. Great that NA utilizes existing community relationships when building an enforcing their cases?

  2. Liz says:

    Great post, Andra! I really like the fact that women from the community can attend others’ cases to learn about their rights! It seems like it plays an important role in educating the community.

  3. Kyun says:

    Very interesting. I have a question. Once the parties settle their case in the Nari Adalat court, do they have to withdraw their case at the Indian judicial system? Or is this a temporary solution until their case can be heard at the State court?

  4. iain says:

    Hi Andra. This is very interesting. It’s clearly very important that men are involved and accept the decisions of the court. As we get to know the court better, I do feel there are some key indicators of success: how many cases are unresolved and have to get sent on to the law courts; what types of cases DON’T lend themselves to this approach; and whether the mainstream legal system is learning from this alternative approach and applying any lessons. That would be very interesting. We need to put this in the context of growing debate about the protection of women in rural India. Also I notice a lot of fact-finding missions. It might be interesting to accompany on those….

  5. Wendy says:

    I had no idea that India has a tradition of community-based justice. I am intrigued that the courts are able to actually achieve justice, but using consensus building makes all the difference. This model of restorative justice, trauma healing, and conflict transformation should be emulated everywhere.

  6. Caley says:

    Has this model been replicated in larger, urban settings within India? It seems like a such a direct and cost-effective method for smaller communities but I am imagining it would be difficult to transplant to a different political and cultural space. What do you think?

  7. abosneag says:


    Since the courts were started by the government, the national judicial system encourages the courts, often referring cases to or accepting information and evidence from the courts.

  8. abosneag says:

    Hi Iain,

    The court hears over a hundred cases a year, taking on about 95% of the cases referred to them. Last year, they had 64 new cases, 197 hearings, and 56 fact-finding missions. These cases include both criminal and civil suits. They typically deal with domestic violence, child custody, marital issues, maintenance/compensation, desertion, land and labor rights discrimination, and retrieval of dowry following a divorce. Although each case differs, most have an initial hearing and 4-6 additional hearings, often with fact-finding missions. These are incredibly quick decisions compared to the cases in the Indian judicial system.

    Regarding the men, it would be hard to give exact numbers but the twenty or so in the audience seem to be attentive to and supportive of the women’s court. Towards the end of the court, a man kept interrupting the women, in part because he was attempting to talk to me in English. After a while, he became annoyed and tried to get the women to leave as he claimed he was the architect for the unfinished building where we all sought shelter, and it could collapse at anytime. The women tried to reason with him, but when that failed they all let him know they were entitled to hold their court. The men standing on the sidelines kept telling the women they were right and should slap him because he was a hinderance. When a man from the equivalent of the village police from across the street showed up, the women quickly stated their problems and he sided with them, telling the man to leave. It was a great moment in showcasing the court’s collective strength and the respect the women have earned through their work.

  9. iain says:

    Good blog! Two questions. First, do these courts hear criminal cases (eg domestic violence and worse) or is it always civil suits? Second, what is the attitude of men? We heard last year that men increasingly accept the verdicts. It would be very good to get some statistics on this – and indeed on the court’s performance. How many complaints over a year? What issues? How many judgements issued and how many referred to the courts? How many judgements accepted? Is there a process of appeal? Etc etc.

  10. Tomas says:

    Seems so distant from systems here… Does the national judicial system encourage these courts to reach more of those? Or does it ignore them?

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Case at the Nari Adalat

Andra Bosneag | Posted June 19th, 2013 | India

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Nari Adalat, Padra. The first case of the day involves Salma, her husband Imraan, and her mother-in-law. As the women of the Nari Adalat sit in a circle around the family, Salma starts to present her case, but her mother-in-law quickly interrupts. Jasi, the court moderator, and the fifteen other Nari Adalat women quickly silence the mother-in-law.

“You will have your turn!”

“Let Salma speak!”

“Not now!”

Among her many complaints, Salma objects to her mother-in-law having an affair and bringing the man into their home. During her turn, the mother-in-law complains about Salma, injecting animated hand movements in her narrative. Imraan is quiet for the most part. This back and forth between the mother-in-law and daughter-in-law continues for a while.

“Don’t worry,” Jasi assures Imraan, “we will help you.”

Imraan seems uncomfortable between the two women, constantly clenching his jaw as the women rush to tell their stories. A few minutes after Jasi’s comment, he gets up.

“They are insulting my honor,” he says as he leaves the circle.

The NA women, as well as the group of men sitting on the sidelines, convince him to come back. Imraan sits down again, and admits he is tired of the women arguing.

“I am innocent,” he pleads.

“We are not against you,” Jasi reassures him.

Jasi asks Imraan what he wants. He explains his wife and mother do not get along and he is constantly sandwiched between the two. The discussion lasts another ten minutes until the downpour forces the court under a nearby building. The women ask the couple and the mother-in-law if they are ready to live apart. After another thirty minutes of discussion, tearful storytelling, and a chat with Imran’s brother, the court gets the family to reach a consensus. Salma and Imraan will live on one floor of their house while the mother-in-law will occupy the other floor and receive help from Imraan.

Jasi tells Salma that after this agreement, she cannot complain about whom the mother-in-law brings over.

“No pointing to your mother-in-law, not matter what she does. Your husband stays with you, and you must take care of him so your mother-in-law does not feel you’re uncaring towards him.”

Jasi then turns to the mother-in-law.

“He earns 5,000 rupees. He will help you, but you must not interfere. Your daughter-in-law can walk naked through her part of the house if she wants.”

Laughter reverberates through the crowd. The NA women tell the family to notify the court if they have further problems. They also plan a visit to the family’s house, after which the court will decide the feasibility of the house arrangement. As the family walks away from the court, Imraan seems visibly relieved. The rest of the onlookers are discussing the case between themselves as the women prepare for their next case.

My future blogs will examine some of the main issues the court takes into consideration—sexuality, gender roles, caste system, human rights, and livelihoods. 

9 Responses to “Case at the Nari Adalat”

  1. Liz says:

    Interesting! Thank you for sharing, Andra! :)

  2. Kyun says:

    Hmm…it’s interesting how the cultural norms described are so “traditional” (where the man takes care of the woman and there is a court of elderly members of the community, rather than formals legal representatives), yet they openly discuss matters involving affairs. Such a drastic contrast with other traditional cultures. It’s nice to hear that cultural based court systems/councils can take upon such practical issues openly.

    Great story!

  3. Wendy says:

    Your blog and the comments are so fascinating! I am learning so much about community-based justice, culture, inequality, consensus building, gender relations, etc. You’re doing a great job on these posts!

  4. Caley says:

    Interesting how community pressure leads to an auto-enforcement of the edicts. What a powerful method to enact change.

    I noticed the positioning of the onlookers (court members?) around the complainant/defendant and imagine that the physical factor of their bodies must also serve as a very strong reminder of the presence and pressure of the community.

    Nice work.

  5. abosneag says:

    Thanks for the question Iain. Vikalp can, and often does, investigate through home visits to make sure the arrangements are followed. It seems as though the court’s decisions are upheld since they are agreed to by both parties and not imposed by the courts. If not, the women are encouraged to call the court, and both sides are then re-summoned to the courts. Once again, community pressure helps persuade the two sides to show up.

  6. abosneag says:

    True, the disparity levels are striking. Your comment lent itself to an interesting discussion–the plight of women must also be taken into account. According to Maya, patriarchy rules by dividing. One of the reasons women fight is because men have strings to the purse. As women are often times encouraged to work only in the home, in later life they must rely on their children for their livelihoods, and in this case the daughter-in-law. The mother-in-law also talked about her own mother-in-law’s mistreatment, leading the women to point out such behavior must not be perpetuated.

  7. iain says:

    Really interesting, well-written blog! Captures the involvement of men very well – and it would be good to get some statistics on this. Also, this blog raises the question of follow-up – does Vikalp have the capacity to investigate and what happens if the court’s edicts are ignored?

  8. Abhishek says:

    Alas!! The plight of men!
    I believe now you can understand the value of Rs. 5000 (which is < $90) and the disparity levels across the world. One can take care of two women in less than $90 in India.

    Look forward to more of your enlightening discoveries.


  9. Jenni says:

    This was so interesting! It makes me want to learn more about community-based justice initiatives here in the U.S. Keep up the good work!

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Nari Adalat: Women’s Court

Andra Bosneag | Posted June 15th, 2013 | India

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On Tuesday, we were able to visit the Nari Adalat (NA), one of the women’s courts associated with Vikalp. Our journey starts in the Vikalp office at 12pm, where Jasveen and I meet with our translator, Vaishali. Although Jasveen speaks Hindi, most of the inhabitants of the nearby town of Padra speak only Gujarati. As we make our way to Padra by car, Vaishali notes some interesting facts.

Every Tuesday, fifteen primarily Dalit women meet under a tree in front of a government building. Known as the Nari Adalat, literally the women’s court, they hear community cases and try to reach solutions agreed upon by both parties. The court hears over a hundred cases a year, taking on about 95% of the cases referred to them. Last year, they had 64 new cases, 197 hearings, and 56 fact-finding missions. These cases include both criminal and civil suits. They typically deal with domestic violence, child custody, marital issues, maintenance/compensation, desertion, land and labor rights discrimination, and retrieval of dowry following a divorce.

The NA started in 1995 as a government scheme, but after funding ran out in 2005, the community sought help from Vikalp in order to maintain the court and receive additional training. Vikalp continues to apply for grants on behalf of the court as its activities, especially fact-finding missions and travel,  require far more funds than the modest amount paid to register a case. As the cases in the Indian judicial system tend to last for years, people grow disillusioned. Earlier in the week, we met a woman who was in the ninth year of her divorce case! The women’s courts provide timely and affordable justice. Although the courts were initially meant as a way for women to bring their complaints in a safer space than that traditionally provided by patriarchal institutions, over the years, their transparency, effectiveness, and consensus building has led to the participation of men as well.

By the time we get to Padra, the light rain has forced the women under a nearby tree that provides more shelter. Women dressed in colorful saris are sitting in a circle on an orange plastic sheet. Most of them are older and smile at us. I am delighted when they ask several times how to correctly pronounce my name before they write it in their ledger. (Andra as in Andhra Pradesh!)

All the women are able to ask questions and provide commentary; however, Jasi, the woman in the yellow sari, facilitates the discussion. The witnesses sit in the middle of the circle and women are encouraged to speak on their own behalf. At the end of the day, the women donate 100 rupees each–about two dollars–to a fund that can be accessed by anyone in need, at a three percent rate.

The typical procedure for a case:

1)    Registration of complainants; fixing a day for hearings

2)    Hearings during which each side presents their side of the story

3)    Fact-finding missions by advocates to complainants’ family and village

4)    Citation of state laws and use of state institutional procedures

5)    Resolution signed by village elder or other authority and parties involved

The court heard five cases on Tuesday, one of which I will talk about in my next blog. Meanwhile, you can see more photos on my flickr account.

6 Responses to “Nari Adalat: Women’s Court”

  1. Andrew says:

    I followed this organization last year, but did not know that NA started as a government project. I wonder what they would think if they were brought to a day such as this to observe? Perhaps someone could be convinced to fund and expand the model.

  2. iain says:

    Good work, Andra! Really clear account of this extremely important experiment in women’s justice. Look forward to the next blog.

  3. Wendy says:

    This is a nice example of how community-based participatory practices are more in tune with the real needs of people than national institutions. Transforming these practices towards the national level is a bit more difficult, however. The government should see these courts as a model to improve its national institutions.

  4. Tomas says:

    Interesting! I hope I had read about it a couple of months earlier, my mediation class professor would have been delighted to learn about this!

  5. Caley says:

    Fascinating process. I wonder about its ties with community based justice and policing in the US. Seems more bottom up in this approach however and much more holistic.

  6. Abhishek says:

    Interesting!! Looking forward to read about the cases. Also, I can see that you are having Lunch out of Jalebis…I long for them now..Can you please bring back some? :) :)

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The Language of Smiles

Andra Bosneag | Posted June 7th, 2013 | India

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Walk into the Vikalp office, and you will find people from very diverse communities opening up and talking about their problems, asking for advice, and seeking solutions. These clients always seem to be smiling. They usually present their cases in an animated, fast, and nonstop manner, making you wonder at their lung capacity. Although any attempt on my part to initially understand their stories proves futile, their excitement and happiness are palpable. They know somebody is on their side, provides support, and listens to their stories. These sympathetic ears belong to Maya and Indira, the two women in charge of Vikalp.


Indira acts as a counselor and the smiling people always seem to tell her their problems many times over. She listens patiently, shaking her head often in agreement, but she can rapidly show her fierceness in confronting situations the rest of us would rather not acknowledge. If your dongle internet is not working, she is the person to have on your side! She also teaches you useful words and does not give up until your pronunciation is perfect. No, I do not mean “please” and “thank you”; apparently, those should be expressed through body language. I mean the really useful ones, the ones that require you to build a familial connection with people before you call them a string of colorful terms.


In contrast, Maya has been described as a philosopher. She retraces lost traditions, questions the implications of language, and constantly plans projects. She challenges your thoughts on everything, quickly pinpointing contradictions, and sharing the stories she has experienced and heard along the years. Her smile is constant and inviting as she talks of themes such as the unfathomable mystery of silence. Often peering at her emails, full of recommendations from friends, her knowledge is astounding. Her most recent endorsement is an interesting ten-minute movie about chai.

Together the two act as part community organizers, part counselors, part strong people taking on injustice and discrimination with a determined smile. Seeing the people visiting their office, it does not take long to realize the two act as everything for everybody in the tribal, dalit, and queer communities of Gujarat.

Next Tuesday, we will be visiting one of the women-run dalit courts, Nari Adalat, and I will tell you more about Vikalp’s work.

6 Responses to “The Language of Smiles”

  1. Jennifer says:

    Andra! So happy to hear about your time in India :) Can’t wait to read about more of your adventures!

  2. Jasveen Bindra says:

    It’s been a hectic and awesome week! I don’t know where to start or end when writing my next blog – everyday is a truckload of inspiration/information/expertise/jokes/laughs/shocks….

    Also – gracias for pointing out all the things in India that I thought were universal but aren’t (Fingerbowls).

    Insert inside joke here

  3. Kyun says:

    Sure sounds like you’ll be learning a lot from these two wonderful women. And what great role models and teachers to have in India.

  4. Karin says:

    Andra, you and Jasveen are in for a great summer! Maya and Indira are two powerful women who get the job done. I look forward to following your blogs and seeing your work plan unfold.

  5. Liz says:

    This is wonderful! And you write such great descriptions Andra.

  6. Cathleen says:

    Does Indira make house calls?! Haha. What a dynamic duo! And what a powerful tool, instilling hope and solidarity with a smile :) Can’t wait to hear about your court visit.

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The Language of Food

Andra Bosneag | Posted June 6th, 2013 | India

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Thank you to all the people who posted comments on my first blog! My co-workers enjoyed getting to know a little bit about all of you.

Many people have asked about my experiences in India so far. In the first few days, the response inevitably reached food. A week later, my response starts directly with the latest delicious meal: “Hey! How are you? Today I had a dosa, two cheese parathas, a large portion of malai kofta, two mango lassis, and ice cream. That was lunch, for dinner I had…”

Food seems to lie at the heart of India, in all its glorious regional forms. Everybody has suggestions for what I should try, nobody listens when I plead that I have had enough (Bas, Bas, BAS!), and given the country’s chronic shortage of change I receive a small bar of chocolate with every transaction.

Food also lies at the heart of how I am processing my new home. In many respects, being a ardent fan of Indian food means I have a vague idea of what I am ordering. This seemingly simple process provides a reference point, something familiar alongside the host of new activities I am attempting to embrace. For example, when I went to see the latest Bollywood movie, Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, I was worried about committing to a three hour non-subtitled movie with my knowledge of thirty Hindi words. But as I munched away on my paneer puff (yes, they have this cheesy goodness in movie theaters!), I knew I was in for a pleasurable evening.

Interestingly, it has also been in the eating process where culture shock creeps up, perhaps because it is an activity I have to perform at least three times a day. Awkwardness abounds from figuring out what to do with finger bowls for the first time to identifying which of the six dishes is sweet, all emotions intensified as people stare at my every move.

A few days ago, Indira and Maya took me to the house warming ceremony of a friend. After we blessed ourselves, toured the entire house, and tested all the mattresses, we return to talk to the owners. Suddenly, a child approaches me with a tray of offerings. Everybody is taking a piece, so I follow suit. I excitedly grab one of the pieces, wondering about its flavor. The dark brown treat could be a host of delicious flavors, but I am betting on mango. I eagerly bring the sweet to my mouth, but in the process of opening my mouth, I happen to glance around. I stop with the sweet halfway in my mouth, frozen with embarrassment as I realize nobody else is eating. Maya and Indira are just holding the small mound in their hand. I quickly take the “sweet” out of my mouth and look around to see if people are waiting to eat because they are talking or if I am about to eat some ceremonial wax. Several moments later, I realize it is the former. I laugh and wonder what mango wax would taste like.


 Sporting pants fit for eating with Maya and Pratima

18 Responses to “The Language of Food”

  1. Anne Johnson says:

    You look great in this photo, Andra!

  2. Jasveen Bindra says:

    I am loving the paneer puff obsession! I’ve never thought of the 30 cent food item, often available in our school canteens (tuck shops?) as anything more than mundane! :D But not that I think about it, it is rather genius.

  3. Eirik says:

    Dear Andra,

    Food posts are the best! I think this should be a recurring theme throughout your blog (even though the project and your work sounded amazing). I love food too, and really enjoying reading about your experience with eating in India. Let us know when you’ve had your favorite mango lassi, when you’ve eaten something unexpectedly delicious (maybe the mango wax would’ve been delightful?), or when you’ve experienced more customs different from ours.

  4. Andrew says:


    I too am late to the game but am enjoying the posts and pictures. Keep up the good work! I’m sure I speak for all the Lowden residents in looking forward to your forthcoming Indian culinary efforts – we’ll be happy to make the trek to the YH to sample, say, paneer puffs or mango wax. Yum!

  5. Jenni says:

    Andra, this post made me hungry! I’m glad you’re having such a great time. I can’t wait to hear more about your work and about all the adventures you’re having :)

  6. abosneag says:

    @ Cath Finger bowls are for washing your fingers after a meal. I was initially confused because they usually come with a slice of lime or lemon in the hot water. Apparently, Indian children have to be reminded these are not hand bowls.

  7. abosneag says:

    @Liz Yesterday I actually paid in chocolate! I had two transactions with the same merchant. Since I didn’t have change, I just returned the chocolate he gave me a few minutes earlier. It’s usually just regular chocolate.

  8. Kyun says:

    Love the photo, Andra, you look so happy.

    Send me some paneer puff so I can munch on that while I watch a Bollywood starring Shah Rukh Khan.

  9. Giulia says:

    I think food is a universal language considering we all need to eat! Plus who doesn’t love food haha and now I want to eat. I have never really tried Indian food however this post inspires me to, especially these Paneer Puffs everyone seems to be talking about.

    Seems like you are having a very positive experience thus far and cannot wait to see how the journey progresses.

    Giulia Moore

  10. Karin says:

    Andra, food is certainly my favorite way of getting to know a new place, whether in the US or abroad. I’ve found that in my own travels my hosts always want to feed me and know that I think every bite is delicious. The exchange and sharing of meals could also be considered another great way of ‘cross culturally communicating’, only, save the last bite for me!

  11. Abhishek says:

    Good to know that you are enjoying. Moreover, it seems from the photograph that you have become acclimatized to the heat.That is a big achievement.

    Once again, how do you pronounce “Paneer Puff”?


  12. Yang says:

    Loved reading this post! I second Kelsey’s request for some paneer puffs.

  13. Liz says:

    Chocolate change?! I hope that becomes a worldwide trend hehe :) What is Indian chocolate like?

  14. Caley says:

    What a colorful post, friend. Have you ever tested the waters and turned down new food? What was the response?

  15. Cathleen says:

    You are so perspicacious! I love that you point out how food is one’s first means of exploring a new place and facing culture shock because of the frequent ritual of meals. I’m curious what do you do with finger bowls? And what an interesting note about the shortage of change and the chocolate compensation! That’s genius, haha!

  16. abosneag says:

    We will have to make some Kelsey!!

  17. Aditya says:

    Hilarious!!! Keep eating the wax.

  18. Kelsey says:

    Andra, you should introduce me to the paneer puff in the fall!

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Incredible India

Andra Bosneag | Posted May 25th, 2013 | India

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,


Ever since the Advocacy Project accorded my VIKALP internship in India, my friends—Indians and seasoned travelers alike—have shared their wisdom and knowledge with me: make sure to visit these thirty places, be careful in taxis, eat biryani at this Bombay joint, watch the third video of Incredible India, pronounce palak paneer this way, and the list goes on. For people’s enthusiasm and support, I am beyond grateful. Similarly, the Advocacy Project has been wonderful in our orientation in DC over the last few days, and I had the opportunity to meet many enthusiastic supporters of the program at the Peacefellow Reception.

I will be documenting my experiences and activities as a 2013 Peacefellow with VIKALP, an organization overseeing among other activities, two tribal and indigenous women’s courts in the northwest state of Gujarat. I will be working primarily with Indira and Maya, the founding members of VIKALP, and Jasveen, another Advocacy Project intern.

I am incredibly thankful for the amazing opportunity to learn more about human rights through women’s courts and participate in social change alongside marginalized communities, an issue  I have passionately addressed in my scholarship, volunteerism, and research. However, as is often the case, we tend to leave places with much more than we bring. Such an involved and expansive internship will undoubtedly be transformative and challenging. I look forward to the hard work ahead, hopeful that I will be able to learn alongside Maya and Indira and further their social change goals while ensuring long-term viability for their remarkable endeavors. Most of all, I look forward to telling their story.

Look for my  blogs at least once a week over the next three months and feel free to share your thoughts and comments with me! Below you can see an interview with Indira Pathak, one of the founding members of VIKALP. Photo and video by Alicia Evangelides, 2012 AP Fellow.

Let the sensory overload being!

15 Responses to “Incredible India”

  1. iain says:

    Good video, Andra! Captures Vikalp’s work and priorities really well. This will be a very productive summer for you.

  2. Luisa says:

    Hi Andra!

    I’m late, but just as excited to hear about everything that you’ll be doing in India.

  3. Rachel says:

    Hi Andra,

    Can’t wait to hear about your adventures! Take a picture of something that caught your eye and tell the story!

  4. Jessica says:

    Hi Andra!

    I can’t wait to hear about your adventures! Good luck with everything :) You’re an amazing person and I hope you have an amazing and life-changing experience.

  5. Aditya says:

    Hey Andra!

    Good to see that you are liking it there and enjoying your work. I hope you make the best of your time at Vikalp and enjoy yourself.

    Look forward to reading more of your blogs.

  6. Ruben says:

    Hope you get to your list item Delhi soon :-)

  7. Yang says:

    Wonderful first post! Can’t wait to hear more about your adventures with VIKALP in India this summer. Keep us posted!

  8. Anne says:

    So excited to hear more!

  9. Loghman says:

    Hi Andra,

    It is great to hear you are enjoying your stay in India. Have fun and keep us updated!

  10. Caley says:

    Don’t forget to eat the naan! Excited to hear about your journey.

  11. Abhishek says:


    Wish you all the best in your endeavors! I’m sure you’ll prove to be an indispensable asset to the organization and the community you’ll be involved with.
    Looking forward to hearing about your varied experiences through the summer.



  12. Cathleen says:

    Hi Andra,

    Thanks for sharing the link to your blog. I’ve always appreciated your insightful writing and I’m eager to read about your time at VIKALP! All the best to you!

  13. Keren says:

    Hi Andra, I’ve bookmarked your blog and am excited to follow your work with VIKALP this summer!

  14. Tomas says:

    Hello Andra,
    I wish you the best of luck and lots of energy in this honorable mission. Looking forward to reading more!

  15. Genevieve says:

    Hi Andra!

    Wonderful post, I am so excited for you and can’t wait to hear all about your experiences.

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Fellow: Andra Bosneag

Vikalp Women's Group


advocacy Advocacy Project AP counseling Dalit food house warming ceremony incredible India India panchayats Peacefellow Queer social change stories tribal VIKALP women's courts Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani




2013 Fellows


Benan Grams
Meron Menwyelet
Mohammed Alshubrumi
John Steies


Andra Bosneag
Chris Pinderhughes
Emily MacDonald
Jasveen Bindra
Kelly Howell
Raymond Aycock
Sujita Basnet

Middle East

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2012 Fellows


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North America

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