Monthly Archives: January 2013

Thoughts on the Future of Healthcare in Countries with First-World Problems

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Problems of the developed world

The developed world and countries with first world health problems face  difficult challenges in the future of healthcare. I believe that both the task of doctor and patient must change in order to face these current and growing challenges. Some of the major problems we face are those having to do with metabolic syndrome, including obesity, hypertension, high cholesterol, and diabetes. Other major problems I see involve issues with our mental state, including stress and fatigue (this can be both physical and mental). In most cases, these problems can be prevented and avoided completely with a healthy lifestyle. Millions of people around the world are facing these problems in record numbers and it is literally killing them–isn’t there something that we should do to change this?

From my observations of healthcare workers and their patients, I have seen many people come to the doctor complaining that they are obese or overweight, can’t get pregnant, are depressed, and feel too tired to do anything but eat and watch TV (and many are young or raising families with similar habits and problems!). I will offer my readers a common scenario of a consultation in India to demonstrate the situation (we can assume other countries with first-world problems have similar scenarios).

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Observing a consultation at a women’s health camp

The doctor looks at the patient’s chart, complete with various test results. She sees that the patient has high blood pressure, high cholesterol, a BMI of 33 (the same as the patients age), and is borderline diabetic. The patient also complains of fatigue and depression. The doctor then asks the patient, “What do you eat? And what do you do for exercise?”

The patient replies with pride, “I have Kelloggs cereal for breakfast–the advertisements on TV say that it’s a balanced breakfast and a great way to start my day and might even help me lose weight (with 45 g of refined sugar and less than 1 g protein)! Then I have fried such and such for lunch and then go with my family to the buffet (oil, fried food, starches, fatty meats, sweets) or order pizza for dinner. I sometimes skip breakfast or other meals as I am trying to lose weight but I know that I am eating a healthy diet.”

Right.

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A 1998 Kelloggs ad (above) and the actual “Fat Controller” (below)

The doctor then has a difficult task of trying to re-teach someone to eat as many people, including many doctors, don’t actually know what healthy eating is. And, the doctor must do this in a way that both does not offend the patient and encourages the patient to actually take action. Unfortunately, this task is made more difficult because the patients receive their education on “healthy” eating from advertisements that try to sell them processed chemicals instead of food, with images of smiling, happy, and healthy families. And Kelloggs even tells them that eating their processed starchy and sugary cereals will help them lose weight. But the doctor says–“Eat fruits and vegetables–five portions a day!” “Cut down on processes carbohydrates and starch.” “Stop eating so much meat.” “One liter of oil per person per month.” “No sugar!” “Get your friends and go walking for half an hour a day.” “Get some exercise, you will feel much better!” “By this time next year, with healthy eating and exercise, your weight will be normal and we can see what sort of problems you DON’T have.”

The patients almost uniformly reply:

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“Doctor, I have no time for exercise or healthy eating (with a maid doing all the house work and the patient getting in no less than five hours of quality TV a day). I’m overweight, tired, and depressed. Isn’t there some sort of pill you can give me to help with all this? Or maybe some kind of surgery?”

I was shocked to hear that patients would rather suffer the risks and recovery of surgery, let alone the side effects of drugs, than make simple, healthy changes to their lifestyle. Then I realized that the majority of patients view their own health as completely out of their control or responsibility.

At this point, I remembered that I was once in a similar situation with depression (another complex problem that I believe can be solved with a great amount of effort and lifestyle changes). In my teenage years, I was deeply depressed and perhaps jealous of all the drugs that my friends and classmates were taking. The depression was so bad that I didn’t sleep for days and couldn’t attend school for a semester because I physically and emotionally couldn’t. I was fifteen and begged my parents for drugs. But, they didn’t believe in psychiatric medications and no matter how hard I cried and begged for a pill to make all my problems disappear, my parents didn’t budge. They did, however, settle on a two-week prescription of Ambien to restart my sleep cycle (which worked and was actually a key part of my road to recovery). But, without the intervention of allopathic medicine, somehow (with a lot of contemplation and exercise), I came out of the depression and spent the next several years of my life learning how to never let it happen to me again.

From this personal experience, I learned many things including these three points. One, it is always easier not to take responsibility for our problems and much easier to take a magic pill that “makes everything go away” rather than put in the effort to actually make our lives better. Two, drug or medical intervention is sometimes necessary (or even a key part of the solution). Three, good health (both physical and mental) takes effort and there is no magic pill (allopathic or otherwise) that can make everything better.

This experience also caused me to empathize with the patients that I saw and with people around the world facing similar problems. I understand that change is hard and it is difficult for us to accept that we haven’t always been making the best decisions for ourselves. But, instead of taking responsibility for our own lives, we make excuses and try to place the burden of our problems onto someone else (in this case, the doctor).

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Some people actually view this as the solution to obesity and diabetes!

Doctors exist for a reason. They are meant to listen to our problems, identify the underlying causes, help us find solutions, and guide us on our journey to better health. However, in the majority of problems that we are seeing today, doctors and the drugs that they prescribe are (often) not the solution. Thus, our idea of healthcare must change to include and emphasize the responsibility the patient has for their own health–and not just in the sense of drug compliance (will the patient take this drug 3x per day after food as prescribed?). Patients must learn to take some responsibility for their health in terms of healthy eating, exercise, and preventative medicine. However, in order to do so, patients (meaning the general public) must to be educated in such matters by someone other than advertisers. This is where public health must make an effort. Parents should be educated on healthy eating and raising a healthy family, and schools and hospitals should be required to serve actual food (and the government should stop subsidies to shit and instead support small farmers who deliver fresh and nutritious fruits and vegetables). People should also be encouraged to look at their lives and look for areas where they can simplify and reduce stress, which I believe is a root cause of many of our health problems (including depression, insomnia, hormonal changes, stress eating leading to obesity, high blood pressure…) And, our doctors also need to set good examples for the population by living healthfully and avoiding (at least visibly) living out of the vending machine.

People need to learn that both health and happiness take effort, at least at first. Patients must realize that to some degree, their health is in their own hands–and the doctor must be used as a tool rather than as the solution. This proposed change in the way healthcare operates takes effort on both doctors and patients. Doctors must learn to think beyond drugs and learn how to reach patients in a way that encourages them to lead healthy lives (and public health must help support the doctors!), and patients need to start looking inward for better health. Medicine isn’t just about tablets and surgeries, and its time we realized it.

Note: I understand that many people have problems that do require drug intervention, including people with problems related to metabolic syndrome and depression. I am just hoping that the future of healthcare places more emphasis on health and education as I believe that in the majority of cases these problems can be prevented or, in some cases, solved with a healthy lifestyle. Change is hard and patients need empathy and help (from a knowledgeable source) along the road to better health.

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Driving in India

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Everyone who travels or has friends who travel has most assuredly either lived or heard about the experience of vehicular transport in other countries. Whether it be the confusion of driving on the other side of the road in the “civilized” United Kingdom, the frightening but exhilarating taxi ride through winding cobble stone streets made for horse carts (and certainly not two way automobile traffic) somewhere in Europe, or the near death “spiritual” experience of navigating through traffic in India, these stories and experiences nearly always create fond memories (provided there were no deaths involved). As I have spent the last four months or so in Asia, I have had many such experiences and will attempt to share my tales of horror and joy and driving in India.

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I have had the fortunate pleasure of avoiding buses thus far in India (soon to change in the next few days). When I arrived in Hyderabad November 1st, a driver met me at the airport and drove me the seven or so hours south to the BIRDS farm in Muthyalpadu village. My– was I in for a shock! Yes, I had been Nepal for a month or so, had seen chaotic traffic without any sort of direction, and had been warned (and seen the actual bruises) about driving in India. And I drove along a road (National Highway 44?) at a time with relatively little traffic—looking back–hardly any at all. But, there was a cyclone and–my god–was it raining! (Before this story goes any further let me announce that I am a backseat driver to the highest degree). And we were going so fast zooming and swerving around traffic, trucks, and police barricades–honking all the way—in a car with “Jesus Loves You” plastered all over the exterior and a wobbly bobbing Mary glued to the dashboard. When I could manage to read the painted script on the colorfully adorned Indian lorries, to my terror I read “Honk Please.” And honk we did.

All of this was happening without the use of headlights. In the rain. And then it got dark. And we still didn’t use our headlights. Finally, when the driver started to use his lights sporadically, he used his brights and didn’t switch them off for on-coming traffic! This portion of the drive took all of my will power and then some to bite my tongue. But I did, and I survived.

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We then moved to a highway in dire need of repair and, as we swerved around potholes and oxcarts or to quickly make the “diversion”, every few seconds I would find myself lurching from my seat and blinded by the oncoming traffic’s high-powered head beams kindly turned to bright. Finally, I resolved to put the front seat all the way back to avoid the headlights (I may have even dug out my eye mask), closing my eyes to the chaos over which I had no control, and tried to quiet my mind for sleep that never came.

Besides the headlight situation, another wonderful safety feature found in the majority of Indian automobiles that makes driving all the more frightening is that the majority of cars here have been cleverly designed (or rather redesigned) to contain no seat belts. So, I often find myself imagining flying through the windshield when we come to an abrupt stop. I also think about what a killing American traffic police would make with their $2500 seat-belt fines if American automobiles were similarly redesigned….

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Now that the initial near-heart-attacks have ended and I have resolved that I cannot always wear a seat belt, I have come to find driving through both the Indian countryside and city traffic to be wonderfully meditative. It is absolute chaos and there is nothing that I can do but laugh and smile to myself. At any moment, a herd of buffalo or a motorcyclist could appear from nowhere and… I guess this is why driving in India is so often called a spiritual experience.

In the last three months my perceptions and reactions have changed drastically (on many things, not just driving but that is another story). For example, if I find myself in the backseat of a car driven by a more timid driver (but still exceedingly aggressive by Western standards), I find myself thinking, pleading—Why doesn’t he just go?! The road was clear (with only two or three cars coming and twenty or so motorcycles)! Really, man, really?! Can’t we just GO!?

Note: Many young travelers take pride in sleeping in the dingiest of  places and taking the cheapest/longest/dirtiest bus rides imaginable. I will agree: these experiences do make for great stories and can be character building. I too have had these experiences (eaten alive by ants while attempting to sleep on a street in Havana, contracting some unknown skin infection that may or may not have been MRSA on an eighteen hour bus ride, sleeping in the putrid slums of a Mexican border town…) and thus try to avoid them wherever possible. In doing so, I in no way feel that I am missing out on an “authentic” experience.

Redefining Sex-Education

Kama Sutra Statue

Kama Sutra Statue

Unfortunately for India’s youth (a huge proportion of the world’s population), India is afraid to teach her children and adolescents about sex or anything remotely related to sex. Due to this fear, sex-education here is non-existent (even though the majority of sex-education has nothing–or next to nothing– to do with actual intercourse). Thus, the vast majority of Indian children learn nothing about their bodies and how to properly care for them, or even about the changes their bodies undergo during puberty. When India thinks about sex-education, she miss its significance and utility, and instead thinks that her children will be taught the sexual intricacies of the Kama Sutra and other perversions.

Due to the unfortunate title, “sex education,” children all over the world are missing out on learning important and necessary material. Thus, for India and other parts of the world (including the American South), sex-education should be renamed (taking sex out of the name) to something like “Health and Personal Hygiene.” And, as these classes would be of major benefit even without the mention of actual sex, sex could be taken out of the lectures in countries with both conservative thought-processes and conservative sexual practices (the South does not align). This modification would allow children access to pertinent information about their health and bodies.

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The consequences of not having proper sex-ed in the US…

The United States has a very different sexual culture than conservative India (with the average age of first having intercourse at 17, which is much later than I thought) and thus requires a different sort of sex-education class that does involve sex, especially focusing on the importance of safe sex. (Sex education classes need to be catered to the actual sexual practices and culture of each community rather than the conservative thought processes that outline how things should be.) I remember my first sex-education class at the age of twelve while attending a boarding high-school in rural Arizona (as a day student). Luckily for the students (and completely necessary for a boarding school environment), we were all required to attend a gender specific sex-education class where were learned about our bodies (which was a review for most of us, ages 12-18), were shown slides and given graphic descriptions of STIs, and told that if we had sex without a condom, we would both get pregnant and contract STIs. Unfortunately, I still carry those images and descriptions in my mind (it forever destroyed my enjoyment of cottage cheese)…but it worked! Even at the age of 12, I knew that in the future, when I had sex, I would not do so without proper protection.

While perhaps India is not quite ready for such “forward” classes, India is in dire need of something to take its place. While studying thoughts and practices regarding menstruation in India, I came across several shocking journal articles regarding knowledge and beliefs about menstruation. In one study involving girls in the state of West Bengal, India, about 30% of the girls did not know about menstruation at the time of menarche (their first period) and a very small percentage of girls (<10) knew the source of the menstrual blood. Also, a dangerously high number of girls attributed menstruation to such things as curses from God or disease. Studies like these demonstrate this dire need for “sex-education” aka personal hygiene classes where girls are given the opportunity to learn about their bodies and dispel dangerous beliefs regarding menstruation.

The Saranalaya Home for the daughters of prisoners

The Saranalaya Home for the daughters of prisoners

Some of the little girls

Some of the little girls

I have had the opportunity to offer a few of these “modified sex-education” classes smartly titled “Health and Hygiene” to girls in orphanages in Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu, India (with the help and support of the Womens Center). My first class was at the Saranalayam home for the daughters of prisoners. I was originally told that I would be speaking to girls ages ten and up, however, when I arrived I was shocked to see that about half the girls were under ten and many were as young as five or six. As I had planned my presentation around the central theme of menstruation and still really wanted to give the older girls the opportunity to learn about their bodies and how to care for them, I had to quickly consider my options. Do I teach the five and six year old girls about menstruation even though they won’t understand it? Will I scare them if I do? They probably won’t ever have this opportunity again… These were the thoughts running through my head in the few minutes before my scheduled talk. After consulting the nuns in charge of the house, I restructured the presentation so that everyone learned about general hygiene including toilet hygiene, nutrition, “bad touch,” and exercise. The little girls then went downstairs and I spoke with the over ten crowd about menstruation.

hanna 012After the general talk, I noticed that the nuns were shuffling out adolescent girls that should be staying to listen to the talk, leaving me with just a few of the oldest girls. The nuns told me that these younger girls hadn’t reached menarche (though by the looks of it many would within the year) and therefore didn’t need to stay for my talk. With some passionate convincing, I was able to have a few more girls added to the talk. I told them that menstruation was natural and actually a sign of good health (and showed them a drawing of the uterus!), told them things they could try to alleviate menstrual cramps (exercise and avoiding salt and sugar), and about the proper care of their bodies both generally and while on their periods.

hanna 013Next, we had a question and answer session where a nun who helped care for the girls asked me many questions about normality–and thank god not the Foucauldian sort (she was probably in her late 30s, was educated enough to read and speak English, but had next to no knowledge about  menstruation). The girls themselves asked me a plethora of questions regarding menstruation and what was normal, about pimples and shampoo, weight loss and weight gain, how to grow taller, what to do for cracked heels and cracked lips… Everything. It was actually really fun.

I was able to reassure them that menstruation is normal and calmed many of their fears about their own bodies and cycles. I ended up leaving the printout outlining the key points of my talk with the nun. She was very thankful for the talk and ensured me that she would teach the younger girls about hygiene and their bodies as they came of age.

As my readers can see, my talk was completely innocent and nowhere did it mention or even allude to sex. And it didn’t need to. Yet there is a huge resistance to providing education like this as the public believes that it will corrupt and pollute the innocent minds of children. I have several more talks scheduled for orphan girls at different orphanages throughout Coimbatore. The idea is to give these girls lessons that their mothers would be giving them if they had mothers. However, many girls with mothers do not receive this information either because 1) many of mothers simply don’t know, and 2) many people are too shy to discuss such topics with their children. Thus, I am also scheduling talks at English medium schools to both provide wealthier school girls the opportunity to ask questions about their bodies and to show that “sex-education” doesn’t need to be about sex.

Note: This talk at Saranalayam was covered by The Hindu. Yet, you can see from the article that even the media is a little afraid to mention that my lesson contained a modified version of a sex-ed class (no mention of menstruation), but instead labels it as I did–Health and Hygiene.

Arranged Marriage: A Western Perspective

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My first encounter with arranged marriages (excluding story books and historical accounts of royal and political marriages) occurred about a month into a past relationship with a man of Indian origins. We somehow got to talking about the topic of marriage and how, shockingly to me, arranged marriages still sometimes happened in India (though I don’t think either of us knew to what extent). He then told me, jokingly, that he was betrothed to a girl in India whom he had never met. At first, I didn’t realize that he was joking and felt a little upset, the romantic in me thinking–why was he spending time with me when he has another (perhaps I experienced for a few short seconds the way a woman feels when she discovers that she has been seeing a married man)? I then realized that he was joking and we had more than a few a good laughs…

As one can assume from this anecdote, the concept of arranged marriages has always been foreign to me. Like many Westerners, I was brought up on fairy tales and Disney and always had the notion that people fell madly in love, dated for a while, and then married. And, if for some reason their parents didn’t approve, the couple would run off to Las Vegas or Niagara Falls to elope. The couple’s parents would eventually come around, and everyone lived happily ever after.

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A Western perspective of arranged marriage?

With this mentality, arranged marriages happening in this day and age seemed so bizarre and almost impossible. I know arranged marriages happened historically, and could accept that they happened in backward villages in developing countries (usually involving children, of course), but today?– amongst middle and upper class individuals? Doesn’t everyone want to fall in love?

When I arrived in India, I was in for quite a shock as nearly everyone that I met either had or was going to have an arranged marriage (I could accept members of my parent’s generation having arranged marriages, but my own?!). As this topic fascinated me, I questioned and probed into the lives of as many people as possible to find out the procedures, customs, and thoughts regarding arranged marriages. In this post, I hope to provide stories and share my changing insights and perspectives on the practice.

The first person I questioned about arranged marriages was an educated man in his fifties with knowledge about Western culture. He told me that in India, arranged marriages worked out well as the families would form a partnership on which they could agree. This meant that Christians would marry Christians, Muslims Muslims, and Hindus Hindus. It also meant that families would be in the same general socioeconomic class and might even run in the same social circles. There is also the idea that if the families can get along, the children (the married couple) will be able to sort out any issues that might arise. And, if the couple has problems that they can’t deal with on their own, both sets of parents offer counsel and assistance for the troubled couple. This family orientation, he insisted, is one of the main reasons that India has such a low divorce rate (divorce is also seen as incredibly taboo and, in most incidences, women cannot remarry without intense social consequences. Also, as India is so family oriented, the idea of being divorced and without a family is often worse than suffering through a troubled, unhappy, and even abusive marriage).

Next, he told me the reasons why “love-marriages” often don’t work. First, love doesn’t always follow the rules of society and an upper-caste girl could fall in love with a lower-caste boy (or the other way around) causing both families turmoil and disgrace. Similarly, a Christian could fall in love with a Hindu, and the all important extended family would argue over which religion the future grandchildren should follow, and the families would have to explain why their daughter or son did or didn’t have a Church wedding. Thus, love marriages often don’t work because the pivotal role of family in marriage. And, as family plays such an import role in the lives of Indians, eloping is often out of the question as one does not want to create distance or separation from family. Also, as parents often know their children better than the children know themselves (so the belief goes…), parents have the ability to better select an appropriate spouse than their children. Yet another problem with love marriages is that once the love runs thin and problems begin to arise, the young couple will not have the same support structure created by a partnership between two families.

So, family plays the all important role in marriage in India–and it favors arranged marriages.

After receiving this insight from a man who has arranged his own daughter’s marriage, I began probing into the lives of my Indian peers, discussing their thoughts, feelings, and experiences regarding marriage.

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Nice to meet you?! Almost…

When I asked one recently married couple about their arranged marriage, the man told me how he came to meet and marry his wife. A few months ago, the man announced that he wanted to marry a woman with an MBA degree. One of his father’s friends recalled another friend who had a daughter that was just finishing her MBA. This friend contacted the man with the daughter and gave the future-father-in-law information about his future-son-in-law. The future-father-in-law approved. The young couple exchanged photos and phone numbers, then Skype IDs, and, a few weeks later, finally met. About two months after the initial contact, the couple married. I met the couple about a month after their marriage and it was both sweet and strange to see a married couple behaving towards each other with the innocence of highschool sweethearts.

I had another interesting interaction with an unmarried Christian man of twenty-six. He was going to wait a few more years to marry so that he could settle into a career before starting a family. Discovering that Western societies had different marriage customs, he asked me how it was possible to marry without an arranged marriage. So, I censored myself as best I could to be as least offensive as possible and explained, “Well, we meet people through classes, colleagues, or friends and, if we like each other, we exchange numbers and arrange a time to meet. Then, we date for a while (generally a few years) and, if we both still like each other, at some undefined point in the future, we marry.” Knowing his conservative Indian and Christian background, I edited out all offensive and heretical topics such as pre-marital sex and living together before marriage (aka “trial marriages”). I was shocked when, after my simplistic and seemingly pious explanation of Western marriage practices, he vehemently declared that dating was a sin! I guess I had forgotten to factor in that in the vast majority of Indian marriages, couples even in their twenties and thirties go on supervised dates, thus having no unsupervised time alone until their wedding night!

However, as India is influenced more and more by the West, marriage customs are slowly beginning to change, especially in large cities and amongst the wealthy. While arranged marriages are still the norm, more and more frequently children are shipped off to other cities for university or job opportunities where they meet potential suitors. These suitors are then brought home to meet the parents, such as they would in the West. In this case, the suitor is generally of the same social class (and caste doesn’t play much of a role in educated, wealthy, city dwellers) but still has to obtain parental approval. Finally, the sets of parents meet, and, if everyone agrees, the couple is married. Someone told me that the wealthier or more educated one is, the decision to marry is made more and more by the child than by the parent, even in the case of an arranged marriage (the child has more veto power).

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Perhaps also stemming from Western influence, online dating, in the form of matrimony sites, has made it to India. These sites are very similar to the online dating sites in the West, with the exception that they are used for the purpose of selecting a spouse rather than Friday night’s date. While I am not 100% sure what happens in the selection process and after contact details are exchanged, I would not be surprised if family played an important part in both selecting and approving potential future spouses.

While I am thankful that I have been granted the opportunity to explore the hearts, minds, and bodies of potential (or not) suitors, the Indian system of marriage leaves some room for jealousy. Firstly, how many of us have dated someone our parents can’t stand? In arranged marriages where one’s parents select a partner, this nightmare isn’t an issue. Secondly, with the high divorce rates seen in the West (come on, America, over 50%!?), India’s low rate of divorce looks pretty good (although perhaps all the potential reasons behind it don’t). Thirdly, after having spent the last several weeks in and around a fertility clinic, I know more than I care to about the increasing rates of infertility and about how fertility decreases with age. As someone who might want to have a family in the future as well as a career, when combined with the elevated rates of infertility and a strong personality, the chance of finding a suitable partner during the small window between career and fertility is far from a guarantee. Where in the Western system of love marriage you may spent your life wandering aimlessly (or with unrealistic aims) never finding a partner, in the Indian system, you are practically guaranteed to find a partner by the age of thirty (or shortly after should you wish to be slightly non-traditional). Despite the advantages of arranged marriage, the romantic in me is happy to experience the ups, inevitable downs, and personal growth associated with dating.

Rape: Women and Society in India

“Senior Citizen Attempts to Rape Nine Year-Old Girl.” “Widow Gang-Raped in Uttar Pradesh.” “Delhi Gang-Rape Victim as Guilty as Her Rapists, Asarum Bapu Says.” “Two People, Including a Minor, Rape 15 Year-Old Girl.” “Puducherry Prescription: Separate Buses and Overcoats for (School) Girls.” “School Girl Raped and Strangled with Her Scarf on Way to School.” “Dalit Girl Raped by Upper Caste Boy.” “17 Year-Old Girl Repeatedly Raped by Her Father and Brother.”

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One of many recent front-pages highlighting rape

These are just a small handful of the headlines that I have read the last few weeks in the Indian papers. It seems like every morning about ten different rape cases (all equally horrible) appear in the paper. And these are only the cases that the press finds interesting enough to write about in the fraction of rape cases that are actually reported. One of the most horrible cases I read about (besides the Delhi gang-rape case that has received international press) was about an eighteen year-old girl who was expelled from her college for being raped. Apparently, she was “following nature’s call” (there are very few bathrooms in rural India, or in all of India for that matter) with two friends when a gang of men playing cricket noticed the girls and started coming towards them. The girl’s two  friends were able to escape, leaving the girl in a vulnerable position. The girl was captured and then raped repeatedly in a field, in plain view of male administrators from her school (who did nothing to stop it). After the rape, she was expelled from her college for “behaving in-appropriately with men.” This expulsion will prevent the girl from continuing her education at another school.

After returning home that day, her parents questioned her about her injuries and tears. After much interrogation, she told her parents what had happened. She was immediately taken to a doctor who treated her for her injuries and confirmed the rape. She is now fighting the administration’s decision to expel her for being raped (the administration is still arguing their case, insisting  that this girl was acting inappropriately, even when others who witnessed the crime clearly identified it as rape). As this story was one of the few stories to get attention from the press, I hope that the administrators of this school are closely examined and replaced.

(In India, virginity is a prized possession. Women, even after being raped, are fearful to report the crime as they are afraid that their rape will tarnish their reputation and keep them from being married (some Indian men even divorce their wives after their wives have been raped!). Thus, this stigma, along with the inefficient and embarrassing process of reporting rape (in 2012 in Delhi, only 2 out of 600 reported rape cases we brought to trial and many more cases were given up after victims were treated with disrespect by the investigating officers), prevents many women and girls from taking justice against their attackers. And, perhaps most disgusting of all, policemen and family members often encourage the rape victim to marry her attacker, for she is seen as unfit to marry anyone else.)

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After the brutal rape and death of the Delhi gang-rape victim, the Indian public is finally taking a stand against violence against women. Everyone from politicians, men, and women are demanding change, justice, and preventative measures against rape. Unfortunately, their solutions for the “Rape-Problem” are almost as problematic as rape itself. Politicians are demanding that women cover up more than they are already covered, insisting that women don burka-like dress and school girls wear overcoats to prevent leering eyes from feasting on those few inches of exposed skin. One, India is HOT and women are already covered up more than women in most other countries (with the exception of the Middle East and winter in Siberia). Two, “solutions” like this blame women for the misfortune and atrocity of being raped. “Solutions” such as this also avoid confronting the real issue behind rape. Furthermore, with politicians propagating such madness, women will further internalized the culturally engrained notion that rape is their fault. This will then prevent the few women that do report rape from reporting the crime, allowing more rapists to get away with it, finally resulting in an increase of rape. It is ridiculous and embarrassing that elected officials and politicians (including some women!) are spouting off such madness.

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Protesters demanding death by hanging for the rapists. Credit: WSJ

While the politicians are coming up with fantastic plans to stop rape from covering up women to banning the sale of alcohol, the public is demanding stricter laws against rape including harsher punishments and swifter trials. I am in full agreement that the process of reporting and prosecuting rape should be made more agreeable to the victim (including the call for more female police officers and inspectors) and for rapists to be brought to trial within a few weeks of the incident (rather than in 10 years or not at all). However, I do not think that chemical castration or the death penalty are the solution to stopping rape.

These “solutions” miss their mark. Preventing rape has nothing to do with the way women dress or the punishments that rapists receive. Rape will continue to happen no matter what women wear and whatever the consequence as long as men continue to disrespect women. Male ego or not, women all over the world are coming up in position. We are providing for our families and working in fields that were originally reserved for men. After thousands of years of oppression and second class citizenship with ridiculous and bizarre justifications (such as women lacking reason or being deformed-and thus less than-men), women are finally beginning to live freely as they rightfully should. Perhaps this rise in progress is being met with resistance, and men feel that women are cramping their style or taking over what they feel is rightfully theirs. Perhaps this insecurity is why men feel the need to dominate women with the display of their animalistic power. While I am no expert, I am sure that men rape women for a variety of reasons, but probably all stem from insecurity.

Whatever the cause of rape, the root of the problem is not with women but with society itself. Men need to learn to love and respect women from a young age. This means that their fathers must treat women with respect, and that politicians (our leaders) need to shift the blame of rape from women to men and to the society that allows men to be brought up devoid of such values. Society must also not neglect women, but seek to raise women who are confident and believe themselves to be the equals of men. As gender inequality has deep roots in Indian culture, India’s transformation will be long and hard. I just hope that India does not require another atrocity like the death of the twenty-three year-old Delhi gang-rape victim to initiate this change.

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Protesters. Credit: The Guardian

Reflections on 2012

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2012 started off as one of my worst years (which is saying something if you had the pleasure of knowing me back in highschool). I had just graduated from college and was in some sort of post-institutional shock that I have heard many recent college graduates go through as they transition from the world of academia (where they have spent the majority of their lives)  to “the real world.” I started this transition off by being T-boned at an intersection on a rainy Portland evening while on my way to yoga class. Then I started taking a physics class while attempting to recover from my accident and find employment in the flush Portland job market. Next was an unexpected transition from being in a committed long term relationship to being single (and back again with less commitment!). It was my first experience of heartbreak and, damn, it was a rocky road. Then, I juggled a failing (in retrospect–failed) relationship with physics class, working full-time, and volunteering in the pediatric hematology and oncology clinic at OHSU (the highlight of my week). All while the weather was bad.

In July, the weather turned (both literally and figuratively) and my luck changed. Where I had been struggling with just about everything from planning my trip abroad to surviving an intensive physics course, things suddenly just fell into place. The sun was out, my energy was up, and the northwest is just beautiful in the summer. After having struggled, the change was welcome and felt incredible.

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Since July (and especially on my trip), my life has been filled with intense beauty and love. I have been brought to tears more times than I care to mention. From shooting stars in Oregon, to the alpine lakes of Nepal, to crying widows and laughing children in India, to watching the creation of life (IVF) and birth, the last six months have been incredible. I feel invigorated and have been living with passion.

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This year’s experiences, both good and bad, have forced to me to grow as a person–I’ve continued to learn my needs, my limits, and my strengths. While much of this year has been incredible, I am happy to see it go (but isn’t every day and every moment also a new beginning?). I have high hopes for 2013–that it may be filled with as much love and beauty as the second half of 2012 (or more!). One can never be too sure, but I think it will…

Happy 2013!