Getting Settled

By Erick K.

New Delhi, India

Word of the week: Rickshaw

Rickshaw originates from the Japanese word jinrikisha (人力車, 人 jin = human, 力 riki = power or force, 車 sha = vehicle), which literally means “human-powered vehicle”

Initial Impressions upon arrival:

No issues with flying from LA to Delhi, India… minus the fact that I fell asleep in the wrong terminal and almost missed my connecting flight to India. Imagine that call, “Hey boss, sorry about arriving late. I missed my connection even though I had a 9 hour layover in Heathrow. But I’ll see you soon!” But that didn’t happen.

My host and boss, Jon Derby greeted me promptly. While waiting for a taxi cab, we saw an old man collapsed on the sidewalk from heatstroke. Not a good sign. Better drink water. Side note: initial plan for success in India: drink lots of water and take several cold showers a day. Had the pleasure of meeting Jon’s wife. She made an amazing Indian lunch, and it hit the spot. And I didn’t get sick, which was a bonus.

I was initially surprised at how much pollution was in the air as well. The sky is certainly a noticeable tinge of brown. Apparently, India has surpassed major cities in China for most pollution.

Work Life:

What has initially impressed me about everyone at CSJ is their discipline and dedication to their work. Professionalism, timeliness, and mutual respect are highly valued, and yet, when everyone is working on a case there is complete openness and honesty. There are a total of seven members on staff: 3 lawyers (case workers), 1 social worker (a fellow), 1 admin, and 1 systems manager/ office assistant, and Jon (lead advisor and Pepperdine alumni). Overall the staff is a great mix between the optimistic youth and the experienced lawyers. I think you need that. Equal parts tenacity and temperance.

The office we work in is essentially an apartment. It’s impressive that everyone can work in one room without getting on each other’s nerves. But the office environment seems to work out quite well given that many times multiple people will work together on different aspects of the same case. Again, what impresses me the most is how individually disciplined everyone is while remaining mutually supportive.

The standard day consists of a morning meeting where the team gives their individual updates. Then, they go over the objectives and goals for the day. For the remainder of the day, clients and their mothers may filter in and out for counseling, meetings, etc in the back office. Jon will often play coordinator as well as working on coordination with outside groups that can support CSJ’s goals. The case workers will come in out in order to go to court, police station, or conduct personal visits at client’s homes.

My initial tasks have been focused on learning the black letter of the law. My first task consisted of reviewing the Indian Penal Code (IPC) relevant sections pertaining to rape and associated punishments. As I was flipping back and forth between the black letter of the law and my outline I was having flashbacks to criminal law. What is interesting is that even though Indian law has undergone substantial changes with respect to sexual assault, many elements are not expressly defined in the code itself and there is only a finite body of case law that applies the recent additions to the relevant law.

The best part of the week for me actually came during a class (go figure). The staff will watch videos online of how to better counsel and interview child clients. Not only was everyone paying attention and writing notes, but they would pause the video occasionally and discuss how they could apply the concepts and lessons to their work with clients. It was great to see how they really wanted to improve and capitalize on the service they provided the children.

Cultural impressions:

Driving is a professional sport in Delhi. There are lines on the road, but no one stays within them. Cars, motorcycles, and mostly rickshaws fill the streets. Everyone literally weaves in and out of each other, jockeying for positions. The only thing drivers use more than their brakes, or probably their horns. I asked a driver if he had to choose one, which would he choose? His reply – I would choose a smart driver. Touche, buddy.

The constant sound of horns is a sort of communication between vehicles that I have yet to figure out. Sometimes horns are used to say, “hey I am here coming up on you” and other times horns are used like “hey, whats up bro” and yet other times I think the drivers just like the sound of their own horn. I sat in the front of a co-workers car briefly the other day. I won’t do it again. Every vehicle looks like its going to collide with you head on.

Which leads me to walking in India. You can’t avoid it, but it brings a new meaning to situational awareness. “It’s kind of like an advanced game of frogger.” A friend’s advice to me, “look left, then right, then left again.” I would only add that you should move as fast as possible at all times while sticking closely to the edge of the road… and watch for dog poo.

There are lots of dogs here. Homeless dogs appear to like to hang out in parks and by food vendors, of course. They appear to be well fed and mind their own business. Not really sure what relevance this has, but it’s just interesting to see animals that appear to be communally cared for.

Oh, and just like you hear horns throughout the day. There are street vendors that sound like they are yelling in pain randomly. Initially, I thought someone was calling for help. It turns out they are just selling fruits and vegetables on the street. Effective advertising.

Final note – the people. Granted, I have only had limited interaction with people selling fruit or with rickshaw drivers, which may indicate a lower social standing as the caste system appears to still be an under current of Indian society. While they are not rude, and they all speak English to varying degrees, they are not overly inviting and polite either. Again, this could be a function of their job and they type of day they are having, but I wouldn’t say that I am greeted with smiles and head nods throughout the day. That being said, individuals at their work appear to be extremely polite, disciplined, and cordial. If you ask a question, they will answer to the best of their ability. However, shopping on the street appears to be a continuous haggle, and as a foreigner you have to be careful to not get charged extra for basic commodities.

Moment of the week:

An interesting moment happened on our Friday morning meeting. The day prior there were competing demands where the staff had to get paperwork filed with the court before the court holiday. This required that they delay a meeting with a new client. What concerned Jon was that the team had put off their primary objective and that was to provide care to the victim as soon as possible and throughout the justice process. Simply put – the client had to come first. This moment reaffirmed the reason why I came to work with CSJ. Pushing paperwork through and getting necessary signatures are all part of the process, but at the end of the day, it is about alleviating suffering and being there for the client.