October 2012 Bar Bulletin
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October 2012 Bar Bulletin

Light before the Prism: The Colors of India

By Stephen Coger


Color in India is vivid and fun. It waves from sarees daily, and on Independence Day the colors of India's flag fly in the wind as thousands of kites - orange, white and green - fill the sky. My apartment walls are soft, electric hues of yellow, blue and orange, and they stand two stories up from a garbage dump, worlds away from the pink and black pigs that rut through the leavings.

My temporary home is near the headquarters of the Human Rights Law Network, where I interned this summer. On the five-minute walk, I pass a mosque, a Catholic church and five temples - four Hindu and one Sikh. When my eyes meet curious stares, I put my palms together and say, "Namaskar," "Ram Ram," "Sat Sri Akal," or "Salaam al lakem." Then my unusual white skin seems a bit less alien.

The 10-week internship at HRLN allows me to work on one of my most important social justice issues: Tibet. It also requires me to take regular rides on the Delhi subway. The 45-minute trip from South Delhi to the Tibetan colony forces me to practice patience because at any moment I can count several pairs of eyes dully gazing at my mulch-colored hair and my naan-white skin.

Sunglasses and headphones shield me from the silent violence only marginally. They piss me off. "They don't even have the decency to look away when I stare back," my mind says.

At the metro nearest Majnukatilla - where many Tibetans reside in Delhi - I climb aboard a bicycle rickshaw that drops me at the gate where I slip the driver two dirty pink bills worth 10 rupees each and then enter a neighborhood of peace.

Shades of Brown in Delhi

Peace. The Tibetan colony is clean, quiet and stare-less. I dodge the kids' lacrosse ball and thrice circle a prayer hall in the town square, spinning the prayer wheels over sleeping dogs before getting to work.

Then at the Students for a Free Tibet office, I often interview Tibetan activists for a potential petition in the Delhi High Court. I shouldn't say much about the petition, but newspapers and activists themselves report that the freedom of expression protected by the Indian constitution has been greatly limited in recent years. Specifically, Delhi police use preventive arrest to stifle many democratic protests.

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