Association of Medical Doctors of ASIA, founded in 1984, Consultative Status with UN ECOSOC since 1995








Visit to India #5: Division of Labor as an Indian Norm

Publication date:2021-03-03
By Dr. Shigeru Suganami
President, AMDA International

Ms. Babita Kumari at the workshop

At 11AM on 13 November 2019, a personal hygiene workshop was held in the quarters of Japan India Friendship Medical Center (JIFMC) for the residents of the adjacent Danpur village in the suburb of Bodhgaya, Bihar. JIFMC has been collaborating with AMDA on local humanitarian initiatives in the region. The event was co-organized by AMDA and Ecoles de la Terre, a charity organization led by Mr. Rajesh who happens to live nearby.

The lecturer at the workshop was AMDA Peace Clinic staff Ms. Babita Kumari. Throughout the event, she remained composed and eloquent no matter how noisy the crowd was. I felt it was a kind of temperament which we Japanese do not possess as we are inclined to shy away from being in public. Despite her being a modest character in the clinic, I was surprised by such a gap.

It is often said that what it takes to be the best international conference chairman is “how to silence the Indian delegation and let the Japanese do the talking.” However, this comes as something completely natural for Indians who, considering their cultural diversity, tend to actively express themselves through spoken words.

The villagers of Danpur are deemed to be of the lowest class in Indian society, and indeed, they are very poor. Compared to the adults, it seemed that the children had never cared about how ragged their clothes were. On the other hand, women in the village were dressed in colorful sari: its colors so vivid it was enough to conceal their plight.

One pitfall for us foreign aid givers is that our assistance may leave condescending impression on them as if we were acting as their patrons. The first step to avoid this is to relate to their feelings and think of what we can do together about the poverty with which they are faced.

Accordingly, as we thought “sermons” would be of less help to them compared to giving food, we provided snacks to participants after the workshop as a reward which could also fulfill their cravings. In fact, it matters greatly to JIFMC whether it gains support from these people or not.

This time, I discussed with Ms. Vedha (see past articles for who she is) that we should establish a day to celebrate JIFMC’s anniversary and distribute a blanket to each household on that occasion. As each item costs about four dollars, the budget to cover 25 families would be 100 dollars. Although I initially thought we could provide more, it was wise to hear her worthy advice as she knows what works and what doesn’t. She said giving too much will do no good, and added that the blanket distribution should be done from time to time because people will appreciate more rather than doing it one-off. As her name speaks for itself, Vedha means “wisdom” in the Sanskrit language.

People from the Danpur village

Handing out snacks to children

JIFMC’s property boasts approximately 4,000 square meters and its buildings have been still at the planning stage. For now, we are hoping to make use of this open land for the villagers who are willing to make vegetables. Once the crops are harvested, we can turn this into a nutritional program by asking local mothers to cook for their children using the agricultural produce.

The only places we will try to keep off-limit are the toilet and kitchen at the JIFMC building. Just as rural Indian schools separate toilets for pupils and teachers, we think it is appropriate to draw a line in the use of certain facilities. Similarly, the division of labor is one Indian social norm which the Japanese are not familiar with. This is to say that cleaning public places or shared toilets is not everyone’s work and it is only a certain group of people that takes charge of it. For us Japanese, we need to be considerate at all times not to break or interfere with such a norm by applying our own yardstick.

The property of JIFMC

The office building

The water pump for daily use and drinking water which we set last year has been well appreciated by the local people. Three months ago, the pump had been left broken for an electrical fault to which a local power company failed to respond swiftly. This was immediately fixed after Mr. Bhardwaj, who used to head the state police, asked the company to repair it.

The broken electric switchboard

Although there seems to be nothing particular about this anecdote, it reveals the fact that the villagers of Danpur are not entitled to complain but persevere the irrationality they face in their daily lives due to their underprivileged social status.

Another lesson I learned was how police is regarded in India which is quite the opposite of Japan’s case. I was told that the local people may be intimidated if they see JIFMC being closely associated with the local police. Although police does have its authoritative presence in every country, India’s seems quite stern to that extent.

Come to think of it, what impressed me the most was Mr. Bhardwaj’s integrity. In fact, he is such a rarity who does not hesitate to tell the truth. I am convinced that he will make a great advisor for both JIFMC and AMDA International.

I feel truly fortunate to have been surrounded by people who are sincere and honest such as Mr. Bhardwaj, Mr. Rajesh and Ms. Vedha. And I do expect that someday the people in Danpur will open up their hearts and interact with me in an undisguised manner, because that is when our donation will be put into practical use for this entire project.

Bodhgaya is where the Lord Buddha attained enlightenment. In his teachings, what virtue means is to be thanked by others. I sincerely hope to continue working for the benefit of the local people without interfering with their cultural norms.


    •  President's Message
    •  India
    •  2019