Cultural Taxonomies of India

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"We live on our own solitary islands of reality, absorbed in and fascinated by our own points of view. Frequently we reach out to one another seeking to understand or be understood. The bridge between our separate realities is communication . . . To communicate is to relate." -- Layne and Paul Cutright

On February 15th, 2009 I received word that a small group of educators were being asked by the National Literacy Mission Program to volunteer in India for one year, with the purpose of “bridging the literacy gap between the urban population and the villages.” As a young Master’s student specializing in linguistics, and having no family related obligations (i.e. husband/kids), I was eager to apply for the program. Approximately three weeks after sending in my application I got a phone call from the director informing me that my request had been processed and he would be happy to include me on the mission. He continued, “We have put together a group of fourteen educators ranging from the elementary level to the college level. We will be sending everyone over to Rajasthan on April 29th. I will send out an email in a couple of days with a timeline and full details of the mission.” As promised, I received an email highlighting every last detail of the trip along with a lengthy excerpt on our hosts culture, values, beliefs, expectations, etc. He also included about a dozen links to travel websites and cultural dimensions websites, as well as some recommended reading. Our scheduled departure was April 29th, leaving me very little time to get acclimated with the cultural norms of India. I began reading through the information immediately, hoping that something would stick. I read that Rajasthan had faced a serious decline in literacy rates over the last ten years, and women’s literacy rates had hit the bottom of the national charts (Times of India). I always knew that there was some gender stratification in India; however the numbers comparing men’s literacy rates to...
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