Contrast, Diversity, and Freedom of Speech

//Contrast, Diversity, and Freedom of Speech

Contrast, Diversity, and Freedom of Speech

The music was mesmerizing!


The monkeys don’t listen.


We have been in India for six weeks now and while visiting five states one thing we can say for certain is this country is diverse! In a land where “guest is god” but prices are based on what country you’re from and holy cows wander the streets while elephants tout tourists beside camel rickshaws carrying cargo, one never knows what to expect. Disputed territory in Kashmir is flanked by pomp and circumstance with the Pakistanis in front of a grandstand of hundreds of people at Punjab’s Wagah border. 1.2 billion people speak hundreds of languages in the seventh largest country in the world yet there is only one time zone. It’s law for the driver of a motorbike to wear a helmit, but not the passenger. India has one of the worlds fastest growing economies while millions live in poverty reinforced by the cast system. Signs read “keep your town green ‘n’ clean” but garbage is thrown on the ground; it seems as though the environment is the lowest class. Buddha, Vishnu, Guru Gobind Singh, and Mohamed have all left their mark while St. John’s church stands proud in the Nadie Valley and the Bahai’s Lotus Temple is a must see. Cities bustle while the desert winds blow, trains rumble while people pilgrim, heat swelters while the mountains are cooled by snow…and it is in the mountains where we currently find ourselves.



Local transport in Rajasthan


Baha’i Lotus Temple


Daily closing of the Wagah border


Mcleod Ganj, sitting at 2,000 meters in the sky, is the only place we’ve seen where packs of monkeys rival dogs as the dominant scavengers and eagles soar below eye level. It is also the only place where I’ve seen a robed picture of the Dalai Lama alongside posters of Bob Marley, Bon Jovi and Queen in the local snooker hall. The most striking contrast however is the cultural diversity of the village as thousands of Tibetan refugees mix with the local Indians while hosting a variety of international guests. Not only does this bring a welcome diversity of eating options (no longer curry for breakfast!) but highlights an ongoing injustice suffered by the Tibetans. After the Chinese occupation began in 1949 the following religious and cultural persecution caused thousands of desperate families to either flee or send a child, often walking for weeks, in hopes he/she can follow the path over the Himalayas laid by the Dalai Lama and find a better life beginning in Mcleod Ganj alongside His Holiness. Many people arrived alone but the risk of contact with their family is too great so they rely on prayers to communicate. Saffron robed monks recite mantras while the politically charged ‘Students For a Free Tibet’ organize protests then the two walk hand in hand demanding freedom and hoping the international community will back them up. Their conviction is palpable and we can feel the sadness in the air every time a candle lit vigil weaves its way through the streets on the way to the temple as the community mourns one of the 15 martyrs who have self immolated in Tibet over the past 5 weeks in which we’ve been living here. The Dalai Lama insists on non violence so instead of using terrorism to attract international attention they take the ultimate sacrifice with the hopes to gain the same attention. They are doing everything they can to get their freedom call heard and when it is they are asking for people to pressure their governments to take a stronger stand against China and to spread the word so more people are aware of their struggle.


Protesting new Chinese leadership

The flag of independence


As I sit in my heater-less guesthouse wearing most of my clothes on this crisp +1c evening I am laughing at my assumption that I would be escaping the winter. Just as India doesn’t smell that bad, there is order to the chaos, and most Indian foot isn’t that hot, contrasts in perception and reality are part of the mystique of this ancient civilization. Just when we start to think we’re understanding it something happens like being swarmed in a holy Sikh temple by two separate families asking us to take photos with them, before we knew it Sarah was holding a baby and I was holding hands finger in finger with two brothers while dad knelt in front. We figure the best way is to just let go, bob our heads sideways and take it all in. At least we know one thing for certain, wherever we can be found so can a warm cup of chai!

This week’s question: Have you ever participated in a protest? If so then what for, if not then what would you protest for?

2012-11-24T12:08:34+00:00 November 24th, 2012|Travel|


  1. trish November 24, 2012 at 2:55 pm - Reply

    hmm have i ever participated in a protest? Maybe only when Mcdonalds stopped serving pizza, such a shame. What would I protest for? Larger world issues seem to overwhelm me at the moment, so easy to feel useless, I would probably take on a smaller protest like longer prison sentences for murders, rapist molesters, better care for our elderly, free secondary education, sort of the stuff that I see in everyday life.

    Sounds like an interesting trip! Safe travels! Miss you!

    • brett November 25, 2012 at 12:06 am - Reply

      Trish, thanks for starting off the discussion. You make a great point that it is easy to feel overwhelmed by ongoing global problems that don’t ever seem to go away and you’d focus your efforts locally. This is very important as action must be taken locally just as much as globally to fight for or against things you believe in. In fact your work on the splash park is a form of local advocacy; maybe you and the group should go to the next council meeting carrying signs reading “Spouts for sprouts” or “Our fountains will not be dried”! In the end of the day I think it’s our democratic right to let our voice be heard, even if it’s against McDonald’s for taking their pizza away (which was terrible, sorry Trish).

  2. mom November 25, 2012 at 10:36 am - Reply

    Love the Spouts for Sprouts slogan!!!

  3. Vincent D November 25, 2012 at 12:18 pm - Reply

    I’ve never protested, mainly because I have all of the rights and freedoms I need to live a good life. I think it’s easy to live your own life everyday and forget about the global community.

    I’ve always found it easier to support my local community because it’s more tangible and real to me. But talking to you and reading your stories from around the world has been inspiring.

    • brett November 26, 2012 at 7:28 am - Reply

      You make a great point Vince, yes we do have all the rights and freedoms by living Canada however there are still those around us that need help. Directing your efforts locally no only builds strong community and reinforces positive values but, as you say, provides the satisfaction that seeing the outcomes of your support provides. Everbody, no matter where they are from, wants to live in a safe enriching environment and I think the best way to attain this is to be an active part of the community.

      Thanks for the comments.

  4. Kim November 30, 2012 at 12:31 pm - Reply

    Great post! Thank you for sharing your experience although it is so hard for me to put myself in your shoes, not having travelled the globe as you have. I think in Canada, we are too complacent (correction: I (emphasis on the “I”) am too complacent). The majority of Canadians are polite and accommodating to the point of being numb. Sadly, and I do mean that sincerely, I have not protested. Have there been ways that I could have or should have protested? You bet! I pledge to contemplate how to bring out the tiger in me :). I have strong feelings about non-violence and anything to do with children so that is likely where I would have the most passion. I believe change must start with me…

    • brett December 1, 2012 at 7:00 am - Reply

      Well said Kim, thank you so much for the insightful comments that we can all relate to in one way or another. You are right bout the Canadian mindset being polite and passive but is it just that we’ve not faced extreme inequality or a challenge to our rights and freedoms as Vince mentioned. With that being said the students of Montreal saw demonstrating as the only way to protect their future of affordable education. Ultimately I think participating in a protest stems from a challenge to something you hold in your heart to be of utmost importance so when you feel you should let your voice be heard I have no doubt that tiger will roar! I applaud your belief that change must start from within as reinforced by Gandhi’s famous words “be the change you want to see”.

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