This summer, I had the opportunity to lead a study abroad trip to India for undergraduate students in the Global Scholars Program at the University of Michigan. Together, we spent five weeks in India doing field research in the slums of Ahmedabad, working with native communities in Dediapada, and learning with students who have physical disabilities at the SKSN school in Rajasthan.
Personally and professionally, my experiences in India constantly asked me to confront social injustices in a new context, for which I often felt unsure or unequipped to tackle, let alone guide students through. However, I quickly realized that while the space may be different, the injustices occurring in India operate through the same dimensions of power that lie at the center of the injustices we work against in Detroit and metro-Detroit.
About half way through the trip, we took the students to visit the Sardar Sarovar Dam, which has given a surplus of energy and resources to the surrounding Indian states while also displacing native folks in hundreds of neighboring villages. During the last two decades, the Indian government has coercively targeted native communities who stand in the way of the dam's expansion by deceptively buying native land at far below market value, or simply letting the dam's runoff drown entire villages of people. To date, more than 15,000 native peoples have been displaced by the dam - thousands of others who have stayed in their villages face severe water shortages or no access to water all together.
People are dying. Native people are dying. Native people are being killed.
We know this narrative in the United States, and we know this narrative in Detroit - the narrative shows up in India too.
The government claims that the benefits of the dam far outweigh the costs it has imposed on native peoples. In a country that is striving for rapid development and improved infrastructure, the collateral damage of the dam, the government argues, is water under the bridge, so to speak.
As I was preparing to facilitate a dialogue for our students to reflect on the experience, I was immediately reminded of our local work to confront water justice in Detroit. That evening, I posed only one question to our students - is water a human right? The students struggled, asked honest questions, and challenged one another to think more critically.
Ultimately, they made some incredible insights, and reminded me that fighting for water justice makes sense. When we fight for water justice, we are fighting for the most basic measure of humanity; to deny someone water is to deny them of their right to live at all.
There are a lot of reasons why I am grateful to be back home, but I am most grateful that I have a community in DJJ that is fighting for what makes sense.
Eli Zucker grew up in West Bloomfield and attended the University of Michigan where he studied English, Political Science, and Intergroup Relations. He is now back at U of M, starting his second year in a Master's of Social Work through the Jewish Communal Leadership Program. DJJ had the pleasure of having Eli as a part-time intern last year.