Late in 1993 I left Tollygunj, Calcutta, a slum where I met Laxmi, a 19 year old prostitute whose parents, suffering under extreme poverty, sold her to the flesh trade when she was just 10. Each night, she is sold again, and many days she is assulted by the police who take the profits her madam collects on her behalf.
I'm just starting to understand the realities of a world hidden from me in this affluent society, and my studies take on a new importance as I apply them to my desire to work for justice. My poignant memories of Laxmi therefore colour the often whitewashed academic language of lectures and textbooks.
While working through a year of essays, lectures, and exams may well keep us preoccupied with the rather myopic perspectives of the academic world, every day that passes without our lifting our eyes from such detailed work is another day wasted in a struggle - a struggle to help the likes of Laxmi. If only we challenge ourselves to acknowledge a world we are constantly encouraged to forget, we may forever alter the course of a society which implicitly allows brutality, inequality, and injustice. We may actually find ourselves motivated by something beyond us, able to achieve that which only true heros can.
Tonight in Tollygunj Laxmi will be sold again. Regardless of the hours I spend examining the intricacies of Virginia Woolf's thread imagery, or Noam Chomsky's theories of US foreign policy, I cannot forget her, and I will not push her and many others out of my mind. For tonight I am working to amass the knowledge and skills which may enable me to help Laxmi and the other friends I left behind in India.
Heidi Bentz Ashe