Andra Bosneag

Andra Bosneag (Vikalp Women’s Group): Andra is originally from Bucharest, Romania. She graduated from Macalester College in Saint Paul, Minnesota, with a double degree in International Studies and Hispanic Studies. While at Macalester, she taught English to Hispanic immigrants through the Sojourner Truth Academy in the Twin Cities. At the time of her fellowship, Andra was a graduate student at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy focusing on human security and human rights law. After her fellowship, Andra wrote: “Spending time in the Vikalp office, you are taken on a roller coaster of emotions: people cry in telling their stories, they laugh to deal with the injustices, they smile at strangers as they share their secrets. The office and the women who work there give meaning and a new lease on life to so many marginalized people.”

The Language of Smiles

07 Jun

Walk into the Vikalp office, and you will find people from very diverse communities opening up and talking about their problems, asking for advice, and seeking solutions. These clients always seem to be smiling. They usually present their cases in an animated, fast, and nonstop manner, making you wonder at their lung capacity. Although any attempt on my part to initially understand their stories proves futile, their excitement and happiness are palpable. They know somebody is on their side, provides support, and listens to their stories. These sympathetic ears belong to Maya and Indira, the two women in charge of Vikalp.


Indira acts as a counselor and the smiling people always seem to tell her their problems many times over. She listens patiently, shaking her head often in agreement, but she can rapidly show her fierceness in confronting situations the rest of us would rather not acknowledge. If your dongle internet is not working, she is the person to have on your side! She also teaches you useful words and does not give up until your pronunciation is perfect. No, I do not mean “please” and “thank you”; apparently, those should be expressed through body language. I mean the really useful ones, the ones that require you to build a familial connection with people before you call them a string of colorful terms.


In contrast, Maya has been described as a philosopher. She retraces lost traditions, questions the implications of language, and constantly plans projects. She challenges your thoughts on everything, quickly pinpointing contradictions, and sharing the stories she has experienced and heard along the years. Her smile is constant and inviting as she talks of themes such as the unfathomable mystery of silence. Often peering at her emails, full of recommendations from friends, her knowledge is astounding. Her most recent endorsement is an interesting ten-minute movie about chai.

Together the two act as part community organizers, part counselors, part strong people taking on injustice and discrimination with a determined smile. Seeing the people visiting their office, it does not take long to realize the two act as everything for everybody in the tribal, dalit, and queer communities of Gujarat.

Next Tuesday, we will be visiting one of the women-run dalit courts, Nari Adalat, and I will tell you more about Vikalp’s work.

Posted By Andra Bosneag

Posted Jun 7th, 2013

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