For Tyler Sandberg ’06, the draw of India was too great to fight. Having visited in 2001 and spent the fall of 2005 studying on the subcontinent, the religious studies major and former HWS sailor is now back again.
“I wanted to see India on my own terms, I previously traveled in a group setting, which completely alters your experience of a place,” he said. “Beyond India, I wanted to see more of Asia. I see my life and career as always having a connection to this continent, so I felt it was important to see as much of it as possible.”
His first trip to India was purely coincidental. Sandberg said that in 2001 he was planning a trip to Nepal “to trek and help build a school with a group called Where There Be Dragons.” However, on June 1, 2001, three weeks before Sandberg was scheduled to leave for the central Himalayas, the crown prince of Nepal purportedly went on a shooting rampage, allegedly killing his parents and subsequently himself.
So, for the safety of the participants, Where There Be Dragons was rerouted to the North Indian Himalayas and included travel in the Kashmir region of India, which Pakistani troops had been shelling.
“It seemed I was destined for an unstable environment,” said Sandberg.
In 2005, during an independent study, Sandberg researched the distribution of daggers by the World Hindu Council and Bajrang Dal. He investigated how the Council and the Bajrang Dal, using the Hindu religion as a front, encouraged the use of the daggers for killing and intimidating the Muslim population in Rajasthan, and how the state government was able to curtail the program peacefully.
“A large part of that research dealt with the political implications of Hindu-Muslim relations, which ultimately led to elections,” he said. “So much of the communal tension comes down to politics, with parties either trying to woo Muslim voters or use fear of Muslims to drive Hindu hardliners to pull the lever for their party.”
After he graduated, Sandberg explored a career in politics by working on Chris Shays’ Congressional campaign in Connecticut and then worked two weeks with the Republican National Committee Victory program in New Hampshire. After the campaign season, Sandberg began working in the Asia Division at the International Republican Institute (IRI), a non-profit organization promoting democracy overseas.
“It was an incredible experience getting to work with what President Craner of IRI calls the ‘Thomas Jeffersons’ of other countries.” For the most part, he worked on the Timor-Leste (East Timor) and Malaysia programs, where he interacted with “some awe-inspiring people,” including President Xanana Gusmao of Timor-Leste and Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim of Malaysia.
“Undoubtedly, I was spoiled rotten with my first job out of college, which allowed me to travel to Asia multiple times a year and work with people who have dedicated their lives to bringing freedom and democracy to their country,” said Sandberg.
Back in India, Sandberg is staying with the family who hosted him during his semester abroad. In addition to traveling and improving his Hindi, Sandberg said that he hopes he will be able, as a freelance journalist, to publish articles on the general elections currently underway.
“I’m not building huge expectations for myself. But there are few times in life when it’s safe to close your eyes and jump, and that is part of what this trip represents to me.”
To keep tabs on Sandberg’s journeys, visit his blog.