Friday, October 30, 2009

Fall Break Vacation!!!


This last week myself and 5 other people from my group went on our fall break of traveling fun. We flew up to New Delhi from Bangalore and were supposed to meet Mike at the New Delhi railway station to take a train to Haridwar. Well...we couldn't find Mike anywhere and our train was leaving so 4 people took the train and one person, Katie, stayed with me at the station so we could find my man. We finally found him at the other information center of this huge station and were able to find a really late train that night to our destination...confession time: I actually ate McDonalds food in India. I am surprised at how comforting places like caf├ęs, Pizza Hut, and McDonalds are when you haven't had really ANY food you are used to in 2 months...so I did it. we got off the train and made it to Rishikesh, a town located in the foothills of the Himalayas, and went whitewater rafting on the Ganges River! It was fantastic!!! Then we travelled way up into the mountains to a town called Mussoorie where we went hiking all around and even saw snow on distant peaks! Unfortunately, the last couple of days Mike and I had major stomach problems and the whole time I was really craving a bagel sandwich...but the whole trip was really great and I got to spend some time relaxing.

Our Middle Class Role in Our World

This thought process was further encouraged when we talked about food sovereignty later in the week. We spent some time brainstorming the things that we as future policy makers, scientists, social workers, teachers, and global citizens can do to improve the food situation and fair trade that protects the right to food people ought to have. The many ideas we had were all productive and interactive solutions, however, they require sacrifices of people like us who are from the middle and upper classes. Due to the slighter lifestyle change that would take place for the people from the middle class, as examples to the people of the higher class, it seems like it should be easier for us to change the world a little at a time but many of us seem to play the blame game, just like the students we visited at St. Charles school. How many of us will actually make the sacrifices it takes to live a sustainable, green lifestyle?

It’s hard for me, as a college student, and many others like me to actually bite the bullet and buy things at a rate that fully represents their production value. I have chosen to go to a liberal arts school that is expensive and causes me to always be on the lookout for deals and cheap items like food and clothes from Walmart or Kohls. However, by buying from these places that exploit people and drive up the amount or carbon and other greenhouse gasses that harm people with regard to their water supplies and thereby food self-sufficiency. It would be much more environmentally and economically conscious if I bought from a local market or by making my own clothes, but I live in a state that cannot grow food all year round and I don’t have the resources or time to make my own clothes. How do I, and the people like me, reconcile these differences? I feel that this may be the attitude of many other middle class members of the US and of many people in the same class in India as is displayed in the expressions of the school girls we talked with. The task of sacrificing only a little may seem too overwhelming and this discourages people form taking any action at all. Also, people get all excited and, like with dieting, do super well for a week or two and then go back to their old ways, sometimes worse than they were before.

To combat this discouragement, I think it is important to start off remembering a few things: take full responsibility for your actions, everything in moderation, and change takes time. The first thing I see as a hindrance to people actually taking measures to be socially conscious is that they either do not know what their power is as a consumer or have a self-defeatist attitude, thinking their decisions can’t really make any change. However, I think it is important to realize that if one person is blatant about their consumer choices other people will take notice and start thinking about making a change themselves. It does take more work sometimes to research and find places to buy more ethical goods, however, I think one needs to be honest with themselves about valuing others with their purchases and not just about getting the lowest price because it seems to be the best price with regard to their personal budget.

It is also important to make small changes at a time because, from what I’ve read of dieting, if people start all extreme that is how they often end their efforts. Making one smaller change at a time and adding onto it often creates more than just a change, but a habit and way of thinking that can develop into a lifestyle. It is a different mindset and lifestyle that people should be working toward. From what I have seen and read, it seems that accepting responsibility for helping the world in every way you can by not blaming the problems on everyone else, but actually trying to change yourself and thereby others a little at a time will help people like me and other middle to upper class members to be the positive change we need to be. It is not just the fault of the Multinational Corporations or the governments of poor countries that allow their people to be exploited and made and kept poor, it is also our fault because we choose to shift the blame and not do what we can in the places we inhabit.

Middle Class Consciousness

A group of us visited St. Charles all girls private school. We went into a classroom of about forty 10th standard students who challenged us to re-think our lifestyles in the US and look at India in different ways. Through an exchange of questions and answers we ascertained three basic things these young women desired. They wanted to be better represented in their government, to become more western, and go on to become middle class doctors or have other professions that would lead them to live as middle class people like their parents and quite possibly their parents’ parents.

There is an age limit as to how old a person can be to act as a government official so these women felt as if their interests were not being adequately represented. One reason they really wanted to be represented is because they unanimously wanted to become more developed and one person even went so far as to say that she wanted more capitalism. The views of the up-and-coming middle class youth, as displayed in the film “Bangalamerica,” seemed to be pretty well articulated in this class of the young women in this classroom. They desire the globalization that is occurring and are even eating it up in as many portions as they can buy. Being middle class consumers, they have the means with which to literally buy western products, telling the markets what they want and thereby having more power than they realize to bring about more development. There are ordinances, like the one in Bangalore that has made dancing in establishments illegal, which are restricting advancements in some areas of development but there are always ways of casting your vote in the market by choosing what you consume.

The school these young women attend is a school that is private and only afforded by middle or higher class people, thereby excluding poor people who would seek the higher education for which this school prepares its students. The poor are not allowed to come and there are no scholarships available so this group is completely excluded from this higher education and preparatory classes for university studies. In response to the question about the problem of poverty in India the young women said that if only the rich people would give their money to the poor and the poor would accept the new agricultural farming techniques the gap between the rich and poor would improve significantly. Like many Americans who are middle class, these girl seem to blame the extreme ends of the class structure while possibly forgetting their own responsibilities. When asked what they wanted to be when they grew up many said they wanted to be doctors because that was a good career. In contrast, the lower class girls at the Bandhavi school here at Visthar said they wanted to be doctors to help people who cannot otherwise get healthcare.

I’m not sure that the women of this one St. Charles classroom represent their class in any necessarily accurate way, but their answers do show that there are people of the middle class who may blame others while ignoring their own important role as a consumer and socially conscious individual. In the US, it is easy to consider yourself a middle class citizen and ignore the insights this position gives a person. Being in the middle of the extreme rich and poor people of one’s country allows a person to see both sides of the spectrum and a clearer way than having the poor attempt to fully understand what the rich need to do to help them and vice versa with the rich people wanting the poor to essentially help themselves. Often, however certainly with exceptions, I see fellow middle class citizens in the US striving to become richer than they are, seeking to understand how to themselves get ahead of their competition and have more. Instead, I would urge middle class individuals to see their positions as a place from which they are able to understand the importance of having what they need but not striving for the excess that might blind them to the unfortunate poverty around them. As someone in the middle of class extremes, I see myself and every other person on this trip as having the resources with which to gain a valued education and yet be able to empathize at times with people who do not have the occasional excesses we enjoy. We have the ability to use our privilege to further our understanding of poverty and then address it in productive and hopefully lasting ways.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Educated Alternatives

The lifestyles of the Adivasi people do not fit into the mainstream cookie cutter scheme that sets up public schools in India. The style of teaching found in the schools funded by the government and introduced by British colonizers is in the form of lecture and listen to how things are in the world with little discrepancy discussed. A member of an Adivasi tribe generally lives a less restricted lifestyle that does not force them to sit in a desk for 4 hours and take notes. Rather, their traditional classroom is in nature interacting with close community members and with the land along with taking the liberty to visit neighboring villages a celebrating cultural holidays which disallows school attendance. The difference of upbringing and customs plus the fact that the Adivasi people are outside the caste system causes the tribal youth in many schools to be made fun of in public schools and this very often leads kids to fall behind, get discouraged, and drop out of school.

One way these Adivasi youth are still able to learn is by going to an alternative school like Kanavu. Kanavu is lead by young adults from the surrounding tribal communities who have themselves gone to the school. The youth learn by taking care of the school and practicing various types of traditional music, dances, and crafts that encourage their creativity and aptitude to learn. This school does not grant an official certificate to its students, however many of the people who have gone to this school emerge, and others like it, as community wide leaders. It is refreshing to me to see the recognition of talents outside of strict math and science and sequential thinking. This school, although run and attended by people who are supposedly backward, as the name Adivasi suggests, seem to be actually quite modern in their non-traditional thoughts as is evident in the success of many of their students.

In Minneapolis, Minnesota there are an increasing number of schools geared toward the arts in more recent times. I think what we are witnessing is a more modern way of thinking that values alternative education. It is interesting to think that most often the alternative learning schools in Minneapolis are more for the rich where the people who go to this school are those who are poor. The relationship between them is the common recognition that people do not fit into boxes and to encourage art education is to encourage a vast array of new ideas that may otherwise not be explored. I think it is possible that globalization has positively affected the tribal people by encouraging a group of them to recognize who they are and how they learn as a way of affirming their identity in their minds and their communities through the success of alternative education.

Health by Globalization

There are a few different things going on with healthcare in the Wayanod region. The Adivasi people have forever used the herbal knowledge passed down through generations of people as their form of medicine. However, with the introduction of pesticides, the invasion of farms around them, and the displacement they experience their ways of healing ailments have changed. The plants they once used are either diminished or have disappeared along with the knowledge of how to use certain plants. Also, with the introduction of previously unknown chemicals unfamiliar diseases have spread to the indigenous people and they are often unable to combat them without modern medicinal practices and drugs. These people have been forcibly introduced to harmful chemicals and a style of farming that lowers and pollutes their water supply, making them dependent upon more modern practices.

When we met with a doctor of modern medicine at a hospital in a nearby town, he expressed a strong opinion that is supposedly common of other doctors of his stature. He completely devalued the herbal and non-western ways of curing and preventing ailments, saying they were “completely useless.” However, it seems to me that the doctor has forgotten that many drugs we use to treat illnesses and diseases have come from the herbal knowledge of how plants react with our bodies even though they have been chemically enhanced. I doubt we would need so many strong drugs if we hadn’t been using and exposing ourselves to such harmful chemicals as are found in pesticides and fertilizers to produce the best looking crops and profits. It seems as if globalization is a down hill spiral that, once introduced, must continue to be introduced because of the interconnectedness of the environment with the people and our symbiotic relationship with our surroundings. Just like the chemicals introduced can produce bugs that are more resistant and so harsher chemicals are needed, the more globalization that is introduced the more of it is needed to combat the effects of the original dosage.

Agricultural Globalization

Today met with farmers who are members of an agriculture community development organization. As a part of this CDO, each person tills their own few acres for personal profit and also do communal work like cultivating seeds in a greenhouse to earn extra funds which are distributed equally between them. This is beneficial because it increases the selling power of these people as they do not hire outside workers and they watch out for each other when it comes to selling at the market. Recently, this group has profited from their communal decision to farm organically and they are able to sell their products for a good price because, even if the food does not look as good as food grown with pesticides, their products is better. Organic farming has been very successful not only for quality of product but also for the environment because it introduces fewer toxins into the environment and to people while it helps the water supply of the area.

Due to globalizations harmful ideas are being introduced in the farming communities and have caused people like these farmers to need groups like this CDO. Due to advancement, the government and companies have taken land from people to develop into cities, displaced others with dams, and combined land to create mega farms. The farmers we talked with spoke of many frustrations with globalization. They feel taken advantage of because they are primarily poor and uneducated; unable to find channels to fight their oppression. Also, these men felt as it they, as Indians, will never be able to catch up with the rest of the world technologically because they will reach a certain point and the rest of the world will have already moved on from there. Another effect of globalization is that the children of these farmers are going to school and into fields that are often outside the agricultural scene, not desiring to continue farming. If the farmers are not replaced when they are gone, where will the food come from?

With the introduction of globalization comes the question of ethics. One solution to the farmers not being replaced by their offspring is to combine land into fewer, larger farms that use technological advances to produce food. This is, however, not necessarily a feasible answer because it lowers the water tables, causes erosion, and often entails introducing more harmful chemicals into the environment. The health and well being of these people will be adversely affected if mega farms take over the agriculture scene. Another harmful effect is the loss of heritage because many of these people have descended from a long line of farmers in their families and they, like the Adivasis, may feel very connected to the land they and their predecessors have tilled.

Who are the Adivasi people?

Mr. Bijoy, an activist for the Adivasi (indigenous) people, came to talk with us. He has been spending the last many years of his life working with the Adivasi people of India. These people are tied to their land and do not view it as something they can own but rather, they belong to the land. The Adivasis are outside of the Hindu caste system and are often picked on by having land taken away from them and denying them rights granted other citizens. There is also a definite struggle for the tribal people to maintain their culture yet avoid being taken advantage of by the government and politicians because of their lack of education and poverty.

Their identity is so connected to the land that they are suffering in many ways. How can one retain their cultural and tribal identity, values, and history if the land and resources connected are taken from them? Adivasis are not required to follow and Indian laws but they are subject to the greed of the government and its ability to displace people whenever and however it chooses. In response, many tribal people are rising up and trying to take back their land through means such as land protests in which they camp out on the land that used to be theirs until they are forcibly removed or granted what they are fighting for. There have been attempts by the government of India to re-settle many of these people, however the land given them is often not the land they had previously belonged to and cultural identity cannot be carelessly replaced. Most land is India is arable, however the amount of land taken away from Adivasi people is significantly greater than what is re-allotted to them. Their resettlements are not like the reservations in the US because many of these tribal people have been moved to land they can till and the people on reservations have been given the rejected, barren land and the residents must obey federal laws.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Women Are, Women Have

Mercy, one of the many wise and knowledgeable people at Visthar, really opened my eyes to the face of women in India and all over the world, including the US. First and foremost, women face so many struggles that men don’t have to face because of the inherent belief that men are superior in stature and strength. Men are biologically built to have more large muscles to help them to manual labor and hunt for food where women are built to have finer motor skills for doing more menial work and a higher percentage of body fat for continuing the human race. This breeds the stereotypes that men are supposed to be the breadwinners and the women’s place is in the home.

So, who works the hardest? Most women believe that men work way harder than they do. However, of all the work done in this world, women do over 60% and only get paid 10% of the world wide wages. Many more women are being encouraged to work outside of the home, yet still come home to take care of all the domestic household and child-rearing responsibilities. In India, and I suspect in many other places in the world, it is considered pretty good to have a husband who is willing to occasionally “help” in the kitchen or with other household chores.

It is technically illegal to pay women less wages, however in India and the US companies still pay women only 40% maximum of what their male counterparts make for doing the same work. The reasons for this are misconceptions that tell us that women work slower and do less work, however, when I went to a wig factory earlier this semester we witnessed the men going to their second hour long tea break of that day. These men would still work at lest 3 fewer hours than the women, getting paid significantly more and working in much cooler and cleaner spaces.

If the wage disparity isn’t enough to frustrate a person, their caste, class, ability to provide sons, and the status of their husbands also devalue a women. With so many factors connected it is hard to look at solutions for these problems without addressing everything. Another part of what Mercy talked with us about is how every issue us interconnected and trapping. Female babies are undesired because they are seen as a burden. The family pays a “handsome” fee as a dowry to the husband they decide their girl child will marry as if paying the man’s family to take on their burden. The woman is expected to be utterly submissive, produce male babies, take care of all household affairs and have dinner on the table in a timely fashion. If there is not food, she must find a way to have food there and will often go hungry because the women eat after any guests, male figures(including sons) assuming there is food(which they have made) left.

I caution all US citizens against the belief that they have equal rights because the wage disparity is ridiculous in our country, although it is illegal, and remember how big of a deal this last election was because there were finally women as major contenders? People actually asked questions about if America was ready for a female president! One problem is the stereotype that men who are ambitious are seen as go-getters where driven women are often seen as bitches. It would be nice to think of the US as a gender equal environment where people have all the same opportunities and rewards, however this is a fallacy we have yet to achieve in reality. Neither India or the US is better, or worse, they both have issues with properly valuing women.