Letters from India No 18

´Letters from India´ is a fortnightly brief written by Finnish exchange activists participating in the Lokayan - Kepa co-operation programme. The ´Letters´ are circulated primarily among the staff of the organisations and members of the groups responsible for the joint activities, i.e. Lokayan´s Global Responsibility Forum - Vasudhaiva Kutumbkam and Kepa´s India Group.
Anastasia Laitila


DELHI -- I arrived in Delhi on 15th October. Unfortunately I missed half on the seminar on Globalisation & Democracy (October 14-15, India International Center)) due to my scheduals and obligations in Finland and for the same reason was not very well prepared for the seminar. Folke can give you the urgent details you might want to know, I will report back after my return with hopefully some sense of the broader picture of WTO & globalisation debate in this country. Anyway the few days I've spent here have been interesting and I m looking forward to the next weeks in India.

I am sorry my coming here was done in such a hurry two-three weeks ago I didn't know I was going to India because I could not take the adequate time I wanted to prepare and study. So I'm hoping to prove myself useful at some point of my stay anyway.

Work plan & methods

As the Indian culture is not very familiar to me I sometimes worry of my very European point of view. I belong to the cast of Europeans who carry the post-colonial cross of belonging to an over-priviledged race of conquerers who have a very narrow view of the world despite proving narrow or not.

I also hope my ways of working will not feel too strange for the activists here. I like to observe first in order to get to know the working culture, the people and the topics before actively participating in discussion. It is also my way of respecting other people and their way of working , as I don't feel comfortable taking a strong stand in issues I might not know so much about. Also as Oras wrote in his report, I also speak little by Indian standards. I shortly explained this to Vijayji and he seemed to understand and accept this. What I would like to do in general is but observe is to take part in the trivial NGO (or people's movement they call it here) work as it is what I do at home and that's the basis for a movement. The question of technology is very interesting Western NGOs are so dependent on Internet and mobile phones we seem to spend most days just staring at the monitor. When technology fails, we get dysfunctional. We do meet people, but I'm afraid we're losing ourselves in the Internet not doing so much action as writing emails. So on some days one might call a weak connection a blessing. What I admire here is especially the time Indian activists spend in real face-to-face discussion and the effort in building broad networks.

Post-september 11 discussion

On Tuesday we went to a discussion on (post)September 11th. I was very pleased to observe this, for the Indian discussion seems to be more civilized and constructive than in Finland. Is it because of geographical or cultural reasons, I don't know. But I am becoming increasingly interested in the issue of globalisation & war/peace & democracy (I haven t figured out the wording yet). Coming from a so-called neutral country which is not very close to a conflict it is very eye/opening (but also sad) to observe the situation here. I'm extremely worried about the US using the attacks of September 11th and the what appears to be an oncoming global recession as an excuse to force developing counties to accept the launch of a new round of trade negotiations in the WTO, an agenda the Third World has been opposing for two years and that it has no economic nor human capacity to put into practice.

The Indian government is offering aid both to Afghani refugees and to US, as a form a million dollars worth of anthrax drugs. US patent laws and the TRIPs Agreement of the WTO however are an obstacle for selling the drugs in the States. The price of Indian anthrax drugs is 2-5% of the American drugs, but by making an exception in a national emergency the US government would look funny by objecting to the demands of developing countries to have an annex in TRIPs stating that countries can the right to protect public health.

Visit to Agra with WTO-campaign & the NAPM

Thursday I was staying in Ritu & Vijay's house and had breakfast with WTO-activists. They were going to a meeting in Agra, so we shared a taxi. So now I have learned something of the WTO-campaign and the National Alliance of People s Movements (NAPM). It is an ‘alliance of alliances', a broad network of people with different background and different ideological background also (though mostly leftish I think). They had started building this network in 1991. The years 1992-96 were spent going to people and talking with them, getting feedback before formally establishing the alliance. NAPM's goal is getting India out of WTO. It is anti-globalisation, anti-communalism. It's also a member of People s Global Action Against Free Trade (PGA).

National Alliance of People's Movements (NAPM) has three main objectives: -they oppose globalisation, especially the likes of WTO, IMF and Wordbank -they re against communalism -they want alternative development (an English booklet is to be give to me later I hope, my hindi consists of four words) Members are generally organizations but also individuals can join. The basic principle of NAPM is that moderns technology has failed to fulfill its promise and there s a need for alternative development. People that subsist on land, water and forest must have the right to these natural resources.

Some time ago NAPM organized a camp which some 2000 people (I think) took part in. They decided to begin 'November agitation' this means they're travelling around agitating people to have actions before the WTO Ministerial in Doha (November 9-13). The National Federation of Fishermen will be travelling to Qatar by boats to do actions.

On 6th November there will be big rally in Delhi. Many local actions are also planned, for example landless people taking over private land or government land that has not been distributed to them.

I asked whether it was difficult to talk to people about these issues, since only three-four years ago most people in Finland (including MPs) had little idea what the World Trade Organization is. I was told it is not, because globalisation has been an issue in India since 1977 when the country took it's first big loan from the IMF. We have a lot to learn in Finland.

What I was really taken by in Agra was in fact not the Taj Mahal (though it was very impressive) but a short visit to Rituji s parents and Danvanbagh (???). It is almost like a self-sufficient municipality. It was established in 1978, and has about 5 000 inhabitants. They have their own dairy, schools, farms and some sort of energy supply (they buy it from outside but it is distributed inside if I understood correctly). None of the inhabitants own their house, they have a low rent and their right to live there is decided year by year. Everyone has to work. There are no television sets and no unnecessary things, driving is forbidden inside the area (they walk or use bicycles or rickshaws), everyone is vegetarian and to bed by ten latest. Life is simple and peaceful. I believe there are many Finns who would find this place remarkable, so many (especially young) people want to move to the countryside and live a simple, 'natural' life.

Friday I was in NAPM press conference and meeting. Unfortunately it was 90% in Hindi, but it's not like I haven't been before to a press conference I didn't understand much about. I was dropped off to Vijayji's brother's house and had a very nice evening. His wife Prabma works in a nutrition program in the Department of women and child development, so she told me about her work and the program and gave me some government material. I also got a chance to see the news (but it seems that either nothing else than anthrax is happening in the world or then BBC and CNN are just bias).

I'm doing reading and writing at the moment and will probably go to Bombay at some point. For more details, till next week.