Letters from India No 20

´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

November, 2002
Shivalik, New Delhi 17

Dear all,

so it is that I am writing to you again from New Delhi where I have been for a week now. As most of you know, I'm officially here to help in the preparation of the upcoming Asian Social Forum in Hyderabad, Jan 2-7 2003. Unofficially "general slave" (bear with me, this is just an expression).

I am staying in the Shivalik area about 4-5 km from Vijay & Ritu?s house and the Munirka office with Fitria, an activist from Indonesia. Tonight the Thai activist, Kob, will arrive. This is a big house with three families (or joint family as someone said), we live on the first floor. I hope there are no problems with Kob's flight, he was supposed to come yesterday. I myself had to be rescheduled because Amsterdam was jammed, 7000 people waiting to get out of there and Finnish KLM officials waiting for instructions from Amsterdam. The KLM international web was about to crash because people all over the world had to be redirected. After four hours they put me to a direct flight from Moscow (via Stockholm, which is ridiculous but was the only was to make it to the Delhi flight) and I actually arrived some hours before scheduled. My luggage went on a trip to Bangkok. Rakesh Bhatt, who has the delightful task of facilitating all of us exchange activists during our stay, said that he would like to be luggage to be able to travel without visa and air ticket, but the Indian bureaucracy for claiming "mishandled luggage" is too much bother I think. Stamping, signing, passport please, another place stamping, signing, passport please madam, third place stamping, waiting, signing, fourth place sending to x-ray, back to fourth place signing, stamping, signing the signature? Thai officials had taken half of the hapankorppu packet I had brought as a gift but hadn't touched honey or coffee or anything else for that matter. I hope they at least liked it.

One euro is 45.10 rupees - a bus costs less than ten. Amazing. It seems as if the rupee is weaker than last time. In some way it feels great to go to the currency exchange and they will call you Madam though you smell bad, look tired and are uncertain about cultural behaviour. My Hindi is about ten words so I'm not really managing yet, but I'm able to pick up some words when people speak. Would Hinglish be accepted in my CV?

I have been trying to observe the cultural differences here - like for example people working nightshift will be sleeping when they're tired, which is impossible in Finland. I so glad I can take my shoes off in this country and nobody cares. People are more curious and social and will come up and talk to you, at least if they know English. Everybody wants to invite you to their home, yesterday some asked me to come and bless his children. Ritu explained to me that this is a polite way to
invite people and also a way tell young women that it?s safe to come to my house and meet my family. Nevertheless it felt quite confusing. Family in a comprehensive way is more important in India, a bit like in Catholic countries such as Italy. Indians will feed you more than you have had in your life in Finland. Food is for survival but how to say that you really can't eat more or don't want to although the food is great? I couldn't figure this out the last time and I have no idea if this can be done since I am here as a guest and everybody looks after my well-being. I get told that for hindus a guest is like God, but sometimes I cant help feeling spoiled when all I have to do is sit and people will say "my wife is at your disposal".

I have had very nice discussions with people and it feels really good to have people you know or have met around you. I don't even feel being so much abroad at the moment, it's possible to call Finland, the lines are very good and I can read email. I went to NAPM meeting (National Alliance of People's Movements) although it was in Hindi (or Hinglish) because I wanted to meet some familiar people (and of course buy books, I worry about getting too much and not having a space to put them in).

It seems that there has been a government supported (ruling party BJP, political part of the Hindufascist RSS movement) genocide of muslims in Gujarat, and this is the first time I heard about it. Do I just follow news so selectively or what is our press doing? More on Gujarat will follow, since it is a big issue here and there will be elections in December. Many voters are "missing".

That night Bhupen Singh and I attended also a climate meeting arranged by WWF India (the UN climate conference of the parties number 8 was held in Delhi 26th Oct to 1st Nov). We were quite late so I have no idea what they had discussed but the rest of it was quite interesting. They felt that the climate justice movement is really unique and has overcome barriers, brought together people that wouldn't have otherwise come together, but still there is a lack of trust between Southern and
Northern NGOs. Vijay would call this political trust and I think he is quite right. We have witnessed this between Finnish and European NGOs and movements as well and it's one of the major obstacles that prevents us from working together and in fact might have us even working against each other or our goals. Another point related to this was "corporatization of NGOs" (regarding climate issues in this case but I
feel it is the danger with all international issues at least): we start to act like corporations and are located somewhere in lobby space with corporates. The language -not in just climate issues, but regarding globalisation, biodiversity and biosafety and so on - is very technical and alienating for other NGOs and the public. The drive for consensus sometimes means forgetting the issue.

So Fitria arrived very very early on Saturday morning. This is her first visit outside Indonesia but she's doing better than I am. I would suppose Indonesia is more Asian than Finland. The food is very different, she says, and the language. But I think her English is better than mine. We're about the same age, so let's see how uncomfortable Kob feels with women in their twenties. We showed Fitria the Munirka office of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam and on Sunday attended a discussion on "Islam,
muslims and democracy". Quite interesting for both of us, since Fitria herself is a muslim and I come from the part of the world where we discuss "ethnic conflicts" but have no idea what is going on and why. Especially after Sept 11th last year, the fascism against arabs and islam in Western countries is quite astonishing. As Vijay said in the meeting, we should be able to discuss this issue without a political
perspective (but I hadn't realized before how comprehensively anti-imperialistic islam is. Some of the Coca-cola boycotts started by muslim shopkeepers after USA started bombing Afganistan a year ago are still holding). More on this follows if you are interested.

Some practical issues are still waiting to be solved, since I wanted Fitria and Kob to be a part of that discussion. Beds are here and one computer, Internet access is also working now but the other computer has to be fixed today.

About work; so far we've discussed arranging a workshop on globalisation and water in the ASF and I've agreed to produce a background paper or make a presentation on the issue, I just have to decide on whether the focus should be globalisation or global resistance. This is part of the project which Siemenpuu Foundation has granted funding for and I have promised to try to facilitate that process from here. Possibly some traveling to the Himalaya area (newly created state Uttarakand or
Uttaranchal) for networking and meeting environmental activists and so on and/or other regions, nothing fixed yet. I would like to visit also Rajasthan so I have to see if there is something interesting happening there. Rakesh was telling me what a great place it is. I'm also trying to meet a group working with the children of prostitutes and maybe visit an AIDS center. Trade unions are for Vijay to arrange so this will take some time since he is quite busy. But I have to look into all
possibilities I have. Rakesh also suggested a meeting with RSS. Let us
see. Two months to ASF.