Letters from India No 21

´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

Letters from India, vol 21
November 10th, 2002
Shivalik, New Delhi

As usual, I'm taking a very liberal approach to these reports, as they've been named as 'letters'. Also because the exchange programitself is quite liberal, which is in a way good but doesn't suit everyone.

Some time has been going into trying to sort out budgetary things. Since budgets are based on expectations there are bound to be some problems and deficits, but let's see if we can work them out somehow. Despite unclarities in the budget we are leaving tomorrow morning for Uttarakhand (newly created state in the Himalaya area, official name Uttaranchal) on 11th. It is a region with lots of natural resources and quite many environmental movements that are of interest to all of us exchange activists. I am quite enthusiastically looking forward to it and it fits perfectly into the agenda of all three of us. Our guide will be Mr Rajendra Dhasmana, who is very nice man and familiar with the region. Tentative plans include meeting people from the Chipko movement and committee opposing Teheri dam, tribal people, environmental activists, see a sinking village and so on and so on. The climate would be a little closer to the one at home, so I'm also quite exited about the possibility to see snow. I spoke with my sister yesterday and she said it's about -5 C back in Finland, so not that much. The lady who comes here to cook said that I must be from a very cold place since I am red here. Now I've actually noticed the winter is coming in here as well, temperature has gone down quite rapidly.

I feel quite privilidged being a part of this pilot project of bringing together activists from four different countries, mostly from the South. But since it is a pilot project, the biggest problems if any are likely to emerge during this first time. Comrades Fitria and Kob are in India the first time so I also worry about how their experience turns out to be. I have tried to be quite diplomatic about explaining Indian schedules and so on, but when Fitria says so-and-so is late, I tell her I wasn't even expecting him to turn up until an hour or half after agreed. Being 'flexible' in schedules seems to be and Indian and African habit, not so much Asian in general. I am uncertain if Fitria and Kob are used to this way of building up your workplan yourself, I think they'd expect a little more guidance and fixed program since they do not know how things work here. I am quite unable to help them out as much as I would like to, since my last visit was quite a short one and spent mostly with the Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam crew.

My Hindi is improving day by day: vocabulary is now about twenty words. These people find it very funny, though, if I say jana (to go), acha (ok) or pani (water) or whatever. But I'm still illiterate in this country. And the WSF-Delhi meeting we participated the day before was mostly over my vocabulary. Based on the English minutes, what was discussed there was the tentative program, parallel youth camp, key concerns and clarifications. What I think was a very good point was that there should be a follow-up process, but some felt it's premature to discuss about it. It was also felt that since being part of the struggle against globalisation is not new to most of us, in a sense a process already exists. Small groups are being mobilized to join the Asian Social Forum. It was also suggested in the meeting that there should be conference in Delhi for the Social Forum. More information will be found from the website at www.wsfindia.org.

Tea. Again. It's a bit funny how much Indians have tea. A friend of Ritu's from the same faculty said 'Indian academics wouldn't survive without tea.' According to an agricultural survey by The Hindu, India is the world's largest consumer of tea. I am uncertain on would it also be the largest producer or would that be China. In the hilly areas, I was told, you might not be charged at all for black tea. Sugar and milk give needed energy and calories for difficult conditions. In some parts they even have tealeaves with butter and sugar. Ritu was telling me yesterday how tea came to India through the British military about a hundred years ago: in army rations there would be a portion of this addictive drink, so little by little tea replaced traditional drinks from herbs and spices. Traditional drinks were usually cool drinks and varied according to season. In the same way alcohol imports have overcome traditional mild alcohols and replaced them with hard drinks and a hard drinking culture.

I was at JNU yesterday and day before. Student elections are going on, and BJP student union was marching outside and shouting their slogans. Sounds like a military rehersal. Somehow I'm glad I can't understand what they are saying.

The Holy month of Ramzan started here on 7th. Both Fitria and Kob are muslims, so they are fasting during the day and getting up at 4 AM to have breakfast before the sunrise.

Regardless or related to the international policy (or should I say US-posed policy) the issue of Islam and Muslims in the society seem to be much more present in the everyday discussion than last year (but so are mobile phones). During my travels during the last year or two and especially now I have been thinking a lot about national identity and nationality. Now, being again here where the conflict between Hindus and Muslims is very present and discussed much more than last time due to the genocide of Muslims in the state of Gujarat, I've started realizing that what we in the West dismiss as 'ethnic conflict' is actually a question of identity and the right to an identity: regardless of religion, a person born and brought up in a culture is as much a part of that culture as the mainstream. And still minorities grown up as part of the nation are outsiders. But national identity is not necessarily being an Indian but more being from this and this village in Bihar or Sicily, it is more regional as the region, the place where you grow up, is the place you identify with rather than the nation. How many people are as familiar with the whole of their country as they are with their locality? Still, calling it regional identity might not be a solution (or would it?).