Letters from India No 23

´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.
Fitria Agustina

Letters from India, vol 23
November 4th, 2002

Regards to all,

I have no idea how to start my 'report' letter for KEPA, because there are so many interesting things that I like to share, especially with friends in INSIST. That's why I choose to translate my letter for them. I'm really sorry if my English is not good in writing, especially in vocabulary and grammar, I'm still working on it. So, here it is.

This is my first letter that I send--after an email that mentioning that I've arrived and my address here, of course.

Right on schedule, Saturday (02.11.2002) 01.40 am local time, I arrived in India. I got exhausted with the traveling, 'cause Yogyakarta-Jakarta took 1 hour, then transit. Jakarta-Hongkong for 4,5 hours and Hongkong-Delhi 5 hours. And I took this traveling as first abroad by myself. Since leaving Yogyakarta, I was confused by lot of airport bureaucracy-getting worse; my whole family drove me to the airport, chaos. But thank God, I met Anu at the airport; she's going to Jakarta, so there's someone that explains everything to me in a calm situation.

At Delhi's Airport, I worried, "Where's the facilitator?" 'Cause if he hadn't, then I should call him, while each Rupee in me is in big amount-I exchanged my USD in Hongkong and this airport. I was really glad when Rakesh Bhatt-our facilitator-show up. He guided me to our apartment, where a nice big room with warm bed waiting for me-Anastasia (Finland) had gone to bed, but she left a welcome note for me.

So, I'm having my own bed and bathroom. I think these are too much for me 'cause usually I sleep on INSIST Press carpet in Yogyakarta. The facilities that are ready: one computer and telephone. Another computer hasn't been set-up, also Internet and household equipment. Looks like things will be managed after Kob (Thailand) is here.

Anastasia has arrived earlier, 28.10.2002. And Kob will be in 04.11.2002-but postpone till 05.11.2002, late at night. Anastasia is a nice person; she's from Friends of the Earth. Her interests are in environment issues, women, and lot of other things. Last year she's been here for a month. Guess that's why she knows a lot for 'daily living' in India-she even has Indian suits, later I'll find one for myself.

First day in India (02.11.2002) I spent by visiting CSDS Project Office at Munirka. I was introduced with some activists there. Bhupen-young activist; Suresh-he was a journalist and now still writing, lot of them about his land, Uttarakhand; Surej-he's in charge with the office, who keep trying to fax my right invitation for me to get my visa; and many more. I tasted my first Indian food here. It's rather difficult for me. Not because of the hot taste, maybe because they're always in liquid form or not as 'spicy' as Indonesian food. But hope I'll get used to it.

We started by getting more information about India-Indonesia-Finland condition and trying to know more about our institutions. Guess it's a common phenomenon that NGO usually starts from middle class, in India too. I asked, "Is there any woman working here?" because at that time, those who are present are men. They said there is one young woman, Kusum, but she's concentrating at the WSF Secretariat. This question popped-up 'cause there are lot of women working in INSIST and lot of women activists in Indonesian NGOs, even most of them are in women or children issues. So I got a-very subjective-conclusion that women working in non-domestic area are less than in Indonesia. Highly education also hasn't been a common for women.

After taking meal and got connect to the Internet, we had a discussion about India, especially on environment. One thing was about the effect of global warming and globalization (the TNCs/MNCs). Bhupen and Suresh who company Anastasia and me are from Uttarakhand, a state in Himalayan, so mostly they told us about the effects there.

Uttarakhand is known as 'Indian water land'. From this place lot of rivers bring water to Indian plain area. In the past, there was snow and some rainy days. Agriculture depends on this rain. But because of global warming effects, snow is not available anymore and rain is getting rare. Agriculture system also has changed. Organic fertilizer being replaced by chemical ones, and brings less and less harvest every year. Seed quality also decreased. This story made me remember Indonesia's condition on Green Revolution's 'success'.

About TNCs/MNCs, forrest management that was in villagers hand, been took-over by commercial corporations. Don't forget mining sector also.

Uttarakhand is based on patriarchy-can any one find any part of this world that's not? But women have a big role in society. Suresh said, "Without women, Uttarakhand has nothing."

Few things about Gujarat Dam Project, which started from 15-20 years ago, it's a mega-project that supported by lot of international funding. Not less than 40.000 peoples were displaced from their homes and lands. Compensation that been given was not enough for having a decent place to live. Lot of people suffered still 'cause of this project.

That's for my 1st day. At Sunday (03.11.2002) Anastasia and I attended a discussion held by CSDS Lokayan at Indian International Centre (IIC) about "Islam, Moslems, and Democracy". Rakesh, our facilitator, was one of the main speakers. He presented ayat-ayat of Koran that bring peace, Islam hates violence. There was a Hindu movement who propose to ban some ayats that seen as supporting violence.

Ironic, I heard that there was genocide on Moslems in Gujarat early this year. Rumors said that this incident happened by government element's contribution (BJP is the party in power, part of the Hindu-fascist RSS movement).

Discussion was interesting, even it's in English and Hindi. I got attracted to learn more about Koran. Indonesia was mentioned several times, 'cause it's one of the countries that has large amount on Moslems. Fundamentalism, terrorism, secularism, and democracy were being debated all the time. Some participants said that Rakesh only views Koran literally and forget the context of time when the ayats appear. Hindus-Moslems conflicts are still going on at some parts of India. I memorized conflict places in Indonesia based on SARA (Tribe, Religion, Race, and Political ideology. One thing that's important from this discussion: If we talk about democracy, it's not relevant anymore whether you're India or not, black or white, Hindu or Islam.

Night we spent at Suresh's place, having dinner and nice conversation about his poems in international literatures; Uttarakhand and the chance of water solution for India by having lake in hills; story about Rakesh's experience being jailed 4,5 years in Iran and how's his wife teaching-she's a teacher in Iran; and few things about madrasah-Moslem schools--in India.

Coincidently-but I hope it won't be too often; there were terrorists at Anzal Plaza. From news we knew two was shoot, one missing. It took my attention because we pass by that place from IIC. I even could see the Plaza from window of Suresh's kitchen. I asked his son, "Do this happen often?" And yes, he said. When I wanted to know who are these peoples, he said it's never clear, government always says that they are Pakistanis. Guess the relation between these two countries isn't good.

I think I'll stop for now. Happy I could tell lot of stories for my family.

Take care. Keep in touch.
Warm regards,


Agustina is an Indonesian activist and journalist working for Wacana Magazine published by INSIST, an Indonesian partner organization of Kepa