Letters from India No 3

´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, ie. Lokayan´s Global Responsibility Forum - Vasudhaiva Kutumbkam and Kepa´s India Group.
Marko Ulvila Piia Saari


DELHI -- Both Piia and Marko were unwell during the fortnight, so there is no theme discussions and only three highlights are covered. They stem from visits and discussions of Piia on handicrafts and Marko's trip to Jaipur where he met with a voluntary organisation that has been attacked heavily by the state BJP government and a meet on nuclear weapons free world. As the bed-ridden activists had a chance to read more than usually a new section 'Book Notes' in included where thoughts from readings are shared.

On 4 March Marko will travel to Nepal for a month to resume his research work there and to organise a dialogue seminar on democratising North-South relations. He will be back in India in early April. Since the People's Global Action conference in Bangalore has been postponed to August he will be working in Delhi to consolidate the processes put in place.

Next Indian exchange activist, Mr. Atal Behari Sharma, will leave for Finland on 8 March for a one-month visit. He will take part in the dialogue seminars on democratising North-South relations organised by Kepa's India Group on 12-13 March in Helsinki. Moreover he will get in touch with South Asians living in Finland to explore possibilities to organise solidarity activities with them.

Highlights from the fortnight


During February there have been quite a few handicrafts fairs in Delhi and at the neighbourhood promoting the crafts production and export. "The Hindu" newspaper comments that during a 10 month period in 1998-99, export of handicrafts had shown an increase of Rs. 620 crores (6.2 billion) rising from Rs. 3740 to Rs. 4360 crores, an increase of almost 17 per cent. The Export Promotion Council for Handicrafts, the Textile Ministry and individual handicrafts exporters have organised training programmes, workshops ands seminars on exports all around the country to develop the products and to meet the rising demand for Indian handicrafts abroad.

I went to two, quite different type of fairs in February. The first one was arranged by "Arankri", a venture of two ladies who have contacts to a wide network of artisans in different states of India. The fair was located at the Blind Relief Association at Delhi and provided a variety of Indian dresses, mainly salwar kameez and sari. The other of the organisers, Mrs. Deepa Sharma told that all the styles in dresses are traditional and colours used are natural vegetable dyes, but the cloth is bought ready and it can also be made by powerloom.

"Indian Handicrafts and Gifts Fair - Spring "99" was oriented to western handicrafts purchasers and the producers trying to promote their export sales. It was arranged at the huge Pragati Maidan Exhibition Grounds in Delhi and presented everything from jewellery, wooden photo frames and glassware to textiles and furniture. Ironically, while showing Indian crafts styles, the atmosphere was extremely western with the separate showrooms, spotless facilities and the product range designed exactly according to European tastes.

The visits to the fairs at least raised more questions about the nature of a craft and an artisan. The concept of a handicraft can be defined in many ways and all definitions do not necessarily demand the product to be 100% handmade or of traditional culture. A discussion with a handicrafts specialist, Rita Nahata on the development of Indian crafts, both the so called fine arts and village arts during the past few centuries gave me more insights into the vast world of the crafts. She was especially concerned on the ways British influenced on Indian weaving industry and the ways the present global culture and mass production destroys the real handicrafts of the area. These questions in mind, I will concentrate on the weaving and garments production of Rajasthan, one of the famous crafts states of the country, and am planning a trip there in the beginning of March.


A Rajasthani voluntary organisation Bal Rashmi Society, was attacked heavily by the BJP lead government of Rajasthan in mid July 1998. The organisation runs several social welfare programmes to orphans and tribals, and it has also been a vocal critic of violence against women. For example it had mobilised a movement on a rape case which involved BJP politicians who were getting away from police investigation and trials. After losing heavily in the parliamentary elections in February 1998 the Rajasthan BJP became distressed about the forthcoming state legislative assembly elections in November same year. They had identified the women's movement as one of the reasons for declining popularity and an attacked was launched against one of its leaders Alice Garg and her organisation BRS. Nine charges, mainly sexual abuse and fraud, were levied against Mrs. Garg and her employees of whom four were arrested and allegedly tortured. The Alice Garg was forced to go underground while the harassment intensified towards the elections which BJP eventually lost to Congress Party. After the new government was put in place the attacks discontinued, but it takes time to clear the fabricated charges and restore the damage done. The case draw a lot of national and international attention involving dharna in Delhi, Amnesty International Urgent Appeal and many other reactions. Also the Save the Children Association in Finland mobilised support to the organisation they have been funding for a decade. However, the Gargs are most disappointed with the silence of the Rajasthani NGOs of which very few came to defend them in the time of the trouble. This is attributed to their dependence on state and international funding which the government can use to pressure them.


On 22-23 February Lokayan arranged together with Indian Doctors for Peace and Development dialogue seminars that were attended also by a nine-member delegation of the International Physicians for Prevention of Nuclear War – recipient of the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize. The two day dialogue seminar covered ways to abolish nuclear weapons and improving peoples security through initiatives. Speakers from opposing camps regarding India joining the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty presented their views and sparked an debate. The IPPNW delegation continued from Delhi to Pakistan to similar visit, several members of Lokayan also went to the main seminar in Karachi.

Book notes

By Marko


In 1998 a one time co-editor of Lokayan bulletin, Ms. Rajni Bankshi, published a book that presents twelve contemporary efforts to promote justice and equality in India. The Bapu Kuti: Journey in Rediscovery of Gandhi draws its title from the residence of Mahatma Gandhi - popularly known as Bapu among Indians - where many of the people covered in the book come to meet time to time. Anyone who wants to know about some of the most interesting new initiatives in India that are inspired by Gandhi should take time to read the book. Many of the people who feature in it are associated with Lokayan to various decrees, and therefore the Bapu Kuti gives also a good introduction to the network. (Copies will be sent to Kepa soon.)


After receiving the Nobel Price for Economics in October 1998 Prof. Amartya Sen has featured weekly in the Indian press. His works focussing on economics of poverty have had a major impact, i.e. in conceptualising the UNDP human development report. I took a quick look the book by Sen and his recurrent co-author on India, Prof. Jean Dreze, ‘India: Economic Development and Social Opportunity'. One of the most interesting chapters in the book that was published in 1995 compares India with China and puts some of the contested issues such as economic liberalisation and population policies in a perspective. According to the authors, Indian economic reforms of the 1990s will hardly yield as positive development results as in China because social advances are too few, and the coercive population control methods of China seem unnecessary in the light of the Kerala experience where a quick transition has taken place by thrust in social services to women and girls.


One of the leading Socialist ideologues from Bihar, Mr. Sachidanand Sinha has recently come out with a new pamphlet titled "Socialism: A Manifesto for Survival'. In it he draws attentions to the threats caused by the advancing globalisation and reflects on the shortcomings of the socialists states of Eastern Europe. For a way out of the dead-lock Mr. Sinha proposes a system that would take the environment fully into account and devolve power to the communities. One expression of this would be a shift from centralised mass production of unnecessary and harmful consumer products to localised manufacture of essential goods. Despite the limited scope of the pamphlet it gives food for thought for restructuring the society.


During the 1990s new wave of leftists violent uprisings have bursted out in India and Nepal. These are commonly termed as Naxalites after the Naxalbar town in northern West Bengal where a famous revolutionary force was formed in the early 1970s. In Andhra Pradesh where the Communist Party of India - Marxist-Leninist - Peoples War group has waged war against the local feudalist leaders and the collaborating government officials a Committee of Concerned Citizens has conducted a number of dialogues with both the Naxalites and the government representatives to find remedies to the escalating violence. The reports of the Committee and the responses that were published as a booklet 'In Search of Democratic Space' provides a well informed and balanced perspective to the difficult issues. The responses by the Peoples War group provide a good overview of revolutionary leftist position on number of issues such as land reform, elections and NGOs.


The short story 'The Man who Planted Trees' by the French author Jean Giono has become renowned around the world, and according to the Indian publisher Friends of Elzeard Bouffier 'has long since inspired reforestation efforts, world wide'. The story written in 1954 tells about a solitary man who single handedly regenerates vast area of the Pyrenes mountains. Although on a surface level the narrative is heartening, comparison with real-world situation causes shivers. Namely, the hero of the story, Elezeard Bouffier, proceeds in his work in a way that would ultimately lead to failures and even disasters. Because he plants his trees in isolation from the local community, in real life his seedlings would have been eaten up by the sheep and goat. Moreover, his limited choice of trees would have lead to another monoculture. In fact the booklet describes the arch type of a hero-forester who comes from outside and fixes problem caused by local folks. As long as such character serves as a source of inspiration we can expect more miserable failures in reforestation projects.

By Piia


A concise packet of Indian (mainly hindu) culture, "Culture Shock. A Guide to Customs and Etiquette. India"(1994) is an amusing and informative introduction to the subcontinent's different aspects of life. The book (written by Gitanjali Kolanad) discusses for example the religious festivals, communication by body language, the eating habits in an Indian home, traffic systems of the cities, the marriage and social customs. The explanations to the strange habits of Indians are explained in a way every first-comer to India would understand. The author is well aware of the danger of generalisation, as the country in question is not that simple to describe in single terms. However, she has succeeded in hitting the nail on the head, as in many cases a traveller will find a clarification to basic questions from here, yet many of the further questions will still remain unanswered.



This hindu festival is celebrated for the end of winter especially in the northern India and is a festival of goddess Holika. On 1st March people set up bonfires and dance around them, on 2nd the better known activity, throwing colourful water and powder on people, took place . We were warned not to move out of the room on the two days unless we want to get pink all over, or at least wet. Following this advice, we took part in the festivities from our safe balcony at Maitri Apartments and observed the play with the colours that the neighbours of all ages exercised. We had not been left totally outsiders, however, as we got a couple of good splashes from the water balloons the previous days.