Letters from India No 7.3

´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


Since the last letter on 30 November there has been quite a bit of transcontinental movement by Finns. Thomas Wallgren returned to Finland on 8 December. On 10 December Marko took one week off for his other engagements, and Jarna Pasanen, Marko's spouse, joined him in Delhi on 17 December. Together they left Delhi on 22 December for Christmas holidays in Goa. From there they travelled to Gandhiji's ashram in Sewagram, Maharashtra to observe the silver jubilee meeting of Chatra Yuva Sangarsh Vahini. Next stop for the two is Dhaka, Bangladesh, where Marko goes for his research work for a month.

In mid-January the next Finnish exchange activist, Mr. Oras Tynkkynen, will come to Delhi for three months. He is a founding member of Friends of the Earth Finland and leading figure in several environmental campaigns. He has done his alternative service (to military) in Kepa and travelled widely in Southern Africa and East Asia. Currently he is studying for master's degree in journalism at the University of Tampere. In India he will be working mainly on climate change questions.

Theme of this letter consists of Marko's report of the past one month (and a half) with Lokayan in the activist exchange programme. Highlights of the past weeks covers a talk at a youth camp, Orissa relief meetings, Seattle debriefing and HIV/AIDS debate. In reflections memories of the farewell party in Delhi and Christmas in Goa are recalled.

During Vijay Pratap's visit to Finland in May-June 1999 it was decided that my activist exchange period would be extended by one month if the other people chosen from Finland would cancel their participation. As this happened, I arrived in Delhi on 16 November to work for one more month on the four themes that had been set for me during the first courses of my stay in January-February and April 1999. They are learning about Lokayan, helping in exchange programme, contributing to the 'book project' and working on globalisation issues. In this brief report I will present my activities on those themes with some reflections.


Lokayan and the dialogue method

One of the features of Lokayan that has been of great interest to the Finnish activists in Kepa and in other groups is the approach that can be called the dialogue method. It can be seen to consists of at least three inter-related elements: mixed participants, open ended debate and low key of the organiser.

Bringing together people who normally do not interact much with each other, but would benefit from sharing of perspectives and ideas is one of the features of the dialogue method. Sometimes this means getting into a shared table people with similar aims but with separate organisational set ups. Other times it could involve people from opposing ideologies.

Secondly, an open ended agenda and a genuine posture of dialogue is central feature of the method. Many times meetings are organised to pushing one's own agenda, but this is alien idea for the approach.

Third, low key of the organiser is chosen. This way people will more readily come to participate because they do not need to be concerned of credit going to some association that they do not with to strengthen. In practice this means that Lokayan itself does not wave its flag all that much, and many ad hoc platforms are developed for different needs.

There are many other features to the issue and these identified by me can be considered secondary by some one else describing the dialogue approach or method. However, having observed the work of some people in Lokayan I have been impressed of these three features, and call them here the dialogue method.


Exchange programme

Now that Rita Nahata is coordinating the exchange programme at the Delhi end my role in the operations were less important than in early 1999. In the preparations of the next exchange activists from India (Rajendra Ravi) and Nepal (Usha Tiwari) I facilitated the communication and took part in the meeting where new participants were discussed. Naturally I also made some preparations for the stay of Oras in India.

One year of the exchange activist programme has been concluded so there is enough material for some reflections. So far the activity has run smoothly and all people visiting other countries have been satisfied with their stay. There have been some difficulties and misunderstandings felt both by the visiting people and the host, but that is an essential part of the learning process.

On nominal level the activity has been able to reach a kind of parity that is uncommon in north-south relations. There has been same amount of months allocated for both directions of exchange, and the remuneration for the participants is the same for both nationals. Another important feature of the exchange activity is that the purpose of the stay in the other country is not to change or to develop that, but to gather experiences for more effective work in the movements and organisations back home.

For me the most direct influence of the time spent in India can be seen in the half a dozen columns I have written to the Finnish Green weekly Vihreä Lanka and other activist writing. The perspectives to global issues that I have got from discussions with people like Vijay Pratap and Dirubhai Seth have had immediate resonance on my ongoing intellectual work. For example, when during my stay in South Asia the NATO started air strikes on Yugoslavia under the pretext of human rights violations in Cosovo, it soon became clear to me that the primary aim of the operation was to align European Union into the hegemonic military world regime of the United States. Without the sharp analysis of the Indian friends and colleagues, a more sentimental picture along the NATO line of thinking could have evolved.


The 'book project'

The other major undertaking of Kepa's India Group and Vasudhaiva Kutumbkam of Lokayan&CSDS is the process of dialogues and text production on voluntarism, foreign funding and democratising north-south partnerships. Because of the mid poll elections in India in October and other matters of greater urgency, no dialogue was held in Delhi in December, and the Bangladesh one is now envisaged to be held in early February. However, the processing of the dialogue transcripts and contributions is well under way, and a report could be written.

In December I took the responsibility to bring out the texts written for the Kathmandu dialogue held in April 1999. These will be included in a book that is currently being edited by Mr. Farhad Hossain and myself and to be published by Institute for Human Development (Nepal) in association with Vasudhaiva Kutumbkam - Lokayan and Coalition for Environment and Development (Finland) in early 2000.


Globalisation issues

The main undertaking on globalisation issues was the participation of Dr. Arun Kumar and Dr. Dinseh Abrol in the Seattle WTO conferences with Kepa's sponsorship. My task was to share information about the Finnish WTO campaign scene before the journey and taking part in discussions after the trip.

Highligts from the fortnight


Addressing youth camp

On 4 December Thomas Wallgren and I talked to an audience of some 70 youth activists from India and neighbouring countries who had come to attend an orientation course organised by Society of All Round Development and sponsored by the German Friedrich Ebert Stiftung. Although we made it very clear in our presentations that we are not from a donor agency and that our interest is to do things quite different from the mainstream development cooperation, the questions posed to us were mainly on issues related to getting access to and making good use of development aid funds. However, some people very keen on issue based cooperation on issues of mutual interest.


Orissa relief efforts

One of the several initiatives set up in Delhi for rehabilitation of life in the cyclone affected areas in Orissa is the Orissa Reconstruction Campaign lead by number of ethnic Oriyas working in Delhi at academic institutions and NGOs. The campaign group had set five committees looking at education, health, livelihood, habitat and environment. Of these support to restarting schools and helping to rebuild some of the up to 8.000 destroyed or damaged schools was identified as top priority. Also assistance to building homes with more cyclone resistant structures was under way. The main partners in the field is the consortium of NGOs set up right after the disaster, the Orissa Disaster Mitigation Mission. In Orissa there is also another initiative, the Orissa Citizen's Forum, which brings together mainly those groups who are not in the habit of funding their work with foreign donations. They stem from Gandhian and leftist traditions and work among dalits and other disadvantaged groups. One of the first priorities for the Forum is to obtain seeds and cows so that agricultural activities could be restarted as soon as possible.


Questioning HIV

Lokayan's health committee (Swastha Panchayat) is actively taking part on the debate and activities on HIV/AIDS in India. On 9 December Dr. Kothari from Nagpur visited Delhi to discuss his work on the issue. He has set up a clinic for AIDS patients and reached nation wide publicity for good results. One of his points of departure is that the HI virus does not exist. There are a number of scientist around the world who hold this view, and some of them will come to Nagpur for an international conference to be organised by Dr. Kothari end of January. Besides discussing the controversial question about the existence of HIV, there will be debate on the sense of separate large HIV/AIDS programmes undermining the basic health infrastructure dealing with more common and deadly diseases such as tuberculosis.


Seattle reflections

Dr. Arun Kumar and Dr. Dinesh Abrol returned from Seattle WTO meeting on 7 December. There they had taken part in the meetings organised by Kepa and its Nordic sister organisations, and in numerous other forums. After their return a number of meetings were held to share the experiences and perspectives for future work with activists and press. In one of them also Mr. Ward Morehouse from US, an organiser of one of the Seattle events, was present. There was an understanding that the collapse of the WTO ministerial conference can only partly be attributed to the protest, and intensive efforts have to be endured in order to make WTO more democratic and less harmful to people and environment. Now the issues in the agenda (and people's demands) include review of agriculture (food security), services (no privatisation of basic social services) and TRIPS (no patents on life)


Vahini new year's meet

On the turn of the year (or decade/century/millennium, as you like) the youth organisation established by Jay Prakash Narayan (JP) Chatra Yuva Sangarsh Vahini held its 25th year jubilee conference at Gandhiji's ashram Sewagram in Maharashtra. The first day was for introduction of the some 200 participants and their work, second for reflecting on the past two and a half decades and third for planning future action. The activities initiated by Vahini and its members is impressive. In North India it has been one of the most important non-party political movements since the1960's. Its some dozen local struggles has yielded justice and well being to lakhs of people in various sub-altern communities. However, it has not been able to stay united but there have been smaller and larger divisions into different, sometimes even antagonist, camps and factions. Therefore, one of the main conclusions of the meet was to forge and renew Vahini unity across the movement. Secondly, the meeting decided to organise a number of events in years 2000 and 2001 to commemorate the 100 year anniversary of JP's birth. The next major meeting will be held in Delhi.



Farewell party

On the night before leaving Delhi Rita Nahata organised a delightful farewell party for Marko and Jarna. Many of the Lokayan and CSDS friends came with their families. There was delicious Indian food from plates made of sal-tree leaves and a special hot milk drink. Also Christmas cookies sent by Marko's mother were enjoyed with delight.


X-mas in Goa

After having experienced some parts of the North India from Jaisalmer to Kolkata (known before Calcutta) Jarna and Marko had desire to head South for Christmas holidays. After some degree of contemplation and studying travel logistics Goa stood out as the most feasible option. Having heard of the hordes of western Hippies occupying the beaches and read the cover story of India Today about the huge millennium parties scheduled there was some concern in the air. However, after reaching the capital Panjim and exploring the surroundings with Honda Kinetic for a three days the experience turned out to be quite different. In the small village roads hardly any westerners could be seen, and also in the beaches they formed a small minority with more than 80 % of the tourists coming from India. The Christians attended the midnight Christmas mass in three piece suits and elegant dresses.