Tag Archive: Karnataka


I couldn’t stop laughing

AMDG

The nearby city of Hubli here in Karnataka held a unique competition last week ”An Abuse without Offending Contest”.  Its goal  – to judge intelligent and inventive ways of abusing each other.    I had to check the date of the newspaper – it wasn’t April the First!  350 participants took to the stage either solo or as a duo (husband-wife, friends or brother-sister). The type of abuse was strictly controlled – participants were not allowed to use filthy language or hurt others with regard to caste, creed, religion or sex but could insult others using  English, Hindi, Kannada, Telugu, Tamil, Malayalam or any other Indian language. Evidently the aim of the competition was ‘to find a peaceful language in today’s troubled times.’ The winners were an elderly couple, Savita and Gangadhar Hiremath, married for more than five decades. They argued, quarreled and abused each other – and had the audience in gales of laughter with their inventive and witty insults, and they walked away with the first prize. Their prize – a garland of flowers.”We’re happy to win the first prize. On the stage we stayed natural and used language which we use in our daily life,” said the couple in unison at the end of the event.

When I was a teenager we used to learn Monty Python scripts off by heart and recite them at the back of the coach on the way back from sporting fixtures (its a bit embarrassing to admit this now).  One of our favorite sketches was the ‘I’d like to have an argument’ sketch, where the hapless Michael Palin, wanders into the wrong room, and gets a volley of abuse.  When he looks bewildered – his assailant realises he is lost and tells him, ‘oh this is abuse you want room 12a for an argument.’ Never did I think I would come across this in real life.

Maybe….. and this is a very tentative maybe….. there is some point to this bizarre contest. The organisers claimed   “Most often a verbal duel turns offensive and leads to physical fights. Thus we want to encourage people to make their habit of abusing or scolding fellow human beings without any malice and thereby also enjoy and have fun in the process. Friendly bantering should be encouraged between people to vent their anger.”   Having worked in all boys school, I used to find the majority of banter tiresome, especially in the staff room, but recognise that it could be an important way to let of steam. I have to acknowledge there were some geniuses at it – especially the students.  Some of their observations and use of language could make me crack up, which could be a bit embarrassing, especially when trying to teach a lesson. I perfected the trick of writing on the whiteboard with my back to the class when I was battling to keep a straight face.

Wonderful …………………   Only in India!


AMDG

In my opinion the transformative power of hope is not given enough credit . The population of India is an incredible 1.2billion and growing by 17 million a year.  The majority of Indians (70%) live in rural villages.  The recent census showed that majority of these rural dwellers survive on less than 35 rupees a day (or 40pence / 60cents).    Talking to some of the families in the villages here, and students and teachers it is very clear that an absence of optimism is one of the most debilitating factors in peoples lives.  Of course it understandable – rates of malnutriton, illiteracy, infant mortality and a lack of clean water are all at shameful levels in rural India. The biggest ministry in India’s Government is that for Rural Development, and to their credit they have instigated important schemes such as subsidised grain and a guaranteed programme of 100 days paid work a year for unskilled labour.

Both schemes, well meant, are crippled by corruption.  Many of the grain is pocketed by middle men, and much of the Public Works Scheme money is siphoned off by ‘ghost workers’ – invented by corrupt local officials in order to pocket their wages. This is the biggest flaw in India’s politics – that so many see it as legitimate to exploit the state in order to redistribute patronage to their kin.  Plundering the state is terrible for development.  So those worst effected, at the bottom of the pile,  feel hopeless and helpless. When you have no mental space to see beyond day-to day-survival it can lead to a certain listlessness, lack of motivation and depression. This also manifests itself in a kind of chronic conservatism, often culturally expressed, and jealousy of anyone who dares to be too successful from your village.

However there is hope…. just the witness of our children when they go back to their villages, speaking English, clean, confident, well fed seems to be having a big impact on changing this mindset.  This week many parents are bringing their children in to seek for admission for the next school year. The Jesuits are giving priority to those from the poorest families, the Dalits, the Devadasis.  At the early stages of the mission, much time and energy was put into forming womens groups in the villages, with the belief that they value education more, and more likely to ensure that the girls will not lose out.  The picture on the right shows the leaders from a womens group in a local village who brought in a large group of children to register for admission this year. Maybe they wouldn’t have come had it just been left to their families. The dynamic leaders of the women’s cooperative are ensuring that education is starting to be valued more. However this is on a macro level –  I believe change is also coming to India at a macro level.

The worlds biggest biometric database is being set up in India.  This is based on the realisation that the rural poor have no identity – no drivers licence, no passport,no bank account,  many live in villages shared by so many people with the same surname.  This makes it impossible for them to open a bank account.  If they want to migrate to work in another state, in the dead time between harvest and replanting,  they have to spend hours queuing in the sun, to pay bribes to get papers.

Things are changing: the UID (Universal Id) or Aadhar number is drastically improving rural welfare.  With iris, fingerprint and face scanners, their identity is robust, it means that they can open bank accounts, state support goes straight to them, cutting out the middleman and the loss of so much due to corruption.  Their medical and school records can become mobile. As a voluntary scheme it has been embraced enthusiastically by the poor with already 400 million enrolled into it. Observers have suggested the changes are already evident with more land coming under cultivation, dietary habits slowly changing. Sadly we have not seen this in Karnataka, when I ask the villages here they shrug and shake their heads. The sad truth is that the schemes spread is being blocked by powerful forces including the Home Minister. Why? some claim arguments that would be more familiar in the developed world, data protection, civil liberties, privacy – these all seem out of place when you share a one roomed hut with 10 others!! I suspect the real reason it is being blocked is because it is so effective at cutting out the middle man and reducing corruption.

Temple Prostitutes

AMDG

Picture courtesy of Rachel Robichaux – the necklace is a symbol of their being ‘wedded’ to a Goddess

96 Girls in our school come from the Devadasi community.  Their mothers were dedicated or ‘married’ to the Hindu Godess Yellamma at a young age.  They are not allowed to marry a mortal but ones they reach puberty they are bound to give service to the temple.  It is ancient tradition that requires them to serve the temple with song, music or dance but most of them are effectively temple prostitutes. Higher caste men come and have sex with them for as little as 20 rupees (25pence or 40cents).  This ‘dedication’ was outlawed in Karnataka in 1982, and in all of India in 1988, but as one of the Jesuits puts it ‘ it still flourishes under the carpet,’.  With their mothers having children from multiple fathers, the girls can easily be abandoned and without intervention they follow the same pattern of life of their mothers. Sometimes higher castes will ensure a girl goes into devadasi service instead of the family paying debts that are owed. It is effectively a form of child trafficking and child bonded labour.

The girls are often brought to the school here by concerned neighbours who request for admission on their behalf.  The devadasi girls stay in the Hostel here during the school year  which removes them from the toxic environment of prostitution at home. Interestingly the Jesuits claim that they are among the higher achieving students.  When we discussed why this was – whether they are more intelligent or more motivated – the consensus was that they had a burning desire to escape the life that they have seen their mothers having.  The Jesuits and staff treat these girls with great sensitivity, their identity as devedasi is not known by most of the teachers and other students. This anonymity is ensured at parents meetings or evenings as the Jesuits ask for only one parent to come for all the families.

Older Devadasi woman begging outside a temple dedicated to Yellama. Photo courtesy of Julia Cumes

This is a striking case of how education brings liberation and social transformation.  The help provided to the Devadasi community is not just restricted to education.  One of the cruel facts of Devadasi life is as the women age quickly they become less sexually desirable and are abandoned.  The Jesuits have been encouraging the founding of womens-cooperatives, realising that on a village level it is the women who are more likely to use small loans wisely and who vlaue education more.  One such group in a nearby village is constituted of Devadasis who have turned away from prostitution. A very impressive group, led by strong women, well organised, with support they have  built 26 houses and have become a strong influence in the community. I remember visiting them in the community in 2006 and being impressed by their bold spirit.  I have since learned that they have become influential on the local political level. In fact officials were outbidding each other at the last elections to secure their votes.  Political corruption of course is endemic!

If you would like to know more about this tradition – I have discovered a very informative short film called saving the Devadasi by American Campaigner Julia Cumes. Below is a short trailer – if you wish to see the whole film click on this link.

The Gift of a Photo

AMDG

If you have had the fortune to travel and visit places away from well beaten tourist tracks you will be aware of the fascination that a digital camera will often provoke. Children especially are mesmerised by them – ‘picture’ ‘photo’ they will cry gleefully and if you are patient enough you can take the snap and then show them the result as they crowd around you grabbing your arms. The result is often gleeful giggles and a cacophony of more request for photos. The fascination of seeing yourself captured in a camera, maybe for the first time, is a powerful experience – especially in communities that are not bombarded by images like many city dwellers, TV watchers or internet surfers are.  Being here in India for a longer time has given me the chance to do something I have always wanted to do. To get the images developed and return them as a gift. I also have the fortune of having some wonderful photos that were taken by a Spanish professional photographer on my last visit here in 2006.  Developing large size pictures is reasonably cheap, but I can’t afford to frame them. However I have been able to ‘back them’ with card.  So I set off yesterday on my bike to the village of Pannur to deliver them.

Photo courtesy of Laura Lizancos

In many of the simple houses in the villages there are no pictures, sometimes you will see a Hindu or Christian picture, the Divine Mercy seems to be very popular amongst the Christians. I stumbled across a stash of them in the parish house, so its seems to have been enthusiastically promoted by one of the devotees of Sister Faustina and gratefully received. Two of the Pictures stood out for me.  The first one – to the right – is of Prakash and his son peeping out from their door frame. Unusually the little boy was very shy of the strange foreigners visiting the village.  When I developed it I was told that since the photo was taken his son had died. The child mortality rate is too high in the villages. When I asked my fellow Jesuits if it would be wise to give this to Prakash – they replied ‘Of course, it will be very precious for him’. So this morning when I dropped in ‘out of the blue’ it was difficult to read his reaction. A mixture of course of sadness and tenderness. I hope I have done the right thing!  The second happier picture below is of Pretnamma and her newly born child.  This was a photo I took myself (I think) and I love it because of the look of pride and joy in both the mothers and grandmothers eyes.  A safe birth is not taken for granted in the village.  I also have fond memories of it as it was taken a few weeks before my brothers twin girls were born. Pretnamma promised to pray for my sister-in law Rachel and vice versa.  So it was lovely to drop in yesterday evening after I arrived, just before a thunder storm and sit with her and her beautiful little girl Monica and give them the photo. Drinking chai with them as the rain hit bounced off their corrugated roof, and eating ‘roti’ and laughing at my bad Kannada will be a memory I will cherish.   Who do you know who would love to receive a photograph from you as a surprise gift?

Stories of Hope

AMDG

Fr Eric Mathias SJ (left) is the director of the educational works in Manvi and the founder of the Jesuit Mission here 10 years ago. This blog has been contacted by a few people who wanted to know more about the many children here who have been saved from a life of grazing cows and given an education.  Fr Eric has written todays entry to highlight two students (from many) whose life has changed dramatically because of their work.  

Pannur Mission began with releasing some bonded child labourers and giving them A life-changing experience  through education. All these children who were released  are doing well and are an example to others.  Let me give you some  examples of living stories of our children who were grazing cows and never ever thought  that one day they would speak in English and study in an English medium school.

Hanumanthi.  Hanmuanthi hails from a small village called Umli Hosur,  26 kms from Manvi. She was grazing cows  of the landlords and used to collect  Rs. 3,000 per year.  Loyola team met her in her village and sent her to Bijapur for literacy program. She proved herself so smart  that  we decided to send her to Mangalore to do her primary studies. As she was good in English we brought her to school in Manvi for the 8th std. She has excelled in studies and sports and brought a good name to the school. Now she is in 2nd year PUC (Pre University) and dreaming of  being an eye  specialist.  She says  that both   her mother and brother are suffering from eye trouble and so she would like to be a doctor and help out  those who have eye trouble.   She has also has a desire to be a nun at the service of people.  Though she is now in holidays she has opted to spend her holidays in visiting villages and helping to identify and register malnourished children with a team that is engaged in helping these children.  She says she gets energy and peace when she helps the poor and needy.  Hanumanthi is an example of a girl who is liberated and wants to liberate others.

Noble Raj is coming from Pannur village and at an early age engaged in grazing cows and doing some work under the landlords.  He had never been to school till he met us.  He has one brother and two sisters. He was never bothered about the loss of education till he started schooling.  One day he came to us and begged that he wanted to study and work and help out his  poor family.  We gave him an initial grounding in his studies and brought him to school in Manvi.  He has been with us past five years and  has been diligent in his studies.  He has a strong desire to be a Jesuit and to serve humanity especially the poor.He says that his eyes  were opened when  the Wimbledon group first visited Pannur in 2002 and he used to see Bro. Tim (now Fr Tim) lifting children on his shoulders and swinging the children hanging on his arms. He was thrilled when he himself had the joy of being carried on Tim’s shoulders.  He was astonished that  Dalit children were made to feel free by the  English group. They were considered untouchable by so many, even their own families, yet the boys from Wimbledon were delighted to play with them

Later, when another English visitor Dinah and her family visited his poor and simple house, he felt accepted by them and was strengthened by their love. Now he is in 10th std preparing himself for the public exams. He wants to score well and go for PUC.  Noble Raj is very helpful by nature and is a gentleman with discipline and self respect. Even now in holidays he  is staying in the school and helping out in different activities. He  has made his school as his own second  home and is cordinating a group of boys in building and maintenance works.   English medium has helped him to grow in all round knowledge.

There are many Hanumanthis and Noble Rajs in our school who will change the structure  of our society and liberate Dalit families from the slavery of moneyed people and landlords.   If you would like to help support them directly click on this link

AMDG

Great  contemporary Indian authors 

It is an arresting paradox of India – that its culture sustains one of the most vibrant literary scenes in the world, its engineers are valued and sought after, and it is becoming a dominant force in the IT sector, yet on the other hand there are more illiterate people in India that the whole of the population of the US.  I am helping train the teachers in the Pre-University-College here, we meet every day, I have been asking them questions about this paradox and what would they change about the system.  The answers ranged from better pay for teachers, reducing teacher absenteeism in government schools and a female teacher who said she would rigorously enforce the banning of child marriage and child labour.  This group of teachers has impressed me with their desire to learn, and I have shared with them teaching skills and professional practice from the UK.

Last week we discussed the findings of PISA ( Programme for International Student Assessment).  Started by the OPEC countries, who realised that as education was so important for growing a future economy, they needed an independent ‘transnational’ way of checking how successful education systems are, and how they compare to other countries.  You can’t always trust national governments to give you an accurate and unbiased picture!  Data was gathered every three years as 15-year-olds’ take a series of pen and paper tests focusing on four areas. : Literacy in maths, reading and science and finally problem solving.  This international report is growing more and more influential in the field of education, South Korea performing best in the recent test, the UK and US slowly slipping down the table. India, not in OPEC, have resisted taken part – but eventually allowed two regions, Himachal Pradesh  and Tamil Nadu  to take preliminary tests.  They came below the mean scores in the tests but interesting scored high for language skills.

A recent report from PISA results suggested that there were roughly four stages countries would find themselves. At the first, basic stage, the challenge is to centralise learning, standardize curriculums and make sure everyone is using the same textbooks etc.  Then when this in place the second stage seems to be the use of reliable exam data to identify good schools and share good practice, The third stage, perhaps where the UK is at, is then to choose the best graduates for teaching, by increasing entry salaries and raising the status of the profession.  And the final stage, where East Asian and Scandanavian countries seem to be is the opposite of the first stage  – a radical de-centralisation and allow teachers more control over curriculum and teaching.  In my limited experience it seems that at least in rural India is making the transition from stage one to two.  One of the problems is the unreliability of  the public exam system. I have been told that in the cities it is different. However it seems as though corruption is endemic.  Copying in exams seems frequent, in some places the invigilators even encourage it. There are many leaks of papers, this year being no exception.  Papers are  frequently recalled and have to be sat again, putting extra pressure on the students. One girl committed suicide a few weeks ago.  There are attempts to come to grips with it – todays news is that the Common Entrance Tests are being delayed in Karnataka after exam rescheduling because of leaked papers and also boycotts from lecturers.  The delay allows an evaluation of exam scripts but puts even more pressure on students who have other exams for civil service, police and armed forces.

This is a shame because until the exams are better regulated then there is not enough reliable data to identify good practice in the consistently successful schools and share it, at least in the rural areas where 70% still live.  It is also give another example of why the Jesuit school and college here in Manvi are so important and are becoming flagships for good education in the region.

AMDG

This Sunday was a very memorable Palm Sunday for me.  With about 200 villagers and 5 other Jesuits we processed from the recently built Health Centre (funded by a Spanish Jesuit University) to the small chapel in Pannur.  Waving Palms and singing Hosanna in the local Kannada language – dodging buffalos, and passing Hindu Shrines and small Muslim mosques, we were greeted by the smiles and waves of many of the non-Christian villages.  With the beautiful vibrant colours of the women’s sari’s, the bells and drums of the choir, and the sights and sound of Indian rural life this palm Sunday will live long in my memory!  Because of the great work of the Jesuits and the local Christians in this community, building the schools, hospital and recently many new houses after devastating floods, inter-religious relations are very good.  It is in inspiring to see how so many villagers consider the priests to be ‘their priests’ regardless of religion, and how so many of the local services provided by the Christian community are shared with all regardless of faith.  This service of  and for the common good, and the harmony and respect engendered, may  be a model for all ‘missions’.  I have put a small video clip below of the parade (only mobile quality I am afraid….)

Sadly this inter-religious harmony is not present everywhere in India. Sitting next to me at mass was a priest who recently had a harrowing experience in another part of Karnataka State.  He was seized by a group of nationalists in Anekal, near Bangalore and marched down to the police station by a mob.   His crime was not raising the flag on Independence Day. Others suspect that the real ‘crime’ maybe that he was the director of the Jesuit school in Anekal – which favours intake from the poorest Dalit community.  Some of his students were beaten up when they came to defend him.  His ordeal made some international websites at the time click here. Whilst the long Gospel passage was being read of Jesus’ arrest and trial, I was thinking that persecution for many Christians is still a terrible reality, in fact sitting in the seat next  to me.

First Generation Students

AMDG

Many Dalit children are left to a life of illiteracy and looking after sheep or goats

Education is the key to unlocking poverty so it is fascinating to observe first hand the struggles and resistance in creating a culture of education in an area where until now there has been very little.  We take education for granted but here in Raichur District the literacy rates are the lowest in Karnataka State.  The impressive Indian Censusof 2011 (perhaps unique in the modern age for technological expertise in such a diverse country indicates that rural literacy rates in Karnataka have increased from 59% in 2001 to 68% in 2011  (with girls only 59% boys 78%).   Here in Raichur District – the literacy rate is still hovering around the 50% mark, which makes the Xavier High School and the Loyola College here so important.  But it is also a challenge educating so many students from families who have always been illiterate, as it is involves changing minds and hearts or parents and grandparents too.

The Jesuit High School - almost entirely for Dalits offers a way out and hope for the future

Today I have been preparing presentations to the students on basic hygiene.  This is very important particularly for our boarding students (400+).  They are all from very poor villages – and as such are used to a different way of life. This can create problems when we have so many living in a small space – the boarding hostel.  They need to live here so that we can ensure they attend classes every day and do not spend time in the fields grazing goats as their parents would ask.  They are all the first ones in their families to go to secondary school.  Many families still  live a subsistence life so it takes a while for them to understand and value the importance of education.  Most of the children are sponsored through excellent charities such as Supporting Dalit Children, but still every family must pay something towards the education  and living costs.  Yesterday morning it was very sad to see a group of children in tears outside the gates, because their parents had not paid their annual fees – after weeks and weeks of promising.  Each pays what they can – for some it is as low as 500 rupees a year (£7 or $10).  I was told that their parents are relying on the Jesuits to be  kind, but they are standing firm.  This is important as all must value their education.  Today most have come and paid what they promised.

Part of my preparations is to teach the children how to use a latrine toilet.  Many of them used to living in the small villages have always gone and squatted in the fields. With 4oo living together in the hostel this proves to be a health hazard but they are frightened of using the commode – so part of my presentation is to show them why this is important. Fr Rohan (the head of the school) suggested I show them the video below by Wilbur Sargunaraj who has been called the first Indian ‘You Tube’ sensation.  From Madurai, Tamil Nadu, he is famous for his music and instructional videos.  Through his songs and his videos he aims to promote cultural intelligence.  I showed the video to the college teachers I am training and they were laughing and cringing! It is true that is not a sophisticated image of India – but I find him very likeable and this video is interesting (as well as funny) because it shows the basic level of education that is needed – which those of us who are urban and literate take for granted.  It is worth noting that the video is meant for us foreigners on how to use an Eastern Latrine.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,048 other followers