Tag Archive: India


AMDG

Jeans or Sari? In the cities the growing use of Western Style dress is a hot topic for debate

I have just spent a busy 24 hours in Bangalore accompanying one of students who may be getting surgery to straighten her spine.  As I had other jobs to do, we took one of her teachers with us so that they wouldn’t be alone.  It was a bit hectic, we had to rush around the city in rickshaws, meeting the doctor, getting an x-ray, going to a hospital to sort out the post-op care.  Both the teacher and the student were only visiting Bangalore for the second time,  and it was clear they preferred small town or village India to big city in India.  What was particularly interesting was their commentaries and chatting about the amount of girls and young women they saw in Jeans or western style dress.  There was a big discussion about Sari v Jeans and Sari definitely came out top in their eyes. This lead to a few long conversations about the role of women in India and it certainly was sobering and the question of fashion soon seemed to become irrelevant.

Back in March 2010, the Economist ran a striking cover story about what it called ‘Gendercide‘ responding the famous Indian Economist Amartya Sen claim that 100million baby girls have been killed through sex-selective abortions.  Because of a variety of factors, the dowry system, traditional prejudices, need for physical labour, inheritance law, girls are clearly seen as less preferable to boys. As well as this ancient preference for a son, there is a modern desire for smaller families and cheap and widespread availability of ultrasound technology. This combined factors has led to a dramatic rise in sex selective abortions.

Unlike China, India’s democratic roots  and civil service have set up an impressive infrastructure for elections and also data gathering, particularly through the 10-year census.  The data is seen as reliable and detailed.  It also very revealing.    Currently in India the sex ratio according to 2011 census is 914 women per 1,000 men. It was 927 women per 1,000 men in 2001. According to The World Factbook this is the third most distorted sex ratio in the world after China and Armenia and it seems to be growing.   The census data also reveals how cultural prejudices affect this.  In both rural and urban India the Sikh community has the most distorted ratio (895  girls per 1000 boys).  This is followed by Hindus (935),  Muslim and Jains (940),   Buddhist (955).  It is only the Christian community that has more girls than boys (1009), but indications suggest that even that may be dropping.

Obviously the effects of this ‘gendercide’ could be profound on the community.  In Northern States in India where the practice of sex selective abortion and also infanticide seems most common, they are already having to ‘import’ brides from other states.  Son preference is most prevalent in an arc of countries from East Asia through South Asia to the Middle East and North Africa – however it seems highest in Asia. In fact it is only South Korea that seems to have recovered it sex ratio to from that equivalent to India in 1990 to approaching a more normal level today. The economic rise of South Korea, the only country to go from being an aid recipient to an aid donor in one generation, is well known. But is a change of culture that is leading to girls to be valued more.

This is another reason why education is so important, and the work being done here in Manvi so impressive.  But there is still a lot to do, the Jesuits here have set up an impressive network of womens groups in the villages, such as the Devadasis pictured on the right.  They value education more and will encourage the girls to go to school.  But still there are deep problems.  In a dramatic incident last week our social workers who have been developing a malnutrition programme had to rush a seriously malnourished baby girl to hospital.  There is a lot of confusion around the case, they suspect food provided for her had been sold on, that the child may have HIV, and that the grandmother seemed to be blocking any effort to help her survive. From the (foriegn) social workers perspective, the family seemed happy to let her die.  There is no proof to any of this, but it would not be a surprise in a culture where the difference between a boy and a girl can have a big effect in the lives of the poor. What is needed is faithful presence and the slow continuous work of changing hearts and minds.  The British Governments arm for development (DFID) are offering large amounts of funding targeted at getting girls into and keeping them in education. It is called the Girls Education Challenge, and in a new departure funds that would usually go into government budgets and be wasted due to corruption are now being offered to the private sector.  The Jesuits who already educate over 9,000 girls in Karnataka state, with over two thirds of them being from low caste and vulnerable backgrounds are well placed to use this funding to expand their educational work.  In fact that was my other business in Bangalore.

Inspiring Commitment

AMDG

When I reflect on different places I have worked in my life, the greatest memories I have are when I have worked alongside people who inspire me, whether it was my boss or colleagues.  It is great to be involved in something that you believe in, and that you go into work every day with people who share that same passion, especially if they are more intelligent than you or more creative, and you learn so much of them. Sadly the opposite is also true, how sad it is to hear so many people who go into a job where cynicism, selfishness, power or greed become the dominant values. It drags you down. Even worse if your boss is a bully, or you are lead by someone who is less talented than you, knows this and it makes them insecure and vindictive. Luckily in my life I have experienced more of the former that the latter, or at least I remember more of the former energy rather than the latter.  I have fond memories of  St Igs in Enfield.  As I come to my final couple of weeks here in India, I am beginning to reflect on what it has meant to me living and working alongside the Jesuits here.

There is something about the mission here in Manvi that epitomises for me something very important to Saint Ignatius, it is what we call the ‘Magis’.  Magis means simply ‘the more’ . doing more for others because you believe what you are doing is what Christ has asked you to do.  Magis is about choosing wisely, discerning, what we do, how we use our energy.  As Jesuits it is taken for granted we all (at least most of us) want to do good, the magis is choosing between different ‘goods’ to doing what is the best.

Walking to work in the fields – lunch carried on the head!

I will share one example of where I see the Magis at work in this mission.  After 9 or 10 years work here in Manvi the school is established, it is thriving, all the locals rich and poor want to send their children, we have Hindus, Muslims and Christians in the school.  But are resources are limited, so we have to turn away someone, who? The wealthy, the higher castes… their wealth and influence means they can choose to go to other local schools. So the poorest, the Dalits, the Devadasi, and girls always get priority here.  Now with the establishment of the School, the PUC and the soon the University, you could forgive the Jesuits for relaxing, consolidating the institutions, and staying here in Manvi.  It is a very poor area, the locals themselves admit it is ‘backward’, but a town of 40,000 affords certain luxuries, there is a cinema, we get electricity here maybe for 14 hours a day, water is available, there are shops, doctors etc.  But no, what has inspired me recently is how, the students, social workers, our Slovak Doctor and Fr Eric, keep going out into the villages. The temperature is reaching the mid 40′s here regularly at the moment, the villages are hot and dusty, when you come back you are covered in sweat, grit, sand. People are often  late, don’t show up for meetings or appointments. But they still go, to monitor and extend the malnutrition programme, and to convince those in more remote villages to bring their children to our schools.

Now school can come to them – courtesy of Jessica from Switzerland

In the villages there are now a network of 12 kindergartens and a few primary schools that have been built or in planning.  A few weeks ago a very generous donor from Switzerland bought the mission two new school buses.  This means that Eric and some hand-picked students  go regularly to the remoter villages and invite families to send their children to school.  The villagers are very impressed by the students  but they still need some persuasion. How much will it cost – as much as you can pay is the answer, which is usually rupees a year (just over a pound!).  But how will they get there?  Now we have two buses we can come and pick them up every day – for free!  The school comes to them.  This dedication and commitment of Eric and the students is inspiring for me…. refusing to rest on their laurels, they are reaching out for more and more marginalized children.   However this intensity of work also needs to be balanced with good rest, and a good community and prayer life.  Because I have been inspired – I would like to share that inspiration with you too!  Thanks for reading, don’t forget to leave a comment if you have a few minutes – the Jesuits and children here are delighted when I pass on your comments.

Cricket and Scandals

AMDG

A photo of a match between Chennai SuperKings ...

A photo of a match between Chennai SuperKings and Kolkata Knightriders during the DLF IPL T20 tournament (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Indian Premier League (IPL),  the most lucrative form of domestic cricket in the world, is reaching its climax.  Its stars are ubiquitous on advertising hoardings, its games have been watched every night for the last six weeks, with people crowding round televisions in dusty villages, by the side of the road, in cafes, houses everywhere.  I have become used the incongruous sight of simple shacks with a satellite dish precariously balanced on the roof at the back.  It may be coincidental that the timing of the 6 week long tournament seems to fit nicely with the school holidays.  So India is full of boys trying to emulate their local heroes.  Here in Manvi the hero is the Jamaican Chris Gayle who has hit an incredible 56 ‘super sixes’ during the tournament for the local team, Bangalore Royal Challenges, putting them on the threshold of the semi-finals.

But in a clever marketing strategy the IPL is not just about sport it is also glamour.  Remarkably, around 45% of viewers are women attracted not only to the IPL’s breathless sort of cricket but also to the glamour that attends it.  Teams owned by Bollywood Stars, cheerleaders (mainly caucasian) cheering every boundary,  much of the crowds are dominated by young, middle-class city-dwellers,  India’s most free-spending consumers.As the season is coming to a climax I confess that I am being caught up in the enthusiasm (football has definately taken the back seat after a miserable season….Chelsea who? )  But apart from the cricket I am fascinated by what the IPL reveals about India. The last three nights news has been dominated by off-field scandals.  Five minor players being suspended for match-fixing, a megastar owner being banned from Mumbais Cricket ground after a brawl and the arrest of an Australian Cricketer after an alledged molestation incident in an after-match party.  These scandals have off course sidelined more important news, like the two Italian marines in Indian custody after shooting  Keralan Fisherman, droughts and regular shocking incidents of the infanticide of young girls.  I think the IPL also encapsulates a tension and a fissure that runs right down the middle of India.  The fast growing minority of wealthy middle class, urbane and western, who wield the power and influence. And the majority who are impoverished, rural, but still obsessed by cricket.

The Megastar owner – Mr Shah Rukh Kahn, is the King of Bollywood.  One of the few Indian film stars who has cross-over potential, presenting Golden Globes, , charity campaigner, owner of the Kolkata Knight Riders (my favourite team name – Bangalores Royal Challengers are named after a brand of whisky belonging to their owner in a way to get around a strict advertising ban!).  He is also a great actor, in a recent film he played an autistic Muslim in America  and won plaudits from the Autistic Society. He is also guilty of bewildering levels of hubris, which is not surprising when you see how he is deified here.  He was shocked at having been frisked at an American airport, obviously celebrities are above the security concerns of us mere mortals and he is the first celebrity to register a tattoo in his name. It seems that the hubris hit again when he tried to enter the pitch in Mumbai to celebrate a famous victory, he drunkenly brawled with security earning him a five year ban from the stadium. This has had political repercussions already, as he did last year when he asked why no Pakastani Cricketers had been signed up for the IPL.  A soap opera that will no doubt continue as India struggles in a transition to a consumerist and liberal society.  There is a lot of unease in this transition, and so there should be, there are many values that are being pushed aside and being replaced by ….. nothing really, just a soul-destroying celebrity hedonism .  So for celebrity hubris Mr Kahn has suprised even a jaded Englishmen.  It maybe a good time to remind him on the feast of the Ascension that only one man, who really was God, is able to ascend to heaven, and he was drawn up by the love of the Father not ephemeral fame.

Success against the odds

AMDG

Yesterday was a day of celebration here in Manvi as the school received the first set of exam results.  The SSLC exams are the equivalent of GCSE‘s (public exams for 16 year olds).  Taken at the state level. The school achieved a remarkable 100% pass rate, making it top out of more than 60 schools in Manvi District.  Fr Rohan Almeida S.J. the Director of the school has written today about what this achievement means and putting it into perspective.  

Fr Rohan :  Yet again our students who appeared for the SSLC examinations have come out with flying colours. All who sat the examination from our school have passed with good marks. It gives me immense joy to tell you that some of them were grazing cows and sheep few years ago. For them to come to school and achieve this, especially in English medium is a great thing. According to me it is mainly because of the high motivation of these children that come from the remote villages and are mainly Dalits have. They have a great desire to prove that they too can achieve great things in their lives.  I thank all the teaching and non–teaching staff for motivating and encouraging these children and helping them achieve this great feat. This is a message from one of our boys, (Manesh).

 I am very delighted that I have got good marks in board exams. I am thankful to Loyola school, all the fathers and teachers who have given me an opportunity to study and encouraged me to write the exams. I want to continue my studies here in this institution and want to be an Engineer. Few years ago I was grazing cows in my village and now because of Loyola school I can dream of becoming an engineer.

The SSLC is a public examination, formulated by the regional board of education that the school is affiliated with ( i.e not an internal exam set by members of the faculty of the school).  The performance of a student in the SSLC examination is one of the factors in admission to Pre University Courses in India. Therefore, the SSLC is often regarded as the first important examination that a student undertakes. After successful completion of SSLC, a student wishing to pursue his education further would join a course based on the specialization he chooses and which gives him knowledge sufficient for him to enter an university which is sometimes called a Pre-University Course (PUC), for two years. After this a student may enter a university for undergraduate studies. Alternatively, after obtaining the SSLC, a student may choose to attend an industrial training institute where one can be trained in skills necessary for technical occupations. The other options include joining a polytechnic for a three year course of diploma in engineering and then further pursing degree in engineering after the completion of diploma. Many of our students want to do their PUC and go for the engineering and medical studies.

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

Mustur Rayappa one of the parents says “Really you have brought the light to our children by starting Loyola school in Manvi. You have given us a ray of hope that even our Dalit children can study and stand equal to other children. I am grateful to Jesuit fathers who started this school and brought the best education to the poor and downtrodden in the society.”

I thank almighty God for giving us strength to carry out this Mission to educate the poorest of the poor and the marginalized in the society. I thank all the teaching and non–teaching staff for motivating and encouraging these children and helping them achieve this great feat. I thank all the benefactors and the well wishers without whose support these children would have been still grazing cows and sheep or might be working as child labourers in their villages.

New website of the school – just launched – click here www.xaviermanvi.in

To support these children – click here www.supportingdalitchildren.com

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.

India’s Digital Divide

AMDG

“The future is here …… it is just not evenly distributed”  William Gibson

Amit Singhal, Google

Amit Singhal, Google (Photo credit: niallkennedy)

It may be that Silicon Valley in California is the most influential place on earth. As a high tech center – it is the working home of the most influential people driving forward the Digital Age.  It is fascinating to see the success and influence that Indian immigrants have had there. The role call is impressive - Pradeep Sindhu who some claim is responsible for broadband, Nikesh Arora and Amit Singhal at Google, Salman Khan the inventor of an incredible online academy recently putting him into Time magazines most influential list.  It is clear that the immigrants who have the most clout in Silicon Valley and who are the largest group are Indians.  15% of startups in Silicon Valley are of Indian origin according to this commentator.  Many of them come from the six IIT’s  (Indian Institutes of Technology), created in the 1940s by Prime Minister Nehru. These elite institutions produce some of the world’s smartest techies. They are more competitive than most of the West elite universities. Last year about 3% of the students who applied to anIIT got in.

Pre digital India….. in 2012

However the situation here in Manvi couldn’t be further from the case. If you go into the villages apart from sporadic electricity the only think that reminds you that we have entered a digital age are the ubiquitous mobile phone.  I have spent the last couple of weeks opening email accounts for the older and brighter students.  They are keen to have them but they do not know how to use them.  So when I explain how it will be necessary at college, for finding out job opportunities it is a strange experience for me, I feel like I have landed on another planet.  Even this Christmas in the remote mountains of the Phillipines I was amazed to find out that many of the villagers (who had only been persuaded to put aside their headhunting traditions 20 years ago)  had facebook accounts.  Many of them would walk up to 24 hours to get to the nearest internet cafe – something that amazed me.  But here in rural India, people are definitely not plugged in.

From an educational point of view, there is a great danger of  creating a digital divide.  The Digital Economy, the Knowledge Economy all seem to indicate that digital skills are very important for kids.  Marj Prensky calls them Digital Natives, children born after the internet.  If anything we digital immigrants, born before, are only just becoming aware of the dark side of the digital revolution – addiction, pornography, isolation etc.  Despite of all this I get a sense that many of the students are just being left behind.  So there are two challenged here in Manvi. Not only is it the first generation of students – they will quickly need to become digitally savvy.  The world is changing at a bewildering pace. If anything Digital Technology – the internet, projectors, allows access to greater educational resources, like the fabulous Kahn Academy. No longer does a teacher have to be in the same physical location as their students. There has also been some talk of the Jesuits creating a virtual university, as we probably have the greatest international educational network, why not get some of the best teachers / lecturers giving one day a month on-line tutoring to children in refugee camps or the school here?

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?

AMDG

With the temperatures regularly topping 40ºC the cooler evenings and nights are looked forward to at the moment. I have been told that the temperatures  will drop when the monsoons break in a few weeks.  When I arrived I would use the evenings to show films to the children. A few hundred of us would sit under the stars and project the films onto the school wall.  I was quite rigid in showing them English Language films with subtitles to aid their English learning. Also carefully chosen the films would expand their experience of the world, so we watched films about dinosaurs, robots, floating houses, space etc.  It was wonderful to watch with them as they cheered the heroes, gasped at the narrow escapes and booed the villains. A wonderfully responsive audience. I also had to be careful not to scandalise or frighten them,  a cultural minefield, I have learnt that copious violence seems acceptable but no kissing on the lips!  When the school year ended and the numbers dwindled, and also the IPL started (India’s Cricket League) I have changed tack.  Now we watch Kannada language movies – with English Subtitles.

Map courtesy of screenville

India makes more films than any other country in the world. The film industry is mainly centered on Mumbai (Bombay) hence the Bollywood tag.  Last year over a 1000 films were released in Hindi, double that of the US.  Taking into account that India also has a vibrant regional film making scene, some estimate there are an incredible 18 different regional film industries, often language based.  Tamil is possibly the second most important based in Chennai, after Jackie Chan they boast the highest paid Asian actor in a chap called Rajinikanth.  After Telugu, then the local Kannada language films are the fourth largest in India based in Bangalore. Referred to as ‘Sandalwood’ movies, I have spent the last couple of weeks watching these with a much smaller group of students.  This allows for a lot of learning from my part.  Many of the films are in the ‘Massala’ style which means they don’t conform to one particular genre, so amidst frequent and spectacular song and dance sequences, you will get a mix of drama, comedy, tragedy, action with a heavy dose of melodrama.  I have really enjoyed watching them, and equally enjoy the students reactions.  I have been particularly impressed by the knowledge that the students have of the directors names.  Film is really appreciated as an art-form here and the famous directors get more household recognition than maybe in the West.

After a few films I think I can spot some common themes.  Usually the film is based around a doomed love story. Often the relationship is inappropriate for crossing caste boundaries.  Inevitably the police and politicians are portrayed as corrupt and buffoons.  Usually there is a strong social message ‘the evils of drink’, ‘avoid gambling’ which is not so-subtly delivered. Presumably the films are made by an elite but certainly seem to be aimed at the majority lower castes, with the plucky hero and heroine overthrowing prejudice to let love conquer all.  But also it has been surprising for me to hear the students defend, quite passionately the system of arranged marriages. The point made to me, mainly by the girls, is that their parents consult with them and they choose carefully. They don’t seem that persuaded about my arguing for total freedom or liberty.  Looking at divorce rates in Europe and comparing them to here, it has given me some pause for thought. And almost all these students are Dalits, officially ‘out-castes’  so I was expecting them to be critically of the ‘economy’ of marriage here.

The Vision

AMDG

Thankyou for so much interest about the educational work that the Jesuits are doing here in India.  A repeated question has been about what effect does education really have in a rural underdeveloped area like Manvi?  In a ‘developed’ country like the UK there may be a valuable question to ask about the wisdom of sending so many people to university, when many leave with degrees that may not be helpful or useful.  In that context I would agree that vocational skills can be more useful that tertiary academic education and there is no point in pushing someone who is demotivated to do a degree for the sake of it.  But here in Manvi we are talking about education at a much more basic level. Here education is the key to transforming society.  Why?  Because it changes mindsets, it encourages people to think, to challenge. It opens their horizons. In rural India, traditional ways such as child marriage or child labour, corruption, sexism, and caste discrimination all work against development.  Even deeper that that is an all-pervading sense of fatalism that comes from an ancient philosophy of time being cyclical. In the West we understand time in a lineal manner – Judaism, Christianity and Islam talk about the ‘end of time’ – Judgement Day – when the good and bad deeds of life are weighed against each other.  In many places in the East time is cyclical, judgement is through reincarnation, good karma versus bad karma.  This can produce a certain fatalism – I was born in this caste, in this village, if I don’t cause trouble, try and live a virtuous life then my next life, my next reincarnation will be favourable.

Simply Giving them a chance

So education is a force that says – you can change things, you can improve the here-and-now, you can aspire to be a doctor, engineer, teacher.  Just this morning I took a class of very motivated science students – we watched a programme about the Arctic Circle, as well as exploring ideas such as body temperature, nutrition, seasonal variation etc.  The students were fascinated by snow and ice, particularly by the phenomenon of ‘cloudy’ breath in freezing temperature. It blew their minds.  When I asked the class what their ‘coldest’ experience had been  - the furthest one of them had traveled was to Mangalore and a temperature of about 15C. So Education opens their horizons, they loved seeing an igloo being built.  We also discussed the challenge of a balanced diet.  In one of the scenes the Inuit were hunting for Whales which is their only source of vitamin C, in a terrain where nothing grows.  So this lead to a discussion about a balanced diet – and a project where the students who will go back to the villages next week will log all they eat for a month and then will investigate what vitamins or minerals are missing from their families diet.

Regarding the questions about what the students will go on to do after school – the Jesuits are building a University College on the same site. Two weeks ago – after an inspection – we received the news that ‘Loyola College’ as it is called will be affiliated to Gulbarga University and has been awarded decree accreditation powers in the fields of Computing  (BCA), Commerce (BCOM),  Social Work (BSW),  English (BA), Science (BSC).   So for the students who wish to they can now study here from kindergarten through to undergraduate level.  Already there are     students studying their PUC (Pre University) courses.  This years saw the first batch of graduates from the PUC.  Most of them will go to the college, some will write CET exam and go to medical or engineering or architecture colleges.  Some will do vocational courses like automobile, welding, electrical, electronic, plumbing, diesel mechanic, tailoring, carpentry – access to these courses is only available to children who have finished 1oth standard in school (age 15).  Since almost all of them come from families who if they are lucky rely on seasonal ‘coolie’ work – to have a skilled steady job in itself is a big achievement. I have been told that the ‘drop out rate’ i.e. thks students who don’t complete 10th standard is less than 2%n  (which is considerably less than other schools where the average drop out rate is 40% or higher).

Any help you can give or continue giving through charities such as Supporting Dalit Children really does make a difference.  I have asked Fr Eric Mathias to write the next blog about the changes he has already seen over the last 10years.

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