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.

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