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.

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