Delhi by bike; Vinobha rocks; environment setters; partnerpoint; Mayawati’s legacy; caste conundrums; wall truths; a great migration NGO: Final impressions from India

November 15, 2012 1 By admin

So I’ve finally got through the main discussions from my recent visit to Oxfam India, but as always, there’s stuff that doesn’t fit into a neat blog post:

A heart-stopping 3 hour bike ride round the lanes of Old Delhi early on a Sunday morning. Highly recommended, but scary: ‘we’re going to ride the wrong way down this main road now, so stay close together’…..

Wise advice from Vinobha, Gandhi’s spiritual successor (right) and guiding light of the Ashram we were visiting: Five things should not beVinobha present in a village, because they are contaminating influences: weapons; courts; ignorance; bad sanitation and grants (subsidies). Discuss. In contrast, a village’s development needs five kinds of power (and the order is important): collective, intellectual, financial (moneylenders), social workers and government.

Top tip from Oxfam India staff: when going to meet a community, identify an ‘environment setter’ in advance. Their role? Dealing with disruptions by drunk men looking for a fight, politicians looking for attention, or kids just being kids.

The horror, the horror. Partners have now discovered PowerPoint, and the customary protocol visit to head office now includes ppt marathons (a 57 slide introduction one of the low points), complete with all the worse aspects – too much text, people reading out each slide in a bored monotone etc.

Mayawati’s Pharaonic legacy in Lucknow: Giant floodlit Stalinist statues of heroes of the poor; huge new domes and parks. But the inspirational Dalit woman leader alienated other castes and was voted out earlier this year.

While we’re on caste, it remains ubiquitous. Modern Indian liberals (i.e. the kinds of people who work for Oxfam) really struggle with it. People try and avoid giving their surnames, (an immediate identifier). Staff seem uncomfortable talking about it: reminds me vaguely of English awkwardness over class, sexuality or whether you went to Oxbridge, but x10. Change is slow – only ‘love marriages’ are likely to be cross caste, and they are still only a small minority. Makarand’s recent post on this totally chimes with my brief experience. Top quote ‘Indians don’t cast their vote; they vote their caste’.

Great wall posters at leftist bastion Jawaharlal Nehru University, accompanied by lyrical protests. How about this:


A Bridge with no river

A highway to the place that the highway destroyed”

image-about-1Finally, finding out that the migrant organization I have always thought needed to exist actually does. Aajeevika Bureau works to make migration a humanising, rather than humiliating, experience for poor Indians. Its Workers’ Support and Resource Centres (in both source (South Rajasthan) and at major destination centres (in Gujarat and Rajasthan)) provide a range of services to migrants and their households, including registration and photo ID, skill training and placement, legal aid, collective organization, financial services and family support. Aajeevika Bureau runs field centres both at source (South Rajasthan) and at major destination centres (in Gujarat and Rajasthan). It backs this up with research and advocacy. Smart.