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Annus Horribilis


Women farmers at work in their vegetable plots near Kullu town, Himachal Pradesh, India. Neil Palmer under a Creative Commons Licence

Looking for hope in dreadful circumstances, Mari Marcel Thekaekara refuses to let last year drag her down.

Undoubtedly 2016 will go down in history as a particularly dreadful Annus Horribilis. There's no need to spell it out. But, I had friends in despair in the UK, crying over the Brexit verdict, friends and family in the US dumbfounded and in absolute shock at the Trumping of American politics. There's a vicious monster heading the Philippines who believes it's okay to shoot at sight supposed druggies, with neither trial, justice nor proven guilt. And in our very own India, we are going through particularly bad times, as an unprecedented vicious demonetisation drive, ostensibly aimed at the rich, hits the poor and ordinary middle class really hard.

Howsomever, I have been struggling since the end of December to write a blog which will not drag us all down, but focus on some positives instead. So here goes.

It's uplifting to see women riding cycles, scooters and even powerful motorbikes not just in Bangalore and Pune, but also in our fairly small, not-very fashionable or well-known town of Gudalur, in Tamil Nadu state. It means they are independent for transport, confident and managing to shake off small town social restrictions.

December 31st saw a sorry scene in Bangalore, as young women were apparently groped and abused in the city's main street. There are conflicting reports. Some insist that a small section of an unscrupulous bunch of reporters concocted the story. The police provided footage from security cameras showing rather drunk young women being helped by women cops. While I don’t wave a flag for cops stories, I don’t believe in unfairly maligning them either. What's positive from this pretty ugly scenario is that it hit headlines demanding better safety for women. Bangaloreans went up in arms. Protests were organized by several women’s groups. And in one area where a private CCTV camera caught the culprits on tape, the police moved in swiftly and arrested four CCTVed men for the crime. Big brother watching caught the scum. The swiftness of the arrest and the fact that the police acted despite the attacked young woman's reluctance to file a complaint, will send out a strong warning, which hopefully, will deter other such attacks.

In several Adivasi villages we discovered that people have been using government gifted solar lamps. But freebies aside, many have understood the importance of consuming less power and were looking for ways of buying cheaper LED lights etc. They actually said they would prefer solar lights even if the government offered them free electricity. Television has played its part in promoting awareness about global warming. And this has been reinforced by the fact that our delightfully cool mountain air grows warmer by the year. Rain, our monsoon, which earlier arrived unfailingly with almost clockwork like precision at the beginning of June, is now totally erratic and unpredictable. As a result, it’s really difficult for farmers to sow their crops because the monsoon season was their guide for centuries. Our last monsoon was declared a failure, and the weatherman forecasts drought like conditions long before the summer. All of this is the horribilis part. But the fact is, awareness is high now and people are doing things as best they can to deal with global warming.

In many parts of India, people are turning to organic farming again. In the early sixties, our farmers were drilled in science and technology, told they had to give up their superstitious, illiterate, ignorant, farming practices in favour of the Green Revolution. Chemical pesticides and fertilisers drenched our fields and farms. The yields were fabulous, but a decade later they discovered DDT prevalent in Punjabi mothers' milk. People are linking the poisoned food chain to the epidemic of cancer in our villages. They remember with nostalgia the old days when food was fresh and delicious. A slow food and organic food movement is gaining momentum, quite definitely. And so we come full cycle back to many old traditions.

We must look for hope even in the most dreadful conditions. How else can we carry on?

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