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Annus Horribilis

17-01-2017-women-farmers-india-590.jpg [Related Image]
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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  1. #1 Josette 17 Jan 17

    Thank you Mari! Keep looking for the ’sunny side’. It usually does not receive the attention it deserves, but it is there and needs a bit of ’advertising’ so it can spread and keep us going....!
    Happy New Year, thanks and love.
    Josette.

  2. #2 Maggie 17 Jan 17

    Reassuring to hear about the return to organic farming in India -- hope the trend keeps up. And good to have tried to keep the positive in view!

  3. #3 Lou Jaensch 22 Jan 17

    Thanks for the positive spin. Even in Australia we felt the negatives of 2016 at a global level as well as at home. However, 2 of my daughters and I are back in India and have just returned from Timbaktu Collective where despite new and old challenges, there are so many positives which have inspired us and jolted our complacency. We are awed by the work being done in this area of Andhra Pradesh at a local level where a commitment to action sustainability and empowerment are genuine. However we were also privileged to meet with people from all over India who had come for a few days to be introduced to the work the Collective is doing. Among them, several young Indian professional couples, passionate about the need to make changes to their own ways of living - more sustainable, less consumer-based. Not just aware, thoughtful and intelligent but willing to go against the flow to make significant changes in every aspect of their lives, honouring traditions, exploring sustainable living options, valuing organic local food.
    I had a strong sense that there is a quiet but potentially powerful tide gathering momentum here in some parts of India at least which have caused me to reflect on just where we are currently sitting in Australia.
    Despite slow food movements, eat local grow local trends, kerbside recycling well established and a generally strong awareness of many environmental issues, I think we are still pretty complacent which is shameful. I know I'll return with renewed energy spurred on by our friends here in India.

  4. #4 Lou Jaensch 22 Jan 17

    Thanks for the positive spin. Even in Australia we felt the negatives of 2016 at a global level as well as at home. However, 2 of my daughters and I are back in India and have just returned from Timbaktu Collective where despite new and old challenges, there are so many positives which have inspired us and jolted our complacency. We are awed by the work being done in this area of Andhra Pradesh at a local level where a commitment to action sustainability and empowerment are genuine. However we were also privileged to meet with people from all over India who had come for a few days to be introduced to the work the Collective is doing. Among them, several young Indian professional couples, passionate about the need to make changes to their own ways of living - more sustainable, less consumer-based. Not just aware, thoughtful and intelligent but willing to go against the flow to make significant changes in every aspect of their lives, honouring traditions, exploring sustainable living options, valuing organic local food.
    I had a strong sense that there is a quiet but potentially powerful tide gathering momentum here in some parts of India at least which have caused me to reflect on just where we are currently sitting in Australia.
    Despite slow food movements, eat local grow local trends, kerbside recycling well established and a generally strong awareness of many environmental issues, I think we are still pretty complacent which is shameful. I know I'll return with renewed energy spurred on by our friends here in India.

  5. #5 ludwig pesch 25 Jan 17

    Thanks for focusing our (self-)critical lenses once again on matters that, yes, MATTER!
    Since your post came up it has been heartening to see women articulating what worries them all over the world. Surely some of them also come up with sensible solutions that will stand the test of time in the face of horrible challenges: the partially successful Top-Down onslaught on civility and decency in public life. ’Grass-roots movement?’ I quite doubt it given the the ruthless use of the mass and social media and their calculated use to divert impressionable minds from their legitimate interest. The resonance of all this seems to be felt even on different levels, almost everywhere - or should the deafening noise of it all cause delusions? (Quite possible, surely excusable!)
    What all this has reaffirmed, and this mustn't be forgotten here, is that the lives of ’common’ people matter even if they are beyond our day-to-day perceptions or concerns.
    To keep filling the blanks in this regards - this blog has been a wonderful, balanced and impartial source of information for years, something to thank you again. Herewith!
    The same for those behind the NewInt print edition - great it remains available, hopefully will spread more widely in troubled times.

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About the author

Mari Marcel Thekaekara a New Internationalist contributor

Mari is a writer based in Gudalur, in the Nilgiri hills of Tamil Nadu. She writes on human rights issues with a focus on dalits, adivasis, women, children, the environment, and poverty. Mari's book Endless Filth, published in 1999, on balmikis, is to be followed by a second book on campaigns within India to abolish manual scavenging work. She co-founded Accord in 1985 to work with Adivasi people. Mari has been a contributor to New Internationalist since 1991.

About the blog I travel around India a lot, covering dalit and adivasi issues. I often find myself really moved by stories that never make it to the mainstream media. My son Tarsh suggested I start blogging. And the New Internationalist collective are the nicest bunch of editors I’ve worked with. So here goes.

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