Category Archives: Society

The developmental world, looking at different non-profits, social initiatives and campaigns in the region. Deconstructing how this region is central to social change.

Embracing the Next “ism”: Exploring the New Possibilities of Human Advancement, beyond the constraints of our current economic model

Last month the South Asian political Action Committee at Tufts hosted an event with professor Partha Ghosh on “Solving the complex puzzle of growth: embracing modernity & preserving tradition in India & China.” The event not only had a great turnout, but also received great feedback, which is why we are bringing back Professor Ghosh at the request of many students, hopefully to try and reach out to a larger student body this time. The talk not only touched on some topics that are relevant to economic development, including the countries of India & China that are often characterized as the next big powers, but provided us with the possibility of a new paradigm for development.

The challenge facing most developing countries today is whether it is possible to pursue the same model of growth as the developed nations did. More importantly, is this model even feasible given the current global environment? The simple answer is no. Consumerist ideals, which we’re familiar with in this country, “can allow us neatly ignore the fact that we are using exponentially more material than our predecessors could have imagined.” According to current predictions the US itself is expected to create teratons of waste in 20 years. But imagine if Chinese families attain the same standard of living as Americans and create the same amount of household waste. With China’s population, we could be looking at entire country-sized landfills, as professor Ghosh pointed out in his last discussion.

The real question is then how can we advance beyond the constraints of our current economic models, and challenge this status quo? And this is where Professor Ghosh’s research comes alive. Having compiled data from several countries in order to study the viability of different growth models, Professor Ghosh identifies how we can rectify mistakes of the past and at the same time embrace some of the philosophies from the world’s ancient civilizations in order to conceive of a holistic and new solution to the complex puzzle of growth.

We tend to categorise world history into different “isms.” Professor Ghosh suggests that maybe it is time to embrace the next “ism.” For those of you who heard him at TEX recently, you have seen a preview of what is to follow. Join us at 8 PM April 24th in the ASEAN auditorium in the Fletcher Building for this intriguing discussion.

 

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Celebrating International Women’s Day in South Asia

As the world celebrates International Women’s day today, a story that I put together while interning at GlobalPost comes to mind, on the “First Female Heads of State”. I could not help but notice that South Asia made it to the top with Sri Lanka, India and Paksitan, all of whom have had female prime ministers. If we expand to Asia, then Israel and Thailand also joins the list.

Of course there have been questions raised as to what this really means for women’s rights — it a symbolic victory, a real benchmark of progress? Or is it a result of the dynastic political structures that are embedded in a lot of these countries?

No doubt, Women heads of state whose families have a history in politics do derive their social and political stability from this lineage. This is not to say that they have not fought for social justice, but women’s rights can be a slippery slope.

While the Gandhi and Bhutto legacies live on in India, last year India and Pakistan, However today India has seen three female chief ministers in the past year, one of whom is a former Dalit or lower caste. Perhaps this has been our real break through for democracy and women.

The role of women has and continues to remain contested in South Asia. It’s easy to get caught up in the feminist lens of gender domination and inequality, but as for South Asia the narrative is more complex. I think that the best way for us to celebrate International Women’s day is to acknowledge that while we have a long way to go in terms of social injustices, there remains a long history of pioneering women, which extends beyond the field of politics. To forget them in our discourse on the role of women in South Asian would be an incomplete narrative.

NOTE: SAPAC and the Association of Pakistani Allies (APA) are showing “Saving Face” at Tufts today. Pakistan’s oscar winning documentary, directed by Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy, an award winning Pakistani journalist on one of the worst injustices that South Asian women face. Perhaps this stands as a testimony to the complex narrative of women in South Asia.

Click here for more on the event.

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Kashmir: the land of many truths

Kashmir, Qasmir or Casmere, the land of many names and far greater narratives. The land of many truths is a place of great beauty, caught in the web of a dysfunctional state government and at the crossroads of an international quest for territory. The immense weight of the Indian-Pakistani equation lies on the beautiful, delicate shoulders of the Himalayas that circle a pristine Dal Lake. The real problems here are perhaps not the political ones (important and all-encompassing as they might be) but of the daily struggles and how the simplest of facilities are considered luxuries here.

The day I landed at the Srinagar airport, one of the only civilian airports inside a military airbase, I was welcomed with snowfall. Children ran around in their long, baggy pherans screaming, “Sheen Mubarak!” or “happy snowfall!” throwing snowballs at each other, rolling around in the soft, powdery white snow. I was told that to be welcomed with snow was a sign of good luck (how I was stranded there for a few extra days because of the snow surely wouldn’t explain that though.) Nestled in an area of dwindling streets and narrow roads, Kashmir Lifeline and Health Center is a stark contrast to its immediate surroundings. In the not-so-posh outskirts of Srinagar is a little building which houses the state’s first toll-free number. Kashmir Lifeline (KLL) provides free mental counseling and also conducts awareness programs and counseling centers in the neighboring villages and towns of Kashmir. While working there, the data suggested that the majority of the patients were male and between the age of 21-30 years. They were unable to work and were suffering a variety of problems such as Depression, PTSD, Agoraphobia, OCD etc. as a result of the long, unresolved conflict. In most other relatively politically stable and peaceful areas, this is the main age group of the youth that is educated, driven, working, prone to new ideas and development, and has the potential to cause change. But this group of people in this case was suffering from a wide variety of mental health problems, stemming from stress over studies, work, relationship problems etc. that did not allow them to carry on with daily life. This is the age when people start earning for their families, get married and start supporting their ageing parents. This is the main earning, positive and optimistic age group of any society but here, they were being distracted from the joys that other people their age have. This has great implications for the coming generations.

The first real snowfall of the winter brought with it one of the harshest moments for the average Kashmiri – electricity was out in the city for almost a week, pipes were starting to freeze stopping regular water supply, internet and phone lines were down and essential supplies like food and gas were scarce. In the summer, Kashmir is a beautiful place – the weather is perfect and pleasant, men and women stroll on the streets, the Dal Lake is afloat with families and couples in shikaras (boats) and people take picnics to the gardens with a view of the mighty Himalayas in the backdrop. Winter however, is far from that. The wealthy Kashmiris (a small number) are able to hibernate aka move to Delhi temporarily, in their comfortable houses in manageable weather while the rural and not-so-wealthy are left to battle the cold by themselves. On the way to an outreach program to the Kangan village right outside Srinagar, we learnt that a village by the name of Govindpore hadn’t had electricity for the past 3 weeks. To protest, they closed off the main road that passed through their village and connected Srinagar to some of the other districts. We were stranded there for what seemed like eternity before a Counsellor who was with us was able to negotiate with them to let us pass. This was their method of peacefully making a point, but imagine if New York, London or even New Delhi didn’t have electricity for three weeks in the bitter cold? This cold doesn’t do much for the already dismal condition of mental health in the state. Suicide numbers have in fact risen in the winter months complemented by an increasing number of calls and visits to the clinic as well.

My experience in Kashmir made me realize how alienated the people of the Valley really are and how detached Kashmir is from India’s growth story that most magazines these days carry. They have been left behind in the larger picture of growth and development. Tourism had been their main form of livelihood, however ever since the militancy began in 1989; tourism has been in a downward spiral. Now it is just a downgraded version of a once-beautiful land that had captured the imaginations of many, almost like a withered away mistress. The blame game has gone on for far too long. The contested claims of India and Pakistan may as well result in another 20 years of difficulty for the people, but the way forward for Indian-administered Kashmir may be to see the real factors of the equation. 18th January marked the 22nd anniversary of the exodus of the Hindu Kashmiri Pandit community from the Valley. Both the Muslims and the Pandits are equal stakeholders in the state and must be considered before moving forward. Despite Pakistan’s contribution to the militancy in Kashmir, it may be useful for India to realize that the way forward is not in dwelling in the past. India has to act in its own independent capacity in alleviating the suffering of the people. In working positively for the growth of Kashmir, we may realize that Pakistan’s cooperation at this stage might very well be irrelevant. Setting up a Truth & Reconciliation Commission may be a positive step in this place where every person has a different story and truth. The infrequent but heartfelt renditions of “Hum kya chaahte? Azaadi” (What do we want? Freedom) may never subside but true reconciliation lies in the power of being able to see your narrative get recognized as the only truth.

“You can’t rule brains only… Sooner or later, you have to realize, you can only win by ruling hearts.”

-  Inshallah, Kashmir

Written by Vasundhara Jolly. Vasundhara is a junior studying at Tufts and the co-chair of SAPAC.

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Aakash: Reaching for the Sky

I recently wrote an article about the “joy of e-books.”  Of course there were a lot of critical comments and the usual I love books and they will never die argument.

Unfortunately I don’t buy this. And neither do the producers of e-books. We now not only have kindles, but nooks, ipads and other “tablets.” The latest being the Indian invention of Aakash. (which means “Sky” in Hindi)

Why is this different? Because it’s half the price of a kindle.

In India if you want cater to the masses you think cost-effective. The world’s cheapest car, the Tata’s nano was perhaps not the best of ideas— I’m not against giving more people the opportunity to own a car, but one our traffic is bad enough the big metropolitans. And two, I’m not sure if families who already have 5+ cars really need a nano for “grocery shpping.” I’d  advocate for that money going into enhancing our public transport systems.

So this time we might have got it right. We’re encouraging people to read. We’re thinking about the masses but we’re thinking about social development. About education.

E-books in the developing world aren’t so much about being environmentally friendly as much as their educational value. Ebooks can change the face of education. Or should I say interface.

“The only way to provide books to the 2 billion children in the world is electronically,” wrote Nicolas Negroponte, the founder of one-laptop-per-child in his article “books are better without pages.”

And in some respects they certainly are. A few months ago South Korea’s education ministry declared it was going digital by 2015. Now lets wait to see what Akash brings for India and the rest of South Asia.

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The New India? Whose India?

As I wrote in my earlier post, “the story of India is full of paradoxes” —We often talk of there being 2 India’s, usually referring to the income or social disparities. Shashi Tharoor takes this even further in his “Elephant Tiger and the cellphone” book to being 5 Indias, again using socio-economic status to determine these “Indias” However a post on WSJ’s India Realtime recently invented something entirely different: the “New India.”

What is this new India you may ask? Have a look at the blog yourself:

“(a) A place where the pursuit of individual happiness is now possible

(b) A place that wants to be a part of history

(c) A place where the most common job category for women is “maid”

(d) A place that is not that different from the old India”

Apparently it’s all of the above. It’s inaccurate, unconvincing and above all fails to mention where this data has been collected from, except for a book called “Miss New India.” Which is about a girl who moves to Bangalore to work in:

a)   no need for multiple choices on this one. Yes it’s a call center. Surprise.

The so-called lesson is that India now a place where it was now possible for people to pursue individual happiness rather than putting their families or communities first.

One issue with such blanket statements is that India is hard to define let alone generalize— as Indians we’re more caught up in the question of “which India or whose India,” rather than trying to find a general set of values – because frankly speaking that’s unrealistic.

Secondly, individual happiness and family values are not mutually exclusive. Nuclear families may be more popular in many parts of the country, more desirable than joint families which we all know can get messy whether it is over property or family businesses. At the same time families who are doing well financially are no longer living in the same house, but buying apartments in the same building to maintain family ties, but perhaps not live in too close a proximity. For the big shots it’s just private buildings.

We know the rich are getting richer. But this isn’t distancing us from family values. Families still symbolize an important if not the most important support network for an individual. As a final year Indian college student in the United States,  I know that if I return home I can live with my parents and this will not be considered anything but normal. If I choose to live on my own this would not be a problem either.

Society is changing. A decade ago it might not have been acceptable for an unmarried girl to live on her own. But to say that because it is okay today, does not mean that we’re putting our own happiness over our family’s.

So if writers in Brooklyn question whether India can replicate an advanced society and whether it is possible for India to become like America, it may be worth redefining what “advanced” really means. Can we not live in a society where family values factor into one’s individual happiness? Because it seems like we’re managing pretty well where we are right now. At least in the India that I live in.

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