Breaking away from an oppressive tradition: Devidasi Vedhike

Professor Rajendra from Bangalore, who introduced us to the work of Dalit activists working to eradicate manual scavenging and obtain rights for safai karmacharis, told us about an organization working for the rights of women who were sexually exploited through the traditional practice of devidasi, or “dedication” of young women to a temple.  The majority of devidai women come from the Madiga subcaste, one of the most oppressed among the Dalit community.  We met some of the people involved in the Devadasi Vedhike, or Devadasi Resource Center (DRC), which works to raise issues that the devadasi community faces, and help children of the community access education and job opportunities that will allow them to break away from this oppressive tradition.
Our conversation lasted a couple of hours and by the end we had more questions than answers.   The levels of patriarchy and oppression are deep and multilayered.  For now I am only noting the people we met, as we stay in touch with this group perhaps we will understand more about the methods of the Vedhike and whether they are effective.

Continue reading


More retreat notes

Notes from the retreat / 2-day gathering of AID volunteers from several chapters.

Project Training

Rashim talked to a few of us today and mentioned that the training for new project coordinators had changed in recent years.  Earlier the training covered both project quality as well as project admin and today it emphasizes admin responsibilities.  As a result project coordinators are not oriented to learning about the kinds of quality indicators we were talking about yesterday such as political awareness, linkage with grassroots movements and potential for social change. Secondly they are weak in following up, reading reports, visiting, learning and advocating for the cause on which our partner is working, and asking critical questions that would help improve the work and further the cause. Continue reading


Retreat Day1 Notes

In any talk or discussion there will be what we say and what we leave unsaid.  We often overlook all that we leave unsaid, which often includes insights more penetrating than anything we have said or can say.  The retreat held space for us to venture into the unsaid, sometimes to say it and sometimes simply to acknowledge it.

The silent sessions were an opportunity to think without talking, without filtering what we could say from what we could not.

Wittgenstein once wrote, “What we cannot talk about we must pass over in silence.”  It is essential to have time for silence.

We opened the retreat with 5 minutes of silence followed by 5 minutes of silent reflection on the following questions:

  • What makes AID special to you?
  • What makes you special to AID?
  • What are your hopes from the retreat?

We then followed this with a round of introductions and a brainstorming session on the strengths and weaknesses of AID.

Some of the later sessions also started with a few minutes of silent reflection.

After lunch the topic of discussion was – what should be our aims and how should we get there?

A meta-discussion ensued on whether these should be short, medium or long term goals, whether their scope should be broad and visionary or narrow and operational, and if measurable, on what scale?  Should goals guide the organization or strictly define the scope of its activities?

From the various long and short range goals listed, some were shortlisted for break-out discussion on day 2.

We then heard from Suri and Somu about the techniques that they had used to mobilize volunteers and supporters in campaigns in which they were involved.

Evening spread out against the sky and we moved outside to talk about the decision-making processes in AID.

Afterwards, in response to a global call for solidarity with the farmers facing crises in India, we held a candlelight vigil. Kiran and Suri talked about their visits with farming families affected by debt and suicide, and several volunteers shared thoughts about what we could do.

Maryland, 19 September 2015. Candlelight Vigil in solidarity with farmers facing crisis in India

Maryland, 19 September 2015. Candlelight Vigil in solidarity with farmers facing crisis in India

After dinner people met in small groups to discuss Publications, Treasury, AID Audit, and other matters.



more details to follow



Unindicated Hysterectomies

While clearing up after lunch yesterday I mentioned to Uma Auntie and Samyuktha that the women in the villages were having hysterectomies after going to the doctor for such a small thing as white discharge. As I had learned this just before leaving I did not have time to find out more, and in any case I myself would have to learn more about this before I could try to advise them though in one sense anything is better than what is happening now. One could wish that they saw a better doctor who would give them the right advice but my fear is that once they see a doctor the likelihood of getting medicine and surgery just shoots up. And the doctor says that the patient wants action, the patient says that she was following the doctor’s orders. So how to get out of this loop – better not to enter it.

“I know a doctor couple who have been campaigning on this issue, do you want to meet them?”  asked Uma Auntie. Continue reading


Of stitching and stitches

As we were preparing to leave Appalagraharam, a young tailor named Jaya came over to Nirmala’s home to meet me.  She had not been at home the other day when we went to visit the other tailors in the village.   She had stitched the bags with multiple compartments that we would market as carry-all totes, or the equivalent of diaper bags though with a name that does not suggest the use of diapers.   Maybe Baby Totes. She had also stitched the new model nursing kurta, with a V-shaped front and snaps.

Among our new tailors, she was stitching the most neatly. So I looked even more closely at her work, to generate a checklist so that we would have a flawless product that people could order directly from the village and receive by post, without my serving as an intermediary.

As I examined the seams and snaps, she and Nirmala started talking quietly. After a few minutes Nirmala told me, “ఆవడికి చాల రోజులు నించి ఇక్కడ నొప్పి ఉంది”  (she has been having pain here), pointing to the chest area. Continue reading


Ease of Doing Business Rankings, Social and Environmental Safeguard Policies

Some background reading to understand why people are  calling for the world bank to stop ranking counties on “ease of doing business”and stop weakening its safeguard policies:
World Bank:  Ease of Doing Business  & World Bank’s Doing Business Infographic
World Bank:  Safeguard Policies  & Proposal to review & update Safeguard Policies (2014)
Letter opposing this draft from 99 NGOs / civil society networks from Asia, Africa, Latin America, North America and Europe titled:  World Bank’s Draft Safeguards Fail to Protect Land Rights and Prevent Impoverishment: Major Revisions Required (July 2014)

Bank Information Centre PRESS RELEASE: World Bank Breaks its Promise Not to Weaken Protections for the Poor and Planet

Critique written by Bretton Woods Project: Dangers of dilution: World Bank’s new weak environmental and social framework

Our Land, Our Business: How World Bank Rankings Impoverish SmallHolder Farmers and other reports by the Oakland Institute. 

Oakland Institute Press Release: Farmers, Indigenous Peoples, and NGOs Take to Streets in Ten Cities Demanding an End to World Bank’s Morally Bankrupt Development Continue reading

Conference, Notes

#AIDconf2014 Notes from Day1

AIDCONF2014# Day1

In spite of our late arrival last night we got up in good time thanks to jet lag.  We were in Ramesh’s “second home,” which meant that even though we had seen on the guest-host spreadsheet that Kamayani and we were both hosted by Ramesh, we did not meet because Ramesh has two houses and she was in one and we in the other.  Also in our house were William Fontenot, an environmental advocate from Louisiana, and Sridhar Vedachalam, formerly of Cincinnati and now of Ithaca.  All of us were up by East Coast morning.  William and I enjoyed a scenic walk to the campus seeing along the way some rushing waters, melted off the nearby mountaintops.

Wow, AID Colorado’s got it made in the shade, you may think.  Especially if you heard Ramesh talking to volunteers at the conference in Charlotte last year, “Come to Boulder, we’ll find you jobs!” Continue reading


Threats to Food Security

Among the threats to food security today are:

  • Climate Change

  • Cultural Change
  • Unsustainable agricultural policy

  • Non-implementation of land rights

  • Loss of forests, depriving forest-dwelling communities of livelihood as well as food / medicine that comes from the forest, as well as overall health of ecosystem.

  • Loss of bees

  • Pollution, Submergence, and Diversion of agricultural land for non-agricultural use

  • Dams and diversion of water for cash cropping, tourism and other non-agricultural use
  • Land acquisition for industries and projects that benefit industries, rendering 1 million people per year landless, homeless and food-insecure.

  • Food Industry  – nutritionally inferior products, false advertising, government subsidy, corporate lobbyists,

“Come and develop our village!”

Yesterday some folks I had not seen in many years suddenly visited.  They wanted to hear more about AID.  I showed them a calendar.  They wanted 4 (and made donations!).  They started asking, “can AID come to my village?  We will raise funds!”

I asked them to find out if everyone in the village had access to anganwadi, rations, electricity, NREGA job cards, old age pensions.   I also told them while gathering that information they should listen for what issues the villagers raised.

I am not sure how apt this answer was –  but if they really come back with all this info, I guess we could invest more time with them in that village to address the problems.  Also it helps them focus on the needs of the poorest.


అట్టేసర అన్నము

అట్టేసర అన్నము  – attesara annam

Did you know that the majority of villagers in India cooking rice drain it before serving? They cook 1 cup of rice with not 2 but 4-5 cups water. Bring to a boil and eventually remove from the stove.

1:2 or 1:2.5 (for old rice) ratio is very much a gas-stove practice, easy for those who can turn a stove down to simmer.  Or who use a pressure cooker.  But apart from practical considerations, over generations people have grown accustomed to vArchina annamu, or strained rice. Ganji, or starch, is a breakfast drink. Strained rice is soggier than the fluffy stuff known as అట్టేసర అన్నము or attesara annam.

The first time we made rice in the haybox to demonstrate in Appalagraharamu village, the women tasted it and said it was like ‘biriyani annamu.” No one drains biriyani because the seasonings and vegetables are cooked right along with the rice. Biriyani is a delicacy not usually made in villages, maybe because the fire stoves cannot handle this precision cooking (even 5 minutes late and the dish is burnt).

The haybox, however, turns out perfect fluffy “jasmine-like” rice (మల్లెపూవు లాంటి అన్నము) without any risk of burning, whether you remove the rice 40 minutes or 8 hours later. Put the rice in the morning, return for lunch to piping hot rice. Take the box with you to work, let it cook en route. Do other work while the rice cooks, you dont have to be around to turn it off! With such a great sales pitch, how could we go wrong? Plus this is more nutritious and saves energy! Saves time, too!

Some village households have taken readily to the haybox and were actually excited about having అట్టేసర అన్నము  without needing to have a gas stove or pressure cooker. And it is catching on. It cooks with <50% of the fuel and pays for itself in a few months.

But many families are reluctant to change the way they cook rice. Some report that they do not like అట్టేసర అన్నము, or fear it is not healthy. “వేడి చేస్తుంది” they add. [It heats the body.]

Imagine someone told you they had a better way to make pasta. Rather than drowning the stuff in water, pour just enough so that it is fully absorbed. Would you do it?