By Dan McGrath (B.P.E.S.S)
Our morning conversation was dominated by issues of food security, the Targeted Public Distribution Scheme (TPDS), poverty lines, basic freedoms and natural law, the merits of cash transfers versus ration books, the ethics of conditionality, and a wide range of other topics each considered from the point of view of Sen’s capabilities approach, feminist theory and neoclassical economic theory. We then moved out in Bangalore City.
Piling into yet another bus we undertook a day tour of Bangalore. Full circumnavigation of the city allowed us to pass through Electronic City. This oasis of modernity and its manicured structure was a stunning contrast to both the rest of Bangalore and, to an even greater extent, the grimier hustle and bustle of Mumbai. Here the garish logos of McDonalds, KFC and Pizza Hut — all displayed in English — dominated the landscape, signaling a patch of ‘development’ neo-colonially transplanted into peri-urban Bangalore.
The status of the many IT estates and campuses are similar to Special Economic Zones (SEZs where regular rules do not apply. Reduced corporate tax rates, loosened labour laws and purpose-built infrastructure are all aimed at incentivising the Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) that cities, states and nations so desperately crave. The question is, at what cost? And the answer is, inequality. Driving along yet another quintessentially Indian flyover, the juxtaposition was stark. To my left were marvels of modern architecture — sharp, angular lines dominated by glass and steel. To my right, formulaic concrete apartment blocks, the paint peeling and windows opaque with grime.
The heavily ‘development’ inspired growth has resulted in the creation of a Western-style middle class within Bangalore, driven and sustained by consumerism where the fruits of growth are poorly distributed, both in socioeconomic and geographic terms. As we spent the evening in a major tourist district, with street-sellers and beggars set against the colourful marketing banners of international brands, the inequities of Bangalore’s IT-led rise were clear.
By Stewart Just, BSc/BA
Today we attended a seminar on “Climate Change and Food Security: The Global and Indian Contexts” at the Institute for Social and Economic Change, Bengaluru. Our own Professor Bill (as he is called by almost all the academics we have met in India) laid out the broad picture of the interaction between climate change and food security. Other presentations, from scholars across India, covered the micro and macro issues related to climate change and food security. The overall message of the conference was that climate change will have several impacts on food security, primarily through ongoing urbanisation and changes in crop yields, but also on account of other changes such as the rise of supermarkets and fast food.
I was particularly interested by the presentation by Dr John Duncan from the University of Southampton. Dr Duncan spoke about his work in Odisha on natural disasters and resilience in regard to food security. According to his study the rice farmers affected by the 1999 cyclone in the region are in a state of ‘coping’ as rice farming is not remunerative and therefore does not provide a basis for the accumulation of assets. Because of this, the resilience of these rice farmers to climate stresses is in doubt. Other issues to be effected by climate change include agricultural development, policy and targeting of the ration system. What I heard made me reflect on our time in the Sacred Groves and the villages around Tuljapur. With the rise of extreme weather, I hope that these people and the governments of India will be able to uphold their situations.
The conference ended with a dinner and some dancing to the hit song ‘Jai Ho’. It was a great chance for us all to enjoy some relaxation together as our journey nears its end. We’ve had a bus breakdown, a plethora of miscommunications and several cases of ‘Delhi Belly’, but the group as a whole has done well to embrace these less planned parts of our adventure. The Indian people have been overly welcoming and accommodating and their energy has been infectious. I expect this Indian field school will thrive in the coming years as word spreads throughout the student body about the opportunity.
By Charlotte Askew: Bachelor of Education / Bachelor of Arts
Today we made the long journey from the amazing Madikeri to bustling Bengaluru. After nine hours of travel, we were warmly welcomed to the Institute for Social and Economic Change (ISEC), Bangalore. It is an All India Institute for Interdisciplinary Research and Training in the Social Sciences, established in 1972. Together with the University of Sydney, ISEC is hosting an International Seminar on Climate Change and Food Security, which we will participate in tomorrow.
To break up the long trip we stopped half way in Mysore and visited the Mysore Palace. Mysore Palace is among the grandest of India’s royal buildings and the second most popular tourist destination after the Taj Mahal. It was home to the Wodeyar family that ruled the Kingdom of Mysore from 1399 to 1947. The Wodeyars were the only Indian Royal family to have ruled a kingdom for more than 500 years. The Palace is symbolic of the present and the past – the government and hierarchy of the pre-colonial period and the strong influence of British culture that remains a defining feature of present day India.
The Kingdom of Mysore in southern India was founded in 1399. The vast majority of the people lived in villages and agriculture was their main occupation. Towards the end of the 18th century, there was a series of wars fought between the Kingdom of Mysore and the British East India Company. The agricultural economy changed under the British, when tax payments had to be made in cash and were used for the maintenance of the army, police and other civil and public establishments. A portion of this tax was also sent to England. England and the Maharaja of Mysore came to an agreement and implemented the British rule in Mysore. The influence of the British is obvious throughout India and particularly in Mysore.
English architect Henry Irwin built the palace in 1912, after the previous palace was destroyed in a fire in 1897. The Palace includes English, Hindu, Muslims and Indian architectural motifs. Over the past two and a half weeks we have all noticed the British influence still present in India. Tea is always served to us more than once a day; we have witnessed many cricket games on the side of the road as well as cricket always being a topic of conversation with us Australians. In Mumbai, we visited the Gateway of India, which was built to commemorate the visit of King George and Queen Mary in 1911. The architecture of the gateway and the surrounding buildings and hotels are all of gothic style. Many of the students we have spoken to have a desire to study in Britain, as they believe a degree from an international university is worth more.
It was very interesting for us to visit the Mysore Palace as it was a complete contrast to other places we have visited on the field school, in particular in Dharavi, the slum in Mumbai. The palace was so extravagant and underscored the income divide in India where the wealthy are extremely wealthy and the poor are awfully poor. But there is a growing middle class that is increasingly educated and globalised. The growing IT sector in Bengaluru is home to an emergent middle class and presents a stark contrast to the poverty and agricultural dependent societies we have seen elsewhere in India.
By Tessa Harris – Bachelor of Science, Bachelor of Arts
Today’s breakfast was filled with excitement and anticipation for the day ahead at the Nagarahole Tiger Reserve. Named after the tributary stream, ‘Nagarahole’, the national park covers over 642km2 and crosses regions in the Kodagu and Mysore district. In the 19th century, the region was a timber plantation, but in 1975 was declared a national park.
After a three-hour bus drive we arrived with and within two minutes, spied a small group of Spotted Deer. We travelled further into the park arriving at the rangers’ houses and offices. In a mad rush, we were immediately whisked back onto the bus as there had been a sighting of two leopards nearby. During the current mating season, males and females hunt alone but in proximity to one another. In two separate trees, one female leopard and one male were lying down on long horizontal branches observing us as we watched them, cameras in hand.
Back at the park offices, Mr Bellippa gave us a presentation on the threats and management techniques of Nagarahole Tiger Reserve. Three of the main problems are: fires, human-animal conflict and the tribal population. Being one of the driest regions in the country major fires occur every 45 years causing significant and sometimes permanent damage. Fires usually occur between March and April and the park employs 280 staff to manage fire watchtowers. There are also 600 field staff with radios who can raise a fire alert within an hour so it can be contained. Fire lines are also prominent in the park.
Human-animal conflict is being quite well managed in Nagarahole. There are 130 villages bordering the park and while elephants in particular cause significant damage to coffee plantations, there are a number of management techniques working to ameliorate the problem. Education and employment strategies amongst the local villagers help to protect the wildlife. Other strategies such as elephant trenches and new railway fences have been built in an effort to keep the elephants from wandering in to local farms. Many of us thought poaching would be one of the main difficulties rangers face, but since 2012, there have been zero accounts of poaching in the area. This has been maintained through effective patrolling on foot and in vehicles combined with the threat of intruders being shot on the spot!
The issue of tribal villages located inside the park’s boundary is very sensitive. The government has introduced a system of voluntary tribal relocation and rehabilitation in which families are given two options. Families who opt for voluntary relocation are offered either a cash sum or three acres of land with a monthly allowance where families fall below the official poverty line. Sometimes the choice to move is not voluntary. In recent times 1200 families that still live in the park are facing increased pressure to accept the relocation packages.
Over the day we saw all kinds of animals – elephant families, bison, wild dogs, monkeys and different species of deer.
To top off a wonderful day spent in Nagarahole Reserve, our bus journey back to Madikeri took a surprising turn when the gear box decided to give way. Taking it all in our stride we found a local mechanic and stopped for some chai on the side of the road anxiously awaiting the verdict. Within 30 minutes we were back on the bus and travelling up the winding roads surrounded by beautiful vistas of Madikeri.
By Sydney Colussi – B. Political, Economic, and Social Sciences
The Cauvery River extends approximately 400 kilometres through Karnataka to Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. It supports the livelihoods of millions of people. Today, we visited the sacred start of the river in the Kodagu region of Karnataka. Following the removal of shoes and changing into appropriate dress – cloth skirts for those of us with ankles showing – we slowly made our way towards the river’s edge. Walking up the stairs, the hazy, mountainous backdrop of the Western Ghats served as a reminder of the sanctified nature of the surrounding environment.
This region is fundamentally important for religious, cultural, and environmental reasons. At the river-side temple, we gained some insight into the area’s spiritual character. Standing in line, I noticed that the river looked more like a pool, with steps leading down to the water’s edge. Individuals and families dressed in brightly coloured, formal clothing were either dipping their hands and feet into the water or fully immersing themselves. While our group opted for partial rather than full immersion (i.e. hands and feet), the experience still strongly re-affirmed the symbolic importance of the river.
Next to the sacred pool – which, I later discovered, is filled by a natural underground spring – we waited with other visitors to receive blessed holy water. Afterwards, we made our way towards additional religious altars within the sacred site. As first-time visitors, it was fascinating to witness the spiritual and cultural meaning assigned to both the river-pool and its surrounding environment. While the river is responsible for physically sustaining millions of lives, this particular area also serves an important symbolic purpose – it embodies spiritual and emotional ties to the land.
We encountered a similar appreciation and respect for the environment at Talacauvery wildlife sanctuary. Walking into the park, we passed a sign advertising the conservational benefits of the sanctuary’s trees – production of oxygen, soil and water conservation, etc. – and concluding with ‘so grow more trees’. As we navigated the grassy terrain, it was clear that a considerable amount of time and energy had been dedicated to preserving the unspoiled landscape. The lush trees, well-maintained ponds, and clear blue skies mirrored local conservation efforts. This sanctuary reflects the local forestry office’s key priorities, including the conservation of land and wildlife, mitigation of human-animal conflict, and maintaining biodiversity.
In India, the status of environmental protection is highest in national parks. As a result, wildlife reserves such as Talacauvery play an important role in national conservation efforts including preserving wildlife on the brink of extinction, such as rhinos and tigers. The park’s capacity to protect India’s endangered flora and fauna is necessary to sustain the Western Ghats’ high eco-fragility. These conservation efforts, while important in preserving the Ghats’ reputation as a ‘hotspot of biodiversity’, inevitably provoke tension between human society and animal habitat.
The day concluded with a student seminar on coffee, agroforestry and sustainability. Group discussion focused on both the compatibilities and complications embedded in the relationship between economic development and sustainable conservation efforts. In other words, how do you decide which land is dedicated to elephants or agriculture? There are so many stake-holders in negotiations over land use and interests vary between the state, NGOs, corporations, farmers, consumers, local and tribal communities with spiritual sentiments attached to the land, as well as the wildlife.
The Cauvery River and Talacauvery Sanctuary are both good examples of the conservation dilemmas facing India at this stage of its development.
By Kynan Allatt-Churm
Our first morning in Madikeri in the Western Ghats! After a traditional breakfast of ‘idly vada’, as well as eggs and toast, we headed off to the forestry office. This was an invaluable experience as it provided a lot of context to a region we knew very little about. Most rainforest areas are delicate ecosystems that are vulnerable to change. In Madikeri, we were told that negative changes to the Western Ghats would affect the wider Kanataka region, particularly water pollution. The Western Ghats acts a type of water tower to the southern peninsula of India, supplying water to around 250 million people. The vulnerability of this green area has been recognised by global organisations such as UNESCO, which has placed it on the World Heritage List, with 39 Heritage sites inside it. One major reason for this is that the region is home to 325 threatened species.
The Chief Officer of Forestry for the Western Ghats, Mr Manodge, taught us about the balance between conservation and sustainable livelihoods in this region. One main issue he said the region faced was conflict between animals and humans. This was mainly due to animals such as elephants straying onto agriculture lands and either injuring or killing workers, getting electrocuted by boundary fences, or being shot by farmers. Surprisingly, we learned that multi-national corporations who have invested in the region have worked productively with the Forest Department on conservation issues.
After lunch, which included locally produced coffee, we headed to a nearby sacred grove – there are 1,214 of these groves in the Kodagu region. These sacred groves are managed by the tribes that have a spiritual connection to them. Under a decentralised management plan, only the recognised tribal group can enter these forests. Anyone else must get formal permission. Tribal management of the land protects the sacred role of these forests. Unfortunately the law doesn’t deter everyone and poachers are a series problem facing the area – especially in regard to the removal of wildlife and fruits.
It was interesting to compare this decentralised self-governance approach to Australia’s top down approach to nature conservation and indigenous land rights. It made me wonder if such a decentralised form of land management could be used in Australia? The issues here in Madikeri are complex. But it seems to me that a decentralised method of forest management has allowed the region to find a balance between land conservation and sustainable agricultural livelihoods. It is a unique approach, but effective.
As we walked through the sacred grove in the afternoon, our guide pointed to certain trees that he said would fall over in the next 10 years due to disease and then would be removed from the forest. This knowledge that had been passed down through generations seemed to validate this traditional community-based conservation, in that the people who have been entrusted to protect it have the greatest understanding of it.
By Claudia Brennan Whitaker
Our last day in Tuljapur was one of the sunniest of the whole trip. The day began with lectures on the politics of space, and the history and challenges of local self-governance in India. The first lecture on the production of ethnic spaces in Mumbai was a great introduction into the study of space as a product of cultural, political and social factors. As a political economy student, this subject was almost totally new to me, and it highlighted the spatial organisation of the village we had just visited, and the Dharavi slums in Mumbai. It was really interesting to hear about the Dharavi riots in 1993, and the conflict that occurred between the Hindu and Muslim populations along a border fenced with electrical wire. Although our recent experience in the slum was overwhelming and informative, the lecturer really reaffirmed how limited a perspective our guided tour left us with. I think that we were too obviously positioned as outsiders to be able to escape the attention of the people living there and fully remove ourselves from the experience. We noticed how people reacted to us, and how comfortable or on-edge we felt rather than fully being able to simply observe the interactions between people around us.
Following that was a lecture on the three-tiered system of governance operating here at the district, intermediate and lower village levels. It tied in well with our recent experience at the rural village, and mentioned the challenges faced by lower-caste people and women to gain power and implement policies, despite democratic elections. Village level government – the Panchayat Raj – is enshrined in the Constitution as a right to self-governance. Implementation of this important right is problematic on account of corruption and the under-representation of marginal groups. On the outskirts of the village we noticed clusters of tents filled with migrant workers who performed seasonal labour. Their location in the village emphasised their exclusion and lack of voice in local political processes.
In the evening we left the beautiful Tuljapur campus and set off for what ended up being a full day of travelling, including two buses and an overnight train. Getting off the first bus we were surrounded by people watching us struggle with our bags. The overnight train was not as chaotic as I had imagined it would be, having been told about the huge numbers of people using the local Mumbai trains. However panic over a mouse in the carriage and the sight of people crowding in, spilling all over the beds to play cards and tell horror stories late into the night definitely added to the excitement of the trip.
By Madeleine Spain
Bachelor of International and Global Studies
Entering our second day at the Tuljapur campus of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, our group of intrepid scholars departed in the morning for a day visiting rural villages. This was a fantastic way for all of us to put what we had been learning in our seminars and our assigned readings into context, as well as having the opportunity to talk to some of the locals and gain first-hand insight into daily life in Indian rural villages. Coming from a rural background myself, it was particularly interesting to learn about the agricultural practices of a completely different country, and to compare and contrast these to what is practiced at home in Australia. When we arrived in the first village we were immediately ushered into the local temple for a welcoming ceremony. What began as a traditional ceremony, with our group leaders being done up in traditional headdresses, culminated in a question and answer session with many of the local people. Questions that were asked by the locals ranged from who is going to win the cricket world cup to asking us detailed questions on the methods of irrigation used in Australia as well as specific questions such as the average annual rainfall throughout Australia. Likewise, we were able to ask many questions, through which learned that one of the major crops grown around the village is sugarcane, and that the population of the village is approximately 3000 people.
A major observation of all members of the Field School group was the general absence of women. Of the large group of 100 or so villagers who came to the temple to talk with us, only about three were women. As gender is a major determinant of the division of roles within communities (as in many other different countries throughout the world) the absence of women in the temple was indicative of local gender division of labour: men undertake most decision making in the village, while the women looking after the household. Our tour of the local government office and village households revealed how the gender division plays out in the day-to-day life of the village.
Our visit to a grape farm just outside of the village allowed us to observe key agricultural practices at work, such as irrigation. The irrigation system of the grape farm relied on a large well, with the water pumped into the well from below the ground. This water was then piped to the vines. The farm was only 2.5 acres – much smaller than the large-scale farming we are used to in Australia. The visit to the farm also gave us an insight into the evolution of the agricultural sector in India. Liberalisation of the Indian economy has contributed to a shift from subsistence farming to cash cropping – that is, growing crops in order to earn an income. We also learned that a major problem for farmers is the ‘middle man’. The ‘middle man’ takes a large cut of the farmer’s potential income.
Driving out of the village in the afternoon, we passed a number of carts carrying harvested sugarcane. These carts pulled by large cows. This traditional method of transporting harvested crops contrasted greatly with what we had experienced in Mumbai: this old, rural practice of transportation juxtaposed against the commercial, consumer driven urban centre. From my experience so far on this field trip, what strikes me most about modern India is the contrast between rural and urban life, the traditional and Western lifestyles. India is a fascinating place to study.
By Rachel Nunn
B. Political Economic and Social Sciences (Political Economy, Anthropology) 2013-2015
Yesterday we said alvida (Goodbye in Hindi) to the TISS Mumbai Campus and caught the overnight train to the TISS Tuljaipur campus. India has a total of 7146 stations as of 2012, travelling along 89, 801 kilometers of tracks. It is a highly popular mode of transport for Indians and I really enjoyed the experience, and slept surprisingly well!
Tiljaipur is a rural town in the Osmanabad district of Maharashtra and is best known for the Tulja Bhavani Temple. The Hindu religion is the dominant religion in India and consists of various spiritual practices, such as yoga, meditation, Ayurveda, vegetarianism and an annual pilgrimage. We were fortunate enough to experience yoga at the TISS Mumbai campus – I found the breathing exercises and meditation to be very beneficial after a day of study!
The Tulja Bhavani Temple was built in the 12th Century CE and was named after the Hindu Goddess Bhavani. Two more temples in her honour have since been built in Chittorgarh and Gujarat. Puja, the Hindu Prayer ritual, is performed daily at the temple and each day hundreds of locals come to honour the Goddess.
I felt so privileged to be a part of this spiritual practice. As we entered we removed our shoes and bathed our feet and hands. We then queued up amongst local men, women and children to view the Holy Throne of the Goddess. Following this we had Holi placed on our faces at two separate points, before we departed the temple. It was evident how much the ritual meant to those around us – I felt as though we were a part of something very sacred.
Religion in India is heavily intertwined with the caste and class systems. Due to the complexity of India’s religions, the state is considered pluralistic – all religions can be practiced as and how they want to, and the state will manage their coexistence. The state is expected to maintain equality amongst all religions. The Constitution of India declares the nation to be secular. In our first week in India we have met people of a multitude of faiths – Buddhism, Sikhism, Islam, Christianity and of course Hinduism.
This evening at the TISS Campus a concert was held as part of the Ambedkar Lecture Series TISS is running. Vineet, a student at TISS, translated a lot of the concert for me, and told me the students were cheering because Ambedkar was a Dalit (considered the lowest caste in Indian society) and yet managed to escape the low expectations of his caste and change the economic pathway of India. The students admired Ambedkar’s power over the caste system, and Vineet informed me that although caste was still pervasive, many of the Indian youth wanted to move away from it and towards a more equal society.
Caste and class conflict are still rampant in India, particularly in the rural areas, and it is landless members of the Dalit caste that suffer most from privatisation and environmental degradation. Yet as I sit here in the middle of Tiljaipur, I am surrounded by progressive students who want people of all castes and classes to be able to unite as Indians – not as Dalit’s or Brahmin’s or Hindu’s or Buddhists, but simply as members of modern India. It is an inspiring thought and one which I’m very grateful for.
By Angela Pursey
A staggering 40% of the population of Mumbai live in slums. This is equivalent to half the population of Australia. The biggest slum in India, in fact in the world, is Dharavi. This infamous informal settlement, sometimes called “The Heart of Mumbai” for its shape, location and place in the economy, has a population of more than 700,000 people, and a density of 400,000 per square km. This was where we went today.
Dharavi is a labyrinth of narrow alleys bustling with industry, life, and colour. We walked through dim alleys as narrow as super market isles, doors open on either side to workshops where men sat at sewing machines, or worked as leather tanners. Stagnant ditches of toxic sludge sat beside the buildings, each alley tinted to the colour of its trade – blue for the denim, black for leather, orange for pottery, and red or green or purple where dying was done. By there was also brightness. In adjacent streets, away from the manufacturing, women went about their daily lives in beautiful scarves and saris every colour of the rainbow.
I think we all felt a little uncomfortable, unsure on whether we should enter this area of the city, if we had a right to demand to be shown around the neighbourhoods of people less fortunate than ourselves, and whether we were welcome, or over-stepping some kind of ethical line. As we walked through the settlement the streets were full of children running about and playing, they waved and smiled at us and said hello, which made us feel a bit more comfortable. Factory workers waved and smiled at us too – whether because we were genuinely welcome or because a big group of westerners was a novel distraction from their labour I am still unsure.
I was surprised at the number of schools we passed on our walking tour, and especially the number of children walking around in school uniform. We visited the Sri Sri Ravishankar Vidya Mandir school – a modest looking single story establishment of two buildings, connected by a high canopy of blue tarpaulin and bamboo poles, with a bright mural of Disney’s Aladin, Genie and Jasmin on the walls. In small groups we were invited to go to different classrooms and chat with the students, who were all proudly wearing their immaculate blue uniforms. I was a little shocked by the confidence of the students. As soon as I sat down on the mat with them a group of boys and girls flocked to talk to me and ask me questions: “where are you from?”, “Do you like India?”, “What are your hobbies?” When they told me about their own lives their enthusiasm for school was foremost. The students are mostly first generation school goers who live in Dharavi. Last year 20 students went on to junior college – a fantastic achievement for children coming from such a disadvantaged background.
Three main things about the workings of the school stood out to me. The first was the focus on English. A poster on the outside wall said “I will speak English at all times” and another said “I may not know all of the words, but I will try my best in English”. India has two official languages, Hindi and English, and thousands of other regional languages and dialects are spoken too. This school emphasises fluency in English as a pathway for success and opportunities in the work force. For many of the students at the school English was not their first language but I found them easy to converse with. Their multilingual ability was impressive, and I felt a bit ashamed that I could only speak one language.
The second stand out was the inclusion of meditation in the daily schedule. Each morning before classes begin, both teachers and students would take part in a meditation ritual, to calm their minds and prepare for the day of learning.
The third was the focus on goals. Inside the classrooms were posters of achievements the class had decided were their aims for the year: reading 40 books, grade B2 and above in all subjects. This seems like a great way to give the children something to strive towards, and aspirations soared.
Through corporate partnerships and donations the school is very well equipped, with many books, projectors and a SMART Board. One of the boys told me “I love coming to school because we have everything here – milk, food, love. Our class is like one big loving family.”
Perhaps not all of the schools in Dharavi are equal, but the hub of smiles and energy that is Sri Sri Ravishankar Vidya Mandir is a truly inspirational place, giving opportunity and support to so many children who are in disadvantaged circumstances.