Archives for category: capitalism

Tom Hazuka:

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Our boat trip from Kochi inland to the Periyar River headwaters was emblematic of India as a whole: abundant natural beauty, tainted by human greed and corruption.  Our guide, Geo Jose, explained that the backwaters near Kochi are officially a protected area, yet high-rise apartments continue to be built on illegal landfills.  The government is at best incompetent, and at worst complicit in the process.

Geo told us the picturesque Chinese nets capture nowhere near as many fish as they used to, a fact that became grimmer as our boat motored closer to the heart of darkness.  The reference might seem hyperbolic, but I don’t think so.  Though we were traveling through staggeringly lovely country, our goal was a massive complex of some 242 factories that bring numerous low-paying jobs to the area, but at a dreadful human and environmental cost.  Not only have the fish numbers been drastically reduced, those that remain are likely unsafe to eat.

A local environmental activist detailed the myriad health problems of residents caused by the factories’ pollution of land, air and water.  As he talked, in the smoggy distance we saw waterfront factories belching thick smoke.  Even from the boat we could smell it.  The activist described the Catch-22 (or is Kafka a better comparison?) situation whereby the government owns the factories, yet the government is in charge of enforcing pollution laws the government put into place.  Folks who complain receive the same mindless response that Americans get when they decry “right to work” laws: What do you have against jobs?

The Kerala backwaters are among the most lovely places on earth, and I feel incredibly privileged to have seen them.  Unfortunately, though, despite Kerala’s accurate depiction of itself as “God’s Own Country,” it is also, as my wife Christine sadly puts it, “Man’s Own Mess.”

Nathan Sprague:

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My experience thus far in India has been one full of contradictions. The initial feelings of being in another country for the first time are now combined with familiarity that makes me feel right at home. The awe I feel at the incredible beauty of the Kerala landscape versus intense frustrations I feel about the garbage and pollution everywhere we travel. My general impression of Kerala state is most definitely a positive one, however. This is a place with a remarkable, albeit comparatively short history and an extremely rich culture. While no place is without its problems and challenges, I find it truly impressive that such a wide variety of religious groups have managed to live amongst each other in relative harmony. It is also amazing and really quite refreshing tio learn about the development this area has managed to bring about –health care, education, social movements, land reform, political decentralization, etc.—without ever going through an industrial revolution. Unfortunately, while there are many people struggling/fighting to maintain their traditional ways of life and to preserve the integrity of their land by never taking more than they need, I fear that the effects of globalization and capitalist commercialization seem almost inevitable to continue to grow here and become dominant. This would come at great expense to the land and local people (an example can be found in the commercial fishing port that proponents such as Elias John wish to develop). It is terribly upsetting to me because I feel this globalization has been caused, as have countless other world problems, by the United States.

For me personally, my favorite experiences that I have encountered here (apart from the Theyyam ceremony, which was just incredible) have been the chances we’ve had to meet and interact with the students of Kerala University. In particular, the class we shared with our group and larger group of Malayali students at the the University on the second of January is one I am most grateful for. I have to say, this was quite a humbling moment for me. These Malayalis are people who take their education and politics very seriously, something that US students tend to take for granted all too often. One memory that really stands out was when Dr. Kideckel asked which if any of our group could name the Prime Minister of India, which was followed by silence. When the Indians were asked about the president of the US, however, “Barack Obama” rang through the room immediately.

We also had the invaluable opportunity to bridge some of the gaps that exist between our two societies. As a collective unit we were able to realize and understand that as people we are not so different after all, as popular ideologies seem to maintain. The problem we learned is not on an individual level, but instead undoubtedly on an institutional one. These perceived differences and the distance/hatred that is born from them serve only to the purposes of those with power. Overall, I am just so grateful to have had my first chance to visit another culture and to learn these things. As a people, we are all one, and more efforts have to be made to end the great nationalistic divides that exist between us.