Archives for category: Environmental preservation

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.”

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Jeremy Truex:

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Today was a pretty laid back, yet interesting day for our trip. Our morning started downstairs in the dining room of our homestay, with a nice home cooked breakfast of juice, toast, and eggs which were all delicious. After breakfast we dropped off our laundry to the owners and got our belongings ready for our trip of the day. We headed out at about 930 this morning on the bus, and after not being able to take the ferry to the location we were trying to go, so we had to drive around the bay to where our boat for our trip was. We arrived at the harbor about 20 minutes later, grabbed some water, and loaded on to the covered boat for a tour down the river, as well as a lecture on how the development of the area has affected the environment.

Once on the boat, our guide explained to us that all development was banned due a wetland protection act to prevent the destruction by the creation of buildings. Unfortunately, private contractors have bought land and are allowed to build close to the water due to a loophole in the law, letting them build these structures if they are within a certain distance of the main road. Also, we noted that there were many fishing nets that were apparently set up by the Chinese a few centuries back, and the process is still continued today.

Along our long journey down the river, we saw many docks that were at the end of roads are behind people’s homes. Attached to these docks were small boats, some motorized and some standard paddle boats that were used for traveling and fishing. Also, with the boats were these circular saucers like things, which were apparently boats. We saw these things in the water with people actually fishing in them and they proved to work very well.

After about 2 hours, we reached the destination where an environmental activist was supposed to meet us. Due to our boat running late he had left, but he returned shortly after our arrival. He spoke to us about the industrial plants that were right down the river from where we were docked, stating that over the past 30 years they have been dumping in and polluting the water in the river, affecting the health of everyone in the area. He said that over 10 million fish have been killed off and the amount of fish remaining is very scarce, as well as that the water is nowhere near acceptable to drink.

The people in the area are pushing for the factories to leave or change the way they run their production, as well as restitution for damages and health problems caused by the establishment and operation of the factories. However, we were told that the factories do supply fresh drinking water for the locals so that they can safely have something to drink.

The activist said that the 240 industries are worried about the protestors, not just because of the environmental and health issues they are talking about, but also that they are afraid that they are agents or spies for DOW chemical. Because of this, and the fact that many of the factories are government owned, and bring in many of their employees from outside of Kerala, they are trying to label the group as eco-terrorists to get them out of the way.

Teige Cristiano: As an Anthropology major at Central Connecticut State University, studying abroad is a fantastic opportunity. Though clichéd, it has always been my dream to travel the world and to experience life in the shoes of another person. I have been fortunate enough to start my worldly travels at the age of nineteen. Participating in this course on the Challenges of Development in Kerala, India at such a young and impressionable age will absolutely influence my studies of anthropology when I return home. I think I will understand more and more of what I have gotten out of this trip as time goes on. It may not be right away, but, day-by-day it will all come together in some type of lifelong learning experience. However, I have gained perspective on how the Malayali people of Kerala live their everyday lives. This place is unconventional for a first-time traveler. But to be honest, I would not trade this once-in-a-lifetime adventure for anything.

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Bringing in the nets

The environmental challenges  that Kerala faces are incredible. I did not expect to see such an extreme amount of waste that lines the streets and water ways. The large corporations that are involved in the development of Kerala are more harmful to the people and environment than the total profit made. Speaking with Reju, an experienced fisherman ( of the fishing village we visited in our environmental group), he spoke to us about the difficulty traditional fisherman face while large corporation ships are harvesting fish. The fishermen have noticed that the amount of oil slicks and the disappearance of rare fish like dolphins have dramatically increased since the large corporation ships have appeared.  In the article “The Allure of The Transnational: Notes on some Aspects of the Political Economy of Water in India” the author elaborates on the issue that waste management has been a problem an increasing problem in India. “there was also mounting evidence that The Coca-Cola Company was dumping its waste sludge, later shown to be highly toxic, in nearby farmlands and also giving it away free to farmers as fertilizer”  (644). The evidence that large corporations have been treating the land environment in this way can lead to research that could find intentional pollution of the Indian Ocean.  I hope that one of the Non-Government Organization of Kerala takes this issue upon themselves.

Elora Herberick: I am a senior at CCSU majoring in Anthropology with minors in Political Science and Business Management. I love travel and feel a constant need to explore and learn. I came to India to fulfill that need but also to learn about a very different culture than my own. Being a Political Science minor, I was drawn to the political issues within Kerala and all of India, even more so. I hope to use the knowledge I acquire in my time here to enlighten others and also to use the information and educational aspects for my own future endeavors.

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Happy New Year from India and Kerala, “God’s Own Country.” As I sit here surrounded by beautiful people and bountiful nature, I feel at ease. Tuning in the sounds of exotic birds and Indian music in the distance, I feel the sun beat on my face and beads of sweat dripping down my forehead. With such a pure sense of peace and happiness, I realize that everything is interconnected, including myself and my presence in Kerala. Every action, every word, meant in short term context, echoes into the world and causes a ripple effect of ideas exchanged, friendships made or discarded, and new ways of life are created and others destroyed. That is, after all, what the “New Year” is all about; a rebirth, a new chance to create or to break the world as we know it.

Today in India there are both limitless opportunities, and unfortunately a number of problems; problems for the people, for the environment, and ultimately problems for India’s future generations.

As I see it, there are three sides to every truth: your truth, my truth, and the REAL truth. As I learned about the possible creation of a massive seaport, in Vizhniam, just kilometers away from our hotel in Kovalam, I saw the logic behind both of the individuals who spoke to us about their view of this project; one in favor, one against. I also understood why each speaker believed they had the support of a majority of people. Whether or not they are correct in their reasoning, is not up to me to decide. But with such corruption and political upheaval in India, and in Kerala state in particular, it is difficult to say what the future will bring. Will a massive harbor be created that produces thousands of jobs and billions in revenue? Will this harbor, cause environmental damage and dislocation of centuries old fishing communities? Or will the fishing communities win against the power-hungry corporate structure and keep sacred what beauty I see in front of me?

Perhaps in this new year India will find the real truth. Maybe the two sides of the port controversy will be able to compromise, develop yet maintain, move forward and still remain traditional. Only time will tell.

Christine Perkins – Hazuka

I’m a small town girl from a farming valley in California, the San Joaquin, specifically the town of Manteca, a place I couldn’t wait to leave. I did so in 1969 and never looked back – although I do visit since my entire family is still there. It was in ’69 that I travelled abroad for the first time, six weeks in western Europe, followed by two trips to Australia (one business, one pleasure), several trips to Brazil and Chile, a return trip to Europe – Portugal then Spain – and a CCSU sponsored trip to China in ’07. After graduating from Cal State Hayward, I moved to a unique place in southeast Utah called Blanding and began my career teaching high school English. I loved my career, but after 33 years, I decided to move on to destinations still to be determined.  I also love most athletic competitions and spend an inordinate amount of time watching football, baseball, and basketball on the TV with Tom, who is only slightly less avid than I as a fan. We have a daughter Maggie and granddaughter Olivia in California, and we enjoy visiting them, especially as Maggie is a high school English teacher and Olivia is an avid reader. I guess you could say we’re a family of geeks!

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After a night of rain I awoke to the first day of clear blue skies in Kerala. Unfortunately, the power was out, but somehow this seems less problematic in India. Tom and I breakfasted at the German Bakery on waffles, chewy and tasty, and an Indian dish called uppuma, which was dry but full of a curious combination of spices, nuts, coconut, and banana.

The usual hectic and exhilarating auto ride took our group to Thanal, an NGO operated by Usha and Jayakumar, a delightful, energetic pair. After Jayakumar gave a history of their “journey” from self-absorbed scientists to community activists, Usha spoke passionately about their group’s efforts to help local people organize against genetically modified cotton and for organic farmers’ markets. I was so impressed by the way Usha’s eyes flashed when she answered my question about women’s involvement in these grassroots movements: “Women respond from the heart… [they] remember… they tell the truth”. But she was also quick to smile, as was her husband, and together they made the most engaging pair.

A bumpy bus ride took us to the university, where we met Professor Reghu, whose rambling lecture provided stark contrast to the specificity of the morning’s talk. I was fascinated by his thesis regarding globalization, which he prefers to call globality. His detailed argument was that certain universal ideas (i.e. the stone axe, alphabet/ writing, astronomy, and numbers) are the basis for his definition of globality. Each of these inventions indicates that a certain universal cognitive ability had developed in the human brain, which enabled these innovations to go “viral” in a sense.

I found his discussion fascinating, but a bit difficult to follow because of his accent and his meandering style. He ran out of time before he ever connected his theory to the effect on globalization on Kerala, but he did throw out a provocative statement about the positive effect of the British in helping Indians reform the caste system – very interesting but not completely relevant to the topic of Kerala and globalization.

The way home was a bit wacky, what with loading and unloading a public bus to take a private bus at a reduced fare – but without windshield wipers – and, of course, it rained. But we made it back safely and in rather high spirits considering all the energy, mental and physical, that was expended today.

So far my experience in India remains a mix of contradictions: rain and sunshine; fear and exhilaration; the specific/ concrete versus the amorphously intellectual; those who work on the ground versus those who ruminate in “ivory towers”. I LOVE IT!