Experiencing India

Hello and Welcome! If you’ve come for a taste of India, you’ve come to the right place. You will find some of my observations, photos, and videos based upon my experiences in India, a colourfully chaotic while deeply spiritual place, during my field study with the MA Program in Intercultural and International Communication with Royal Roads University. Our three-week residency took place in Ahmedabad, Gujarat state and Goa in November, 2011. I carried on the adventures throughout Kerala and in Mumbai, savouring every moment.

Preamble: I consider part of my core values and beliefs to remain connected to the earth and to be a part of the movement for a more sustainable Vancouver and world. I’m deeply concerned with the impacts of rapid industrialization and globalization on the natural environment. Within these posts, I hope to highlight the ways in which I’ve observed how Indians are addressing environmental concerns – in small acts and larger organizational change – and how they are interpreting the impacts of unsustainable practices on communities and the environment. I will also be blogging about reflections on what I’ve learned during class and in conversations during my field study in Gujarat and Goa.

Contrasting Views

What I see arriving is a blur of motion at the airport, families clasping each other in greeting, Namaste echoes off the pavement, then one weathered man’s face comes into view against the backdrop of night. He beckons me into his auto-rickshaw and tell me that the trip to my hotel will be “only 20 minutes.” Oh, I missed the Indian accent. I know this really means 40 minutes but with no taxis in sight and it being well past my bedtime, I agree to a price and jump in. My nostrils are instantly put to the task of making sense first of the smoggy air, then of the lemon fresh scent of the hotel, the Lemon Tree, where we are gathering for our second Residency in our Royal Roads University MA program in Intercultural and International Communication.

It’s 10:19pm and I’m just sitting down after a morning of Orientation to our course in Development Communication, taught by Wendy Quarry, and a visit to Mahatma Gandhi’s Ashram in Ahmedabad, in the western state of Gujarat, followed by the university, Vidyapith, which he founded. It’s my first day in India and she has opened my eyes and nose, once again, to the vibrancy of life in every corner. I feel more ‘ready’ for her assault on each of my senses than I did the first time seven years ago.

Monkeys stretch out on the rooftops, the occasional kite dots the sky, while the streets below are filled with stray dogs, proud camels pulling carts packed of goods, students on bicycles, beeping Honda Hero motorbikes and brand new Volkswagen. Leafy trees push through the concrete. The palak is sour and the lassis sweet. India is a land of contrasts – extreme wealth is housed in mega-malls and millionaire’s mansions while families with toddlers subsist on food scraps and few rupees in charity just outside, living on mats on the dirty sidewalks; rickshaw drivers zip past semi-oblivious slow-moving cows; and women in bright green sarees with their midriff exposed walk through streets filled with dust and smoke.

Diversity of Thought

There is a diversity of thought here in Gujarat, not only of language and religion, but in the various worldviews, beliefs and values that people carry, steeped in culture like the hot masala chai. One city dweller may feel the need to accumulate material wealth at great speed and send his children to the top engineering university in the country, while his brother in the countryside is holding on to his traditional way of life (while dialing a friend with the mobile phone in his hand). Socialism is not “cool” any longer in India it seems; upward mobility makes those who can take advantage of it, feel as though they are getting somewhere. The impacts of globalization are seen every time I step out of the hotel, but adapted to the local Indian context – in the designer jeans worn by young Muslim women in colourful head scarves to the highrise  complexes sprouting up across Ahmedabad among the slums being bulldozed to make room for them (slum dwellers may be compensated, but often do not want to leave but are forced out).

Gandhi Inspires Ahmedabad

Ashoke Chatterjee shared with us about Gandhi’s principles and how they relate to the present context of modern-day Ahmedabad. Ashoke is a friend of Wendy’s, our instructor, and the author of Utthan, a book we read on the NGO of the same name, a Utthan trustee, a former director with the National Institute for Design (NID), and a member of the Governing Council of the Centre for Environment Education. He is a brilliant man, in my humble opinion, and impeccably dressed! Ashoke is proving to be a source of great insight during our time in Gujarat. He described how no one in India wants to say that they are capitalist and Gandhi’s principles are mere ‘window dressing’ for Ahmedabad, which makes no bones about seeking greater and greater wealth. Amdavad is the fastest growing city in India in terms of economic prosperity. Of course, that begs the question – who is getting left behind?

Amdavad (as it is commonly referred to in Gujarati) was founded by a Muslim ruler in the 13th century. As a growing centre on the Silk Route, caravans came from across Europe, the Middle East, China, and Central Asia to trade, and alongside it, an entrepreneurial spirit and financial know-how that the city still thrives upon today. The city was proud to host the beginnings of the modernized textile industry, earning it the moniker, Manchester of the East. It is becoming clear to me how the global was felt locally here in Amdavad early on.

Amdavad is known as a “City of Entrepreneurs” and is one reason why Gandhi came here after his time in South Africa. He knew the city was well organized and had invested in its civil society. Amdavad saw the birth of the non-governmental organization (NGO) movement, which was later hit hard during the devastating 2002 Gujarat religious riots when the state and national government moved their funds elsewhere. The women’s movement also began here, although many women still suffer under patriarchal laws and domestic abuse. This is also the home of the non-governmental organization, the Centre for Environment Education, and so, is also the birthplace of India’s largest environmental education organization, which I will be learning about later on this week.

Development for Whom?

The notion of “development” started in the West after WWII with the Marshall Plan and  Bretton Woods Institutions. Kartikeya Sarabhai, Director of the Center for Environment Education, made it clear that from his agency’s perspective, “development is something we try not to do”. The Bretton Woods Institutions embodied post-colonial thinking: What can we do for the people? The ethos at the time was: “If only developing countries knew what we knew, they would have what we have in the West.” No one ever thought that maybe people didn’t want what the Western powers had.

It seems that no matter where I go in the world, I see progress for progress sake. Not to empower people. Not to protect the environment. But to make the rich richer and to allow the powerful to consolidate their power.

Mahatma Gandhi once said “I do not want my house to be walled in on all sides and my windows to be stuffed. I want the cultures of all the lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any.” Ashoke Chatterjee aptly followed this statement by sharing with us how we are now being blown off our feet by a new colonialism.”

Multinationals are increasingly running the show in India. Who controls the message can control, in large part, the public consciousness. It’s not only important to learn of the ways that the U.S. media is taking over India’s media, but learning how can Indians resist this domination by strengthening India’s media systems, infusing them with values and cultural heritage and putting Indian people in control of their own cultural expression.

As I learned in Quarry and Ramirez’s book, Communication for Another Development, the development community has also succumbed to the forces of modernization and industrialization by becoming a large industrial machine itself. Those at the heart of international development may care about making positive change, but they are caught in a flawed system. As Wendy Quarry described to us, the development industry is now a business of accountability and measurement. Funders want quantifiable targets and are not interested in qualitative change. They supply only short-term funding (not fans of long-range thinking) and are eager for products, not process.

This has to change. In my life, I’ll continue to learn about Development Communication and communicate to audiences through writing and videos about the transformations that urgently need to take place.

Please find one of my Learning Moments here:
Video 1: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7JFdUjmYlnQ

Failure to Listen

Communication for Development is about listening to what people are saying, to engage in conversation about what change people would like to see happen. There is no formula for Communication for Development but guidelines are needed. We need to ask: What do Indians want? We need to understand the cultural context before we can make recommendations towards sustainable development.

Ashoke eloquently explained how there was a shift in Gujarati society to “we want to be like you.” There has been a jump from sustainable practices to unsustainable practices without regard for the impact of this new quest for material wealth on communities and the environment.

Based on the books I’ve read in preparation for this field study and from what I’ve heard today, I’ve learned how communication is embedded in development if it is good development. This type of development questions the very word ‘development’ – development for whom? What should progress mean? What constitutes progress? When do we stop? This reminded me of lessons in sustainable community development back at Simon Fraser University, where we criticized the use of the GDP for measuring only a country’s economic growth and ignoring human development indicators that showed a different picture entirely. There needs to be a shift in the way we measure progress – really, we need to shift away from the very notion that progress is always desired and towards a new conceptual understanding of the term and its practical implications on societies. For me while in India, this means finding out how Indians perceive ‘progress’ – both the good and the bad.

India still suffers from a high child mortality rate, a high rate of maternal deaths, and extreme poverty. It consistently scores low on the human development index.“The Last in Line” need to be the focus of development but sadly, that is not the case in most development schemes in the country (nor the world).

Gandhi wrote that there are no easy answers or formulas. But in my opinion, economic development doesn’t want to work hard. It wants easy money, and it wants it now. Rather than top-down approaches designed by governments, engineers, the international development community, and other authorities who believe they know what is ‘best’ for the community, development communication is about listening to the voices of the community, understanding the intricacies of local contexts, which are ever shifting, and empowering people to make their own choices.

Please find one of my Learning Moments here:
Video 2: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CMVHGAlk6VA

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Reflections on Utthan

Development communication (DevCom) came to life for me in the book Utthan / Rising about the NGO, which works in rural Gujarat and is focused on human rights, equality, and justice, while revolving around access to water. The book came to life for us when Nafisa Barot, a Muslim woman leader of Utthan, walked into our classroom to speak with us. I highly respect her work and it was a treat to meet her in person. Utthan has developed community-based solutions to the water crisis in Gujarat, which is the driest state in all of India. While doing so, the organization has empowered women, minorities and lower caste people with knowledge to make informed choices about the kind of future they want to see for themselves and their children.

Nafisa’s community development work is focused on the person “Last in Line”. It is the benchmark of what Utthan does and what all Communication for Development practitioners should be striving towards. Nafisa brought our attention to the need for more leaders in community development as there are so many battles to fight. Youth are motivated to help but they need direction. I think they also need more mentorship.

Reflection and debriefing are important to stay committed to values although Nafisa questions what are the organization’s values at each step along the way, asking “are we living them?” Values cannot only be part of a project but an intrinsic part of the organization.

Nafisa and the Utthan staff recognize their status as outsiders in the villages in which they work. They define that as not being the decision-makers. The change must come from the people living there. Utthan initiated a campaign on change– starting with yourself. I’m also trying this – finding out the ways I can shift my perspective and initiate change within myself and my own life to become more attuned to the needs of newcomers in my work in immigrant settlement at home in B.C.

Lessons Learned:

  • Organizational values are non-negotiable and need constant reflection
  • More inclusion translates into less fear and more empowerment
  • Long-lasting community-based partnerships are based on trust and credibility


  • In what ways are people able to take charge of their change?
  • Women and the marginalized in society have a voice, so how can we Communication for Development practitioners help raise that voice?

A Page Taken from Gandhi

Gandhi-ji hoped that every person would spend their life trying to find the truth and have the stamina to possibly never find it. His life was his message. During the freedom movement leading up to India’s Independence, Gandhi asked, after freedom, then what? Freedom should be sought not be solely from the shackles of colonialism. Liberty should be for every human being.

Gandhi strove to engage the hearts of his opponents, not only their minds. His was a universal message of nonviolence and acceptance of all.

He was quite the man of letters, writing over 50,000 letters in his short life. Gandhi was the heart of India’s cultural, social, economic,. and political  revolution. He never stopped for a second, every moment of his life was well spent. As the caretakers of his work at the Ashram stated: “Gandhi-ji belongs to the world.”

In South Africa, the struggle was framed in a legal context. In India, Gandhi focused on the heart. He wanted truth to propagate itself. His mission made sense to most at a rational level as well: to move from violence to non-violence is part of our quest to become civilized. For Gandhi, there is no victory. The point is to engage the opponent in the universal good.

Today, funding from the Indian government is supporting the development of a Web Portal – E-library of Gandhi’s work. There will be no interpretation of Gandhi’s words, simply the text for all to access. I can’t wait to take a look!

Gandhi’s Ashram in Ahmedabad acted as a hub for dialogue among Indians on what kind of India they wished for after colonialism. I wonder where these hubs for dialogue exist today in India – I would imagine on university campuses and chai shops and women’s groups. As a visitor observing daily life in India, conversations about everything from politics to the economy seems to pop up easily.

Lesson Learned:

  • Live your truth, search your truth, lead your truth
  • Focus on your passion

Diversity of Thought

Vidyapith (Gandhi’s university) is home to students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. The Vice-Chancellor spoke about bringing the Internet to the campus and the opportunities (ie. increased access to information) and challenges (ie. students attracted to a form of materialism that they cannot afford) that it has brought alongside it. The mobile phone is also a challenge – the Vice-Chancellor knows that students can’t afford to be in a “me too mode” and has banned the mobile on campus. But students have them anyways and hide them so as not to get caught.

The university and Gandhi’s Ashram are centres for dialogue. I wish to carry back home with me a “diversity of thought” – the good and the bad. I can feel that in the city, in the country, and across the nation. Gandhi wanted us to be uncomfortable because it is then that we will be sensitized to others’ suffering.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The World is our Family

A certain sensuousness greeted us in the welcome given at Gujarat University  – incense in the air, flowers in our hair, drumming leading to dancing, laughter, photos and paparazzi, pillows and soft cushions to sit on, whispers among students. The drums pounding inside the lobby of the University drew me in, and spurred many of us to dance. Dance is a great form of non-verbal communication to break the ice and exchange culture. Culture is more than dance though. It’s more than a country’s food, customs, beliefs, or values. It’s a living organism, a way of being together. It is not limited by time nor distance but given flight by the ideas and dreams of its inhabitants.

During presentations by the university’s Development Communication students, one young man expressed: “We are a very emotional people. We go everywhere and connect easily” – no doubt! In sharing in a jubilation of dance and laughter, the students really made us feel ‘at home’ and we easily found commonalities and similar passions during our conversations together.

Meeting the students really brought to light the phrase, The World is our Family, since we all share the common threads of being human and wanting to express culture and welcome in others. We also can stand united in wanting a healthier planet, today and for the future.

Intercultural Dialogue at the Heart of the Green Movement

The green movement in Canada is strong. Many people are driven to protect our forests, lakes, and oceans from becoming drilled, dumped on, or completely destroyed. Many companies have gone green – CSR is big and the green economy is booming. In Vancouver, there are initiatives to bring immigrants into the conversation around climate change and urban sustainability. This type of intercultural dialogue on ecological issues is what I’m curious about and I’m interested in drawing parallels between the dialogue happening at home and the dialogue happening in India among Indians of different linguistic, religious, class/caste and cultural backgrounds.

I wasn’t sure what to expect of the environmental movement in a globalized India – I’ve read Vandana Shiva’swork – she is a well-known Indian scientist and activist – and her urgent call to critically examine what she  calls is the “colonization” of India by multinationals and the impacts of ecological destruction and industry on women, the poor, and tribal people, who suffer the worst of it. Arundhati Roy, an author and activist, has written extensively on community-led resistance to big dam projects across Indiathese industrial projects fail to listen to the local population and thereby destroy the social and cultural fabric of villages along with disrupting the balance of the ecosystem.

I chose to work with CEE to better understand the green movement in India and to apply insights gained here in my volunteer work with environmental organizations at home.

What are NGOs in India doing to promote change towards a sustainable future? This question was on my mind as I approached my work with the Centre for Environment Education (CEE), a Ahmedabad-based NGO that has offices across India and a global reach.

At the CEE head office, a young woman, Shefali, guided our team to seven program areas. CEE was established as a national Centre for Excellence in 1984. Its parent organization is the Nehru Foundation for Development and they receive some support from the Indian government. CEE is focused on improving public awareness and understanding of the environment to promote the conservation and sustainable use of nature, leading to a better environment and quality of life.

We learned that in 1999, the Supreme Court of India created a law to establish Environmental Education (EE) in schools across the country. Today, the Government of India is concerned about climate change and focused on energy efficiency. I was happy to learn that Gujarat is leading the country in renewable energy. As well, the Gujarat State government has a Climate Change department which doesn’t exist in other states….or in provincial governments in Canada, for that matter.

CEE creates a variety of innovative programs and educational material for teachers, NGO workers, parents, students, and community members as well as builds capacity in the field of education for sustainable development by creating environmentally sustainable demonstration projects in education, communication, and development.

CEE develops games for children – including a Monopoly-like board game for children in the United Arab Emirates, and their online Green Teacher Course for distance learning for teachers. What we learned within the Children’s Media Unit is that “urbanization and sustainability can go together.”

CEE’s Focus on Schools lies within their work in Paryavaran Mitra, which means Friend of the Environment. They impact 200,000 schools through programs such as growing vegetables, building bathrooms, and theatre in rural schools. CEE experiments with different lessons, workshops, and the latest technologies, like GIS. As one program officer explained that youth know all about technology, but they don’t know all the uses for it, such as how to interpret satellite images. So CEE brings a new awareness to youth in how to use technologies to understand ecology. At the same time, CEE is very aware of the limits of technologies due to limited access to computers. Mobile phones have taken hold of cities and villages across the country, however, so much so that “the number of people with access to mobile phones is more than the number of people with access to toilets in India.”

At the Design Studio, the director described what he believes are the top 5 Challenges to communicating Climate Change:

  • how do you make futuristic predictions of the devastating impacts of climate change urgent in people’s minds – how do you bring future into present;
  • many environmental changes are not dramatic and happen over a long period of time, and thus don’t capture people’s attention;
  • many of the changes happening in the environment are things most people will never see or study so it is not relevant to them, and these people matter as they are the ones receiving negative messages about the environment like how much land is needed for wildlife;
  • the science doesn’t make sense to the average person; in simplifying the message, we risk falsifying it;
  • we don’t have control over all the contexts, like social, economic, and political.

Our day-long visit to the head office really made clear how CEE’s values of participation and empowerment are embedded in each step along the way: their planning, design, execution, and evaluation of programs are carefully thought out with those “last in line” in mind. We learned that their reach is extensive across India, their impact large, and their people dedicated to conservation, empowerment of people, and to a sustainable future. We learned that CEE is pushing beyond the ecological footprint and towards the Handprint as a proactive tool to increase positive action towards sustainability.

Friday to Saturday, November 18 – 19, 2011 

Experiencing the CEE Rural Sustainability Office

What I really liked hearing was that CEE considers themselves as a living experiment. They try new ideas on different audiences, identifying key entry points and target groups for Environmental Education. They constantly ask questions: Do we start with schools? We want to work directly with people, but with who? Children? Women? What are their needs? How do we engage them?

I was humbled and amazed meeting farmers and salt pan workers who toil all day outside in the scorching sun. It made me feel weak. It made me feel frustrated knowing the injustice they face in the marketplace and the low social status accorded to their work. Meeting them also inspired to take steps to enact change by creating more awareness about the value of their work through video and writing.

I’m angry at the injustices faced by farmers who are being subjugated by Monsanto and terminator seeds that force farmers into a cycle of dependency – Vandana Shiva, the renowned Indian scientist and environmental activist, calls it a type of “colonization.”I am also hopeful after seeing CEE’s work: the farmers are empowered with knowledge about sustainable practices that increase their yields, provided with alternative energy sources and tools, and decrease their reliance on chemical fertilizers.

I’m angry at the injustices faced by salt pan workers, or Agariya, some of the most marginalized in the country. They earn so little for their 8 months of work. In the eyes of the government, this work is illegal since Little Rann was declared a biosphere (protected area). This further marginalizes poor people. Little Rann makes up 70% ofIndia’s salt consumption! It’s important to protect land for wildlife but the government must take into consideration the people living there, such as the salt pan workers and pastoralists.

The word sustainability gets bandied about a lot at home, without any real meaning behind it. The Center for Environment Education really understands what sustainability is, what it means to different communities since they are listening to community members and CEE builds self-reliance from the bottom-up through environmental education and participatory communication and dialogue. CEE embodies good development which is making for good communication that promotes dialogue and participation

What really struck me was how by empowering one individual or one school or one village can have a ripple effect across society. Our small team of 6 also met students at a school, where we asked the kids what they aspire to be when they grow up, and most of them said “to get married” and laughed. Then one boy yelled ‘doctor!’ and another ‘teacher!’  The girls and boys seem to be on equal ground within the school – the reality of gender equality is very different outside the school gate. The children learn to care for their natural environment through tending to vegetables and through environmentally-themed games. CEE is having a strong influence on the minds of the next generation of Gujaratis, one that will hopefully translate into more mindful approach to nature.

CEE has broad reach by being adaptable to local contexts and relevant to  people in their daily lives. I’m moved by their struggle against injustice and environmental degradation and inspired to learn more.

CEE’s work is their message. I was awed by their dedication to a sustainable future through environmental education and participatory communication. They not only highlight the problems facing communities – from the strength of moneylenders to the impacts of climate change – but they highlight action steps as well that can lead India towards a healthier, kinder way of living together.


Communication for ‘good’ development is about bringing dignity back to people. It’s about community building. It’s about trust. With CEE, our team was fortunate to have Shefali and other CEE staff people introduce us to the women’s self-help group and the farmers, which lended us a certain level of credibility and trust in a short amount of time.

Please find one of my Learning Moments here:
Video 3: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dv2aNUuxzwU&feature=youtu.be

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Earth Charter and Gandhi, Towards a Sustainable World

Monsanto has forced farmers into a cycle of dependency with their terminator seeds – after reading about the thousands of farmers who have committed suicide in parts of India to meet farmers directly affected by Monsanto in Gujarat while with CEE really struck me. I was angry and frustrated. What could I possibly do to help? Perhaps writing about these issues here and in other social media forms will connect me with more like-minded people involved in activism. Perhaps I’ll return to CEE to intern there in the future. I plan to stay connected to Shefali, who led us to Kutch and the villages and learn more about how her work connects to the broader sustainable movement in India.

These thoughts connect to Ghandian principles in the Earth Charter, which evolved in the 1990s as part of a worldwide effort to lay the groundwork for sustainability, spearheaded by the UN at the Earth Summit. Many of its principles echo Gandhi’s beliefs. A 2010 book, The Earth Charter Towards a Sustainable World, was compiled by Kartikeya Sarabhai, Director of CEE. The Earth Charter contains quotes from Gandhi’s writings that reflect concepts of sustainability, which include freedom, respect for all life, using resources wisely, the eradication of poverty, empowerment, non-violence, truth, and consciousness of ends and means.

In Ahmedabad and Goa, I’m reflecting on how the Earth Charter may be expressed in modern-day Indian identity – how people resist the kind of development we are talking about in Communication for Development. For me, I question myself and my own role in development at the expense of others. It allows me a window to look at my own privileges as a fairly wealthy Canadian woman. It allows me a window to see the common thread between Canadians and Indians – the impacts of unchecked growth and multinational power are felt by farmers both in Kutch and Saskatoon.

Please find one of my Learning Moments here:
Video 4: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cRZVhU1CZiY&feature=youtu.be

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Silent Spring – Thoughts on the Environment in Goa

Environmental degradation is increasing while at the same time, it seems more and more Indians are becoming concerned about the impacts of unchecked growth. Goa is clearly an example of global forces at play, with tourism a major force and the commercialization of beaches. Goa is reaching a tipping point in its environmental crisis. It does not have a policy for sustainable urbanization and the chaos of unchecked urbanization could lead to more polluted waters and air, congested streets, and flooding. Goa has changed dramatically through the forces of globalization. The key drivers are: mining (since 1945), urbanization (since 1960), industrialization and tourism (since 1970s). These forces have transformed the ecology and the economy of Goa (Nandkumar, 2007).

Today in Goa, the major concerns are urban sprawl, air and water pollution, solid waste management, sewage treatment, traffic congestion, encroachment on local spaces, flooding, and landslides (Nandkumar, 2007).

Dayanita Singh, a photographer trained at the National Institute for Design, believes that international tourism is destroying the fabric of culture in Goa. She took photos of people in their cultural context, expressing what they valued the most. She asked people what their story was and tried to tell it with them.

I see signs “Keep it Green and Clean” around Goa. But will this campaign and others similar to it be enough? I know they won’t. According to Nandkumar (2007), Goa is on the verge of an environmental crisis. Mining is the largest labour lobby in the state of Goa, but neither the industry nor the government agencies have shown little interest in turning to sustainable mining practices (Nandkumar, 2007).

What I took away from my time with the Centre for Environment Education (CEE) is that to address any crisis, the government and NGOs and industry need to come together with the people living here to come up with sustainable solutions that work within the local economic, political, and socio-cultural contexts.

As Wendy explained, in Communication for Development, there needs to be a certain level of readiness of people for change that outsiders may bring. Regarding environmental change, CEE is very aware of the need for readiness and does the groundwork to engage people where they are and with actions where they can see themselves taking control.

Much of the challenges in building a path towards sustainable development lay within Goa’s international tourism industry. Business is booming and tourism operators will keep doing what they’re doing to attract the tourist dollar. As a key economic generator, tourism is important to Goa, but it cannot be at the expense of the local environment or the people living and working here.

Photo caption: This is Monica, a young woman whom Meryl and I met on Baga Beach. She was selling shawls. I asked if she was from Goa and she said no, from Gujarat. I was amazed by the coincidence and said we had just flown from there after 10 days. She mentioned her village name, Kutch. I was taken aback as this was the village I had just spent a night with during our visit with CEE. I was saddened to learn that Monica was orphaned, having lost her entire family during the 2001 Gujarat earthquake that devastated the area. I asked if she had friends in Goa, and she shook her head, saying “the other women don’t like me.” I asked if it was because of competition for sales and she said “yes.” I was upset to hear this. I wondered if could find happiness here. She spends her days convincing international tourists to buy her shawls and dodging other vendors who compete with her for sales. But Monica had a big smile for us and was happy to speak with Meryl and I for as long as possible. I hope that she can make a friend she can trust. I wished her well and her story replayed in my mind for days afterwards.


Dr. Nandkumar, Kamat, M. (2007). Goa, the Environmental Tragedy. Goa University. Retrieved from http://www.scribd.com/doc/7458132/GOA-the-Environmental-TragedyBy-Dr-Nandkumar-M-Kamat-Goa-University

Saturday, November 26, 2011

In class, Rupinder posed the questions: What do we take away from colonialism? How are we paying attention to neocolonialism? Are we? How is India going forward? To me, I see neoliberalization as colonialism in new clothes. It has the body of a machine, the face of Nestle, and the texture of cotton candy sold on the streets of Ahmedabad. But it is far from fluff. The IT boom has created jobs while creating tonnes of electronic waste. Big dam projects like the Naramada dam have rendered many people homeless and landless due to flooding and compensation by the government cannot replace what was lost. The rush to secure energy sources, like nuclear power, has seen nuclear plants being established without any form of dialogue with the local community living near the plant and limited environmental assessment. Practices of neoliberalization – privatization of public resources, rapid and unregulated development, and the concentration of power in the hands of a few  multinationals – have no regard for the environment, nor the communities of people left most vulnerable to these changes.

As my classmate Sasha Caldera pointed to in class, today’s neoliberal agenda is tied to neocolonialism, going back to the British Empire and other colonial powers like Spain, Germany and Portugal which extracted resources in their colonies to fuel wars. This accumulated wealth and power allowed these superpowers to capture people and ship them to the Americas to extract raw materials in a type of global trade triangle. Colonial trading posts became companies which then became multinationals – the United Fruit Company supplied Europe with exotic fruits like papayas became Chiquita. Large multinationals emerged from colonial trading posts. All commodities are today dominated by a handful of multinationals with their roots in colonialism. Neocolonialism as it looks like today means that those with the most influence on culture are no longer those with political power, but economic power.

I thought this insight shared by Gandhi was apt: “real planning consisted in the best utilization of the whole man-power of India and the distribution of the raw products in her numerous villages instead of sending them outside and rebuying finished articles at fabulous prices.”

Change is taking place at such a rapid pace. It seems only those who have wealth and higher social status will ‘get ahead.’ The development model isn’t working if so many are still left behind.

As Gandhi wrote “Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s need but not every man’s greed.” Greed and power drove the colonial powers for centuries and drive the neoliberal agenda today. This greed is responsible, I think, for the never-ending  destruction of the environment. We are devouring our environment in pursuit of development at a pace that the planet cannot replenish itself. I see that at home, I see that in India, but I see people across cultures and class making change in their own lives and communities to resist these overarching forces.

At home, eating local, buying organic and fair trade, returning to indigenous knowledge, investing in ‘green’ business, living and working in LEED and other green buildings, and educating the next generation to be aware of their impact on the environment and to inspire them to make change. I wonder how Indians perceive their role in addressing environmental crises and what level of awareness there is. From my work with CEE, I can see a generation of leaders in India inspired by Gandhi striving to engage minds and change attitudes and behaviours towards the environment and I’m hopeful that their impact on society is profound.

Please find one of my Learning Moments here:
Video 5: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_suStCromB0&feature=youtu.be

January 5, 2011 

Interview with Nidhin Patel, Development Communication graduate student, Gujarat University, Ahmedabad, India

Lindz Marsh: Could you comment on what you see are the key challenges to communicating with the public audience in India about pressing environmental issues, including climate change?

“In any nation where people are fighting for their lives, their survival and basic needs; in a state where you are unaware of what will you eat in night or feed your children with — who wants to hear about ‘Climate Change’ and some ridiculous thing called ‘Global Warming’. Now, you must note that, this one is from an inclusive perspective. Not everyone in developing nations have to fight for survival and not all have to worry about their meals, but this is a generic scenario.

‘Climate Change’ is most certainly one of the main issues as far as the global setting goes, but for India, that isn’t the scene. So the communicator will first have to face the challenge of establishing the utter urgency of why we have to put this into our priorities and address it with the same importance that we offer to other issues.

To ‘simplify’ climate change, global warming, and the process of it and other environmental issues — as it can be understood by one and all — will be yet another big challenge. I still feel that environmental challenges are more alien to Indians than issues like terrorism, or petrol prices or stable economy. The development communicator will face a challenge while making the environmental issues – the issues of one and all. Where you can get a plastic bag for free, why pay extra money to buy a paper bag? — and for most in India, that extra money will be utter indulgence. An eco-friendly approach isn’t the easy one and so is not cheap, you can understand that ‘easy’ and ‘cheap’ are the words we all are attracted to. The challenge here is to communicate the future threats that lay in not having an environmental approach and future benefits that one will earn by investing extra in the eco-friendly options.

As I already mentioned ‘Climate Change’ isn’t as big an issue as it may, let’s say for the US. One of the reasons is there aren’t still those big impacts/events that have taken India by storm to make everyone awake about the green-alert. So the communicator has to explain the world scenario, and once again there will be a lot of comprehension issues, scientific explanations…. But still this is an attainable situation for any effective communicator.

Then there are the usual technical issues for the process of communication.Indiais a country of diversity and variety. People speak different language, level of understanding, literacy and knowledge is different in every other region. To devise your communication tools in an inclusive manner, to build an effective team of communicators for the project, make the dry subject interesting and simple, and prepare a general format for your communication is surely one of the big challenges.

The education level isn’t to its utmost high as of yet in the nation. And in any time, to communicate anything to uneducated audience is a labour.

On a personal note, I’ll share my experience from research that I had done in 2-3 villages about the ‘awareness of the means to minimize Global Warming’. The main issue that we had faced was to communicate the very idea of what ‘Global Warming’ was, forget about the prevention. And frankly speaking, it’s nobody’s fault, they aren’t supposed to know these things as it requires much more understanding and education than what they already have. But when we did an effort like this in urban schools, things were much easier and positive.”

Thank you, Nidhin!

Final note: I found Nidhin’s insights very useful in understanding how the social context (like education levels) and the economic context play a huge role in shaping everyday Indians’ perceptions of environmental crises like climate change. Of course, as Communicators for Development, we have to start at the community level and listen to what changes are happening at that level as a result of climate change. Then we need to hear what solutions the community believes are practical, cost-effective, and workable within these shifting contexts. An example is using alternative energy sources like wind and biogas to cut the fuel costs used to operate diesel pumps used in the salt pans of Little Rann desert. This will ultimately help impoverished saltpan workers keep more money in their pockets and help keep a great deal of CO2 out of the atmosphere. The Center for Environment Education is using a participatory communication approach with these saltpan workers to implement strategies that meet their needs.

What I discovered, upon reflection, is that environmental education and intercultural communication can go hand-in-hand. I learned a great deal from the Gujarati staff within CEE – they first listening to what my expectations were of the three days with their NGO and greatly exceeded them through thoughtful discussion and excellent planning. No question was left unanswered. Their cultural context informed their politeness, humbleness, and ability to converse with me and five other Canadians easily –the quote from a student at Gujarat university rang in my mind, “Indians, we go everywhere and connect easily.” I was thankful that Shefali put our team at ease, allowing us to fully embrace the experience of learning about CEE through listening, questions, observation, and hands-on experience. I learned that through my actions,  I could also make someone feel heard – the women in the Self-Help group we met expressed gratitude that we visited them in their village. I was equally appreciative of the time spent with us (as I’m sure my teammates were as well). In each interaction led by CEE between local people and our team, I experienced an equal exchange of respect and curiosity, of dialogue and learning, based on trust.

This was intercultural communication at its best. Intercultural communication competence (or ICC) is defined by Kim (2006) as “a set of cognitive, affective, and operational capabilities…rooted fundamentally in a given individual’s adaptive capacity to deal with relatively high levels of unfamiliarity, anxiety, and psychological distance commonly experienced by communicators in intercultural encounters.” I think our team did well in dealing with unfamiliar environments, in fact, we embraced them and the people with whom we were meeting. The CEE excelled at communicating with us across the cultural and linguistic divide, sharing with us the roots of their work. Intercultural dialogue will help India, Canada and other nations learn how to advance sustainable practice when we continue to exchange important environmental lessons such as the ones I experienced in Gujarat. I am forever changed by the experience and will look to apply these insights in my volunteer work with environmental organizations here in Vancouver and overseas in the future.

Please find a student-made movie on our time with the Center for Environment Education here, composed by Rene Sheir, Amie Presley, Joanna Fultz, Nuo Yang, Sasha Caldera and I. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XfVJFhfrA7I

Please find an interview I did on a podcast based in Seattle. The theme is communication for another development. Enjoy!

Thank you for dropping by! I look forward to reading your comments and please tweet me at @LindzMarsh


Brady, I. (2004). In defense of the sensual: Meaning construction in ethnography and poetics. Qualitative Inquiry, 10(4), 622-644.

Chatterjee, A. (2011). Rising / Utthan: An Indian quest for dignity & hope set in Gujarat. New Delhi, India: Business Standard Books.

Kim, Y. Y. (2006). Inquiry in intercultural and development communication. Journal of Communcation, 55(3).

Nandkumar, K. M. (2007). Goa, the Environmental Tragedy. Goa University. Retrieved from http://www.scribd.com/doc/7458132/GOA-the-Environmental-TragedyBy-Dr- Nandkumar-M-Kamat-Goa-University

Quarry, W. & Ramirez, R. (2009). Communication for another development: Listening before telling. London, UK: Zed Books Ltd.

Reality Tours. (2011). Home. Retrieved from http://realitytoursandtravel.com/

Sarabhai, K., Raghunathan, M. & Modi, A. (2010. The Earth Charter and Gandhi, Towards a sustainable world. Ahmedabad, India: Center for Environment Education.


12 thoughts on “Experiencing India

  1. My comments are attached to your headlines below.

    Monday, November 14, 2011
    I enjoyed the descriptions as you arrived in India. It was very visual and vivid. Way to make it easy for your readers to picture themselves there.

    Diversity of Thought
    It’s great to read your observations about the differences within the local world and globalization.

    Gandhi Inspires Ahmedabad
    Very informational.

    Development for Whom?
    I enjoyed reading your take on the effect of mass media and how they affect one’s culture. It goes to show that your work is very important in the world.

    Failure to Listen
    You’re right in saying that there needs to be a “shift in the way we measure progress” and I would agree with you that it starts within the community itself.

    Tuesday, November 15th
    Reflections on Utthan
    Youth mentorship seems to be important anywhere in the world. Thanks for introducing me to the “last in line” concept as well. I really connected with “a campaign on change” which reminded me of Gandhi’s famous quote that “You must be the change you wish to see in the world” but most importantly, that the change must start within yourself. Very well said.

    A Page Taken from Gandhi
    I fully agree with your lessons learned here. This applies to anyone.

    Diversity of of Thought
    Very eye opening to hear about their challenges.

    The World is our Family
    That’s such a neat to welcome people. I enjoyed watching the video from your Facebook group.

    Intercultural Dialogue at the Heart of the Green Movement
    Solid introduction and explanation as to why you wanted to work with CEE. Thanks for sharing more about this amazing organization. The Monopoly-like game for the kids was neat to read about.

    Friday – Saturday, November 18th – 19th
    Experiencing the CEE Rural Sustainability Office
    Out of this entire diary, this is one of the most raw section and I could really sense your anger along with frustration because of the injustices happening there. Way to speak up! It’s humbling to read about your experiences. It really is. This is, by far, my favourite part.

    Monday, November 21st
    The Earth Charter and Gandhi, Towards a Sustainable World
    It’s really sad to hear about the suicides. What you’re writing is giving us perspective, especially for those us living in other parts of the world.

    Tuesday, November 22nd
    ‘Being’ Intercultural
    That’s such a sweet moment and story to hear your interaction with the “Biker Gang.”

    A Culture of Cultures
    You remind us well about what it means to be an active listener. Thank you.

    Wednesday, November 23rd
    Silent Spring – Thoughts on the Environment in Goa
    It’s too bad to read that international tourism is impacting Goa the way that it is. Again, you’re giving us a lot of perspective especially for those of us who haven’t had the chance to travel in those areas of the world.

    Saturday, November 26th
    That’s a great closing statement about the commonalities that we use here at home and abroad. Awareness is key.

    Thanks for such a wonderful write up! Well written!

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