Cultural Identity Formation

Identity is not a role and is often confused as one. As Kakar clearly states identity is not a garment that can be put on and taken off accordingly; a man’s identity is a vital part of his culture, it makes him recognize himself and be recognized by others. He goes on to argue the difference between those born into a particular culture, average age 20. They will never acquire a full understanding of other cultures. The possibility of fluidity and changing identities in adulthood are limited. Our identity is stabilized before we even have the choice to identify it as an essential part of our identity. As for Indian-ness, it is produced by similarities created by Hindu civilization that contribute to a cultural gene pools of India’s people. The ideology of family, view of social relations influenced by the caste system, image of human body and the bodily process based on medical process Ayurveda, and a cultural imagination shared with myths and legends are also major influences in the procedure of shaping one’s Indian identity.

India has curated several branches of beliefs that deeply internalized subjectivity of identity formation. The web of family life is the base of formation. Bollywood movies have shown Indian families to be large and noisy; with aunts, uncles, and grandparents and parents all living under one roof. Researchers have proven this to be unlikely. The ‘joint’ family feature that is so intertwined in the Indian culture has to do with ideals of fraternal loyalty, obedience and common social and ritual activities. Family occupies a much greater space among Indians unlike European and Americans where there is only parental influence subjecting their inner lives.

I relate with the Indian identity because I have many similarities among my own cultural background. Having influence of American culture where much emphasis is placed on the single partnership of the parents guiding the way for their child, as well as Spaniard influence where family is the major factor in the shaping the child’s life. Although there may be a disconnect in the child’s life where he may have to move away because he has reached adulthood and must study – there is never full detachment from the family. In the Spanish culture that child’s home will always be there, his family will always be there for support and vice versa. The child is to return home to his parents, and under that umbrella are his aunts’, uncles and grandparents patiently waiting with open arms to congratulate him on his highest achievements.

Christa Rodriguez

We need to challenge the system we live in

While I was in Pondicherry, India, doing NGO work for the Gypsy community, I noticed that as soon as girls had their periods they had to be sent back to the village. As far as I recall, there was a 16 year old with a baby in the village who had been to Samugam, Bruno Savio’s orphanage, created for the Gypsy Community. After hearing and witnessing this. What can be done about this? Why is it that even when one had created the proper infrastructures and help, some of the children would go back to the village? Tradition was among other factors. How can values and traditions be changed? Should they be changed for the sake of development?
These issues do not just concern India; as human beings, we need to change our habits as active members of the world community for a better future. How do you make people change their habits? How do you make them realize that they need to change them?
Since I came back from India, I see things differently, I had a violent epiphany about the problems linked to how we live in the West. What can we do to change how things are done? I can no longer stand on the side and look at the world crumbling because of us. I need to start acting; we all share responsibility! Since I came back, I have paid attention to how much waste I consume, I constantly think about all the NGOs we visited and try to apply the solutions these people came up with. I think about these discussions regarding the seen and the unseen. I always think about the hole in the O-zone layer and how because people cannot actually see it, they think there is no problem. Do we have to get to the point that we see everything in order to act? In thinking about the waste I consume and how I recycle. I have now created one trash for compost, one trash for plastic, cardboard, paper, glass, and one trash for garbage and other non- recyclables. Ever since I got back, I have furthered my knowledge and understanding of what steps can be taken in the right direction, by learning from people who try to live with Zero Waste and off the grid by challenging the system. We all need to challenge the system we live in; we all need to challenge ourselves.
The lack of sufficient infrastructure for recycling, disposable waste and compost creates a problem in cities, as does the lack of second hand, damaged or unpacked goods in retail stores. Cloth bags should also be used in lieu of plastic ones.
I am fully aware that taking the organic route might cost more in the long run, and that it isn’t the top priority for families and people who have trouble to make ends meet. Living sustainably needs to become more affordable because we are going on a slippery slope. My dream is that we get together as a community and act! Actually, when you think about it, are alternative ways to living better that expensive? The answer is NO! On the contrary, living sustainably is affordable and actually costs less; making your own toothpaste, shampoo, and laundry detergent are a few things you could do, for a fraction of the price you buy them at! Little by little, I would like to get to the point where I too only have a little jar of trash in a year. How can we communicate these things effectively to the global community?

-Chelsea Carter

They are the champions!

Last semester in my Development Communications course we had to read a book called Communication For Another Development. It gave candid accounts and insight into the world of working in the field of development communications. It did not hold back in describing the ways in which working in development communications can be challenging.

It conveyed the sense that there are many external factors (social, political and economic) that prevent progress in development. Whether there is a need for development and whether it is just creating a binary between the underdeveloped and developed based on the model of the Global North as the benchmark for development is another topic all on its own. The reality is (according to the book) – working in Development communications can be incredibly tough.

The book posited that even though many hurdles await development communicators to jump through, there have been many “champions” in the field. These are the individuals who perservere despite unfavourable circumstances which emerge during development practice. Our month in Auroville certainly exposed us to such champions. Anbu is the Director from the Non Governmental Organization I worked with – Auroville Village Action Group (AVAG). She is a real champion for creating an NGO that aims to emancipate the community and integrate the lowest caste through AVAG’s activities. Ribhu’s Wasteless team is contributing significantly to recycling education through imparting information about sustainability to more than 1000 schools in India through their Garbology 101 curriculum. Bruno’s Samugam orphanage that he started after he felt compelled to change the lives of Dalits in India is indicative of why he is a champion. Karthikeyan from Sristi village created a village for those with psychiatric disorders who were marginalized and neglected by society. Sristi Village is a place that offers this community employment and wellbeing support. The team from the Sahodaran Community Health Oriented Development Society (SCHOD) is bringing the LGBTQIA community in Pondicherry closer to true liberation.

I produced a video for UNESCO’s World Radio Day that reflected John Nelson’s story concerning the Cuddalore emergency radio station that he established in response to the devastating floods that occurred in the area in November.

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An image of John and his team of fellow champions from  Cuddalore.

The Adecom team’s dedication to protecting marginalized caste members speaks to their champion work for this community. These are only a few of the plethora of organizations that we were exposed to, that persisted despite hard conditions they continue to try and overcome.

Change takes a long time, apartheid in my home country South Africa spanned over three generations in time, Nelson Mandela was in prison for 27 years before he was eventually released to become the president of the country. It took lifetime upon lifetime for slavery to be abolished, for the civil rights movement to change its society. These examples reflect that change can eventually happen. It takes champions: Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Ribhu, Anbu, John and others like them to lead to triumph!

Nolwazi Mjwara

 

 

I am fine

by Mia Windisch-Graetz

And you?
Do you live in one of the world’s most livable countries? Do you live in an apartment in ‘The City of Light’? Are you going to sleep in a bed tonight? Or are you going out with your friends? Is there someone out there who loves you? Did someone ever tell you that he or she loves you? Can you think of someone who made love to you instead of just having had sex with you? Have you ever been drunk and happy? Do you have people around you that you can rely on? Do you have a phone? Do you have someone in mind you could just call right now? Can you express yourself freely without being afraid of getting punished afterwards? Are you living in a country that promotes the freedom of speech and expression? Are you just connected to your home Wi-Fi right now? Or the Wi-Fi of your university, a coffee shop or a restaurant? Did you eat something you liked today? Can you drink water whenever you are thirsty? Can you read this? Did you ever go to school? Is your degree even higher than a Bachelor’s Degree? Can you think of a life event that makes you laugh? Have you ever been on a holiday? Have you already been to the beach? Can you treat yourself by going to a spa? Have you ever been to a hairdresser? Do you like to make yourself pretty? Do you think you are pretty? Do you have several dresses and other pieces of clothing in your wardrobe? Do you have a family? Is your Mum still alive? What about your Dad and your siblings? Are you living in a  peaceful country? Can you leave your house without being scared? Did you already have a job? Do you believe in yourself? Did someone encourage you today? Did someone ever give you a hug? Did someone ever cheered you up? Did someone ever say you were right although you actually weren’t? Did you ever receive a present by a person you like? Did someone smile at you today? If yes, smile back. If not, be the first one to smile. Because if you could answer three questions with yes, you are better off than most people in the world.

What a wonderful life I’ve had! I only wish I’d realized it sooner. ~Colette

If you want to be happy, be. ~Leo Tolstoy

Happiness is never stopping to think if you are. ~Palmer Sondreal

Even if happiness forgets you a little bit, never completely forget about it. ~Jacques Prévert

Don’t put the key to happiness in someone else’s pocket. ~Author Unknown

There is no cosmetic for beauty like happiness. ~Lady Blessington

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Laughing Women in the Dump of Pondicherry, India 2016

Just remind yourself what you have and not what you don’t have. You will see, that will make you happy. Sustainably happy.

“Oh my God, I have to take a picture of that.”

by Mia Windisch-Graetz

But what does that mean anyway? It is the otherness, things we have never seen before or things we cannot relate to ourselves. Things like an entire family (including parents, their three kids and a dog) riding on one motorcycle. Things like colour-faded billboards that look like they have been out for the past five years. Things like people eating from the garbage. Things like people working under bad conditions in the dump but still find a reason to smile. Things like orphanages enjoying nothing more than to play with you. You, the girl or the boy who came all the way from Paris. You, the person that is not used to all of this.

You may be surprised. You may be disillusioned. You may be happy or sad. However, one thing is for sure: one can tell that you are not from Tamil Nadu. Not only because you look different. But also because you behave differently. You are dressed differently. You eat differently. You have different gestures. Why do you shake your head? What does that mean? And why do you always take tissues or a toilet paper roll with you when going to the bathroom?

While being in India, the intention of most of us was capturing every single moment that proved the unfamiliar, the otherness. However, as all of us realized, most people we encountered in India just felt the same way about us. One of the students even said “I feel like in a zoo”  because guess what: it was not only us, the let’s say strangers, the tourists, the volunteers or whatever we call ourselves taking pictures of them, but also them taking pictures of us. Sometimes if felt like they were even more fascinated by us than we were by them. As if we were some sort of celebrities. Their fascination, however, was almost contagious! At the Chidambaram temple it eventually reached a point that we took pictures of them taking pictures of us. Without having made these interesting encounters outside of Auroville, we would have experienced India in a different way. Thank you.

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Fascination at the Chidambaram temple. Image Credit: Mia Windisch-Graetz

A Visual Insight Into a Sustainable Fashion Business

By Mia Windisch-Graetz

Check out some pictures I took during my time working for Uma Prajapati, ethical fashion designer and founder of Upasana based in Auroville, India.

 

 

“I am Full of Hope for the Future”

Sustainable fashion designer Uma Prajapati talks about bloody cotton, high-speed trains and why she never wanted to become a business woman.

DSC00121Uma Prajapati in her apartment in India. Image Credit: Mia Windisch-Graetz

January 7, 2016. 3:22 P.M. Auroville, South India.

“Hold on tight or you won’t survive,” I keep telling myself while sitting on the back of Uma Prajapati’s motorcycle. The rebellious driving style of the fashion designer and founder of Upasana clearly reflects her obstinate approach to her career path. We are on the way to her apartment, where I interview her over a cup of tea. Besides her impressive book collection, design furnishings and a kitchen everyone in their twenties can only dream about, it is her story that fascinates me.

MIA WINDISCH-GRAETZ Tell us about your career progression, where you studied, where you worked, who influenced you.

UMA PRAJAPATI After I finished my studies in economics in my hometown Bodh Gaya, I went to New Delhi. There I did my major in fashion design at the National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT) from which I graduated in 1994. Then, I worked two years for the European fashion market in Delhi. For a design project I came to Auroville in 1996. I remember I only had 2,000 rupees in my pocket, less than 30 euros. Actually, I was supposed to be there for two weeks but those weeks turned into years. And well, I ended up creating Upasana in 1997. Wow, it’s now been twenty years since I first got here.

MWG What does sustainable fashion mean to you?

It means to care. Once you start to care about people and the environment, the ways you make decisions will change. This twist in your mind comes naturally. The way you think changes. And your plans change. You really have to plan ahead to dodge around big conglomerates that only want to make profit.

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MWG What inspired you to create Upasana? 

UP A couple of things. A little more than ten years ago, thousands of cotton farmers in India committed suicide because of the rising costs of farming brought about by Monsanto. It has driven them to crippling debt. They felt they had no other choice. That really hit me. And change happens when it hits you. It doesn’t come easy but when you get hit and cry helplessly, that is when you find the change.

Since then it became very clear to me that fashion has to be sustainable. I worked in fashion and with cotton at this time. I had to live with that. I felt responsible for what happened. Many people in India pretend to not know what’s really going on. There is a seed mafia and farming communities are not well educated. I knew that everyone would just continue the way they work. Why is the world so unfair? Fashion is the second largest industry in the world. And it’s a really bloody business. When we started to work with cotton farmers in South India, it changed my life. What I could do to help these people? I had the choice to either write nasty articles and blame others, or I could just go ahead and change the way I work and consume. And that’s what I did. At first, it was hard but I realized that positive conversation has a far greater effect than negative conversation for a positive cause. I thought, Okay, I will give you fashion but I will make it my own way. I also wanted to create a space where young professionals from all over the world can come and explore Auroville through textiles and design.

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Upasana Spring/Summer 2015 Collection. Image Credit: Upasana

MWG You said ‘a couple of things.’ What else hit you?

UP There was an old lady. I encountered her in a village where I was running a project to empower local weavers in South India. When I was sitting there, next to our car, about to go home again, she suddenly came over to me. She nudged me and asked: ‘Would you support us too?’ I did not expect that and just asked her: ‘What do you want me to do?’ She just wanted to work and earn a few rupees a day. This woman was about sixty and still had a dream. The dream of only earning a few rupees a day.

MWG How is Upasana a sustainable fashion brand?

UP We only use cotton from local farmers. Going organic was the biggest change we have ever made. The clothes are made by our seamstresses and tailors at Upasana. And we only use high quality, naturally dyed fabrics that are made in India.

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Image Credit: Upasana

MWG Sounds very costly… Between ourselves, does it pay off?

UP To be honest, it really broke us financially. We did not realize how badly it would hit our business. I did it all wrong. I jumped in blindly. If I had known how difficult it would all be, I would have done things differently. Instead of taking a leap of faith I might have taken baby steps in the right direction. Despite everything, I am very proud of that move.

MWG Why did you choose fashion as your medium for social change?

UP Because I didn’t know anything else. If I had known music I would have used music. If I were a writer I would’ve used writing…

MWG Every project you have started so far has been very successful. You launched a concept store in Pondicherry and sell your clothes throughout India. You give TED talks, CNN reported about you, and local designers as well as people from all over the world come to work with you. Was starting your own business always a dream of yours?

UP No. I never wanted to start my own business. I wanted to be an artist. Even as a child I was obsessed with painting and writing poetry. It was clear to me that I wanted to become a painter or a writer. I knew myself well enough to know that I wouldn’t be able to make money. Making money didn’t interest me at all. But then I came to Auroville and well, look at me now. I don’t know why, but something in me accepted that I am a business lady now. It took me a long time to digest that.

MWG What keeps you doing all of this?

UP I love the community. Many people appreciate us for what we do, for being consistent and for actually doing what we truly believe in. Bringing a sense of value in the fashion industry is what I am very proud of. I have a good night’s sleep, you know. And I am really grateful for all the support we get.

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Image Credit: Upasana

MWG Did other girls you were growing up with have the same opportunities as you had?

UP Wow, that’s a very serious question. I can’t speak for other girls. I can just say that you have to jump at every opportunity life offers you. I just did it. When you keep on asking yourself questions like ‘Is it the right time? Can I? May I? Will I?’ and never risk anything, then you might risk that there might be no more chance. And the opportunity will be gone forever. Sometimes we just have to make decisions and act. I can think of so many girls in my class that had the exact same opportunities as I had but few put them into practice.

MWG Do you think people consciously ignore the work that goes into what they buy?

UP We are living in a high speed train. Everything is so fast. Now you are relaxing and listening to me, but as soon as the interview is over, you will go back into the train. The speed of life is accelerating and the demands to our flexibility are constantly rising. Sometimes we manage to communicate through three technical devices at the same time. Everyone is on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp. And we are expected to respond within seconds. There is such an overload of information. The question is, How do we process all of that? Our attention is limited. Being quiet enough to make a conscious choice is very hard nowadays.

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I personally need to mediate and do yoga for at least thirty minutes a day. It is challenging to make a conscious choice in times like these. When we hear that Africa suffers we say ‘Ah, that’s horrible!’ but a few seconds later, we forget about it because we get a Whatsapp message from a friend or see a funny post on Facebook. News touch our brain cells for just a few seconds and only a moment later, they do not exist any more. Because we have other problems. Because we do not feel responsible and don’t have time. I think that many people simply don’t know that the consumer has the power to make a conscious choice and change the world. So I would not blame anyone.

MWG Do you think that peopleʼs values regarding sustainability have changed in recent years?

UP Yes. Education is definitely changing people’s values more and more. Sustainability has never been such a big topic. It matters to us, our children and next generations. I am full of hope for the future! I am very, very hopeful.

Priya look 2015 (28)Image Credit: Upasana.

MWG Will they ever have the potential to compete with big fast fashion conglomerates such as H&M or Zara?

UP There will always be a market for both, as they address different target groups and meet different individual needs. I am sure that there will be more of a change but I can’t predict to what extent. There will certainly always be a place for people who want to promote an ethical lifestyle. Niche markets will always exist and find people who support them.

MWG In 2012 the second largest fast fashion retailer H&M launched its first conscious collection. Could sustainable fashion finally be going mainstream?

UP Not really. This idea sounds kind of utopian to me. We should see the world in many shades of grey. Nobody is perfect. And diversity is a beautiful thing. Let’s stay optimistic and say that although big companies will always exist, they may change their ways in order to become more successful in the coming years. People start to think differently, even if only at a slow pace.

MWG You are already working with many organizations and designers in India. Are there any other organizations or designers in your mind that you would like to work with? 

UP I am impressed how big the ethical fashion market in Europe is. I would like to work with the European sustainable design market.

MWG Which social development project are you most proud of? 

UP The little Tsunamika doll is still our most successful project. She is a darling. She is more than a living symbol. She is hope. She is love. It is impressive what a huge impact a small doll like her can have on people all over the world. In 2004, I wanted to help people who were affected by the devastation of the tsunami. So I employed women to make female dolls that are made of recycled waste that remained of the devastation. The doll cannot be bought or sold but only gifted. More than six million of them made it to eighty countries across the globe. And the Tsunamika story is told in schools ranging from Spain to Singapore.

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The Tsunamika dolls. Image Credit: Mia Windisch-Graetz

MWG  Where do you see Upasana in the next five years? 

UP Upasana has already inspired many students, organizations, designers, brands and people. We will just keep on designing for change. I want to do as many things as possible: Going international without going too crazy and breaking our neck, keep being financially sound and take baby steps to reach our goals. I see Upasana as a shining star.

 

Towards the end of the interview, the fashion designer suddenly jumped off the couch. Apparently, she was no longer in the mood to answer questions. “Let’s have more tea. We need a break.” After she persuaded me to try some vegan honey nut balls, (Prajapati’s lactose intolerance means one cannot find any diary products in the household), she offered me a ride back to my hostel for the night. Once I arrived, I posted a photo on Instagram and did some work for university while I kept my friends updated on Whatsapp. She was right. I was back. Back on that high-speed train.

By Mia Windisch-Graetz