A call for action

By Dorothea Mursch-Edlmayr, written on 03.01.2018

The sustainable fashion brand Upasana stands for “design for change” with a socially responsible approach that goes beyond the product. It stands for the farmers, the weavers, the dyers and the whole production chain, with the mission to bring out India’s identity through textiles. Fashion Designer and founder of Upasana, Uma Prajapati set her principles on ethics and integrity. Over the last 20 years, Upasana has started many projects to support various local communities and to raise awareness for different social issues circling around fashion. In 2017 Upasana launched a new project “The Conscious Fashion Hub”. “Looking at our journey with all the social projects and actions and processes, we’ve realized it’s time to share that, to give a collective space to share and exchange. And since there was none we’ve decided to create one,” explains Uma Prajapati.

The conscious fashion hub logo-01

“The Conscious Fashion Hub” is a platform to share knowledge and start discussions about social issues such as farmer suicides in India, plastic pollution, fashion waste production, women empowerment and employment, craft empowerment and many more. The platform is initiated by Upasana and is based on principles of ethical business, slow fashion, fashion revolution, fair-trade and community empowerment. Karthik Subramanian is part of the communications team of Upasana and explains the intention of the project as the next step for the brand following its actions and ideologies. He says “the idea is to be louder, to make noise and to make people curious about the noise through sharing knowledge and information about an issue they interact with everyday in their life.” The project aims to bring together textile and fashion enthusiasts, students, artists, designers, social workers, farmers, businessmen, environmentalists and everyone with an interest in the country’s future to discuss, brainstorm and practice sustainability in fashion towards more consciousness. The first event was “The Desi cotton workshop” that took place in June 2017. Speakers and workshops gave the audience the chance to gain knowledge about the history of cotton in India, the lives of the people working with cotton, the dramatic consequences of a non-conscious interaction with our garments. The workshop allowed for a space to ponder, learn and encourage the participants to get involved in the processes of upcycling, natural dyeing and conscious styling.

The first event was dedicated to the topic of cotton because farmer’s suicide in India is the most sensitive issue. It is connected with one of the greatest resources in South India that lost its relation with the tradition and heritage of the country because of exploitation of people and the environment.

Priyadarshini Ravichandran, the photographer for Upasana was very touched by the Desi cotton workshop; “People need to know that there is a history behind textiles especially in India where it’s so closely connected to every region. It’s intertwined with the geography of the region, the arts, the aesthetics – we need to respect the history and art of this beautiful medium called fashion.”

Uma Prajapati’s entry point of conscious fashion is the farmer’s community since day one, to make a change for the people who contribute the base for almost every garment we are wearing. “Conscious fashion is about the story of what you wear and about the garment itself,” explains head of communications Madhumita Chandra. So we need to start to value the whole supply chain and the work and effort of every single person involved in order to understand the long way from the seed to the garment. Conscious fashion means responsible fashion and the understanding that every action has a reaction and each one of us can choose who and what we support with every single purchase. In order to start a conscious way of thinking towards fashion, people need to gain knowledge, people need to ask questions and people need to make the effort of getting involved.

“The Conscious Fashion Hub” is the platform for exchange and reforming perspectives towards a more conscious approach to fashion and it’s real price and value giving the people who plant the seeds, who weave and dye the fabric, who cut, stitch, sew and embroider the textiles a space to tell their stories and be heard. “The platform is a space of collaboration to endorse and acknowledge each other”, states Upasana’s founder Uma Prajapati. We all are involved in fashion in our daily life contributing and supporting consciously or non-consciously – exploitation, unethical treatment, overuse and waste of resources and overall violation of human rights because of a lack of knowledge and awareness. But this excuse of not knowing is not acceptable. Consciousness means making an effort that can result in a change in the bigger picture trying to make the world a better place. And in order to achieve this goal, we need to start a movement of conscious fashion that leads into a conscious lifestyle. Upasana and “The Conscious Fashion Hub” will continue to raise awareness for the issues to help people reconnect with their garments and India’s heritage and tradition with textiles. We need an ethical, sustainable and conscious way with a socially responsible interaction with the whole fashion community.

Read the article on Upasana’s blog as well and don’t forget to follow the Social Media Channels of The Conscious Fashion Hub. Join the movement for more consciousness.





I’m Wiped Out: An Auroville Experience

By Katie McGarr
Written on Jan. 6

I have been in India for twenty-five days. Twenty-five days, and going to the bathroom is still a trivial matter, and I would even go as far as to say my biggest challenge.  Most toilets in India are very different from the ones in Western culture — I like to call them squatty potties.  They are exactly as they sound, you go into a stall and squat over a hole.  Admittedly, this is not the most difficult part.  It is the post-excretion ritual that gives me the struggle. But wouldn’t someone of Indian culture find themselves struggling to adapt to the Western bathroom ritual?

Did you know that Indians generally find the Western wipe to be unsanitary? Westerners wipe, using paper, usually with their dominant hand.  That toilet paper either ends up in the septic system, which makes it harder for bacteria to break down the matter, or it ends up in the garbage where it becomes part of a land fill or ends up in the dump thus adding to the already unsanitary conditions.  In Indian culture there is no paper waste, allowing for the bacteria to properly break down waste and thus makes Indian toilets more environmentally friendly and sustainable.  In Southern India, one uses a bucket of water, or a hose in rare cases, and they use their left hand to clean themselves. As a result, the left hand is considered “impure” and you will never see an Indian eating their food with that hand as a result.  Indians cannot fathom why someone would the same hand they eat with, to wipe themselves after going to the bathroom. This leaves the major question—which method is actually more sanitary?


Sanitary is relative, and the answer may surprise you, as it did me.  During our week of NGO visits, we had a special lecture from Dr. Lucas, a man who has devoted his life to poop.  He would argue that the Indian toilet culture is more sustainable and better for the environment.  You may ask, but using paper creates a buffer between your and the waste, decreasing the chances of fecal matter getting on your hands and spreading illness. Most fecal –oral infections do not come from mishandled food but rather, eutrophic bodies of water, hypoxic seashores and nutrient-poor soil— a problem that conventional methods of sanitation causes.  Septic systems in India are more sustainable, as mentioned before, and in less time than conventional septic systems, the waste turns into highly nutritious soil that can be used as fertilizer.

It is uncommon for Indians to have a bathroom located inside of their house.  This is not a totally foreign concept, but in today’s Western society it is seen as outdated.  The mindset is, why would one go to the bathroom in close space and proximity to the kitchen? Many Western living quarters admittedly do have bathroom and kitchens located right next to each other.  This is related to the Indian concept of “in” and “out”. Indian’s believe that the “in” which is your space–be it your body, living quarters, etc—should be pure and clean. Anything that is dirty, is placed “out”, which is why anything associated with waste is usually placed outside (garbage, toilets, etc.).

So while convinced the Indian ways of going to the bathroom are hygienic and more sustainable for the environment, having toilet paper is still a necessity. Can a middle ground exist, where all cultures meet in harmony, in one single gesture? My trip to India made me think very hard about the idea of poop. Maybe Dr. Lucas found the solution that not only provides harmonious, sustainable comfort in the bathroom, maybe that solution still remains to be invented. In any case, I stick to my toilet paper, thank you very much.

A Day With Disposable Cameras

By: Beatriz Salgado


My day started out with the usual morning breakfast at Morgan’s, scrambled eggs with toast and milk coffee. Then, I went to the Matrimandir for the first time, one of the most intriguing experiences yet, but I’ll leave that for another blog entry.

I’ve had an idea for my personal project before I even left for India. Working with children in Brazil and establishing a genuine relationship was always something I felt passionate about. So, my idea was basically to get children to walk around Auroville and take photos of something, I hadn’t really thought about what that something was until I started volunteering at Wasteless. I mentioned my idea with Rihbu, the organization’s founder, and thought he could help. He really liked the idea and thought it could be great if the project complemented Wasteless’ new educational program kNOw PLASTICS. Together we decided the kids would take pictures of plastics. They were to think about where they got their plastics? How did they use plastics? And where they threw their plastics away?


I had already been to Aikiyam School the day before to observe the pilot testing for Wasteless’ new educational program, so I had met the principal of the school, Shankar and he said I could meet with the kids on Saturday afternoon. The next day, I got all my gear, which included three disposable cameras, a laptop, water bottle, my journal, and a charger and headed for Kulapalyum Road. While I waited for Shankar to confirm, I had a delicious lunch at Frites with my classmate Imani and later coffee and brownie at Marc’s café, an indispensable place to drink coffee while in Auroville.

Finally, I heard from Shankar and walked to Aikiyam School under the hot afternoon sun, not to mention it was winter. I went to the science room where the teacher and students were doing extracurricular work and waiting for my arrival. They usually have some activities during the weekends to keep the students busy. Before heading out for our photography exploration, I decided to talk to some of the students and interview them about plastics. Though they were a bit shy in the beginning, I was surprised by how much they knew about the issue.

To start our photography hunt, I divided them in groups, two girls, Deepa (13 years old), Roshini (13 years old) and two boys, Chandru (14 years old) and Chander (13 years old). Later, we met up with two other students, Arjun (13 years old) and Thiru (13 years old) who decided to join our expedition. I gave each group one disposable camera and explained to them the objective of taking the pictures.


The purpose of the assignment was to take photographs of plastics in their point of view by keeping in mind the three questions mentioned above. As soon as we stepped out of the school, they immediately started taking pictures of the waste they found right outside the school: plastic bottles, bags and even a CD! We walked along the main road and headed towards Kulapalyum village where the kids lived. As we strolled around, the students entered different shops and interacted with people explaining to them what they were doing and why they were taking photos of plastics. Then, we started heading to each of their homes. What was interesting to observe were the different perspectives they had on what was clean and dirty. One of the questions was if they thought where they lived was a little, medium or a lot dirty. Most of them answered little or medium and that it’s sometimes clean and sometimes dirty. I remember thinking, ok, so they live someplace decent. I was wrong though, what was surprising was their notion of somewhere clean turned out to be a completely different conception from my reality.


During the interview, they all answered that they threw their trash and plastics in dustbins in their homes and that they don’t throw waste on the streets. One student even said they separated organics from non-organics at his house and that after it was separated, the “people that do the duty comes to pick it up” (Arjun).

The small comfort that I did have, despite seeing those kids’ environment and their reality, was that they were still being kids and had so much fun taking photos with a simple disposable camera.


A Letter To No-one

Never to be Sent

My Dearest Family,

Who I love more than anything.

I’ve thought a lot about what I would tell you, the things I knew you wanted to hear, the things I know you don’t. I’ve realized there is no point in having secrets from the people I love the most, but I also know there are some things that are too painful to hear.

I’ll start with an analogy.

In dive training we were taught that a drowning man will always cling to the highest point— unfortunately for his savior, it is the head. He will dunk you under in a chest seizing game of chicken; so you train to remain calm, to hold your breath until the drowning man can get his own. Working in development is like going out into a riptide. At one point you lose your footing, then your buoy, without such things you start to question if you can float yourself. You are engulfed by waves, frantic energy tries to drag you under before you can even reach the man you are trying to save. When you get to him you’ve lost all your tools, and you are there, naked, hoping that you can hold your breath long enough.  Long enough to save him, to give him respite from the salt water gushing into his lungs: long enough to survive the pressure building in your chest: long enough for yourself, to keep yourself free from the salty flooding.

I feel like the drowning man myself sometimes, praying for respite as I am dragged farther from the shore, farther from familiarity.

Please don’t fret over my explanation, it is myself at my lowest point. Sometimes I ride the waves, I float for hours on calmer waters; knowing that if I don’t, if I keep kicking— I too will drown. To save something for yourself, I think that is the hardest part of development, that and the feeling of being naked in front of a drowning man.

Even as I sit here, I accidentally make eye contact with a man on the side of the road— he braiding elastic rope as I look over my lunch. He’s there every day, his place set in the stone of his life and I’ve never seen him make a sale. Sitting by the side of the road, braiding this rope is all he has, so he does it each day.

The only thing I recognize in this uncomfortable place is the sweet eyes of a dog, who visits me for food I no longer have, stays for a good rub and then meanders away to stare sweetly at somebody else.

All dogs seem familiar to me—even those that stare with guarded, alert eyes; ready to snap for some reason or another.

If dogs are the same everywhere, if cows have the same kind eyes, are humans not too?

Are we just the same? The best and the worst of us? Am I not the same as the man who braids rope on the side of the street? Who braids everyday but never makes a sale?

The best and the worst of humanity is in each of us, so how can I not feel fraternity for this man? For the drowning man?

Is it the ego that jumps in the way? That screams ‘I am not like anyone else!’ Is it the ego that separates us from the worst of human kind— murders and manipulators, those that knowingly feed off of others’ ignorance? The thieves who comprehend the harm they are doing? Should we not celebrate the ego then— the thing inside of us that separates us from knowing depravity? The thing that screams “I am not like him!”

But is it not also the ego that separates us from the man on the street? That whispers ‘I am not like him’ comfortingly in our ears?

In these moments I’ve turned to the words of the Mother, while alien, she provides a semblance of comfort:

… you are made up entirely of something which is the forces of Nature expressing a higher Will of which you are unconscious.

    ‘Only, one doesn’t understand this except when one can come out of one’s ego, though it be only for a moment; for the ego – and this is its strength – is convinced that it alone decides. But if one looks attentively, one notices that it is moved by all sorts of things which are not itself. . . .

    ‘From the minute you become unconscious of the Unity – unity of Force, unity of Consciousness and unity of Will – well you no longer have the perception which makes you quite separate from others, so that you do not know what goes on in them, they are strangers to you, you are shut up as it were in your own skin, and have no contact with others except quite externally and superficially. But this happens precisely because you have not realised in yourself the perception of this oneness of Consciousness, Force and Will – even of material vibrations’” 

So do we celebrate or lament our ego?

Is it our greatest strength or our most crippling weakness?

My dearest family,

These are the thoughts I cannot share, for if I did they would break your heart. So they shall remain a secret, familiar only to myself.

-Your loving daughter

Second in Line: Women’s Rights

Imagine you have prepared a delicious meal for your family.

The aroma of the freshly prepared dinner fills the room, your mouth waters with anticipation. You have not eaten since breakfast and you have spent the last two hours preparing your favorite dish for your family. You begin serving the meal, first to your sons, then to your husband, and lastly to yourself. To your dismay, you watch as the food disappears before your eyes. By the time you are finally able to serve yourself, the best food has been served to the men of the family and all that is left for you to eat is meager handful of rice.

For many women in India, this scenario is a common experience that stems from deeply held cultural beliefs that perpetuate discrimination against women. Viewed as the future of the family, sons are believed to be the most hardworking and deserving, and it is believed that they should be fed first with the best food available. It is considered a wife’s duty to her family to serve herself last, eating only what is remaining after the men and the others have eaten. Often this amounts to very little or no food at all. Ironically, while women are expected to be the primary providers of health and nutrition for their families, it is the same women who suffer the greater extent from hunger and poverty.

These deeply held beliefs rooted in religious doctrine, practices, legal systems, and cultural traditions require that women across India give up their individual rights and sacrifice their personal well-being for the benefit of their husbands, families, and community. Generally, it seems that these issues are deeply related to a lack of education and understanding. Many women are prohibited from gaining a proper education and are denied a voice in society. We have visited several NGOs working in Auroville to minimize gender discrimination, one of which being the Life Education Center (LEC). The LEC is an NGO that seeks to combat gender discrimination by empowering girls through education in order to build their self-confidence, self-worth, and to give them a voice in their families and within their community. While this NGO seeks to empower women during their time spent at the LEC, their programs are aimed to help these women develop skills and confidence that are sustainable and continuously developed beyond their time spent at the LEC.

The LEC was established in 1991 and has since provided a safe learning environment for women from Auroville and the surrounding villages. The LEC’s mission is to support women’s empowerment through education, seeking to “bring social change through a change in consciousness.” At the LEC, young women are provided a safe educational space where they learn skills and tools that enable them to continue their personal growth even after their time spent in the LEC. The LEC currently offers vocational training programs as a means to provide an opportunity to earn a livelihood and to help support their families. This vocational training program is a means to bring identity and dignity to women who are often oppressed and considered inferior by society. At the LEC, women are encouraged to connect to their inner creativity and consciousness, and to use their work as a way to reflect, build confidence, and express themselves through their craft. Not only do they offer a means for women to learn technical skills, they also offer entrepreneurial skill development programs, collective quilting classes, health and nutrition workshops, cooking classes with a focus on sustainability, and a career development program that helps young women in the college application process.


Eating With Your Hands

By Sam McKeown

Upon an aluminum plate sits a fragrant mélange of bottle squash kootu, vegetable curry, and seasoned rice. My belly rumbles from the scents of mustard seed, onion, turmeric, and coriander powder that perfume the air. My colleagues and I sit patiently upon the wood floor awaiting the completion of the prayer. Under the supervision of Devi, head of the Life Education Center, we’ve prepared our meal with careful consideration for the three doshas—pita (fire), kapha (water), and vhata (air). In traditional South Indian cuisine, each meal is meant to combine ingredients that help balance the dosha within the body, thus attaining both physical and spiritual balance.

By participating in the preparation of our meal, we’ve not only exchanged laughs, techniques, and stories, but also a small piece of our personal culture. For some, cooking represents a reflection of the self, a means for us to share small, non-verbal pieces of information of our personal journeys. Where did you learn to salt the water before you boil it? Why do you cook the onions first? Why do you use sunflower oil versus olive oil? For others, cooking is a source of anxiety, an exploration of opposing elements that threaten at any moment to taint the flavor of your meal and thus your self-representation. In a broader sense, cooking is a codification of collective values that has been and is continually reinforced generation after generation. Regardless of what cooking means for you, it can unanimously be considered a form of communication. An equally important form of non-verbal communication, however, is eating.

Upon my aluminum plate sits a small, plastic spoon. I glace around the room and notice that our Tamil hosts aren’t eating with the spoons, but rather their hands. Despite having eaten with my hands several times during the course of my stay in Auroville, there’s always a brief moment of anxiety before I begin. Being American and having seen a few different parts of the world, South India has been the first time I’ve experienced the culturally normative practice of eating with your hands. But what drives the fear behind this interaction with food? Is it fear of being thought of as messy, as I inevitably get rice on my nose every time I eat with my hands? Is it that most Western cultures have effectively created an implicit fear to the sense of touch in eating through reinforcing the use of utensils? Or is it simply a fear of trying something new? Perhaps it is a combination of the three. I take a breath and dig my hand, specifically my right, into the rice that has been doused in curry and kootu, scoop, and eat. The texture is both foreign and familiar at the same time, a texture I expected but still can’t necessarily put into words. It’s not slimy; it’s not hard or rough; it’s possibly a little sticky and creamy.  I glance around the room again and realize that not a single person has reacted to the rice that has clung itself to my right nostril. What has seemed to me a personal victory of overcoming neophobia to others is the simple act of eating.

When interacting with cultures inherently different than our own, eating is a meta-lingual exchange that can reveal an underlying dialogue. By picking up the spoon, I’ve reinforced my own culture and therefore my otherness from my hosts. By eating with my hands, there is the removal of a small but noticeable barrier between my cultural subjectivity and acceptance. The flavors of the meal are strong but complementary, subtle hints of spice balanced with the tangy acidity of tamarind. Before I’ve  realized, my plate is completely empty, my belly is satisfied, and my doshas presumably balanced. A collective lull has settled over the group, one that seems to transcend conventional cultural boundaries—the ubiquitous satisfaction of a good meal.

Indian Nature

5:45am. En route for a visit of the spectacular Kaliveli Lake. We encountered a roadblock and had to resort to a tight ride-share with Boomi and naturalist guide Shankar to access the wetlands. Flocks of Dalmatian Pelicans, egrets, heron, cormorants, painted ducks, flamingoes, along with dozens of other species make the critical watershed of Kaliveli Lake their winter sanctuary.