Chidambaram and Pichavaram Excursion

Our first stop was the market to grab some fruits for our breakfast

Our first stop was the market to grab some fruits for our breakfast

At the Anandha Bhavan we had Idli-Sambar, a typical South Indian breakfast, along with Medhu Vadai a popular snack in Tamil Nadu.

At the Anandha Bhavan we had Idli-Sambar, a typical South Indian breakfast, along with Medhu Vadai a popular snack in Tamil Nadu.

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Chidambaram temple is a Hindu temple dedicated to Lord Shiva located in the town of Chidambaram, Tamil Nadu, South India. The temple is known as the foremost of all temples (Kovil) to Saivites and has influenced worship, architecture, sculpture and performance art for over two millennium.

Chidambaram temple is a Hindu temple dedicated to Lord Shiva located in the town of Chidambaram, Tamil Nadu, South India. The temple is known as the foremost of all temples (Kovil) to Saivites and has influenced worship, architecture, sculpture and performance art for over two millennium.

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Kali is the goddess associated with empowerment, or shakti. She is the mighty aspect of the goddess Durga. The name of Kali means black one and force of time, she is therefore called the Goddess of Time, Change, Power, Creation, Preservation, and Destruction.

Kali is the goddess associated with empowerment, or shakti. She is the mighty aspect of the goddess Durga. The name of Kali means black one and force of time, she is therefore called the Goddess of Time, Change, Power, Creation, Preservation, and Destruction.

Pichavaram mangrove forest, the second largest in the world

Pichavaram mangrove forest, the second largest in the world

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-Chrystal Vavoulidis

A Commercial Project by Unilever: Discrimination of Skin Color in India

As internet users, we are all exposed to a number of YouTube advertisements every time we are connected, unless we blocked them. During my time in India, I witnessed a few interesting online videomercials that were designed to be geographically-targeted. In India, it does not require watching more than one or two ad campaigns to understand that the media exclusively employs light skinned actors. However, a commercial for a so-called anti-pollution cream especially got my attention. Knowing that pollution is a tremendous issue in India and often seeing women in Pondicherry, putting a scarf around their head to protect their faces in traffic, I was intrigued from the start. In the video, a young light-skinned female plays a typical Indian woman washing her face with the product after realizing that a scarf does not protect her skin “against dullness caused by pollution particles”. The face wash promises to “extract all pollutants from the inside” and yield a “glow and fairness on the outside”, owing to its activated carbon “that has purifying power”. I was completely confused as soon as I heard the advertisement and saw what was written on the packaging: “Pond’s pure white face wash.” However, what really shocked me was at the end, when I saw Unilever’s logo.

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Pond’s is a brand of beauty and health care products owned by Unilever, world’s third-largest consumer goods company. When I visited Pond’s website, their brand philosophy expressed how each product brought out the best in women’s skin that was linked to its fairness. Valuing fair skin can carry two definitions: fairness either implies beauty and physical attractiveness, or suggests being light in color, meaning a skin of light complexion. Here the direct association made between beauty and light skin is patently clear, furthermore, the idea of a whiter skin connected with “purity”. This “purifying power” is what Pond’s promises to provide to their customers. The “purity” again seems to hold a dual denotation here: it does not only indicate being hygienically-clean, but it also qualifies being of unmixed ancestry or origin. Pond’s does not solely rely on rhetorical techniques to persuade women in buying their products but carefully exploits and accentuates discrimination of skin color, on the pretext of offering a solution to avoid pollution effects.

In a country like India, where both race and caste underlie extreme inequalities and prejudices that are based on birth, Unilever commercializes these deeply-entrenched social stigmas to peddle skin-whitening products for profit. After further research into their advertisement campaigns, I encountered no shortage of more disturbing content. The Anglo-Dutch corporation offers a prescription for those who have dark skin: buying Pond’s products makes you whiter, more desirable, and even helps you find love.

The Advertising Standards Council in India published certain guidelines in May 2014, concerning skin lightening and fairness improvement products. Communicating discrimination of skin color through advertisement, using post-production visual effects to enlighten the skin of the model or associating the darkness or the lightness of the skin color with a socio-economic strata were articulated as a major concern for the sector. As a matter of fact, Pond’s advertisement campaigns seem to have gotten less negligent of these issues through the years, if not completely ethical, nor sensitive about the matter.

Click to see difference between a recent campaign (2014) and an old campaign (2008).

The more I discovered different advertisement campaigns, the more my ears got used to hearing the slogan: “Pond’s – White Beauty”. If Unilever wants to invest in creating a positive social impact in the countries where they sell their products, they should have undertaken the responsibility by changing their brand’s message before they dedicated a whole section of “Sustainable Living” on their website.

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-Cansu

Chocolate Can Help Save the Planet

save worldWhile the above phrase is meant to be a joke, it actually is quite true. The cacao tree can aid in the healing of not only Earth but humans well.

Sustainable cacao tree growing is not only environmentally friendly, but assists in providing natural balance for forest vegetation. Also, it can grow simultaneously next to 50+ types of other trees (including the coconut tree which is very important to India considering it is one of the top exporters of coconut in the world) which naturally pollinate the cacao tree and therefore requires minimal, if no, use of chemical fertilizers.

cacao podsI know I stated that chocolate can heal humans and that might be a little farfetched. However, there are certain properties of the cacao bean that are beneficial to humans and can aid in improving our health. Consuming dark chocolate, in small quantities of course, can improve heart health, lower blood pressure, and packs some serious powerful antioxidants.

There is already a huge chocolate industry, so why are environmental and health benefits still being discussed? While that is correct, the industry is not all sunshine and rainbows. There is a darker side to the cacao industry which is not sustainable to human beings.

Luckily, the dark side of chocolate does not seem to be present in India, at least as much as in other parts of the world. India is not necessarily known for its cacao industry although many big chocolate companies, such as Cadbury, Mars, Hershey’s, actually do get their beans from India. However, the farmers in India sell all their beans to these big companies; meaning both the good AND the bad beans are going into the chocolate that you more than likely buy. These big guys aren’t too keen on superior quality.

That is starting to change. There is a movement in the chocolate making industry now to follow what is known as the bean-to-bar process. I must admit that I had no idea what this was until I was introduced to a wonderful social enterprise here in Auroville called Mason & Co Craftsmen of Chocolate.  This process of directly making the chocolate bars you consume straight from the bean itself (and not from pre-made bulk chocolate that is melted down and molded into bars) not only allows for better flavor and purity, but also allows the farmer to harvest a better quality product and be able to receive fair prices for his beans.

mason cacao roastingmason chocolate barMason Bars 3It was not apparent to me at first, but now, after studying this company, I can see how almost anything can be under the umbrella of sustainable development. How working directly with farmers to improve their crops to obtain a fair trade value provides the income needed for the farmer to support his farm and his family. How with improved crops it in turn improves the quality of the cacao beans used to make chocolate. How even deciding to plant cacao trees in the first place helps the Earth’s natural soil components while also aiding the vegetation surrounding it and naturally keeping away pests so that there is no need for artificial pesticides.

Next time you buy some chocolate, research the company before you do and see whether they are on the right track to help heal the planet while of course at the same time providing you with a delicious treat.

I think I’m going to go take a chocolate break now…

 

*All images courtesy of Mason & Co.

The Role of Sexuality in Indian Society

Britain came to India in the 17th century. For over 300 years the British ruled India, exerting enormous influence over the economy, the laws, and the ways of thinking of one of the world’s oldest civilizations. Then they just up and left (more or less).

Now India has had to live with that colonial influence and Western way of life while still trying to hold on to their own culture, which has played out quite interestingly in the rights of the Indian population to be homosexual or transgender.

It is legal to be transgender, but illegal to be homosexual.

The legal acceptance of transgender stems from that fact that it is not viewed as sexuality, but simply a matter of gender: male or female. However, just because the law has made it so (even going so far as to declare transgenders to be a third gender) does not mean that society has accepted transgenders with open arms.

Homosexuality is an entirely different matter. It is a subject that is quite sexual in nature and simply a question of being either of the male or female gender. Intercourse between two men is considered to “against nature;” a violent act; and therefore even a consenting adult can be put in jail for up to 10 years simply for having sex with someone of the same gender.

In the Indian Penal Code, the 377 law, established during the British colonial era in 1860, criminalizes homosexuality as “carnal acts against the order of nature.” The LGBT community in India saw a hope for their rights though in 2009 when the Delhi High Court ruled that this law was a violation of fundamental rights. The victory was unfortunately short lived though as four years later the Supreme Court reversed the lower court’s decision, citing that it was a matter for Parliament to decide and not the justice system.

So besides being a taboo subject, since being homosexual is illegal it is therefore very hard for organizations to even form to help those in need. To provide information on safe sex practices, a safe space to simply discuss, or even just a place to be where someone doesn’t have to hide who they are. An organization we visited here in India, Sahodaran Community Oriented Health Development Society (SCHOD), is trying to do just that though.

At the moment SCHOD focus is to educate the LGBT community in regards to safe sex practices to lessen the cases of sexually transmitted infections and HIV/AIDS. However, the ultimate goal is the rights of the minority community they belong to. Our presenter, Sheetal, formally Rajesh, provided us with an eye-opening story of her life and her freedom of being able to transform from the male body she was born into to the female she was meant to be. However Sheetal and her organization have a long fight ahead of them.

So, in a nation determined to be still developing, though it claims to have the world’s largest democracy, where is the line drawn on what the government can and cannot tell its citizens they are allowed or not allowed to do? Should individuals of a country stand by and allow a government to tell us who we are and are not allowed to love?

Love is Not a CrimeThe Independent

This subject though is really an issue of fundamental human rights. I cannot imagine how frustrating it must be for people of one country to look at those of another and be envious of the rights afforded to them (I am specifically thinking of India and the United States, though the US is by no means perfect). It is a complex problem of allowing each country to uphold its own traditions, customs, culture, etc. However, there are certain fundamental human rights that should globally be the same.

If you would like to read more on the subject, check out these articles.

 

– JLH

Clothes Aren’t Going To Change The World: Uma Prajapati Is

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Uma Prajapati, the founder of Upasana, embodies this quotation to the fullest. Based in Auroville, India, Upasana is the overarching company comprised of multiple different brands of sustainability from organic clothing, tsunami relief, waste management, social responsibility, empowerment and growth. Since working with the brand to increase consumer literacy about organic cotton, I’ve been completely inspired.

Uma Prajapati. Image courtesy of aurovilleradio.org.

Uma Prajapati. Image courtesy of aurovilleradio.org.

I spent some time talking with Uma today and what she had to tell me absolutely overwhelmed me. I wasn’t overwhelmed in the sense that I felt panic or loss of control, but in a sense that I was utterly affected by her story.

Uma came to Auroville in 1996 and after a year founded Upasana. Her aim was to bring India’s textiles to Auroville, so after sourcing from around 16 different states, the company began to develop traditional textile and fashions. It wasn’t until the devastating tsunami hit India in 2004 that Upasana started to transform. This devastating natural disaster killed nearly 230,000 people and affected the lives of 1.7 million in 14 different countries. The company was working to help pick up the pieces through various social projects. Uma ended up working with organic cotton farmers and became profoundly changed with what she learned.

“When I began to work with cotton farmers, I began to know our big brother, Monsanto. I had no idea. I didn’t know there was a seed mafia. I didn’t know that there was a chemical mafia. I didn’t know farmers were committing suicides due to the way the whole economy is structured. They feel so vulnerable. The whole thing hit me so hard,” she said.

Because of this, in 2010 Upasana declared that it was consciously taking the step into becoming organic to support the farming community. She told me that it just blew her mind when she found out that 25% of the world’s insecticides and pesticides get used in one single crop of cotton. She continued to reveal that fashion is corrupt at the very base level, that it can’t even support the people working to produce the crops necessary to create clothing.

Uma questioned her role in all of the mess. “And in that process I chose to align my action and my thought process to the future and the light of the future, not so much thinking about who has to change right now. It’s me who will change and it’s my organization who will change and I will align myself to the future. This is where the sustainable fashion as an option came to me, that if I had to continue doing fashion, it will be only this or I’m done.”

It was this point in the conversation that really made me sit back and examine the world and the people who comprise it. What are we doing to our planet, to our people? If all fashion companies and all of the segments that make it up changed to operate in an ethical and sustainable way the total global carbon footprint could be drastically reduced and countless lives could be saved. If more leaders of companies had Uma’s mindset, the world would be in a much better state.

The future of Upasana lies in international expansion. “It’s time to tell the story to the larger community.” Uma had purposely avoided that route because she wanted to serve her own country and domestic market within India, first. She continued, “now, I’m ready to take this story of a small brand venturing into a fashion and trying to bridge from the farmers to the wearer to the whole line of organic.”

I asked her where she thinks the future of sustainable fashion is headed and without any hesitation asserted “sustainable fashion, it’s the only way!” If we want to we can choose to continue to do what we are doing and destroy the planet, but eventually we have to think about the future. The future lies in sustainability and a conscious lifestyle. It’s not just the fashion industry; many things need to change.

Uma’s passion and dedication to making a difference is exactly the inspiration that the world needs to achieve the larger goal. In a world filled with people and companies whose only concern is to make money over everything else, Uma is so refreshing. But, in addition to her commitment to make this world a better a place, her positivity and optimism for the future makes me hopeful that change can actually happen. I hope my contribution to the effort has even a minor impact upon perceptions of sustainability as a whole. I hope people make the change.

By Alexa Pizzi

India Has a Stray Dog Problem and It’s Breaking My Heart (Warning: Graphic Images)

This little guy has been spotted in several areas of Auroville, emaciated and starving.

This little guy has been spotted in several areas of Auroville, emaciated and starving.

I’m a serious dog lover and the situation I found as I arrived in India has been eating away at me. It’s breaking my heart, more and more every day. It doesn’t matter if I’m walking through Auroville, sitting at the hostel, or eating at a restaurant, stray dogs are everywhere.

We visited a recycling center outside of Pondicherry and this little guy followed me around.

We visited a recycling center outside of Pondicherry and this little guy followed me around.

I’ve visited cities where stray cats are running rampant, but never have I ever seen so many helpless dogs. From the absolutely tiniest puppies to full grown matted muts, they are emaciated, hungry and in need of a loving home. Most of the free-roaming dogs are of an ancient canine race known as the Pariah Dog, which exist all over Asia and Africa. In addition to being scavengers who live mostly on human-created garbage, they are often kept as pets by rural and urban slum households.

Stray dogs are often found eating garbage to stay alive. This was taken at the Pondicherry dump.

Stray dogs are often found eating garbage to stay alive. This was taken at the Pondicherry dump.

Most of the dogs I see roaming around are covered in mange, fleas and ticks with chunks of hair missing all over and dark bloody scabs. They are also typically very thin with most of their ribs popping out. Every time I see one of the dogs, my initial instinct is to run over and give them the best petting of their life, but I restrain myself. I want to feed all of them and take them home to give them all the life my dog has. Every dog deserves a warm fluffy bed, fresh food, water and basic health care.

This dog hangs around our hostel and occasionally sneaks up the stairs near our rooms. The sadness in this dogs eyes is overwhelming.

This dog hangs around our hostel and occasionally sneaks up the stairs near our rooms. The sadness in this dogs eyes is overwhelming.

These four pups were on the side of a walk way in Malappuram, India. They were just fighting to stay warm.

These four pups were on the side of a walk way in Malappuram, India. They were just fighting to stay warm.

It’s not uncommon to see an adult dog lying with her freshly birthed puppies on the sides of the roads or near food markets. It’s so sad to see them struggling from the second they are born. The outlook for their lives are so grim.

I saw this mom and her babies lying on the side of the spice market in Pondicherry.

I saw this mom and her babies lying on the side of the spice market in Pondicherry.

India is home to nearly 30 million stray dogs and in 2012 WHO estimated that India had around 20,000 rabies cases. These numbers are not only heart breaking, but should be an alarming wake up call to the Indian government to create change. The Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) has been trying to implement the recently approved National Rabies Control Pilot Project, however due to lack of governmental funds and outdated policies, the program has remained stagnant. NGO’s around the country are working hard, but without needed funding, cannot fully implement the program. It’s very expensive to vaccinate and sterilize the dogs, not to mention that there are so few NGO’s in comparison to the excessive amount of dogs. It takes a lot of effort to control the disease and the overpopulation.

With a population of over two billion people, millions of which have no guaranteed food, water or shelter, it may be hard to justify spending precious time and resources on saving the dogs of India. But, all hope is not lost. In the nation’s capital of New Delhi, police officers have been dispatched to safely collect and find homes for hundreds of street dogs. The dogs will be given proper care and veterinary attention before they begin training to become service dogs. The thought is to control the street dogs, giving them purpose by engaging them with society to benefit the people.

I’m not sure if this issue will ever be fully resolved, but with the right plan of action and support, many dogs could be saved and sheltered.

-Alexa Pizzi

In a landscape of burning plastics

Pondu Landfill

Click to enlarge

In India, almost all the waste goes to landfills, since people are really bad at recycling. In fact, half of what goes to the landfills in India is organic waste that should have been composted. A consequence of the lack of waste segregation is that PET-bottles, paper packaging and other items that should be recycled are contaminated by rotting food, making the items worthless.

In the midst of all the garbage, cows and dogs and a large flock of crows are feeding. Their presence make the scene feel surreal to me. I imagine cows should be on green meadows, not on dump sites? The surrealistic feeling is enhanced by a thick, toxic smoke coming from a number of small fires at one end of the dump. People in search of recyclable metals have set piles of electronic waste on fire in order to melt away plastic components and free the metal. Tomorrow they will come here to go over the ashes with magnets.

Pondi Landfill

Click to enlarge

Just next to a big cow, I see an old woman picking up some aluminum foil and putting it into a sack. We walk over to her. Turns our she’s 70 years old. She earns her livelihood from finding recyclable items like paper, plastic and metal on the dump and selling them to a local scrap dealer. In a day she earns about 100 rupies (approximately 1 Euro or 1.6 USD). Just one step away from where she stands is a big red plastic bag. The color indicates that it contains medical waste from a hospital, in other words syringes. We ask the woman if she’s afraid to injure herself. Oh no, she replies, pointing to her flip-flops, implying that they are sufficient protection for her feet. And then she shows us how she’s using a small metal stick when digging in the garbage.

I shudder at the sight of it. She’s not even wearing gloves. Personally I’m terrified of dirty needles and the risk of being infected with HIV or Hepatitis – or for that matter catching any disease from bacteria that might thrive on a landfill. I’m only centimeters away from accidentally stepping on a dead puppy. I tighten the scarf covering my nose and mouth, but I cannot shut out neither the stink nor the pain in my heart from all that I see. In my sturdy jogging shoes I head back to the rented bus that will take me home to my neat and tidy hostel room. But the Pondicherry Landfill stays on my mind. The old woman in the orange sari has no rented bus to take her home tonight.

A short film clip from the landfill

 

Post written by: Åsa Ljusenius, Linnaeus University

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India India Aims to Keep Money for Poor Out of Others’ Pockets

Yesterday, during an outstanding talk by Dave at Evergreen (several people said it was the best of the entire experience here), we learned, among other things, about the problem of corruption in India and elsewhere, especially where locals were not receiving the money that was supposed to be coming to them from the government. Today, the New York Times talks about it in this article.

Our Last Day in India

By Madeline Boughton

January 14, 2012…
After a night of celebration with dinner, drinks, gift-giving to our mentors, and swimming in the restaurant pool, we all slept soundly that night.

Saturday arrived, our last day in India. Bright and early we made our way to the dining hall in the Tibetan Pavillion. Our hostess Kalsang (and company) prepared our breakfast of bread and jams, fresh fruit, oatmeal, and tea & coffee. Around the breakfast tables the consensus was people going shopping in Pondicherry for last minute gifts and souvenirs or to the beach for some last minute sun, sand and surf. (A few people had to go into their NGO’s to drop things off and say proper goodbyes.)

Everyone was happy with their last day spent around the beach, Kulu Payam, Pondicherry, and Auroville. The evening wore on and people ventured out for some food before we had to load up the “bus” at 9:30pm. Some went to a restaurant called Paris, some went to Tanto’s and others went to the ever faithful, Visitor’s Center. Many of us spent our last rupee on those meals. We were sure to leave a nice tip for those poor waiters at the Visitor’s Center 🙂

The pavilions had rush and adrenaline in the air. A few of us decided to create a donation bag for the Social Awareness for Liberation Trust (SALT) Children’s Home. This home is essentially an orphanage and was severely affected by the cyclone. People came by and put toiletries in the bags, a few clothing items and flip flops, first aid products, and headlamps and flashlights. It wasn’t much or very fancy, but we were positive that it would be of greater use to them than it would be to us in Paris, especially since the home was still without electricity.

True to form at the Tibetan Pavilion, we also lost power (again) when everyone needed it, while packing! Thankfully we still had some candles. People continued to pack and pray that their suitcases would not be overweight.  As we brought our suitcases down to the front of the building, everyone was saying goodbyes to Sacha, Luke and Kalsang. There were also a couple of us that were left behind (of their own volition). Kalsang said she will never forget the night of the cyclone and the night after where we shared a soup for dinner because we had virtually no food and only a stone-aged method of cooking.

We all huddled up into a big circle with our arms around one another’s shoulders and began to sway. Some started getting a little emotional. I thought to myself, “Finally!” I had been waiting the whole trip for us to bond like this and sing Kumbaya! I began singing it. We didn’t make it through the whole song but it was sort of like a gigantic, 25 person group hug and we ended on that note.

As the bus drove away we waved goodbye. Some of us waved goodbye forever, some for many years, and some will return next year. Each person took away something different from this adventure. But we can all agree that it was a “Once in a lifetime experience.” Image

NGOs Galore!

By Madeline Boughton

The aim of this NGO Practicum is for students to act as interns or consultants to various organizations, assisting with their communication needs. Since day 2 we’ve been touring and visiting non-governmental organizations (NGOs). In only six days we visited about 19 different organizations out of 23. Each day is packed with multiple units where they present their goals and missions to students and answer any questions we might have.

The overarching themes of the NGOs we will work with are health and human rights, environmental sustainability, alternative energy, and sustainable fashion. These broad terms include causes such as women’s empowerment, Dalit rights (formerly known as Untouchables), children, sustainable and ethical fashion, sustainable living, radio, solar energy, waste management, and more! This NGO practicum truly offers something for everyone’s interest or passion.

With so many “good causes” it is difficult to choose just one. I could easily choose about 3 places I’d be interested in working for. The other factor that could make choosing an organization difficult is matching an organization with student’s skill sets. Some organizations need assistance with website building, creating pamphlets and flyers or creating short videos to display on existing sites. Fortunately, there is a wide range of skills within the group and we also have “media mentors” that will assist us with technical questions and projects.

After a few days of visiting 5 organizations per day, most of us had an idea of where we want to work. The remaining organizations and speakers were essentially lectures and informative sessions on the functioning and practices in Auroville. Even though we will wind up doing a major project at only one organization, we are now well informed on almost all that Auroville has to offer in terms of advocacy and will use that information when completing our projects and final papers. Some of us are quite anxious to begin work right away. I have chosen to work at the ADECOM Network. This agency advocates for the rights of the Dalit community. I am happy to assist this agency in any way in helping shed light on discrimination against a vulnerable people. We will keep you updated on how our progress and projects turn out.

Thanks for reading!

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