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June 03, 2007

“Leave this country. You have created a mass wave of tension.”

Seriously! Everywhere I go/am going. As you may know, this coming week I intended to visit Ranthambhore Reserve, and work with the Dastkar women’s group there and their craft shop. With the roads blocked and unpredictable violence it is now unsafe for me to go.


But here’s the deal. Because I extended my stay in India until June 29 to do some traveling after my project is completed, I have some wiggle room. I will take the next week to travel elsewhere, yet to be determined, and hope that in this time the conflict eases. I really hope it does because there is another group I wanted to visit recommended to me by both Dastkar and the Ford Foundation, SEWA Mandir in Udaipur. If not, I may reconsider the trip I had to cancel due to the Sikh riots in the Punjab. This tour would allow me to observe the process of governmental microfinancing. Rajasthan tour would be a lesson in private ventures and self-help group finance.

Though I am in Mussoorie for an extended weekend “vacation” I’ve also been able to do some work here. I visited a local compound where people from the lowest poor classes are living. Many of the women who live here do knit-work in addition to their domestic duties which they sell to local middleman for export or retail. The women are paid by weight for the work they do. My rough calculations put their wage at 4 rupees per hour. That’s about 10 CENTS per hour. My god. Working with Dastkar has helped me understand the larger process of production and marketing. These women may as well be totally unskilled. Their handwork is decent, but easily replicated by machines. Furthermore, they do not have access to quality raw material at reasonable rates. The middleman provides the yarn. He has access to the market and raw material in the ways these women don’t.

Another barrier the women have in reaching the market is the absence of a retail space. The women could never come up with the capital to start their own shop. I am not aware of NGO presence here and as far as governmental assistance, the women have ZERO faith in any governmental ventures. In 1994 the political party in power, threatened in their sovereignty, decided to vie for two separate states, now Uttaranchal and Uttrakhand. The poor supported this split and many died thinking that they would receive the benefits the party tempted them with. Healthcare and pensions for the old are nothing more than phantom dreams that haunt these suffering people.

Another factor that is difficult to overcome in vending garments, one of the most important variables in the sale, is the style and design of the piece. The women have no idea how to cater to current market tastes. They are not privy to information regarding design and development so catering to a market with ever-changing product preferences, oftentimes reliant on fickle global trends, is impossible for them.

They want me to help them export. ???.

In other news, I am finally starting to realize that doing research without language skills is absolutely ludicrous. I have used at least 6 translators since arriving here. My interviews and tours are totally reliant on their understanding of my project as well as their own methods of communication. One time I asked a question to be translated and the translator just answered it instead of allowing the interviewee to speak! So I started Hindi lessons yesterday and will have two more hours of one-on-one practice today. After my short-sighted attempt to learn tone-sensitive Mandarin, learning to speak Hindi is a piece of cake.

Posted by tvanderm at June 3, 2007 03:02 AM


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