Thursday, February 24, 2011

Telling stories that matter: Word Sound Power and The Bant Singh Project

I'm a big fan of Taru Dalmia, AKA Delhi Sultanate.  Dalmia has been bringing music, poetry and politics together in interesting ways for several years now. Here's his "Politrix":

Last year, Dalmia and some of his friends formed The Bant Singh Project, an "attempt to showcase the story and the legend of dalit singer, Bant Singh." Singh lost both arms and a leg when he was attacked in retaliation for seeking justice for his daughter who had been raped by upper-caste men. (Here's Frontline's story on the incident.

I like The Bant Singh Project for a lot of reasons. It's great to see artists who have politics. And it's better still to see them using the platform they have to help people with less power tell their own stories to a wider audience. This matters, because I for one don't believe the world is going to change the way it uses or distributes resources and power simply because people with computers and and microphones write or sing about it. Real change is going to require the ideas, voices and commitment of a much wider group of people than those found reading blogs or dancing away the night at Delhi nightclubs. And though I love to read and dance, it's good to see Mr. Delhi Sultanate and his friends taking their music out of the dance halls and into the fields. Whether or not it fundamentally changes the world anytime soon, it has has already resulted in an extraordinary--dare I say, revolutionary?-- new sound.

Working in collaboration with Bant Singh, the Bant Singh Project, has produced a 12 minute documentary and some excellent music. Here's the documentary:

And here's one of their songs: "Word Sound Power":
You can find more songs at the Word Sound Power website. If you like what you hear, you can buy the album to download, which is a pretty green way to go, all things considered.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Random thoughts--my school! by Kabir Arora

I was reading Mother’s article on education. It was beautiful. I was thinking if I was taught that way, life would have been a little better. I’m happy that I’m being de-conditioned; unlearning lot of things, just to be myself. Even at times feel like getting lost somewhere. Krishnamurthi’s beautiful words, his views on education soothe the wounded heart. He also takes the similar line. Individual being should be the focus, but our present system has lost the foresight. For our system it is important that our child completes his homework, submit assignments on time, clear tests and examinations. That is all our school life is about. 

At times I feel like writing a letter to my school Principal, who was leading  one of the city’s best institutions. The school had a very dark side. Violence! Students were punished physically and mentally. How can we combat violence in society by providing fearful environment in the childhood? I was never excited to go to school. Competing-worst of all human emotions was “the virtue”. I can’t convict all my teachers. Still there jolly presence made no sense. As there was no space for being the way one is. Jose Marti says that the teacher should not be instructor but a conversationalist. But in my school they were information providers.

Once my zonal leader asked me the reason of joining the fellowship apart from “Gandhi”. Without thinking I just said that I wanted to bring my imaginary classroom to the real world. During my Learning Quality induction & Village immersion, I was somewhere successful. When the kids used to draw on the walls, my thoughts board the wings of imagination. I was able to visualize their colorful future. When Shakti Singh, who looked like a pretty girl, constructed a temple of sand, I saw him as an upcoming architect of distant Non-violent India. These days I’m visiting the schools of Mumbai. Kids here too have similar aspirations- the way I had. I’m just struggling with myself-so that I can be a part of their beautiful future. 
Kabir Arora is an environmental activist and Gandhi Fellow.  To read more by Kabir, see the the links at the bottom of this post.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Making fun of meat

Since we've been focusing on food for the past few posts, I thought some mention of meat was in order. The greenest kind of diet is almost certainly a vegetarian one.  I'm not saying you can't be green if you eat meat from time to time. But you can probably be greener if you eat less meat. There are many reasons for that.  If you want some serious ones, look here for some basic information, or read what Jonathan Safran has to say in "Against Meat." 

People in Argentina eat the most beef per capita, but Americans eat a lot-- 27.3 billion pounds in 2008, according to the USDA.  That is a LOT of meat! The slogan there is, "Beef, it's what's for dinner!"  I'm not just not up to writing a serious essay about all that.  Instead, I'm going to make fun of it.  No, scratch that--I'm going to outsource that job to comedians in the US.  Here are a pair of funny beef videos: something from the Onion and "Cows with guns." Enjoy.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Photo feature: Buying grain from a village shop

by Lina Krishnan

I don’t know if too many kids nowadays know that rotis are made of atta, and that atta itself comes from wholewheat grain. I guess we are so separated from the process that we have almost forgotten these basics. I remember though, in my childhood in Delhi, one bought kanak (wheat) and took it to the chakki (grinding house), where it was first sifted, then ground into flour. The bright colors of the odhnis of the Rajasthani women who worked there, the golden color of the wheat spread out in the sun, the harmonious chak-chak of their sieves as they worked, it was all from another time and space. Now we buy boring packaged atta in a chain store, adding to the plastic on the planet, and distancing ourselves from the source. Which is why it felt so good the other day finding myself at a village shop buying grain. 

Ragi, the ubiquitous staple of Karnataka. It is ideal for dryland farming. Adding a bit of it to your daily diet gives a lot of energy, plus strengthens the bones. We got ragi grain for Rs 12 a kilo (plus Rs 1 per kg for grinding), as opposed to Rs 25 that one pays here at the supermarket for a kilo of ragi atta. What’s more, it was naati (desi) ragi, a lot more nutritious than the factory product. 

Shopping becomes a friendly encounter, with a leisurely chat about the crops, rain, his village, our route. Since we were tempted to buy quite a bit, and ground ragi doesn’t keep for so long, the shopkeeper offered to come along to the nearby chakki and explain that we wanted the grain only to be cleaned for now.
The chakki is a powerhouse on the go, despite working out of a limited space. 
It’s also quite a hub, so you get to meet neighbours as you wait.

Or watch children playing hopscotch
Wall art at the chakki: religious prints, a map of Karnataka and a world map

A village home. Even they use plastic pots now

Harvest drying, what a stunning sight!
Farmers put out their new harvest on the roads to be crushed by passing traffic

Cows find a handy trough and some shade from the midday sun

Okay, I guess it’s time to get back.
Lina Krishnan blogs over at Jude Sessions. It's full of good writing about important things. 
For more about food-related issues, check out the dhaba's food security page. And if YOU have something interesting to share, why not send it our way?

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Saving seeds: Natabar Sarangi goes against the grain

This week we are focusing on food. On Tuesday, Kabir Arora shared a photo report from last month's Millet Festival, organized by the Deccan Development Society and the Millets Network. He also sent us a link to this interesting video about Natabar Sarangi, who is working to save indigenous seeds in an era where Monsanto would like us to believe that genetically modified, copyrighted seeds are our only option.

But Monsanto is wrong: we can't afford to lose the knowledge of the past because it may hold the key to our survival in the future. Here's a bit of the intro that's posted with this video on Youtube:
Natabar Sarangi is just one of a growing number of farmers throughout the world who realise that if we do not begin to repair the damage taking place to our agricultural systems and our environment, we will lose not just our cultural identity but our fundamental right to a truly sustainable system of food security...Natabar continues to find, save and share his indigenous rice seed with local farmers.  To date he has managed to re-introduce over 350 varieties.

Now here's the video. 

For more about related topics, check our the dhaba's food security page.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Photo Report: Millet Festival organized by Deccan Development Society and Millets Network of India

A week or two back, I wrote about the green side of peanuts. Kabir Arora read the post and sent in this report about another aspect of green agriculture: millets. Millets matter not just because they are good for you, but because they use less water and are more resistant to the affects of climate change: heat, drought, flooding, etc. For that reason, it's good to have Kabir's report, and I would love to run more on the subject by people who know more than me.

Here are some photographs from the Millet festival organized by Deccan Development Society and Millets Network of India in Medak Andhra Pradesh recently.

Millets are considered to be the most nutritious cereals which can be grown in any climatic condition. They are drought resistant and at many places flood resistant, need minimum investment. With the spread of Green Revolution, millet cultivation was discouraged both by the government and society. But still Indian population is largest producer and consumer of millets. All over India millets are grown in rain fed areas with minimum use of chemicals-in other words they are a part of Organic Sustainable Agriculture. Mostly, millets are grown by Dalits, Adivasis and women. So they are the key for their empowerment. 

The Millets Network of India and the Deccan Development Society are working for the promotion of Millet Farming. Because of  their constant lobbying with the government, millets are going to be included in "Food Security Bill", that is the only positive thing of the bill. A couple of weeks back, they they organized the festival to celebrate the heritage of millets. People from all over India participated. Views like Medak for MilletsOrganic agriculture is just a tool, food security is the goal were put forth.

For more in formation information about organizing for millets, go to the website of the Deccan Development Society.
For more on food security, check out the dhaba's food security page.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

World Cancer Day: are we heading toward an American standard of cancer?

Treatment is improving, as is diagnosis. But it increasingly seems that humans--and the pollutants we manufacture, eat and breathe--are responsible for most cancer.

I think about cancer a lot. A good friend of mine in Pune has been battling it for the past 6 months.  Two of my grandparents and an aunt died of it. My mother and another aunt are cancer survivors. So are two of my closest friends from university and the daughter of another. So is the wife of one of my regular auto rickshaw drivers...the list goes on--and some nights it keeps me up worrying. The good news is that treatment of most forms of cancer is much more effective than it was even a decade or two ago. The bad news is that cancer seems to be getting more common than it was.

Tomorrow, February 4, is World Cancer Day.  This year, we are supposed to teach young people to avoid overexposure to the sun. That's a good idea.

But let's not forget that skin cancer is on the rise due to human causes: the sun is more dangerous than it once was due to the fact that humans have punched a hole in the ozone layer.

Pollution isn't just ugly; it makes us sick!
Other forms of cancer also have human causes. We all know that tobacco causes lung and mouth cancer. But our modern urban lifestyle is dangerous in other ways as well. Diet, pollution, environmental poisons all contribute to cancer. In fact, new evidence suggests that cancer may be almost entirely a human-made disease. British scientists studying ancient human remains have concluded that cancer was probably extremely rare in the ancient world.  That, my friends, is really an astounding revelation, if it turns out to be true.

In fact, even in the modern world, evidence seems to suggest that the more 'developed' we get, the more cancer we get. According to a study in the International Journal of Epidemiology, white Americans get more cancer than Indians who live in India. Diagnosis may have something to do with this, but other factors, such as diet and environmental pollutants, seem to be more important. (Indians who live abroad tend to have higher rates than Indians that live in India--in time, they may attain an overseas standard of cancer as well).

In most parts of the world, including India, cancer is more common in urban areas than it is in rural areas. Urban Indians may attain an American standard of cancer if something isn't done soon. 

What can we do? In the long run, we may need to learn how to live more simply: if we buy less stuff we don't need, there will be less poison in our rivers and air. We can start by making companies and consumers pay the full cost of the stuff they consume. (Bhagwad has an interesting discussion of this here.) For example, the full cost of the computer I am typing this on should probably include some sort of tax (either indirect or direct) to pay for the health affects of the pollution required to make it.  

Read this book.
In the short run, you should wash your fruits and vegetables thoroughly. A lot of heavy metals and pesticides can be washed away with water! Sure it's better to buy organic. But even organic food picks up a lot of poison in the transportation process--so wash.  There are many other ways you can reduce your exposure to toxics.  For ideas, read our review of Our Toxic World, by Toxic Link. Then go out and borrow or buy the book. That's as good a place to start as any.


For related posts, go see our toxics and trash page.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

India's new nuclear fantasy?

Pretending we can survive and win a nuclear war is not just wrong, it's dangerous
As much was we all worry about global warming, we sometimes forget that the worst kind of human-made climate change would be a nuclear winter.  That's why recent remarks made by General V.K. Singh, Chief of Army Staff, are so troubling.  In an interview run by Asian Age on Sunday,Gen. Singh said:
"Even if there is a (nuclear) strike in a particular area, we have developed a capability to move a certain force level ... which will not get affected (even if) the area is contaminated."

The Asian Age, to its great shame, seems to have accepted the General's words uncritically.  Here's what they wrote about the General's remarks:
This is significant given that Pakistan has been trying to build more nuclear war heads to negate the Indian Army's traditional edge in conventional forces. This also means a nuclear attack will not cripple the Indian Army or stop it launching retaliatory operations.
Hiroshima Dome, 1945
I'm sorry, but I'm just not buying the idea that any army on the planet has the technology to walk through a nuclear wasteland and fight. And even if they did, what would be the point? Even a small nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan would likely kill millions, if not hundreds of millions, directly. The resulting contamination and climate affects would kill many more. In that scenario, can anyone imagine wanting to send our army to occupy another country? Sorry, but I think our soldiers would be needed at home to save anyone who could be saved.

In October '09, I argued that well-tested hydrogen bombs and major increases to our defense budget would not make us safer.  Neither will preparing our soldiers to march through nuclear deserts.

However, if leaders in the government or the military are committed to fighting after a nuclear war, they might want to see if they can jump start this recently canceled US defense program. (Follow that link, it's funny.) 

For more radioactive posts, check out our toxics page.