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South Asia

Sri Lanka’s Agricultural Failures

The collapse of the Sri Lankan government was a shock, but outside of regional experts, few were paying attention to the South Asian Island nation during the global pandemic to worry about their agriculture and economy.  Now is the time for us to reflect and consider.  There was a currency crisis, food shortages, energy shortages, a suffering tourism industry during COVID, a popular uprising, but underneath it all were the policies that destabilized the whole system.  Policies that sounded seductively enticing, and generated global admiration from the WEF and sustainable agriculture advocates. Sri Lanka received a glowing ESG score, but despite this international acclaim, it came with one fatal flaw—the policies didn’t support the people of Sri Lanka. 

I will focus primarily on the agricultural aspects of crisis (since it fits best with human geography curriculum) but yes, there were other political and economic factors.  Organic farming is only for the wealthy in developed countries that can afford organic food as a lifestyle choice, or the very poor in rural, underdeveloped regions that engage in subsistence agriculture without access to Green Revolution technologies.  Organic food accounts for 1% of the global food trade, and most of humanity relies of the technological advancements made by the Green Revolution for their food supply. 

Fertilizer is in short supply with the ban on synthetics.

The government of Sri Lanka announced a 10-year plan to transition to 100% organic farming, by banning synthetic fertilizers and pesticides (the very inputs that double Sri Lanka’s yield in the 1960s from the Green Revolution).  Over 30% of Sri Lankan farmland lay dormant without enough manure and other approved replacements.  Something else that we often forget is the modern agriculture is heavily dependent on fossil fuel usage for the heavy machinery to replace manual labor.  As the economy struggled, fuel prices went up and resources were rationed so that farmers couldn’t run their machinery and couldn’t get they products to the market.   85% of farmers suffered crop losses and overall production declined by over 20%, which might not sound like much as the 4th largest tea exporter in the world and a country that primarily consumes rice, crashing the rice and tea markets in catastrophic. 

Sustainable agriculture sounds lovely as a goal, but not if the needs of the people are not being met first.  Sri Lanka serves a cautionary tale for countries prioritizing international environmental aims over policies that will promote economic growth and human flourishing within their borders. The romanticism of organic agriculture is a fine choice for those who can afford it, but horrible to impose on those who cannot. 

Main Sources: Foreign Policy, BBC World Service Podcast.

Tags: agriculture, political, Sri Lanka, agribusiness, South Asia.

Cultural Mashups

The video I REALLY want you to watch is Video #3, but I need to explain a few things first because more than just the music and dance styles are getting mashed up, but cultural styles and influences are converging to create new forms of expression.

In the Punjab region (in India as well as Pakistan), the musical and dance tradition of bhangra is a deeply connection to local customs, religions, and traditions as they vary in different regions.  The coming of spring, weddings, and ceremonies were known for large-scale bhangra dances which are tailor-made for audio-visual extravaganzas.  In 2008, the song Aaja Ni Aaja was released and through online channels it became linked to a larger, global audience. 

VIDEO #1: The Bhangra audio element of the mashup.

Decades earlier, Elvis Presley was the biggest name in Rock ‘n Roll and was becoming a cross-over star, appearing in movies with infused with some of his hits.  The 1957 movie Jailhouse Rock made a hit song out of the song of the same title, infusing African-American blues and Southern Country. 

VIDEO #2: The Elvis video component of the mashup.

Both of these bits of cultural context are necessary for understanding the following cultural production that is embedded in the video below (finally! the video I really wanted to share).  It’s an ingenious mashup that combines the audio of a bhangra song with Elvis’ video.  At the core of the mashup is the idea that incredibly distinct cultural productions are not so incredibly different after all and the commonalities in many cultural expressions exhibit universal impulses. Music and dance, like all cultural expressions, are not authentically pure representations for one place and time, but have many influences and can diffusion in so many ways. Enjoy the “If Elvis were Punjabi” video!! (And how did I find this? On social media of course).

VIDEO#3: The mashup in all it glory…cultural diffusion and cultural convergence at it’s finest.

BONUS CLIP: I did go down a few rabbit holes writing this post to get some of the cultural context that I was missing and it was helpful for me to understand the South Asian culture more. India’s movie industry, a.k.a. Bollywood, has been the perfect platform to make many local, folk cultures to become more prominent and accessible to a larger, and more geographically dispersed audience.  Below is a video showing some of the differences between traditional bhangra dance moves with a more modernized Bollywood version.   

VIDEO #4: Just because it’s good to see the “old school” vs. “new school” styles together.

TAGS: culture, music, diffusion, India, South Asia.

Delhi riots: City tense after Hindu-Muslim clashes leave 23 dead

Mosque
Mosques have been vandalized as religious strife grips Delhi.

“The deadliest violence in India’s capital for decades leaves 23 people dead and scores injured.” SOURCE: BBC

It is so disheartening to see the news that India is undergoing a wave of religious unrest.  As citizen and immigration laws have been enacted that have a religious component to it, many feel that this is unfairly targeting Muslim migrants and refugees.   Some see this as the beginning of a delegitimization of Muslim citizenship within India. As people are protesting these laws, there are groups that are also a violently clashing with protesters in the streets.  Some are targeting Mosques, and the police have been unable to keep the peace.  This is some nasty business that I hate to see anywhere, but if you need an example of how religion can be a centrifugal force in a country, this is a perfect example  Here is an NPR podcast (and article) that also nicely covers the topic.

GeoEd Tags: India, South Asia, conflict, political, religion.

Why South Asia’s majorities act like persecuted minorities

“Mukul Kesavan, a perceptive Indian historian, sees this region-wide propensity for majoritarian nationalism as a sad if natural outcome of the awkward struggle to build new nation-states. The most egregious recent example is Myanmar, whose 90% Buddhist majority felt so threatened by a Rohingya Muslim minority of barely 1% that it sanctioned burning, pillage, murder, rape and enforced exile. Bangladesh chased non-Muslim tribes into India, and its once large and prosperous Hindu minority has dwindled alarmingly in the face of constant pressure. In the name of orthodoxy, extremists in Pakistan have viciously hounded not only Christians and Hindus but also Shia Muslims, Ahmadis and allegedly unorthodox Sufis. Sinhalese have historically dominated the island [of Sri Lanka], a fact forcefully reasserted in 2009 when the Sri Lankan army brought to a bloody end a 26-year-long insurgency by mostly Hindu ethnic Tamils, the largest minority group.”

 

Tags: religionethnicity, South Asiaregions, politicalconflict

Source: www.economist.com

The Real Threat to Hinduism: The Slow Death of India’s Rivers

Hinduism shares an intricate, intimate relationship with the climate, geography, and biodiversity of South Asia; its festivals, deities, mythology, scriptures, calendar, rituals, and even superstitions are rooted in nature. There is a strong bond between Hinduism and South Asia’s forests, wildlife, rivers, seasons, mountains, soils, climate, and richly varied geography, which is manifest in the traditional layout of a typical Hindu household’s annual schedule. Hinduism’s existence is tied to all of these natural entities, and more prominently, to South Asia’s rivers.

 

Hinduism as a religion celebrates nature’s bounty, and what could be more representative of nature’s bounty than a river valley? South Asian rivers have sustained and nourished Hindu civilizations for centuries. They are responsible for our prosperous agriculture, timely monsoons, diverse aquatic ecosystems, riverine trade and commerce, and cultural richness.  Heavily dammed, drying in patches, infested by sand mafia and land grabbers, poisoned by untreated sewage and industrial waste, and hit by climate change — our rivers, the cradle of Hinduism, are in a sorry state.

 

If there is ever a threat to Hinduism, this is it. Destroy South Asia’s rivers and with it, Hinduism’s history and mythology will be destroyed. Rituals will turn into mockery, festivals, a farce, and Hinduism itself, a glaring example of man’s hypocritical relationship with nature. The fact that we worship our rivers as mothers and then choke them to death with all sorts of filth is already eminent.

Source: thediplomat.com

This might be a controversial op-ed because it has a strong perspective on the religious and environmental dimensions of modern Indian politics…that said, I think it is well worth the read.  The Ganges is both a holy river, and a polluted river; that juxtaposition leads to many issues confronting India today. 

 

Tagsculturereligion, India, South Asia, Hinduism, pollution, industry,   environment, sustainability, consumption, fluvial

How Bollywood stereotypes the West

Hollywood’s view of India can be insensitive – but Indian films present clichés about the West, and about Indian emigrants too, writes Laya Maheshwari.

 

Nostalgia for the colour and vivacity of India turns into a snobbish belief that ‘Indian culture’ is inherently more fun and cheerful than the drab and lifeless world in France, the US, or the UK. The rule-conforming nature of Western society is seen as antithetical to ‘living it up’, which our exuberant protagonists are wont to do. Western weddings cannot match up to Indian ones; nor is Western food anywhere as tasty as Indian food. People residing in Western societies are just not as street-smart as our Indian protagonists.

 

Tagsculture, India, South Asia, media

Source: www.bbc.com

Pakistan’s traditional third gender isn’t happy with the trans movement

For centuries, South Asia has had its own Khawaja Sira or third gender culture. Now, some third gender people in Pakistan say the modern transgender identity is threatening their ancient culture.

Source: www.pri.org

Sometimes our assumptions about a society, and how they might react to cultural issues are just that…assumptions.  I for one was very surprised to learn that Pakistan had a a traditional third gender. 

 

Tags: culture, developmentpodcast, genderPakistansexuality, South Asia, religion.

What to Know About Diwali, the Festival of Lights

Diwali, one of the biggest holidays in Indian culture, is a five-day festival of lights celebrated worldwide by Hindus, Sikhs and Jains. This year, the traditional day of Diwali falls on Oct. 30, though celebrations span the entire week leading up to and following the holiday, which marks the triumph of good over evil.”

Source: time.com

This video provides a good introduction to the incredibly important South Asia holiday of Diwali. 

 

Tags: culture, India, Hinduism, South Asia, festivals.

India’s campaign to change cultural practices

“Television commercials and billboards now carry a message that strike at the heart of the Indian contradiction of being the world’s fastest-growing major economy and also where relieving oneself in the open is the norm in most villages. Research shows that one of the reasons for the stubborn social practice is the centuries-old caste system, in which cleaning human waste was a job reserved only for the lowest caste. Having a toilet at home is still considered unclean by many villagers. They regard it cleaner to go to the open farms, which can cause water-borne diseases, the second leading cause of death of Indian children younger than 5.”

Source: www.washingtonpost.com

An aggressive new campaign is ridiculing those who are no longer poor but continue to defecate in the open–even this UNICEF campaign (some language and low-brow humor, so use your own discretion) is working hard to change the cultural patterns and practices surrounding defecation and sanitation.  There are more cellphones than toilets in India and the lack of adequate sanitation and toilets is serious enough that that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made building toilets a national priority.  Comics are using their platform to bring this issue of uneven development to light. 54% of people in India do not have regular access to toilets and these comedians are using their platform to not only get some laughs, but to advocate for social change. 

 

Tagsdevelopment, poverty, India.

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