Unit 6 Destination Discussion - India
Advance Reading: Please read Chapters 7-10 of We Are Poor But So Many: The Story of Self-Employed Women in India, by Ela Bhatt. If you are pressed for time, you may wish to focus in particular on pages 167-175, 185-196, 208-209, and 211-219.
Please have someone from the group read aloud the following quotation. It describes a scene from the evacuation of a tribal village to make way for a new dam:
[F]or two years, the village elders had been traveling across the river to choose land and a new location for the village [….] None of the women had been included in the decision making nor had they seen the new land. […] On the eve of departure, Ambaben’s father-in-law announced that the government truck would arrive the next morning. ‘I am not going to hell. You go!’ her mother-in-law screamed; she had to be physically lifted and put in the yellow truck. One by one, the women in the family had to be dragged onto the truck, kicking and screaming. The women were the last to know about the decision to move; they had no say in the timing, the sequence, or the pace of moving out.
- What thoughts and feelings arise for you in reading this passage, and from Bhatt’s other descriptions of the displacement and resettlement of adivasi (tribal) communities?
- What are some of the assumptions and ways of thinking that might inform government policies that displace adivasi communities? Do you see echoes here in any of the events described in the other text for this journey, In Spite of the Gods?
- What other thoughts arise for you in light of the larger themes of our unit on the struggle against injustice?
In the passage from the introduction you read aloud for unit 3, Ela Bhatt recalls some of the reasons that first drove her to organize among the so-called “informal sector” of women workers in India. She writes: “To lump such a vast workforce into categories viewed as ‘marginal,’ ‘informal,’ ‘unorganized,’ ‘peripheral,’ ‘atypical’ or ‘the black market’ seemed absurd to me. Marginal and peripheral to what? I asked. The mainstream was shrinking and the margins were getting wider!”
- In your view, and in light of the reading, have the margins continued to grow wider in India since Bhatt founded SEWA? What role do globalization and other international forces play in this story?
- What thoughts and feelings arose for you in reading Bhatt’s final appeal for a more “decentralized” approach to economic and political life? How do you feel about SEWA’s way of doing justice work as a whole, now that you have finished the book?
- One of the images we hold at the core of our faith is that of the interdependent web, of which we are all a part. It’s a lovely image, when we consider its strands linking us to all the beauty of our world; it can be a deeply troubling image, when we consider the harder truth that it also links us to the suffering of our world. What does consideration of that sacred web evoke for you, in the context of what you’ve learned this week?
- In what other ways can we relate our faith tradition to the work being done by SEWA and by poor and working people around the world?