Pushing Against the Wave, Progress in India

Katmandu       Having not been able to meet with the ACORN India team for over three years given my inability to have my 10-year visa renewed, I was curious about what I would hear from their reports after my long absence on the ground.  Would we have made progress or just run in place?  The rightwing, communalist and hyper-nationalist government of India under Prime Minister Modi was a wave of resistance against the progress of our work in mega-slums like Dharavi in Mumbai and lower waged workers in Bengaluru, Chennai, and Delhi.  It was exciting to hear where we had jumped by leaps and bounds once the reports began in our first full day and a half of meetings, and where we still faced huge obstacles at every turn.

briefing on nepal political and economic situation from editor of Himalya Magazine with Vinod Shetty and Dharmendra Kumar

Perhaps the most significant victory was less than a week old in Delhi, where ACORN’s Dharmendra Kumar and our members had been fiercely lobbying the Chief Minister, who has become a sometime ally in our work there.  The campaign and victory are reminiscent of the Lifeline utility fights ACORN waged in Arkansas, South Dakota, and other states in the 1970s.  The Delhi government offers electricity subsidies for low income residences using between zero and 200 units of electricity where they pay less than 50% of the bill and between 200 and 400 units where they only pay 25% of the bill.  Over 400 units or kilowatts, the rates accelerate quickly.  ACORN noted that these breaks only benefit the meter holders, often landlords, and not the low-income tenants.  Since the landlord had multiple units, the single residential meter would show considerable use of electricity, meaning that lower income tenants were therefore paying the highest possible rates for usage.  We finally won a victory here when the government capitulated and ordered the sub-meters to be put in the names of the tenants, providing them the full subsidy that others were receiving.  Realizing that landlords will still drag their feet and resist these changes, Kumar and ACORN believe this could be a huge opportunity for ACORN to extend out work of building community organizations throughout the city.  The general progress in Delhi on many fronts filled many pages in my notebook, as I scribbled to keep up with all the news.

current political poster…how often do you see Marx, Lenin, Stalin, and Mao on an election poster?

In Bengaluru, Suresh Kashidan reported that he had failed to push the membership in our hawkers and street vendors union to 50,000 as he had hoped, but we had boosted it by 10,000 members to 45,000 now.  Bengaluru was largely holding its own, but Chennai in neighboring Tamil Nadu has added three thousand to 8000, and Mysore in southern Karnataka was a breakthrough with 8000 members.  The Hawkers Livelihood law has been implemented in backwards fashion with the town committee still not elected and the zones not totally sorted, but the process of licensure has been implemented with almost 15,000 hawkers licensed out of the 24,000 applications.  Suresh has identified and documented 130,000 hawkers, so it’s a slow road.  We are enabled to enroll people for the ID and into the social security scheme in Karnataka which is helping us grow the operation as well.

In Mumbai our Dharavi Project has managed to make inroads with its program into various corporate responsibility programs and can count a coup in now doing all the recycling in the Bloomberg building as well as adding other companies.  ACORN is also running zero-waste programs at several big trade gatherings including ones organized for big recycling companies by a German firm.

Believe me, this isn’t the half of all I learned, forcing me to consider how we can double down in India to increase the scale.

Please enjoy Norah Jones’  I’ll Be Gone feat. Mavis Staples

Thanks to Kabf.

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Going to Katmandu

Katmandu       Bells were jingling at 5 AM.  My window opened to a street that abutted a pond where a Hindu prayer space sat in the middle and on the other end were Buddhist stupas.  Were the bells a kind of call to prayer or a melodious bicycle moving in the early morning to work?  I’ll never know.

I was in the Patan district, an older section, of Katmandu.  Waking up from time to time with jet lag, the city seemed so quiet.  Other times the silence was pierced by dogs barking, singly and in packs, perhaps below me or maybe a kilometer away.  I knew I was in Katmandu, but it felt like India, except when I listened to the different language cadences.  I could be fooled though.  Everyone understood the Hindi that my colleagues spoke.  Indian rupees were taken as freely as Nepalese rupees.  The fast food shops served roti.  Signs advertised tandoori.

I knew I wasn’t in India, since I had been unable to renew my 10-year Indian visa successfully for the last three years.  Renewal in the time of Prime Minister Narenda Modi and the BJP, the rightwing communalist party, ruling on a hyper-nationalist, anti-Muslim agenda, made it seem like politics, given his attack on nonprofits and any foreign ties, other than the ones worn by his buddy, President Trump, but it could have as easily been incompetence since he privatized the visa process and had taken it out of the hands of consulates in the USA.  (Listen to Wade’s World where Vinod Shetty and Suresh Kadashan talk about India under Modi). Katmandu had not been on any sort of list of places we sought to organize or had short listed to visit, but when violence and unrest wracked Sri Lanka, where we had planned to all meet with the Organizers’ Forum, it became the alternative location where I might be able to meet for several days with the principal organizers of ACORN India in Delhi, Mumbai, and Bengaluru.

Bob Seger and his 1975 song was ringing in my ears on my journey to meet the ACORN India team.  Some may not remember parts of the song where he sang,

I know my plane is due
The one that’s going to Katmandu
Up to the mountain’s where I’m going to
If I ever get out of here
That’s what I’m gonna do
K-k-k-k-k-k Katmandu
Really, really, really, going to
If I ever get out of here
If I ever get out of here
If I ever get out of here
I’m going to Katmandu, oh

Take my word, I didn’t remember every word of the song either, but I lived that song, and it was in my head thanks to Qatar Airways.

My trip had started well enough.  Jet Blue got me squared away to JFK.  I boarded Qatar Airways to their hub in Doha, and all was well until arriving at their five-year-old, $17 billion-dollar airport.  My flight reservation, booked through Expedia, had me leaving at 5:15 PM and landing at 1AM, so I had about an hour to make the plane, so I needed to hustle.  There was nothing on the departure board at all.  A security guard pointed out the information desk.  They couldn’t have been more helpful as they told me for the first time that, no, my flight left in eight hours at 12:40 AM and didn’t arrive until 8:15 AM!  As Seger sang,

I know my plane is due
The one that’s going to Katmandu
Up to the mountain’s where I’m going to
If I ever get out of here

It doesn’t end there.  Once Qatar spent $17B with six years of overruns on their airport mall monstrosity with its wide and nearly empty concourses, it seems determined to make Doha the Bermuda triangle of air travel.  They sent me a note Friday night in Katmandu telling me they had also unilaterally changed my flight time from 2AM Monday morning to 8:50 PM Sunday evening so that I could land in Doha at 11:45 and spent the night walking through desolation row at Hamad International Airport.

Make that more of a travel warning, than a travel tip.

Please enjoy Bob Seger’s Katmandu (Live).

Thanks to KABF.

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