February 2007

Adimali is an agricultural town in the foothills before Munnar, surrounded by spice-covered hills.
This is where I facilitated my fourth and final workshop in Kerala.

communication and listening skills

Our stay and the workshop venue were organised by Carmelite CMI Fathers at the Vishwajyoti School.
One evening, we visited the Sisters at the nearby Carmel Jyoti Special Needs school.

this boy gave a beautiful smile and sang for us, before disappearing back into his own mind

This school was far better resourced than the one I'd seen previously in Mavelikara,
and also provided more appropriate activities like physio and gardening.
Churches seem to be taking the lead on social welfare for special needs children.

When I first arrived, Adimali town was filled with yellow flags.

One afternoon an unnerving number of jeeps rolled in from all around the district for a big march and loan mela.

Micro-credit was distributed to women of the Ezhava/Izhava community, ensuring an impressive turnout.

This was under the auspicies of the Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana (SNDP),
whose leader Vellapalli Natesan was visiting in grand style.

A few days later yellow flags were replaced by red ones, as the Marxist party prepared to come to town!

Sunil Khilnani's book The Idea of India details how for many democracy has collapsed into the simple ritual of elections, and narrow group-based politics. He traces the roots of this to changes in the operation of the Congress party under Indira Gandhi's leadership.

For more information on the SNDP and changing caste-based politics in Kerala, see this useful sociology paper by Caroline Osella (SOAS) & Filippo Osella (Sussex). Achyut Yagnik and Suchitra Sheths' The Shaping of Modern Gujarat paints a similar but more detailed picture for Gujarat.

For alternative pictures, see the WikiPedia entry for Ezhavas where the pro-SNDP author tries to rewrite Sri Narayana Guru's position as not having been antagonistic to mainstream Hinduism, conveniently glossing over the poor treatment of the community and the focus of his reforms. Hindunet has an 2002 interview with the SNDP leader

one of our nightly visitors!

construction exercise, and the end of our workshop

This was the last workshop I took part in, and though the numbers of participants were small, it was lovely fun and valuable practice for our local facilitators. They now felt confident in running workshops unsupported by outside facilitators, which is a big step forwards for AVP in India.

we later celebrated by visiting a previous participant, at their home high in the hills near Adimali

this involved a steep ascent in a trusty Mahindra Commander jeep - which proved up to the job!

breadfruit flower and cocoa pod - some of the many crops grown on the local small-holdings -
including bananas, coconut, cardamon, black pepper, mangoes and tamarind.

Most wild trees have been removed and the poor roads are treacherous in the rainy season.


Our local team of facilitators now felt more confident and experienced,
proceeding south for a final workshop at Mitraniketan, near Trivandrum

I was encouraged to stay on in Adimali by the fathers at Vishwajyothi School for a few more days, and a magic show they were hosting that weekend. This was a chance to relax, and see more of the children.


girls would often run from two guinea fowl at the school, knowing this would start a chase

The venue for our workshop had been the Sopanam Cultural Centre, which also provides vocational training. This celebrated its anniversary during my stay in Adimali.


performances at the Sopanam function

As we'd seen elsewhere, men and women danced separately and with completely different styles. The young men threw themselves into their routine with incredible energy, which was clearly enjoyed most by the other men in the audience - though most of the women were visibly bored.

The separation of cultures and roles between genders is clearer in India than in many places. This separation, often in private as well as public spheres, leads to sometimes surprising effects for outsiders. Young men's fashions here look quite effeminate by South African standards, where the culture is more macho. The way men walk hand-in-hand in public would be completely misinterpreted in most of Europe or Africa - homosexuality here is strongly frowned on, as undermining the vital family unit.

One thing I appreciated in Kerala was how active a role fathers seemed to take, taking their kids on scooters or when families went out to meals. Girls are valued as highly as boys - if not more!

Unusually for India, property rights were traditionally matriarchal in Kerala
The state does not have the high female infanticide rates which persist in parts of Gujarat.