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Indian Winter of Discontent February 17, 2013

Posted by markswill in Media, Politics, Schmolitics.
3 comments

Stuck as many of us are in a freeziferous winterscape™, it’s a little churlish of me to bang on about about my recent trip to India but as ever, that won’t stop me. As per last time I visited that sub-continent, I was riding on my friend D’s coattails, this time chaperoning her to the Jaipur Literary Fest. where she was doing a couple of gigs. But neither she nor I had bargained for the Indian success of her novel Burst Erotic Marigold Yodel and the film that’s based on it despite it being set there,  so endless media interviews and book signings rather kept her (and thus me) at the festival itself, instead of sightseeing and mucking around in downtown Jaipur as we’d intended.

I managed to do a spot of biking in India, but not before consuming a quick snack.

I managed to do a spot of biking in India, but not before consuming a quick snack.

However it must be said that the appetite for culture amongst all levels of Indian society was a huge eye-opener, for not only is English the second language there, but the brilliance of the Lit. Fest. is that admission was free, so it’s not the middle-class poseurs’ paradise that most British equivalents are. It was truly heartening to see numerous school crocs of neatly uniformed kids attending the talks and queuing for autographs amidst the decaying splendor of the Diggi Palace, and equally impressive that the audiences for all the events were packed and on the basis of questions asked, incredibly well–read and –informed.

What’s more, India is one country where newspaper, magazine and book sales are steadily rising due in part to increasing literacy rates, but also the relatively exorbitant cost of tablets, Nooks, Kindles etc. deters people from feeding their reading habits in anything but the traditional manner.

The only downside of the festival was the large and occasionally officious military presence due to the fear of Islamic fundamentalists causing trouble as they had done last year when Salman Rushdie was to’ve appeared but didn’t, although extracts from his Satanic Verses were read out by literary supporters. However this year’s event was not without controversy when one speaker denounced lower caste Indians as being responsible for most of the country’s crime which quickly brought criminal charges against festival boss William Dalrymple and his co-organisers, the appearance of the Dalai Lama, which of course the Chinese contingent got angry about, and journalist/editor Shoma Chaudbury delivering an impassioned tirade against the Tata corporation (owners of Jaguar Land Rover) who’d forced the unpaid displacement of thousands of peasant farmers from their land so that they could build a giant car factory… Tata being the festival’s main sponsor!

But India is mired in all sorts of controversy, from the judiciary’s almost tacit acceptance of gang-rape following recent high-profile cases, to the government opening the door to supermarket giants like Tesco and Wal-Mart which obviously threatens the lifestyle and incomes of literally millions of small food producers and retailers.

Jaipur spice seller – shortly to be outlawed by Tesco?

Jaipur spice seller – shortly to be outlawed by Tesco?

Government corruption is endemic in India, but the people themselves, even when trying to sell you tourist tat or simply begging for coinage, are incredibly cheerful and polite but whom, at least from the few that I managed to discuss such things with, are deeply critical of what is being done in their name to gradually erode their culture.

Back home again, those same supermarkets are now at the centre of a scandal over the horsemeat content of their beef products, which I find both hilarious and venal.  Hilarious because I actually enjoyed the horsemeat I’ve eaten in France and Spain and can’t see why anyone wouldn’t want to, but venal because it’s been passed off as something else, and almost certainly the cripplingly low prices our farmers are forced to accept from the supermarket cartels has much to do with this. An exasperated farmer told the Today programme last week that he’s lucky to make just £100 profit on a beef carcass that’s taken him at least 18 months and several thousand pounds to rear, and whilst well-meaning food writers urge us to buy fresh meat from local butchers rather than processed food products from supermarkets, they ignore the facts that (a) supermarkets have put thousands of butchers out of business in recent years, (b) millions of low-income families couldn’t afford fresh meat anyway and (c) an entire generation educated in schools where cookery is no longer taught wouldn’t know what to do with it even if they could.

A sacred cow goes fashion shopping in downtown Jaipur

A sacred cow goes fashion shopping in downtown Jaipur

As an aside, but I think a relevant one, if the Pope rescinded the 2billion-strong Catholic church’s ban on contraception, just think what pressure that would eventually relieve on food (and water) supplies in this increasingly over-populated world? As a further aside, little or no mention has been made since Pope Benedict XVI resigned last week of his shocking complicity in the cover-up of sexual abuse cases by Catholic clergy when as Prefect of the Congregation of Doctrine of the Faith (and directly responsible for investigating them).  Although when Alex Gibney’s powerful documentary, Silence in the House of God is released next month, conveniently just after he makes his formal exit, that may change. Angry thought it should make you, I urge you to see it, just as I urge you to go to India before it becomes just another satellite for the global supermarkets, and for that matter, Google and Amazon who surely won’t be ignoring the burgeoning Indian economy and its laissez-faire regulatory and tax regimes for much longer.

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