“The life of the Indian construction worker,” from Jonathan Pattenden

Pattenden’s article, Will ‘decent work’ or Victorian brutality mark India’s dash for the top?, is on OpenDemocracy.org. It is a great summary with excellent references of the conditions of Indian women construction workers and what I saw while in India.

This is what the the members of “Building Bridges 2017:  The First US Tradeswomen’s Delegation to India” will bear witness to next January.

“Research in a number of Indian states has shown that migrant construction workers in India often face dangerous working conditions and harsh living conditions. Many live in blue plastic tents without access to basic amenities. Many are recruited by intermediaries who distance workers from principal employers, and may quieten them with ‘advances’ that facilitate the underpayment of already low wages, and may constrain labourers’ movement.

Migrant construction labourers face a perfect storm of adverse conditions.

Widely subjected to violence on and off site, women’s working days are lengthened by their shouldering of the bulk of reproductive labour. It is far from unusual for female construction workers, who remain confined to lower-waged ‘unskilled’ tasks, to be paid 50% less than their male counterparts for similar work.

A number of laws theoretically provide construction workers with minimum conditions and some access to social security, but employers are shielded from their legal responsibilities by complex subcontracting chains. Although most migrants’ incomes rise, many see those gains wiped out by health costs and an almost complete lack of access to social security. Health-related provisionssupposedly available to informal workers do not cover outpatient services, leaving most with little choice but to pay unregistered doctors for treatment.

Access to the provisions of the Building and other Construction Workers Welfare Boards, meanwhile, remains minimal: in the state of Karnataka less than half of one percent of the funds collected by the Labour Department had been spent on workers’ welfare by the start of 2016. Migrant workers’ access to government-subsidised food grains, moreover, is compromised by impediments to the public distribution system’s portability, while the provision of crèches (nursery/daycare) is minimal both among migrant workers and those settled in non-notified slums.”

Thank you, Jonathan.


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Hacked: The Other Women of India that Nike Ignored

A commercial video that featured buff sportswomen wearing Nike in India has been beautifully hacked. Watch this one to see the real women of India, barefoot and buff because they work so hard in construction and agriculture and do all the household work.

Bharat ki mahilao ko majboot.

Click here to see the video and the real women of India on youtube. 

The original glamorization video is here.

da da ding3

da da ding2

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“Homemakers become House builders”

Homemakers becomeCheck out this article from Deepika, the Malayalam paper. It is a most excellent description of the work of Miss Thresiamma Mathew and the women of Archana Women’s Centre in Kerala where hundreds of women have been trained in masonry, carpentry and plumbing. Click on the link below to read the full article.

Feb 26 article in Deepika.

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India: Research and Reflections

Please join me for on May 5 as I share my India adventures with you.

Susan Moir, Director of Research at the UMass Boston Labor Research Center, has recently returned from 3 months in India. Join us for Indian food and Susan’s report back on her Fulbright sponsored trip. Be the first to hear plans for next year’s planned “Building Bridges: The First Delegation of US Tradeswomen to India.

Thursday, May 5, 6-8 PM

At 1199SEIU, 150 Mt. Vernon St, Dorchester, 2nd floor

Please RSVP to tradeswomenbuildingbridges@gmail.com

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Goodbye to India for now

At 3 am tonight I leave Mumbai and India. I will be home at 3 pm Thursday. I am very glad to see my family and friends and dog, to sleep in cool weather and get back to work that I love and a community that has supported and nurtured me through some miraculous transformations and opportunities.

And I will miss India. It has been the most fantastic and fun adventure. India is so complicated and challenging, so different from my home, so rich in its culture, politics and people, almost indescribable. Mumbai is noisy, full of trash and in a state of near anarchy. The city is often dubbed “vibrant.” What an understatement. Twelve and a half million people live in Mumbai. It has double the population density of New York City, but consider this. Mumbai’s population is horizontal. There are almost no skyscrapers and few high rises in most areas. Everyday Mumbai is like Times Square with 24-hour rush hour traffic. New York is Clark Kent to Mumbai’s Superman.

The people of India have been described as argumentative. To a non-India language speaker … well, there are 700 languages so the first question may be which am I hearing. An overheard conversation between friends or co-workers that sounds like conflict to an outsider could be just passionate opinions. Those of you who know me well can probably understand how very comfortable that can make me feel here. People are amazingly well informed. We have four daily English language newspapers delivered to our hostel every day. There are more daily papers in Hindi and local languages.

I was so lucky to almost accidentally find the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) and, with the assistance of the Fulbright staff, to be able to affiliate with the Centre for Labour Studies and the Advanced Centre for Women’s Studies. The campus is small and the curricula progressive and focused on social change. The school practices aggressive affirmative action and the student body and faculty reflect the great diversity of India, especially by caste and gender. On any day, at a meal, in an elevator or just walking across campus, I have had wonderful and informative conversations on social conditions, politics, global economics, migration, poverty and patriarchy. I have watched and played cricket, learned and got beat badly at a board game called karoom. I attended yoga and Hindi language classes. I have lived in a dorm– in a triple– with a great group of women less than half my age who have become my friends. We have had long conversations about India and our work here, what it is like for an outsider, what we love and what we find confusing and/or difficult. We have eaten many meals together in the dining hall, local restaurants and last night in a rooftop bar. I have been the dorm mom and they have taught me modern heterosexual dating rituals.


Konstantina, Batseba, Mia, Hanna, me, Mirjam and Eva

Indians have a custom called adda. It essentially means taking the time to sit and just talk about serious and worldly issues. It does not mean setting up a meeting or even making a date to talk. It means stopping to talk now. Adda is one of the gifts from India that I want to take home.

Traveling around the country by myself with limited to no language skills was often difficult. I have been to nine cites while being very bad at India’s transport systems. I have missed trains and tried to board one when I thought I had a ticket but actually did not. I have paid outrageous cab fares on many occasions. I took an all night bus ride that was so noisy, bumpy and cold I hardly slept. When the driver yelled, “airport” I got off in a haze and then realized I was in the middle of nowhere at 4:30 in the morning and I really had to pee. I have been embarrassed at my screw ups but I console myself by remembering that my research has gone really well and I can’t be good at everything. And eventually I always go where I was going.

I am not romanticizing India. It is a very tough place. It is no vacation—except in the vacation oases where tourists and beggars share a symbiotic economy. To live among the people of India is to observe pervasive poverty and experience endless chaos. But I have also been witness to liveliness, an engagement with life that I do not see in the place I call home—the place that Indians call America no matter how many times I say I am from the United States. “America is a dream and a continent.” I explain. “The United States is the place that sells arms to both India and Pakistan.”

I am so lucky that I will be returning to India next January. The second part of my Fulbright fellowship will focus on building an international network by and for women working in the global construction industry. I will continue to post here on that and other subjects, sometimes not sequentially as I have a lot of material form this trip that I will be writing up over the next few months.

I thank you all for following my travels. I appreciate comments if you have time.

For those at home, see you soon. For those in India, see you in January 2017. For my “Swedish” girlfriends, stay in touch.

Calling my flight. Off I go.

Love and peace


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Equality for girl children

I had a fun and interesting couple of days in Pune hosted by Shraddha Borawake, photographer and new relation by marriage to my old friend, Nancy Falk. Shraddha did a project on women in construction some years ago and we are exploring future collaboration. My favorite of her short films is “Will You Wear the Pants?” This past Tuesday, we sat down with Shruti Purandare to find out more about the work of Tara Mobile Creches Pune. TMCP is one of the organizations in India that is providing child care for the children of construction workers– an area in which India is far ahead of the United States.

One of the most hopeful things I have heard since starting my research was from Shruti. Construction is a family business here and the workforce is very mobile. This makes it difficult for the children to continue their education. It is doubly difficult for girls who are expected to take on household responsibilities at a very young age. TMCP has a program for kids of construction workers to continue their education in residential schools and this year, for the first time, they have more girls entering the program than boys.

Another amazing thing that TMCP is doing is this mobile computer lab that is introducing kids in construction families to computer skills.

2016-03-22 13.04.05

I am WAY behind in my field notes online but you can see more details of our meeting with TMCP in the Field Notes tab on my home page.

Shraddha, Shruti and me at the Tara Mobile Creches Pune office.2016-03-22 13.00.56

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To the Moirs: Walking in Uncle Fred’s Footsteps

To my cousins, children, nieces, nephews and all other Moirs,

You remember when Auntie Elsie died and I received five big boxes of her stuff and we held the Holy Yard Sale in my yard in Jamaica Plain and I made you take home rosaries and holy statues, a lifetime of possessions of a wonderful woman and terrific aunt who was in the convent for almost 50 years before she left and moved to Florida with her girlfriend?

I kept a couple of things.

One was a metal box of papers. When I finally opened that box a few years later, I found 36 letters, most of them from our great Uncle Frederick to our great grandparents in Cheshire outside of Liverpool, England. Fred was a sergeant in the British Army and he was stationed in Bangalore, India when he wrote the letters between 1911 and 1917.

Let me tell you a couple of things about Fred. He was a sketch artist and cartoonist. The letters include a couple of his drawings and references to sketches he had published in Indian newspapers. He was engaged to Mill in England, but broke off the engagement when he fell in love with Miss Marjorie Lee in Bangalore. Marjorie was Anglo-Indian, not the mixed race meaning of that term, but the other meaning. She was born in India and I don’t think she had ever been to England. Fred tried very hard for several years to get out of the infantry and into Supply and Transport. He was unsuccessful and in 1916, he was shipped out, first to Alexandria Egypt and then to Mesopotamia. The last three letters from Marjorie and her mother are to our great grandparents and to another Elsie, our great aunt Elsie Rawlinson. We learn that Fred and his best friend, Robinson, were killed within a couple of days of each other in Basra, Mesopotamia in February 1917.

I brought copies of the letters with me to India in hopes that I would get a chance to go to Bangalore and walk around where Fred might have been. I put the trip off because I did not really think I would find any traces. Bangalore is India’s most modern city. But then an opportunity happened and I went there Thursday afternoon.

I was very surprised when I reached the city center to find the infrastructure of the Raj (the British Empire in India) intact, beautiful and still in use. I came into the center on Infantry Road and thought, could Fred have lived here? The next thing I saw was the Post Office and I thought perhaps Fred mailed his letters from here. One of the letters is from Hugh Lee (Marjorie’s father?). It is during the war and he tells Fred that there is a position available for him in the Post Office, but he needs to hurry back because the job cannot be kept open for too long. A little down the road past the Post Office, today’s State Assembly and Courts meet in buildings Fred might have entered.


Behind the Courts is a beautiful park, Cubbon Park in Fred’s time, now named Sri Chamarajendra Park. Would Fred and Marjorie have walked through Cubbon Park? Maybe gone to concerts at the bandstand.

We know from the letters that Marjorie and her family lived on the Residency Road. It was very hot so I decided to take a tuktuk to Residency Road. Just as I got in we passed a Police Station that Fred would have walked past. A few minutes later, we rounded a corner and there was the Cantonment—the military area established by the British military. This is where Fred would have worked.  Since independence in 1947, these are the sites of the Indian Army. Speeding past the cantonment in the tuktuk, I spotted the office of the Supply Depot, the office where Fred sought to be transferred, the position that might have saved his life if he had received the transfer. Across the street was the parade ground where troops would have mustered.

I had the driver drop me off at the end of Residency Road. Big mistake. It was crammed with traffic and construction and there was nowhere to walk. Looking down the street, I could see that Residency Road was all new buildings. But then I saw an old one. Now a pretty shabby hotel, this would have been a shiny residence in the 1900s. Maybe Marjorie’s home? Further on there is a suspiciously crossless Catholic Church. It could have originally been the church that the British of Residency Road attended. It would have been High Anglican, the Protestant denomination that Fred’s brother, our grandfather Jack, left when he converted to marry Nana.

I needed to get out of the traffic and onto a sidewalk. I headed toward an intersecting street across a little park. And then I saw the monument—a monument to the British and Indian soldiers who died in World War I. And on the side that I was facing, it said “Mesopotamia,” the theater of war where Fred served and died, today’s Iraq. In English and Kannada, it honored not only the British and Indian officers, but also the NCOs (non-commissioned officers). Fred would have been an NCO.


I burst out crying and stood sobbing on the sidewalk. I told the street vendor standing beside me why I was crying. He was kind in a way that Indians are although he had no idea what I was saying. After a few minutes, I walked around to find the gate into the little park. A guard came to stop me, but when I showed him Fred’s letters and explained why I wanted to get closer, he opened the gate. He stood near me as I cried and took some pictures.

You know, my cousins, that I have spent my life fluctuating between peacenik and socialist. I am not proud that my relative was part of an occupying army. And I am not ashamed. It just is what a working class guy with no prospects might have done at the turn of the twentieth century—or the twentieth-first. And on the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising, let us remember that Nana’s people in Ireland were living under the other end of British imperialism.

Like many before and since, our Great Uncle Fred was the fodder of war and paid the price. I am proud that we can remember him as a person and that his memory is recognized in the city where he found love, the city that was his home.

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Two days in Kerala

I am traveling so much, learning so much and I am so tired. I have not had time/energy to organize pictures, words or thoughts. Tonight I am in the airport in Cochi, Kerala waiting for a late plane to Bangalore. Let me show you in pictures how my last few days have been.

A little over a year ago, I learned about the Archana Women’s Center in Ettumanoor, Kerala. They had a big Women’s Day Celebration featuring the training programs in masonry and carpentry that they have done for women. I hoped to visit the Centre while here but it did not look like it would happen until I met Renu Varughese at the Fulbright Conference in Jaipur a couple of weeks ago. Renu is from Kerala and when I told her about Archana, she offered to go there, see if it was real and ask if they would meet with me. She met Miss Thresiamma Mathew, Director of the Centre, and arranged for a driver, Mr. Binu John of Hebron Travel, to pick me up at the airport and take me to a nearby hotel. (Just for some geographical context, it is about 1000 miles form Bombay to Kerala, like traveling from Boston to Atlanta). On Tuesday, I took a tuktuk from the hotel to the Centre and had a wonderful day with Miss Mathew and the women of Archana.

Here are some pics and people I met.

Miss Mathew and the Archana Women’s Centre staff.

A focus group with masons Binababu, Ponnaamma and Ancyshaji. They are out of work for a number of reasons related to health and the depressed construction economy in Kerala.


The concrete block workshop at the Centre.

The woodworking workshop in another village.

Carpenter Omenah has studied interior design and has been making kitchen cabinets, wardrobes and doors for a nearby home.

Off to the backwaters to see the Yaradhaka’s house that she, Valasala and Umadagal are building. We took long wooden canoes to Yaradhaka’s home where she lives with her husband and to children.

Umadgal was not there that day. Valasala went back with us and we went to the home she built and lives in with her family. 2016-03-16 17.43.10

Some backwater scenes:

These men are loading paddy rice that has just been harvested. From boats to lorry.2016-03-16 15.58.56

This man is “herding” his ducks back to their home after they feasted on the paddy rice.

This woman is eating a coconut.2016-03-16 16.55.59

On Wednesday, Miss Mathew arranged for me to go to Thrissur- a 4 hour ride north with Binu- to see the Jeevapoorna Women’s Mason’s Charitable Society. This is a brick and tile workshop owned and run by women. They also run a canteen on the property which is the neighborhood’s favorite lunch place.

Annie Joseph and the mason’s of the Jeevapoorna Women’s Mason’s Society.

The women make concrete bricks and specialty tiles.

Binu was my driver and translator. If you know anyone traveling to Kerala, he can be reached through his website. Excellent service and we had a comfortable 8 hours riding around Kerala together in his van over two days.2016-03-17 14.25.59

Today I am in Bangalore with my great uncle Fred’s letters that he wrote to my great-grandparents between 1911 and 1917. He was stationed here in the British Army for a decade or more before World War I and killed in Mesopotamia/Iraq 99 years ago last month. I have an address from his fiancee and am going there to see what I can see. Nothing that Uncle Fred saw but at least the streets he walked on. To my cousins and children, I will post something on Facebook. My connections with my cousins a reason that I love Facebook.

To all my friends and family in the US, India and elsewhere, if you are still reading this and want to say hi in the comments, I would love to hear from you. I will be home three weeks from tomorrow. It has been an amazing, fascinating and enlightening trip. And I miss you all.

Love and peace.

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The past and the present live together in India


Laying in my king-sized bed in a 5 star hotel in Jaipur, I watched a short film on the crisis in rural India. One scene, repeated several times, showed a woman in a saree walking through a green field gently touching her waist high crop. I thought this was a romantic representation. About 16 hours later, I am on a train from Jaipur to Kota and through the window I see a woman in a saree walking slowly through a green waist high crop. Too far away to see if there was a caress.

Mountains in the far distance, highways and trucks in the background and farmland in the foreground. Two-wheelers (Indian for all motorcycles and scooters) race through villages. A small temple sits along the road. A couple, I can safely assume wife and husband, gather what looks to me (city kid) like wheat or hay tied into bundles just smaller than they are. Gray 4×4 squares of something that looks like canvas are laid out through several fields apparently to dry. Stopping at a rural train station, men make cement by hand with hoes. My father did this in the early 1950s when he rebuilt the wall in front of our house. But he had a wheelbarrow and a hose. These men have a pile in the dirt and pans of water that they bring from a nearby creek.

And the present? I just watched a young lesbian walk through this same train station. No doubt about it—baby dyke in a plaid shirt, tight jeans, short hair. Brave young woman.

Riding through the middle of the tourist city of Jaipur a couple of days ago, we passed several two wheeled carts full of sand pulled by camels. The drivers wore traditional lungis and the workers’ casual turban. In the rural areas, camels are common.

Cows are not everywhere, but they may appear anywhere. They are not tied or fenced. They are just among us. Goats are less common, probably because people are allowed to eat them. Cows are “sacred” and the hint or rumor of “cow slaughter” brings out the raging Hindu religious fundamentalists. There was a riot yesterday, suppressed only when it was proven that the dead calf died of natural causes.


Picture the fallen leaves of fall in New England as bleached and shiny plastic. My friend Veena, who grew up here, left at 20 and has returned, blames packaging. It has always been a take-away society. People eat on the street and buy their food in small lots from many vendors. But Veena says that things used to come in natural containers, plant leaves, or paper. Now small bags of many kinds of chips and other commercial snacks are sold on every street and the bags are thrown on the local pile where the wind, the dogs and the cows distribute them to gutters and corners. I asked Amit why there is no waste management and he said that there is indeed a Minister of Waste Management. I said he should be fired and Amit said that I should have seen it before. The trash is much less, he says. I am glad I am here now and not then.

There is a place where there is not trash. The poorest of the poor illegally cultivate plots along the railroad tracks. They eat some and sell most. These plots are free of trash and carefully maintained. I think the trash is not a people problem. It is a government problem.


This is my heresy. I do not love the cherished and much lauded Indian Railway System. Not that I wouldn’t agree that it is an authentic and efficient way to see India. I sit on a train now across from a single man. Across the aisle, a woman by herself has finished eating and is napping in her bunk. A couple and two kids are in the other bunks, mom and youngest—with a terrible cough, god help me—in the lower bunk. Dad and the older, about 6, on the top bunk. Vendors walk the aisles selling chai, sandwiches, those ubiquitous chips, and chains with which to lock up luggage.

The problem is not being on the train; it is getting on the train. My first trip was easy and that lulled me into a false sense of competence. Second trip, I discovered at 10 PM that I did not actually have a ticket. I was on the dreaded Waiting List. Too late, I discovered that the WL the top of my apparent ticket meant it was not a ticket at all. Stuck in Ahmedabad, I went back to the hotel and flew home the next morning. This trip, Jaipur to Kota, I had a ticket and I had it all figured out. The concierge at the hotel told me I did not need to take the 45-minute cab ride all the way to the central station. The train would stop for 2 minutes right down the street from the hotel—a Rs 40 tuk tuk ride. That is about 6 cents. Luckily, I panicked and decided I should spend the money and go to the central station because I got there and could not find my printed ticket and you cannot board an Indian train without a printed ticket—in a country where no one has a printer and everything is done by phone. I had time to find the Tourist Desk and a nice group of three people printed my ticket for me.

Next step is getting out of Kota on Tuesday. I am on two Waiting Lists– #1 on the train I really don’t want and #5 on the one I do. My new friends at the Tourist Desk in Jaipur said I have a “99.9% chance” of getting both tickets. Then the trick is canceling one in time so that I am not charged for both tickets. After this trip, I may be trading the authentic experience for less stress and flying.

My research

The five-day Fulbright conference in Jaipur—all expenses paid—was a great mid-trip opportunity to present an interim report on my research and to talk to the other Fulbrighters about their research and mine. I stayed in the fancy hotel an additional three nights because the construction union conference I am attending in Kota is only three hours away and it did not make sense to go all the way back to my home in Mumbai only to return to Rajasthan. I had time to think and reflect.

My mind has been a muddle with all I have learned, with both the impossibility and the inappropriateness of drawing conclusions (“the white lady becomes an expert in 6 weeks”) and with the isolation of doing this by myself. I am a Participatory Researcher. This has several key meanings for me. First, my work must be “of use.” It must be designed and carried out with purpose and the intent of improving the conditions of workers and promoting greater equality and justice. The knowledge generated in Participatory Research is collective. My role as the Researcher is to provide a theoretical framework, synthesize the knowledge of Participants, to reflect it back to then for validation and to document our collective findings.

I love this process. I love seeing the patterns in how activists describe their work and being one of those charged with pointing to the patterns. I love listening to the chaos of people passionate about justice and asking questions that move them to organize the chaos into a new strategy. I love the responsibility of collecting the new knowledge and making lessons learned more permanent.

This has been a lonely project, but, with some conversations and reflective time, I have started to organize what I am learning. The lives of women working in the construction industry in India are desperate. The women are poor, they are at the bottom of all the Indian hierarchies of caste, region, religion and gender. They are married mothers working too long under terrible conditions with no opportunities to improve their lives. I have seen it and the women have told me so. There are two openings for change, training in higher skilled work and the presence of mobile creches (child care facilities) on a very few construction sites in three of the major cities. These are the two openings that Liz, Vivian and Connie brought home from Beijing in 1995 (see the Fulbright proposal on my home page for the history of this project and its origins in Beijing) and they have been the major focus of my fieldwork since I have been here. My emphasis has been on the training because that is my bias. Let’s get these women trained up and into better jobs. But it is clear that there are not really any good jobs in construction in India and that, if there were, gender bias is so strong that women will not soon be moving into them. And my biases have led me to underplay the importance of the mobile creche movement. It is a service based on motherhood. As a feminist, I am averse to defining women through reproductive work and biological determinants. I am a modern woman and – it came to me at about 7 am Saturday—I am making a modern error.

The mobile creche movement in India is a movement. It is women—cross class and in the absence of male support of any kind—organizing themselves to meet a basic need, the need for women working in construction to know that their children are safe while they are working. One the ground and right in front of me, it is a pipeline to literacy and education for the girl and boy children of today’s Indian women working in construction. There is even an unenforced law that says there will be creches on construction sites with 50 or more women workers (so they keep it to 49, of course) and this law has a mechanism for funding the creches. Most important for the future of this project and the plan to bring a delegation of tradeswomen and advocates to India in March 2017, India’s movement for child care for construction works may be small but they have one. In the US, we have talked about this issue for almost 40 years without making any progress. India has something to teach us.

So I am going back to many of my interviewees and asking more questions about the mobile creche movement. What can we in the US tradeswomen’s movement learn from you? What are the obstacles to making the creches more widely available to Indian workers? Who are the allies? What are the plans for the future? Will you assist in hosting the delegation from the US next year?

Postscript: That was yesterday. I spent today in a meeting of the Women’s Committee of the Builders and Woodworkers International Indian affiliates. All day was about getting training for women working as construction laborers so they can upgrade their skills and increase their wages. So there is a movement for training. I was able to contribute my findings that these are not just women workers; they are ALL working mothers who are responsible for 100% of the very labor intensive household work of poor women in India. They do not have time for training. Ellina Samentroy at VV GIRI Labor Institute in Noida brought the level of women’s uncounted labor to my attention weeks ago. To paraphrase Einstein, labor that is uncounted still counts. My findings made sense to the Women’s Committee members who then engaged in table discussions and flipchart report backs that would have made the union women of WILD feel right at home.

Tomorrow is the union meeting that is NOT the women’s committee. We will see. Then back home to Mumbai on a overnight train tomorrow night….I hope. I actually do not have that ticket yet, but that is another story for another time.

Love and peace to all.

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Rambling thoughts on the half-anniversary of my first trip to India

I will be here for exactly 12 weeks—arriving on a Thursday and leaving on a Thursday. Today is exactly six weeks in and six to go.

The vitality of the public and not-so-public dialogue on caste, class and race is shaking me up. India is as ideologically polarized as the US, but the conversations—and rants—are more articulate and openly grounded in the struggle for power. Trump’s semi-literate followers cheer at his racist sloganeering. Here, when similar sentiments are expressed in Parliament by the national government’s Minster in charge of Human Resource Development, she quotes Cicero and, in an exchange with another woman legislator, shouts, “And if you are unsatisfied with my reply, then I will cut my head, and put it before your feet.” The idiom is lost on me, but not the passion. The HRD Minister is defending the government’s repression of student dissent. Student netas (leaders) have been jailed, journalists beaten in the courthouse and a professor was shot at. This in the name of nationalism, patriotism and a status quo wherein 800 million people live in the cliché of “abject poverty.”

Went out to clear my head and get some fruit from the vendor outside campus. Got a kiwi, bananas and a little potato-looking thing that tastes like caramel. Then a bird pooped on my head. I plucked a couple of leaves off a plant, cleaned up and contemplated the irony of “clearing my head.”

I spent last evening with a feminist collective that has been meeting weekly since the early ‘80s. We met in the Women’s Centre in Santa Cruz. So much was familiar to me–the space with posters, stacks of books and old flyers, the women of a certain age with short hair, glasses and comfortable clothes and the focus of the meeting on preventing domestic violence and promoting gender justice. The familiarity feeds me in this strange place where so much is unfamiliar. However, they speak loudly, interrupt each other and give freely of unsolicited advice without fear of hurt feelings and fragile psyches unrecovered from long ago traumas. Life is more present here and change more urgent.

And here in India my wishy/washy frigging “progressive” politics feel dull, benumbed and useless. There is a battle between the powerful and the powerless, between those who take and those who produce. Here 800 million people provide the labor that builds all wealth. Caste reinforces divisions of labor and the social oppression of many for the benefit of the few. Religious differences are fanned by elites to control festering frustration. Women are at the bottom of all hierarchies and their unpaid and uncounted so-called “household” labor holds the entire pyramid up. And there is a left and a right: the right defends the status quo and “stability” while those on the left, in spite of many differences of analysis, strategy and tactics, speak clearly about who is on what side of the battle between the elites and the people. And that battle has a name and it’s name is capitalism.

But at home it is Bernie v. Hillary. It seems pathetic from here. Hillary Clinton, by birth, experience and positions, is a member of the capitalist elite. She has never been and never claimed to be of the left. (I have not read US papers today so she may have actually claimed this by now.) I have many friends who are political centrists and their support for her makes sense. But for my friends and comrades who have spent their lives organizing against racism and sexism and for the rights and power of a united multi-racial US working class, my unsolicited advice from India is that support for Hilary is support for capitalism and the continued political and economic supremacy of the elite oligarchs.

Support Bernie because he comes close and because he is raising the problem of class. Or sit it out because he does not go far enough and the revolution will not be won by voting in bourgeois elections. Ah, the language of my youthful conversion to socialism has been liberated in India! Feels very good.

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