Sunday, October 13, 2013

Wayanad: A Summary

Our field visit to Wayanad, Kerala marked the start of our second course: Globalization and the Ethics of Development. Here’s a quick summary of the week:

Day 1:
Day one is travel day. We took a 2.5-hour train to Mysore followed by a 4-hour bus ride to Wayanad. The landscape shifted from flat land farmland to forests and rocky hills, which to an Iowa girl look a lot like mountains. We arrived the Rural Agency for Social and Technological Advancement (RASTA), which is where we would be staying for the next few days, in time for supper. The rest of the evening was spent recovering from travel.

Day 2:
The day started off with a delicious spread for breakfast, which to my surprise, included cheese—yum! Our first session of the day was with Omana and Danesh—the founders of RASTA. RASTA is an NGO, which was started in 1984 with the purpose of addressing problems found in rural communities including the oppression of women, indigenous peoples, and small farmers. Our afternoon session was with two different women’s self help groups. The first group we visited was doing work concerning the right to work program. The program guarantees 100 days of employment to each household each year at 180 rupees per day (minimum wage in Kerala). These women organized and petitioned to make changes to the program. Originally, to receive full pay workers would have to work 5 cents of land each day. This was a difficult task, especially for older workers. The self-help group (SHG) was able to reduce the requirement to only 2.5 cents to receive a full days wages. They were also able to change the working hours from 8a – 4p to 9a – 5p, so that they would be able to send their kids off to school. The second self help group we met with appeared to be more general. They saved money and rice each week, which would be put into a pool and redistributed. They also learned skills like tailoring and how to get a loan, so that they would be able to start their own enterprise. The SHG has helped them be more autonomous in their lives. As we were being served tea and snacks, they took the opportunity to ask us some questions about the weather, economy, and marriage practices in the US.

Day 3:
Our day started off with a session with a group of small farmers. They showed us around the farm a bit and gave us a taste of raw tapioca. We climbed up a hill and sat amidst the rubber trees while we asked questions and they gave us answers. When asked about the future of farming, they mentioned that agriculture has no future. There were 7 or 8 farmers that we were talking to and not one had a child who wanted to be involved in agriculture. They talked about farmland being put on the market and being sold for housing developments. After some time, we descended the hill and went inside the house for tea and snacks. They took the opportunity to ask us questions about the government shutdown, the economy in the US, and the American perception of Indian government. In the afternoon we headed out to see the Edakkal Caves. “Edakkal” means “a stone in between,” which describes the way the cave was formed—a boulder in a fissure in the rock. The walls of the cave are lined with wall carvings, which are though to date back to over 5000 years ago. Getting to the cave was a difficult task. It’s about a 30-minute walk uphill on pavement and just when you think you can’t walk up anything more vertical the pavement turns to ladder-like stairs. It was definitely not a cakewalk, but I think it was worth it.  The views were incredible. We descended, which was much easier and then stopped for coffee and homemade fruit and nut chocolate. We went back to Wayanad and stopped for about an hour to do a little shopping.

View from Edakkal Caves

The rock in between

Wall drawings

Day 4:
For our morning session we headed out to meet with two Adivasi women. “Adivasi” literally means “forest dweller” and they are the indigenous people of India. Like the Native American people of the US, Adivasis are a marginalized people. Getting to the village involved steep uphill hiking, however, it was a little less intense than the Edakkal Caves. As we reached the village, a young woman informed us that the two women we were scheduled to meet with were working. She offered to call them in, but Roshen asked if we could talk to her instead since she was already available. She agreed and led us to a large flat rock where we circled up. Her name was Manju and she was 26 years old. It was nice to hear from someone so close in age to us. When she was asked about the relationship between Adivasi people and the settlers it became clear that she was not aware that the settlers had taken Adivasi land—she was under the impression that the settlers were allowing her people to live on their (settler) land. She also mentioned that she watches TV and is aware of global problems. She wanted us to know that she thinks about people in the US and Germany and wonders how we will get through the day when bad things happen. We had a free afternoon and then went to Nazar’s parent’s house for dinner. Nazar is employed at Visthar and does a lot of work at the Bandhavi school in Koppal—Wayanad is his hometown. Once at the house we met the whole family and were served tea and four different kinds of pre-meal snacks. The meal was rice and sambar and tapioca—all delicious.

Day 5:
On our last full day in Wayanad, we visited Balan—an Adivasi activist of sorts. Much of this session was spent talking about the Forest Rights act of 2005, which guarantees 5 acres of land for every Adivasi household. It has been a slow process. Currently, Adivasis in Kerala are asking for just one acre of land so that they at least have some way to sustain themselves. Balan also mentioned other problems Adivasis face such as alcoholism and diseases like sickle cell anemia.

Day 6:
We left RASTA right after breakfast and headed back to Mysore. We saw a wild elephant on the side of the road, which was pretty neat. In Mysore, we had lunch and visited the Mysore Palace. I think this was the fourth palace (at least at this site). The last palace burned down in a fire. The current palace was completed in 1912, so it’s not very old. We did a quick audio tour with headsets. It was beautiful—though the tour was hard to follow. We took a train back to Bangalore and arrived back at Visthar late Friday night.

Mysore Palace (Wikipedia)
Mysore Palace (

Saturday night:
Last night we all got dressed up and went to an Indian wedding—it was more like a wedding reception. I noticed that there was a lot of separated—between the bride and the groom, between female guests and male guests, and between non-vegetarians and vegetarians. It was a Muslim wedding, so most of the food was non-veg. A couple of us who eat veg had to eat separate from everyone else in this small space where we couldn’t see anything or anyone else. However, it was some of the best food I’ve had so far.

SJPD pre-wedding

Thanks for reading!


  1. Sounds like anothet action- packed trip. did you buy a sari. Can't really see yours in the picture, but it is nice to see your smiling face!

    1. No sari yet. I didn't have enough time, but I'll get one eventually.