India: Seeing is believing

How much of our desire is manufactured for us by a greedy market and an insatiable media? Is it finally a matter of perception? Perception can be shaped to purposeful ends: this dawning realisation moved Udayani Social Action Forum (USAF), a Jesuit Social Centre in Kolkata, to shift the focus of its work from development and social uplift to cultural analysis. USAF sets out to help the rural poor see more clearly so as to be self-reliant and resist the consumerism threatening their ancient roots. ?Udayan? in Bengali means ?dawn,? and the Centre lives up to its name as its animators in the villages awaken the peasants to a new day in which they understand the harm of modern technology?s excesses, the beauty of their own cultural heritage, and the importance of sustainable development. The dangers of chemical pesticides and fertilisers, the ugliness of plastic goods, and the wastefulness of modern cosmetics — USAF tells them, through drama and dance, that these glittering modern packages are not really gold, and that modern development brings with it selfish individualism, unbridled competition and consumerism. It underscores, simultaneously, the importance of tree-planting to preserve ecological balance, the value of traditional herbal medicines and natural farming practices, and the vibrant beauty of tribal dance. ?Diverse forms of cultural richness have been sacrificed at the altar of these of so-called ?development? patterns,? affirms the director, Fr. Jeyaraj. To offset such an emphasis, adolescents are educated in indigenous culture and understanding of the environment. The Centre has urban projects in the slums of Kolkata and with domestic workers. Through research, documentation, publication and a Diploma course in social work, offered through St. Xavier?s College, USAF aims at creating leaders who can become agents of social change. [HL30505]