The third week of the NFLC began not on a Monday morning as is usual but on the previous evening when everyone, students and faculty alike met for a ‘working dinner’ at Orion, (an instant hit with the students)! Active conversation developed over the evening, addressing systems of governance and the perceptions people maintained of these, which was the primary theme for the week. The next morning was begun with a recap of Saturday evening’s exercise involving observing and recording patterns at three of the busiest places in town. A map of the observations was made and thematic patterns of these observations were recorded. These revealed not only common events and situations but were an insight into the conditioned similarities in patterns of observations among the students.
The first lecture for the week introduced the NBR’s landscape, land usage and all its cultural and ecological diversity as the background to understanding the nuances of the system of government that operates in the region. Shortly after this a trip to the District Collector’s office was organized for the students. This was the first direct interaction with the Indian bureaucracy for the Cornellians and the first meeting with an officer of such status for many of the Keystone group. It was a real learning experience for both groups and the exposure was largely appreciated.
The next day, a session was conducted by Mr. Roy Thomas, the wildlife warden for Wyanad wildlife sanctuary, an officer of the Indian Forest Service. The students thoroughly enjoyed his talk as he spoke from his long years of experience and gave them an insider’s perspective of functioning within the forest department. In the afternoon the students were introduced to the structure of the Indian government top down, and the system was represented as it was designed in theory. This session was conducted in English and no formal translation was made. The discussion that followed introduced the concept of traditional governments and other players that run parallel to the government and form a much more intricate system that really determines how citizens’ lives are governed.
Wednesday, the day after was taken up by the field trip when the whole group went to Coimbatore for the day and met with the commissioner of police for Coimbatore city, visited Sirutulli, an NGO whose work relates to reviving traditional water management systems around the city and ended the day with watching a Tamil film, all of which were vastly different experiences.
The next day’s sessions were scheduled to begin only by 11 o clock and the morning was spent recapping the day trip. The students recollected their visit to the Commissioner as being an eye opener as they were able to see another side to the Indian bureaucracy and admired his humble attitude and the honesty with which he answered their queries. They next visited ‘Siruthulli’ an NGO whose efforts to revive traditional water management systems were not fully understood by the students but their efforts at urban sustainability such as implementing decentralized composting and rooftop gardens were much appreciated.
Our next topic of conversation was the Tamil film ‘I’, the responses were largely uniform to this. The students found themselves thoroughly entertained but uncomfortable with the values it appeared to propagate. The discussion that followed revolved around these values and the impact it had on society.
Activities for the day after the field trip involved simulating a real field scenario where students were paired up and sent out to do a survey addressed to any of Keystone’s employees. Despite minor misrepresentations of information in the final reports the students valued the experience of being able to work around language barriers. The governance week was rounded up with a session conducted by the Tehsildar of Kotagiri Taluk and members of the town panchayat who spoke about the structure of their governing bodies and the sort of issues they were expected to address.
The week was altogether a successful one that saw some interesting discussions arising from the differences of ideal and operation of governance in each individual’s perception. While everyone was exhausted by the end of the week, much had been gained and the hectic schedule paid off well.