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A Source of Contrasts

Jessica Von Wendel

            India is a country of such stark contrasts that they all tend to meld into something, that for lack of a better description, we can only call India.  Based on what I observed in the city of Chennai, I found that the contrast between the transnational and vernacular becomes a source for many of the other differences and diversities within the country.

          f  I was traveling to one of the poorest areas of Chennai.  Local urban slums constituted houses with thatched roofs and walls made of odds and ends found amongst the refuse along the street.  Yet, just down the road were huge transnational technology industries paving the way for India to step into the global sphere and compete against some of the leading nations in the world.  India’s vast contrasts stem from this division of the local poor and the transnational rising elite.  However, as stated in Mike Davis’s book Planet of Slums, “the high tech boom is a drop in the bucket in a sea of poverty.”

Besides the apparent socioeconomic division that results from transnational influence, a cultural difference stems from the same local and global contrast.  In India, Hinduism enforces a religious belief of karma that states that a person’s current hardships are a result of misdeeds performed in a past life.  In order to achieve better karma these people should accept their fates and situations and work their hardest at their menial jobs while living on the fringes of society.  On the other hand the transnational idea of common equal opportunity brings aid organizations whose exact goal is to bring these people out of their prescribed poverty.  This results in a discrepancy between the vernacular and transnational cultural belief systems. 

With the government’s efforts to eradicate slums, new housing has been built that puts families into apartments with a solid roof, a kitchen, access to running water, and bathroom facilities.  Internal as well as international pressures put on India’s decision makers to solve the housing problem have created these transnational modular buildings that can now be seen everywhere in areas where poverty, population, and housing have become problematic.  These multistoried, basic accommodating structures can also be seen in Burma, China, and Hong Kong.  As these countries build these structures in hopes of solving some of these housing issues, people who traditionally would be expected to accept their allotted fate are getting the chance to succeed. 

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