I was at a presentation of a project in India – funded from Australia and built in a slum in India. Very good yes?
But I listened to speaker explain the project – mainly the technical process – so far so good. Then the talk veered towards the narration of the experience of interacting with the people. Yes it was said that they were so friendly – you know Indians are so friendly. Such friendly people – and in case you haven’t got the point – really friendly people. So this was the ‘noble savage‘ take on India. I was beginning to feel I should not have been there. This for me is an aesthetic problem – its about feelings. I am like many others who cant stand the patronizing tone of the ‘expert‘ when they talk about ‘the other’. But these were architects – and so technical people, so they cant be expected to have a sophisticated take on the history of Aid and on the ‘missionary’ discourse. We will leave this for now – as I am a bit sensitive to hurting someone who is (was?) a friend.
Today I went on to the web and tried to find a out a bit more about the project and landed up at this blog – Bholu. I looked at it and was appalled – this is one face of fair trade and CSR – and one way to live a fulfilling life in Australia. I start a shop in Australia, and I get the things made in a developing country – its a business. I then say I am ethical – so I give back to the community by getting corporates to distribute toothbrushes to the slums and then I build child care centres. Good so far? Yes a fantastic livlihood project. And the text in the blog is enthusiastic – so simple, and gently patronising.
But I am not happy – nay irritated. For no I will leave this as a problematic discourse. I will leave you with an excerpt from an interview with Michael Maren – the author of a Road to Hell.
I had this picture of development and aid workers being often insufferably pious, a little sanctimonious about what they do. Sure, they inhabit this special zone of privilege, but at the same time, they view themselves as deliverers of a kind of civilization.
Well, it’s missionary work, essentially. The thing is, it’s more than pious. There are some really good people out there doing aid work, but I have to say-and this mostly comes from experience as a journalist-that without a doubt, some of the most sanctimonious assholes I have ever met in my life, some of the worst people, and I mean really bad people, work for charities and aid organizations on The ground.