On Friday, May 14, the Gustavus student organization OH DAM will host its Bollywood Night event at 7:00 p.m. in Alumni Hall. The evening will be a celebration of all things Indian and a fundraiser for a small displaced community in the Kerala state of southwest India.
“India is a fascinating country… if you’ve ever wanted to know more about [the country], this is your chance.” Senior Religion Major Bethany Ringdal, one of the two original founders of the group, said.
OH DAM, an acronym for Organizing Human Development and Adivasi Mobilization, was the creative product of two Gustavus students, Ringdal and Senior Religion Major Brendan Wilkes. The two were inspired to start the organization after their study abroad trip to India in the fall of 2009. Supported in part by Gustavus Adolphus, Concordia College in Moorhead and the Indian non-governmental organization Visthar, the program offered 16 students the opportunity to study social justice, peace and development while being fully immersed in the Indian culture. Senior Art Studio Major Amanda Skarphol, who took part in the India experience, said of the program, “It was an incredible experience. My parents raised me to be thankful for what I have, but living in India made me realize how truly privileged I am.”
While in India, Ringdal and Wilkes, among others, visited Kerala, a small community of about 10 ethnic Adivasi families living near the Karapuzha dam. Before the dam was built, the indigenous Indians lived in the area in peace. When the dam was built for irrigation purposes, however, it created the massive 158-foot deep Karapuzha Reservoir and flooded the lands of the small community. Lacking resources with which to relocate, the small community has been forced to precariously remain situated at the dam’s edge, susceptible to the effects of flooding. The Indian government has yet to come through on its promises to compensate these families for the loss of their homes.
“We knew that we had to do something when we got home from India,” Ringdal said. “We couldn’t live with ourselves if we saw what we just saw and returned to our comfortable and rich lives.” After returning to campus, Ringdal found a way to continue the mission to help the community near the Karapuzha dam as part of one her courses. Taught by Assistant Professor of Religion Thia Cooper, “Liberation: 2/3 World” seeks to explore contemporary struggles for justice in the face of both globalized and local oppression. “Bethany asked if she and others could continue developing this organization … it was the perfect service and advocacy opportunity for the class,” Cooper said.
OH DAM has had a great deal of success since its inception. In January, the organization sold items that were brought back by the students from India such as hand-knit woolens and jewelry, bringing in more than $1,000 for the cause. The group hopes to better this effort with its Bollywood Night on Friday, which will feature a number of activities aimed at raising funds for the Adivasi people in Kerala. Tickets will be sold at the door for $5. “People should be reminded that this is a fundraiser, so they should bring cash along in order to buy goodies … or donate to the cause,” Ringdal said.
Bollywood Night, which will be put on by OH DAM in collaboration with the religion department and the Gustavus Atheist and Freethinkers Forum, will include a number of authentic Indian activities. Some of the planned events include Indian music and videos, a performance of a native Indian dance and henna artists. The program will also give students a chance to have their picture taken in a native Indian wrap dress (Sari), and purchase OH DAM merchandise like handmade Indian jewelry, paper products and OH DAM T-shirts. Finally, attendees will be able to contribute to a banner that will be sent back to Karapuzha to show the campus’ support for the plight of the Adivasi people there.
While the event’s purpose is ultimately to raise funds to help the community in Kerala, it will also be a learning opportunity for all those who attend. “We hope people leave Bollywood Night with two feelings: first, that they have been a part of a good thing, and second that they can’t stop there,” Ringdal said. Cooper echoed this thought, saying that “at the level of charity, we are providing funds for those affected by the dam in India. At the level of justice, [we are thinking] about the bigger picture of how we can and should be supporting groups in India to build sustainable lives for themselves.”
All Gustavus community members are encouraged to attend the Bollywood Night event on Friday.
“We’re living in rapidly shrinking world. We simply can’t go on ignoring our brothers and sisters living, like our friends in India, in abject poverty. It’s time to see the poor, to listen to their stories and to ask ourselves what we can do about it together,” Ringdal said.