Ethan Arpi

In India, Weathermen Are the New Priests

farmersIn the United States, faith, along with the rest of American culture, has been industrialized, and is now manufactured and sold in the mega-church, an odd cross between a sports stadium and a big box store. But thankfully, for those of us who can?t find salvation beneath blaring florescent lights, we can at least get a semblance of it by purchasing the latest line of scientifically tested diet pills. So while many of us have shunned faith, often under the guise of science and enlightenment, we have created other modes of living, like diet pills and energy shakes, which are no more rational.

Historically, India, with its four-armed gods and sacred cows, has been one of the west’s irrational, orientalist fantasies, that has been sought out by anomic Americans. But as India looks to take a leadership role in the 21st century, embracing cellular and wireless technologies, among other new innovations, its exotic elements are starting to look, well, a lot less exotic. This might be a bad thing for the imaginations of many Americans and other westerners, but in all likelihood it will be a boon for many people in India.In an article published by the Times of London last week, India’s farmers switch faith to mobile phones, Ashling O?Connor implies that cell phones and meteorology will make some of India’s striking cultural practices obsolete. ?For centuries, Indian farmers have relied on ancient rituals, the study of wind direction and local gossip to ascertain the annual onset of the unpredictable monsoon rains,? he writes. ?Deciding when to sow their crops and when to take their produce to market is based on experience and instinct. In Jaipur, in the desert state of Rajasthan, landowners continue to put their faith in a 16th-century ceremony that is performed every year on the eve of Guru Purnima, the full Moon day in the Hindu month of Ashad (July-August), when 25 priests gather at the historic Jantar Mantar observatory to hoist a flag and watch how it flaps.?

But all this is set to change. Under a pilot program launched last week by the news agency Reuters, 200 Indian farmers now receive weather updates and local price information on their mobile phones. For this small group of farmers, cell phones and meteorology have dulled the importance of the faith-based celebration at the Jantara Mantar observatory. That is, the weatherman has replaced the priest as the sacred giver of life.

Venkata Reddy, Associate Professor of Marketing at the University of Agricultural Sciences in Bangalore, thinks that this is an important shift, which could radically improve the lives of India’s farmers.
?Farmers currently just turn up at the local market to sell their produce,? he tells the Times. ?Half the time, they are not aware of the prices at the neighbouring market, so there is a vacuum of information. They are losing a lot of money as a result, so this strengthens their hand.?

Indeed; India’s farmers lose an estimated $12 billion when their fruits and vegetables rot, having never reached the market. The Times argues that farmers who use Reuters’s cell phone service will get ?more timely and accurate information,? which will help prevent produce from turning into waste.

If the pilot program succeeds, Reuters is prepared to unveil a larger, country-wide program for as many as 50 million rural landowners. This would be a triumph for farmers and their struggle to get fair prices for the fruits of their labor. But it would not be a triumph of reason over superstition. Although the Marriam-Webster Dictionary says otherwise, I am convinced that meteorology is no more scientific than dieting. But perhaps I?m just bitter because it’s 100 degrees and there’s no rain in the forecast.