What Would a Gandhian Business Model Look Like?

The Gandhi Foundation Annual Lecture 2013 was given by Rt Hon Vince Cable MP. photo courtesy of Prem Prakash & Twisha Chandra

The Gandhi Foundation Annual Lecture 2013 was given by
Rt Hon Vince Cable MP
photo courtesy of Prem Prakash & Twisha Chandra

The Rt Hon Vince Cable MP, Secretary of State for Business, Innovation & Skills delivered the Gandhi Foundation Annual Lecture in October 2013. The title of his lecture was What Would a Gandhian Business Model Look Like? You can read the full speech by clicking here.

You can read a review by Robert Fisher and analysis by Antony Copley below.

What Would a Gandhian Business Model Look Like?
By Robert Fisher

At the recent Gandhi Foundation Annual Lecture, The Rt Hon Vince Cable MP spoke of Mahatma Gandhi as one of the three great 20th century political activists who along with Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King brought to the consciousness of humanity some of the injustices that human kind has heaped upon his fellow man/woman.

At the same time reminding us of three 20th Century tyrants who had brought humanity to the depths of evil and despair, Hitler, Stalin and Mao Zedong who collectively killed millions in their attempts to control the destinies of many with their ill conceived ideological objectives.

And of the legacies of these six individuals, exemplified by the election of Barack Obama as the president of the United States of America, the emergence of India and China as two of the great economic powers in the world and of the recent joint American and Russian intervention in Syria in bringing about the destruction of its chemical weapons.

The legacies of Hitler, Stalin and Mao Zedong are not forgotten, there are still many within global society who would kill with impunity anyone questioning their authority or ideological beliefs.

Whilst Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and Nelson Mandela have undoubtedly helped to reduce the incidents of institutional racism and colonialism, sexism, ageism, classism etc. still exist and as was stated by Dr Cable, nonviolent direct action by all, wherever these incidents occur, will eventually bring these prejudices and injustices to an end.

It is noted that Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King and Gandhi were all individuals who fought against their political systems at the time to achieve their moral objectives.

The world of commerce and industry, based on mutual self interest has steadily moved on, perhaps providing some insight as to the way in which finding ways of working together can be more important than seeking to impose one ideological view over another. Politicians around the world will be aware of the impact the Internet has had on the political landscape.

Dr Cable spoke of globalisation, of economics and of ethics and of cultural and subsequent ethical conflicts between those who are the wealth creators in society and some who retain it to create even more money and of the differences between great wealth and deep poverty, inequalities and injustices in society.

Within the bandwidth of ethics that allows for freedom of thought and deed, I believe different and deeper truths and cultural values will emerge as nations converge and collective society moves forward in what I imagine Gandhi’s definition of Sarvodaya to be.

Globalisation, in this digital age, brings with it the hopes and aspirations of many and the potential for all cultures and nation states to collaborate in trying to address the many challenges that face humanity and earth’s subsystems, and the many opportunities in so doing.

Just under 40 years ago the combined intellectual capacity of only a few motivated individuals addressed the challenge of taking humanity to the moon and back.

It is entirely plausible that the combined intellectual capacity of humanity, connected, motivated and focused on addressing the many challenges we undoubtedly will face as we all move forward in eliminating extremes of poverty and injustice in society and the degradation of the natural world will be achieved. Gandhi and those like him have shown the many what only a few can achieve.

True economics, articulated by Vince Cable as social justice, equality and the good of all is not only aspirational it is logical and demonstrable through the concept of mutual self interest.

Whatever our views of capitalism are, laissez-faire or some other form of capitalism, we are part of global economic community and what we do in one part of the world has an impact in another. Dr Cable in his Ministerial capacity in relation to business, innovation and skills will I’m sure be aware of the need of a fine balance between government (regulation, innovation), and economic (stimulation and equilibrium).

Dr Cable spoke of the liberalisation of the Indian economy and of the dismantling of state control of its planning processes and what would have been Gandhi’s opposition in the protection of rural industries. I can see both sides to this argument, in the semi rural community within which I live I am aware of a balance that needs to kept in the development of any economy, local, national or international and of the need to support those whose aspirations are to the husbandry of natural / rural environments (you cannot eat software), and there is much more to true economics than generating GDP through irresponsible planning processes and ill thought through economic stimuli. I believe aesthetics and analysis both to be part of this liberalisation and planning process, soul with pragmatism.

The balance between materialism / consumerism / waste in a world of finite resources and the subsequent impact on global ecology I feel sure concerns the majority of people in society today and as set out in Vince Cable’s view of true economics it will be the innovators, scientists, engineers, businesses, social entrepreneurs who will address these challenges, but perhaps equally as important the spiritual / moral dimension to be included in this equation will determine the society in which we all will eventually live.

Dr Cable then commented on the benefits of the “green revolution” and of the efficiencies gained in multiple cropping, fertilizers etc.

Those cultures who have tilled the land responsibly for centuries will already be aware of nature’s natural and sustainable cycles, the green revolution will be nothing new to them. However irrigation and mobile telephony, in ways as yet to be imagined, will transform their lives forever.

Jevon’s paradox however puts forward the view that efficiencies gained through technological progress in accessing resources, tend to increase the rate of consumption and if this is the case I believe humanity must define and find ways of living within a sustainable global budget.

Vince Cable then went on to elaborate on the meaning of Swadeshi, as self-reliant village communities, independent from their neighbours for vital wants.

All modern communities of which I am aware are reliant on some of their vital resources from others. Within my own village community I can see many benefits in the reduction of waste by providing within its borders a balanced local economy and employment for its residents, whatever their aspirations are. In all transactions going forward there should be benefits, financial, social or environmental, but no transaction should be at the expense of the other, the metrics and algorithm developed to measure impact, an important factor in creating a sustainable and equitable society, wherever it exists.

Community cohesion and social mobility, mentioned by Dr Cable, should mean something different to the emergence of ghettoes in the city of London for highly paid bankers, or traveling miles to get to work because a person in his or her chosen occupation cannot afford to live close to their employment. These are complexities any economic system will have to deal with, but not, I feel, insurmountable.

Personally I can see some merits in Gandhi’s Swadeshi that should be nurtured, valued and protected, however this should be in a local / national /international / mutual self-interest context.

We have seen both positive and negative impacts of outsourcing our industrial and other capabilities since the 1970s to places such as the far-east and the impact of this short term bottom line thinking has had on the manufacturing skills base of the United Kingdom. There are now not enough engineers to rebuild our own critical infrastructures.

There is a comfort in the idea of British critical infrastructure being held in trust on behalf of its population by a British institution, built and managed by British engineers and if the money needed to build it comes from abroad I feel sure, within the concept of mutual self interest, this can be achieved.

Protectionism is not a viable option in modern day society, whichever industry people are in, but perhaps as is the current focus of Dr Cable’s attention in the development of government economic policy it will include joined up thinking in areas such as education, infrastructure, employment and planning.

Dr Cable then went on to state that he saw little merit in British Swadeshi, and in terms of international trade I would agree that the sum of the whole, in an international context, is much greater than its individual parts. However I imagine in line with government policy, localism, the decentralization /devolution of government and the organic development of clusters of various activities at a local level will inevitably provide the international community with significantly more parts to the whole, which perhaps will propel all nations, including the United Kingdom, who adopt the same model, into an age of socioeconomic and environmental equilibrium.

Finally Dr Cable went on to state that he wanted to see businesses in the United Kingdom that were socially responsible to customers, supply chains, workers and to the exchequer, by self regulation, by naming and shaming. I would add, naming and shaming, if it is to be effective in the world of classic capitalism, transparency and accountability must be part of this Process.

It was a good lecture and a shared vision for the future.

Where is the Gandhian Business Model?
by Antony Copley

No Gandhian could disagree with Vince Cable’s interpretation of Gandhi’s approach to economics as far as his lecture went. He stopped short of Gandhi’s late visionary hopes for the Indian economy, one that was to be taken forward by the left Gandhians, J P Narayan and Vinobe Bhave. No doubt, however, it would be naïve to expect a Secretary of State for Business to move beyond the conventional paradigms of the market economy and the overriding importance of economic growth.

Cable led us through a perfectly plausible account of the way Gandhi had to work within the constraints of a colonial economy, rejecting laissez-faire, the imperial policy which of course advantaged British exports, and a nationalist demand for protectionism, the wish of Indian business interests to play a significant role in shaping Congress policy. This would shelter emergent indigenous capitalist growth, a protectionism most strikingly expressed in the doctrine of swadeshi, the clarion cry of the nationalist movement in its outraged rejection of the partition of Bengal in 1905. I’m not sure if Gandhi ever actually endorsed swadeshi, his concern being to protect artisan industry against both foreign and Indian factory production. I think Cable’s may be special pleading in speculating that Gandhi would have gone along with a globalisation that saw Indian handloom products being sold as luxury items abroad. It would be interesting to read his exposition of this in a jointly authored book with Gandhian L C Jain. But one can agree that Gandhi would have rejected the economic nationalism of the Hindutva movement and the BJP, despite their claims that he was one of their own.

And of course he is surely right to argue that Gandhi engaged in this debate not so much as an economist, for he was no expert in this field, but as a moralist. His concerns were ethical. Cable overlooks the profound influence of John Ruskin’s ideas on Gandhi, above all on the sacred nature of work. Here was one reason for Gandhi’s championing of khadi, his high evaluation of the skills of artisan workers through his constructive programme. The relevant concept here is sarvodaya. It was a policy that did indeed look to the self-sufficiency of the village community. This was nothing to do with the highly regressive programme of autarchy pursued by the Axis powers and such latterday totalitarian states as North Korea. Cable, at the end, advocates forms of decentralisation and here he is seemingly on Gandhi’s wavelength. But something much more far reaching than local autonomy is encompassed in Gandhi’s vision.

Maybe this late Gandhian outlook was never coherently expressed, with his life so tragically cut short. The left Gandhians teased out the quasi-socialist implications of Gandhi’s vision of a new social structure which would radiate outwards from the village, inspired by an oceanic, quasi-mystical sense. So Bhave took up a national crusade of land redistribution, the bhoodan movement, though this was to be on a voluntary basis, appealing to landlords to hand over land to the poor. Narayan of course moved into left-wing politics and was a critical figure in challenging Mrs Gandhi’s increasingly autocratic rule that led to the Emergency regime of 1975-77. Sadly, Bhave and Narayan stood on different sides in that crisis. This possibly reflected the ambiguities in Gandhi’s own outlook.

Arguably Gandhi’s late vision represented a new paradigm on how the economy was to based. All along he had opposed the liberal capitalist insistence on growth above all. His was an economic vision of reaching out to abject levels of poverty but seeking no more than the meeting of basic human needs, a view that rejected a merely materialist approach and was inherently ascetic. This was the way of life in his ashrams. Really and truly here lay Gandhi’s new business model and Cable was way off target. Are Gandhi’s panchayats [small elected body governing a village] indeed so irrelevant?

When the banking crisis struck in 2010 many believed this exposed the inherently flawed nature of capitalism and the opportunity to move from its endlessly preached mantra of growth to an entirely new paradigm of a sustainable economy. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, wrote eloquently of the need to respect our environment and not to exploit and abuse its resources. Of course all this was to tap into a long lament on such abuse from Rachel Carson to James Lovelock and many others. All this has taken on a horrible urgency with the recognition of the threat from climate change. A recent article in the New Statesman by Naomi Klein, ‘Science says: Revolt!’ (25-31 October 2013) describes how leading scientists reinforce this search for a new paradigm, the way government see the revolutionary implications of this new paradigm and are trying to suppress the scientists, and the need for direct action. In this context the ideas of Gandhi, far from seeming utopian, have an all too urgent relevance.

The way the Gandhian ashram and panchayat have been brought up to date and prove that they are not pie in the sky is demonstrated in an astonishing experiment in Gandhian-style communitarian living in Andalucia. In 1979 one Sanchez Gordillo was the first elected mayor of the pueblo of Marinaleda, today with but 2,700 citizens. In 1980 he led a hunger strike ‘against hunger’. In 1991 the 1,200 hectare El Humoso farm was taken over by the Marinaleda co-operative. It chose to develop an agriculture which maximised the use of labour and provide much needed employment. It was a rejection of a wheat based economy that used little labour and pursued mere economic efficiency. Profits of the co-operative are used to create ever newer employment. It is an anti-capitalist example which is catching on. Neighbouring Somante has set up its own co-operative on government owned land. Admittedly the Andalucian Workers Union were initially evicted in March 2012 but returned the next day and never left. Here, argues Dan Hancox, is just the kind of new economy that the indignados are seeking. (See his essay ‘Since the Financial Crisis, the Spanish Economy has been on its Knees. But one Village Stood and Fought’, The Observer 20/10/13 and his book The Village Against the World, Verso). Gandhi is certainly one source for Sanchez Gordillo’s visionary new economy. (Others are Jesus Christ, Marx, Lenin, and Che Guevara.) Gandhi’s attitude to labour, the need for both full employment and a shared labour within the community, is brilliantly realised in these two pueblos. It is of course equally a fulfilment of the ideals of Spanish anarchism.

Quite obviously Vince Cable could not have advocated such a radical new paradigm. He has no option but to stick with the mantra of growth. But here is in fact where a truly Gandhian business model lies.

Antony Copley is an honorary Senior Research Fellow at the University of Kent and a Trustee of The Gandhi Foundation
 
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Gandhi Foundation.

A World of Limited Resources – The Gandhi Foundation Summer Gathering 2013 by Natasha Lewis

The Abbey, in the little village of Sutton Courtenay, Oxfordshire, was again the setting for this year’s Gathering, a week of attempting to live in the style of one of Gandhi’s ashrams whilst allowing a space for discussion into applying his principles to issues faced in the modern world. The building itself is a perfect facilitator for this event, providing several cosy sitting rooms, a kitchen and dining room dating to the 13th century, and a large Great Hall which has windows that open out into the main garden. The grounds give ample space for camping and sports including badminton, as well as a large kitchen garden which provides much of the delicious food for the week! The surrounding countryside also provides several beautiful walks along the river Thames.

GF SG 1

The Gandhi Foundation Summer Gathering 2013

Although some rooms are available in the Abbey itself, most Gatherers stay in the guest house annexe, which has the advantage of 20th rather than 13th century plumbing and heating! The braver amongst us, mostly families, camped and this year a camper van was also used for accommodation. Thirty Seven people attended over the first weekend, with people coming and going over the next week.

The premise of Gandhi’s ashram means that a great communal spirit is built up throughout the week, with teams taking turns to help prepare meals and keep communal spaces clean. The kitchen is usually the focal point, where children’s (and adult’s!) baking and craft takes place, as well as some of the most interesting discussions about the year’s theme.

After a help-yourself breakfast, the morning session begins with a brief meditation and sharing of information, then continues into the main discussion topic for the day. There is normally a short introductory presentation followed by discussion in small groups and then feedback. This leads into Shramdana, meaning ‘sharing of one’s time, thought and energy for the welfare of all’ in accordance with the way Gandhi’s ashrams were run. Lunch is eaten and, after a digestion break, craft activities begin later in the afternoon. It was Gandhi’s belief that time should be spent on useful tasks, and this period is used to follow his guidance. Crafts available this year were varied, including collage making, art using dried flowers, crochet and watercolour painting. One particularly interesting activity was spinning thread from a sheep’s fleece: we set up a production line including carding the wool, using the spinning wheel to turn the wool into thread and winding the finished wool into balls (and untangling it!). The spinning wheel was a bit trickier to use than I expected and unfortunately my wool alternated between being much too thick and snapping because it was too thin! After supper Gatherers are invited to contribute to the evening’s entertainment which included animal noises, poetry readings, slideshows and circle dancing. Then meditation and time for sleep before it all begins again in the morning!

The topic for this year’s Gathering was “A World of Limited Resources: Inspirations and Challenges in Sharing the Planet” which attracted many external speakers as well as new participants. This meant that there was often a talk in the afternoon in addition to the morning session. The first of these was given by an architect, Sandra Piesik, who is running a project reviewing renewable resources as construction materials, involving over 120 scientists and professionals. Her talk mainly focussed on developing architecture using palm leaves in the United Arab Emirates, and her efforts to rescue indigenous technology from the extinction imposed by the advent of globalisation and modern building practices. She highlighted the fact that concrete is not always the most suitable building material in every environment on Earth, and that there is a huge untapped source of building materials from the palm leaves from plants used for date production, which are currently wasted in the UAE.

GF SG 3

The theme of the first morning session (Sunday) was Sarvodaya. This is a term coined by Gandhi to mean ‘universal uplift’ or ‘progress of all’ and was a fundamental principle of his political philosophy. We discussed some of Gandhi’s other main principles: Swaraj, self-rule;  Swadeshi, self-sufficiency; and Satyagraha, “truth force”, Gandhi’s nonviolent resistance strategy.

Monday’s theme was resource depletion: examining the effects of diminishing stocks of non-renewable gas, oil, coal and minerals on the world. We discussed particular industries’ impacts on the earth and its people, and possible substitutes.

Tuesday focussed on climate change and population from a biological perspective, as the talk was given by an ecologist. Human culture has gradually evolved from a hunter-gatherer lifestyle through small scale agriculture to the globalised economy we see today. However, this has occurred in a period of relatively stable climatic conditions for the past 5000 years, which has lulled us into a sense of false security. We were divided into three groups and attempted to answer three questions. The question for my group was: What attributes from our hunter gatherer and agricultural ancestors should we cultivate and which should we reject? We were also asked to talk about steps we could take to reduce our energy usage both on a personal and national/global scale. 
Ruth gave a presentation originally aimed at actuaries to show that in the economic world it is vital to take into account risks of climate change and resource depletion.

The World Economic System was Wednesday’s subject. Alan Sloan presented us with a thought-provoking presentation on a potential new economic system based on ecological footprints. Conventional money is not directly related to the material world, and he suggested that if the new currency were based on the resources available from the earth then this would help to solve the resource depletion crises we are currently facing, as well as relieving poverty in the developing world.

GF SG 2

Four participants gave presentations on four ‘prophets’ on Thursday. John Muir was an American naturalist whose activism helped to preserve national parks such as Sequoia National Park and the Yosemite Valley. Ishpriya is a Catholic nun who founded the International Satsang Organisation. The Reverend Horace Dammers was the founder of the Lifestyle Movement. Frances Moore Lappé is the author of the bestseller Diet for a Small Planet, which advocated a plant-based diet as being much more conducive to food security.

On Friday we welcomed another guest speaker, a representative of Traidcraft. He gave a presentation on the organisation and their efforts to ensure that workers are paid a fair price for their products.

On the last evening we held a party, which was a sort of variety show with everyone offering their best party pieces. We had old home videos, games, singing, jokes, poetry, a small flute recital and some improvised circle dancing. The evening ended with a small tribute to the victims of the atom bomb in 1945, as it was Nagasaki Day. We went out into the garden and floated tea lights in little paper boats in a large baking tray filled with water, as incense smoke floated up into the night sky. It was a lovely way to end the week, which has been one of the most thought-provoking I have attended.

New Book – Ecology Economy by Felix Padel, Ajay Dandekar & Jeemol Unni

Ecology Economyecology economy

- Quest for a socially informed connection

By Felix Padel, Ajay Dandekar and Jeemol Unni

orientblackswan logo

 

 

 

 

About the book, courtesy of Orient Black Swan:

Ecology, Economy is an elaborate argument to establish society as central in policy-making for holistic development. The book presents cases of the adverse effects of resource utilisation—water, metals, power, land—on Adivasi communities in particular. It presents an overview of the paradoxes inherent in ‘development’ projects, emphasising the drastic drop in the standard of living of rural communities, and the immeasurable damage to India’s ecosystems and resource base.

The authors highlight the tussle between real growth and the rule of law, the informalisation of labour under a neoliberal economy, and current threats to ‘Adivasi Economics’—the little monetised systems based on a long-term symbiosis with the natural environment, based on taking from the ecosystem without intrinsically damaging it.

It asks: what is real development? How can we transform present developmental patterns to achieve a more truly sustainable path towards collective well-being? Is there any politically feasible path out of the multidimensional economic, environmental, social and climate change cataclysms facing us now in India and worldwide? Contrary to seeing dissent as ‘anti-development’, this book puts a face to the people on whom ‘development’ is imposed.

A product of the confluence of anthropology, policy analysis and rural economics, this volume also comes with an extensive Bibliography to lead researchers and every interested reader towards a rich body of work. It will be useful for students and scholars of sociology, economics, anthropology, ecology and environmental studies, development studies, political science, law and international affairs.

Civilizational Gandhi – a new paper by Rajni Bakshi

civilizational gandhiGateway House’s Rajni Bakshi analyses the Mahatma’s civilizational vision and explains how it can guide us through contemporary economic and identity-related conflicts.

From the central hall of the Indian Parliament in New Delhi to a statue at Union Square Park in New York, and across far flung corners of the world, M.K. Gandhi is loved and celebrated as an apostle of non-violence. Yet it is Gandhi’s little-known work on what it means to be truly civilized that might be far more crucial to the future of our species.

The multiple global crises – social inequity, financial turmoil and ecological imbalance – have made it imperative to revisit and pay close attention to Gandhi’s radical but more sustainable civilizational vision. Within India, both the economy and polity are in a state of distress. More than six decades after independence, India remains at the bottom of the United Nations’ Human Development Index. Twenty years of economic liberalisation have expanded the size of India’s middle class, but not raised the standard of living for the overwhelming majority of Indians. Globally, people are slowly acknowledging that the global financial system is fundamentally flawed and not just going through a cyclical low. We are also more sceptical now about the ability of the prevailing market culture to ensure even basic well-being for the seven billion people who inhabit the earth. At the same time, the human economy and nature’s eco-systems appear to be critically out of sync. Despite an increasing urgency for trans-national cooperation, there are persistent fears about a clash of civilizations – primarily between the West and the Islamic world, but also within multi-ethnic societies in large parts of the contemporary world.

This paper explores how the Mahatma’s civilizational vision can serve as a new lens to understand contemporary global crises – identity-based conflicts, the failed promise of universal prosperity and the threat of ecological collapse. What we have here are not ready solutions but a framework which might help us to forge solutions.

Download the full paper free of charge by signing up here: http://mad.ly/signups/71601/join

Originally published by Gateway House: Indian Council on Global Relations: http://www.gatewayhouse.in/

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Gandhi Foundation.

New Book Review – Whose Country is it anyway? by Gladson Dungdung and reviewed by Felix Padel

whose country is it anyway GD.Gladson Dungdung - Whose Country is it anyway?

Review by Felix Padel

This collection of activist essays is out just when it is needed most: a book touching on every aspect of the Adivasi situation by an Adivasi activist prepared to take on the big questions and the key perpetrators of violence, from the big companies staging takeovers, headed by Tata, to the police increasingly serving these companies rather than India’s citizens, and the politicians facilitating the takeovers.

The book’s starting point is a recent Supreme Court Judgement that validates Adivasis’ identity as India’s original inhabitants. Significantly, this case involved an Adivasi woman stripped naked and shoved around a village in Maharashtra. Another piece focuses on the plight of Anna, a domestic servant, whose unheard plea for justice is symptomatic of mass exploitation and oppression of Adivasi women in domestic service. As for exposure to rape – what about rapists in uniform? Hasn’t rape been used against tribal people as a weapon of subjugation for decades? When tribal women are gang-raped by police or army personnel, are perpetrators ever punished? “Are these women too?” is one of the book’s strongest essays, covering the sexual abuse in a school in Chhattisgarh and other episodes that bring national shame.

The first essay starts at the beginning with the inspiring, yet harrowing story of the first Adivasi to oppose East India Company invasions, in 1779, with the words “Earth is our Mother”. Baba Tilika Manjhi paid for opposing the British with a gruesome death, giving the lie to the mastermind of this Paharia campaign, Augustus Cleveland, whose memorial in Bhagalpore claimed that he brought this tribal people under British rule “without terrors of authority”!

The book’s documentation of the many forms of violence and prejudice ranged against Adivasis fills a vital gap in literature. The detail is often sickening and will make any sane person extremely angry. It is shown how Adivasis are being displaced by dams, by industrial/mining projects, by continuing tricks of non-Adivasis, and – perhaps most outrageously of all – by the new University for the Study and Research of Law at Nagri. As Dungdung points out, the head of this university is also Jharkhand’s Chief Justice. If this isn’t a blatant conflict of interest, what is? This university’s takeover of land lays down a pattern of trampling on the Law that does not bode well for its future!

The book documents the situation in other states besides Jharkhand, such as Chhattisgarh, Odisha and Assam, where the Forest Department’s use of Boro tribal people to evict Adivasis from their forest land shows a typical colonial technique of turning one tribe against another. As the author asks, if Rahul Gandhi says he is Adivasis’sipahi in Delhi, he needs to speak up a lot louder and more often on Adivasi issues!

Dungdung rightly points out that in many ways Nehru is the ‘Architect of Adivasis’ misery’, through his ideology of dams as ‘temples of modern India’. The experience of tens of thousands of Adivasis whose lives have been ruined by dams forms a blatant contradiction to Nehru’s stated principle that tribal people should always be allowed to develop according to their own genius. However well-meaning Nehru was in his words, his violent actions towards tribal communities at certain times have yet to be recognised: apart from the horror of his big dams, he also sent in the troops against tribal communities in Telengana in 1948, destroying the achievements of 3,000 villages who had effected a democratic redistribution of land, and similarly in Nagaland and Manipur during the 1950s, where troops used extreme levels of violence to force submission. In each case, ‘security forces’ established a level of habitual violence, including use of ‘rape as a weapon of war’, for which thousands of perpetrators went unpunished. Operation Greenhunt is just the latest manifestation of the recurring patterns of state violence that these two operations initiated. Offering just military action and ‘development’ to counteract today’s Maoist insurgency is no solution at all ‘precisely because the injustice, discrimination and denial are the foundation of the violence’.

Gladson Dungdung records the starvation levels of hunger still faced by large numbers of Adivasis. As Binayak Sen has pointed out using medical and nutrition statistics, over 50% of Adivasis and Dalits are presently living under famine conditions of malnourishment. This being so, how can India’s rulers claim they have brought ‘development’ at all to these sections of society? To be real, development needs to be under local democratic control, not dictated by corporations and opaque government hierarchies.

As the two most discriminated-against groups in India, Dalits and Adivasis share many experiences. Yet the difference between the two groups is also important to be aware of: Dalits were more or less enslaved by mainstream society, while Adivasis maintained a high level of independence up to British times. As such, they developed their own diverse cultures and languages to a high level. Adivasi cultures are still too often perceived through stereotypes as ‘primitive’ and ‘backward’, when the reality is that they are extremely civilised and highly developed in areas of life where mainstream society is weak or degenerate. Centuries of development is often destroyed when Adivasi communities are thrown off their land by projects usurping the name ‘development’.

Adivasi society needs to be recognised for its formidable achievements, including an economic system that is based on and in accordance with the principles of ecology, and therefore sustainable in the true sense and the long term. Cultural Genocide is the term for what Adivasis are facing now all over India, and this book is a landmark in spelling out the injustice. By bringing out the truth, and documenting the situation from an authentic Adivasi perspective, it gives hope for a turning of the tide that will counteract the genocidal invasions and takeovers of Adivasi land.

Dr Felix Padel is an anthropologist who has lived in India for 30 years. His latest book ‘Out of This Earth: East India Adivasis and the Aluminium Cartel’ by Felix Padel and Samarendra Das is published by Orient Black Swan. ISBN: 9788125038672

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Gandhi Foundation.

Jeevika Trust ‘Adopt a Hive’ New Year Appeal

Beelieve in Village India

beehive lady2

Here is a gift sweeter than honey that solves all your giving needs – family, friends, birthdays, valentines. It is the practical present that changes people’s lives for the better. How? We all know bees are brilliant and at Jeevika Trust they have put this into action with their Project Madhu Network. With their partner organisation Jeekan Reka Parishad they are successfully connecting and training poor and marginalised women from the Chandaka Tribal Forest to enable them to develop traditional techniques to become FairTrade honey-producers.

So here is your chance to adopt a bee hive and avoid getting stung!

For further details: http://www.jeevika.org.uk/AdoptAHive2012.htm

New Opencast Coal Mines Destroying Tigerland by Bulu Imam

16th October 2012

I must admit to being a romantic and idealist by nature. Having said that I must declare that I believe romance and idealism to be amongst the most prized possessions of our species apart from instinct itself. Up until the advent of what we know as civilization man had an imagination which was centred on the survival of the species. But then imagination became increasingly diluted with passing time and with sedentarization, fortification of settlements, and later the expeditions of conquest over weaker societies and opened the way for colonization of new territories, and in due course monopoly of authority centred about a few powerful individuals and the greed of their supporters. Entire civilizations and weaker cultures were vanquished and history resounds with the rhetoric of military conquest ascribed to so-called great and murderous rulers. A certain glory is sought to be portrayed in the genocidal career of successful hordes of destroyers taming the planet and looting its resources for the benefit of the fortunate dominant populations of the plunderers. Technology was meant to be a tool for human advancement, not destruction, but the cannibalism inherent in complete authority led to a new age dawning in the period known as the age of colonialism as weaker sections of dominant societies were enslaved by the industrial machine. This age was supported by the discovery of the latent power in fossil solar energy stored over millennia within the body and the surface of the planet itself. This was mainly coal, and oil. Coal brought about the Industrial Revolution in England whereby the discoveries of the iron age, coupled with the discovery of gunpowder and later steel and its manufacture led to such extremes of European power that it could result in an Enlightenment based not only upon agricultural surplus as in the past but upon an economic surplus. This took place in the nineteenth century and whereby entire swathes of non European populations across the globe could be exterminated and the remaining populations made subjects within the territories which they had once possessed.

To read the full article: New Opencast Coal Mines Destroying Tigerland by Bulu Imam

Bulu Imam is a cultural activist and joint recipient of The Gandhi Foundation International Peace Award 2011. He can be contacted at: buluimam@gmail.com

 

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Gandhi Foundation.

India’s National Highways Widening Project – Bulu Imam

Bulu Imam
Hazaribagh
23rd August, 2012

Over the past decade and half India’s government conceived and implemented the plan to widen the country’s major highways. This included in the first phase the old Grand Trunk Road running east to west across north India through the vast plains and densely populated villages along the road. Millions of ancient fruiting and sacred indigenous trees were felled, and in the Jharkhand forested area the road ploughed through the forest. The existing eighty feet wide highway area was doubled, in some places almost tripled. This was the legendary road developed by Sher Shah and the Mughals in Delhi and later was to prove useful to the East India Company in 1772 in pushing its domain westward across northern India. This became a flagship project under the so called Golden Quadrilateral Project (linking Delhi, Chennai, Mumbai, Kolkata), the presently called National Highway 1. It is impossible to comprehend what such a project across a densely populated, forested and agricultural country like India could do. Two lane highways were expanded into treeless, habitationless, desert like tracts winding across the endless north Indian plain, in summer cutting all traditional transport connectivity between villages. India has planned to widen 70,934 kilometres of such highways eventually. The idea began during the BJP government when Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee conceived it fourteen years ago (1998). Originally called The Golden Quadrilateral Project it was implemented by the National Highways Development Project to upgrade, widen, rehabilitate India’s major highways, in various stages. Managed by the National Highways Authority of India under the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways, it was implemented with an outlay of USD 60 billion (INR 3,00,000 crores) (USD 71 billion as of 2006). The highways to be upgraded through this dream project cover in its first phase, the golden quadrilateral 5846 kilometres initiated by then Prime Minister A.B.Vajpayee which is estimated to cost USD 6.8 billion funded by special petroleum tax revenues and loans from international banks, including the World Bank. Sixty percent of the project is to be privately financed. The World Bank has reportedly already given a loan of USD 40 billion for the overall highways expansion project. It is designed along American lines and the highways themselves when completed will largely resemble the treeless barren highways of the United States.

 In its second phase the project covers the north-south 2000 kilometres (Srinagar to Kanyakumari), east-west 2000 kilometers ( Silchar in the North-east to Porbandar in western Gujarat). It is definitely the “mother and father of all Silk Roads”! In the third phase the government recently approved upgrading 12,109 kilometres of highways on a Build, Operate, Transfer (BOT) basis handed to contractors and which will expand existing highways between state capitals and economic centres across India. Contracts have been awarded for 2075 kilometres. Later more such expansion phases will come.

God alone knows the effects which they will have on both the common man and the environment – both of which do not appear in India’s economic chart. Because I have been witness to its destructive potential at first hand I am fearful for the overall impact of this kind of project on the whole nation. Certainly it will usher in a sea-change, but will the impacts of this new addiction bear good fruit? In my opinion it can not.

This ambitious project has shown its destructiveness to villages in its way, and the roadside trees which were the glory of Mughal roads in India, and in our region which were developed by Sher Shah. As the road widening slowly started showing its effects we witnessed the disappearance of the landscape along the roads, the wholesale cutting down of massive trees. My own N.H 33 in Hazaribagh was denuded of an estimated fifty thousand ancient trees on its way to Ranchi barely 100 kilometres away. Hundreds of thousands of smaller trees also disappeared along the highway. From Kolkata to Barhi to Benares and Allahabad and on to Delhi the old Grand Trunk Road became a barren treeless mass of linear concrete winding across the northern plain, the villages on its both sides being largely destroyed by the massive ever widening concrete road running through; small towns felt the full wrath of the highway with hundreds of thousands of solid brick and cement houses being destroyed. Where there were forests such as in the highlands of Jharkhand, these were mowed down. In bigger towns and cities immense flyovers and by-passes were built. The present highway expansion across India covers a distance of 60,000 kilometres at a cost of approximately a billion dollars for every thousand kilometers. The loss of buildings and normal life along the highways is not calculated, nor is the ecological costs incurred through cutting down of ancient shade, fruit, and sacred trees like banyan (ficus bengalensis) andpipul (Ficus religiosa). Other valuable trees like mango (Mangoferus indica) and neem (azadirachta indica) have been destroyed by the millions. I have seen the effects of this highway expansion in my home state of Jharkhand first-hand and the effects it is having on the roadside buildings and populations, often very poor people, as well as the clearing of all the roadside trees that formerly provided shade during the very hot summer. The summer temperatures every year are dramatically rising, the concrete highway being a burning concrete strip, while rainfall patterns in these areas has dwindled affecting the rice plantations along the highway. Millions of hectares of rice fields have also become victims of highway expansion. The National Highway 33 passes through Hazaribagh, the town where I live, a stretch of slightly over four hundred kilometers connecting the nearby town of Barhi (on N.H.1) and the town of Baharagora in the southwest on the border of Jharkhand with the state of Orissa. This road is entirely within Jharkhand state. It is only one of the many similar highways in my region being destroyed to create a new India. Like all other state development projects the costs are not counted, neither human, social or ecological costs which will be handed over to future generations of Indians. There is another cost, the one of the aesthetic loss to the nation. The danger of the highways expansion is not only affecting the national highways, but is also affecting state highways, which are being developed from two to four lanes as well. The roadside trees and villages face the same harrowing fate as the “national” highways have started. Recently I visited south Jharkhand and saw the road from Simdega to Kunkurri being widened, a distance of approximately a hundred and odd kilometers. The present roads in the small township of Simdega are hellish, so is the present road from Simdega to Kunkurri (In Chhatisgarh state) is equally hellish, but instead of repairing the existing roads a massive new highway is planned. In the small village of Kurdeg which is on this highway I was shown where 40 feet on either side of the existing 80 feet wide road would destroy houses. It was an appalling sight, but in retrospect only a microcosm in comparison to what is happening in almost every district of India even now as I write!

When will modern India learn to value her own great traditional wealth and stop imitating the west? When will we learn to stand on our own feet? I return to Hazaribagh.

Earlier the N.H.33 ran through the most picturesque hilly scenery imaginable running from the plateau of Hazaribagh through densely forested Ghats to the beautiful valley of the Damodar which has been turned into a desert of concrete arteries, underground coal mine fires smoking beside the highway, atmospheric pollution so dense you can cut it with a knife, coal blackened streams and shanties in which the coal blackened faces of the former healthy tribes-people stare at you as you pass in your air-conditioned vehicle. THIS is the cost of modern India’s development. The poor and their lands have been sacrificed, the minerals stripped by the state, and the residue of humanity left to rot by the wayside…When one revisits this stretch of road from the still “pleasant leafy town of Hazaribagh” (Lonely Planet Guide) in the observations of a famous administrator during far-off British days – F.B.Bradley-Birt in his book CHOTA NAGPORE: A Little-known Province of the Empire (1903) – one is immediately transported into the past. He has left us with an unforgettable view of these plateaux – the old road from Giridih to Hazaribagh; the approach to the Ranchi plateau from Purulia; and of course the road from Hazaribagh down to the once-beautiful valley of the Damodar, and up the picturesque hill ranges to the fertile farmland of Ranchi plateau mainly inhabited by the Oraon and Munda tribes. I know that things change, but change has been brought too fast and haphazardly in modern India. England may not be exactly as Caesar knew it, but when I have driven by the English shires I have been constantly aware of the preservation of the lovely English landscape, and its archaeological sites (even Stonehenge!). There has to be in the official developers of nations a sense of history, an appreciation of landscapes, and a respect for citizens’ rights. In modern India these senses and understandings have been completely lost. It happened during the 1950s in Soviet Russia, it is happening even now in China. India must learn to understand the value to future generation in the preservation of its social and natural environment for future generations. We do not want to leave them a desert of a once fruitful and bountiful land? The government’s preoccupation with the Neo-Liberalism, the Economy and Growth, has led to the destruction of modern Indian society and the environment. I know that the once red-gravel (morum) highways had to become tar-macadam sometime, even as they are now turned into cement-concrete, but why have we lost the old sense of the need to preserve what we in fact do not need to destroy. To destroy something for a brief momentary gain to incur a significant long-term loss is either highway robbery or crass stupidity. I think our modern Indian planners are guilty of both. The administrators being government servants can do little but take orders and sometimes reap side benefits, the politicians and legislators steer a course for personal and party profit.

The Hazaribagh-Ranchi stretch of the N.H.33 described by Bradley-Birt is today a sight of the most abject desolation where hundreds of thousands of roadside trees have been systematically cut, some very ancient, using villagers’ axes and JCB machines to carry the old trunks away, village houses and small-town buildings have been swept away, crumbling ruins and slum shanties everywhere, millions displaced. I heard that when a search for the felled trees was made they were untraceable, the timber having been pirated! These things are taken for granted in modern India, after all there are bigger scams happening in New Delhi! This is always the excuse for not reacting to scams at the state level – the scams are bigger in the national capital!!

The greatest danger to the fabric of India’s human and natural environment is overlooked in contrast to the scale of India herself – a vast and almost limitless land, a densely inhabited and rich agricultural and forested habitat from the rising Himalayas in the north to the sun swept lands of the south and fairly barren Deccan plateaux, nursed on either sides by the Eastern and Western Ghats which stand as ramparts over the Bay of Bengal in the east and the Arabian Sea on the west. When the National Highways Project is seen in context of Indian highways it accounts for only a mere two percent of India’s highways (much left by the British) but the new highways being widened are crucial for economic development since they carry 40 percent of India’s industrial traffic. With the government’s promotion of economic liberalism ever since Rajiv Gandhi introduced this as state policy during the 1980s, to the efforts of successive governments, prime ministers and finance ministers, both of the BJP and Congress, the mantra of economic development sounded sweet and economic liberalism was promoted as government policy in this “developing the nation”. With the rapid increase of economic-liberalism and the increasing advent of corporations and government’s privatization of public sector industries the effects of the world economic order started to weigh heavily on Indian priorities. The evolving corporate state has become the anathema of everything which Gandhi envisioned for modern India. The peoples’ lands are being grabbed at gunpoint, sectors of tribal society are being declared terrorists and hunted down, stricter and stricter legislation is being imposed and in my view India is evolving towards a police state. But democracy still stands. Unlike in Pakistan or China we can still speak our minds in public. But for how long? George Bernard Shaw in his inimitable way once remarked “Democracy is not real freedom”. He was referring to government. Democracy is all about government and not about freedom. It is perhaps the greatest hoax perpetrated against freedom, whether Abe Lincoln would have liked it or not. And so we are saddled with government, and dissent against government policy can make one anything from a seditionist to an anarchist, let alone a Luddite. But I still hold India is a Democracy in the best sense because its citizens – at least up until this moment – can voice dissent. Perhaps it is a carry-over from the nationalist freedom movement, the idealizing of the dissent of India’s freedom fighters against British rule, the creation of martyrs, and the distribution of Tamba-0patras (Copper Plate awards) to Freedom Fighters. The fight for India’s independence from British rule laid down the foundations upon which modern India was built.

However, to return to the subject of these new national highways being drawn out by planners in New Delhi sitting in air-conditioned buildings, to the common man living with his family along the remnants of his house on a new highway being built …. Supposedly for the welfare of his children (!) is a long distance. As we have seen the National Highways expansion project is not only mind boggling for a nation in which 40 percent live below the poverty line (50 cents a day), but also in the scale of its mass destruction of trees and the cost to the nation of losing housing whose value to the common man have never been taken into consideration both as national assets or as the production of human resources of Indians themselves which are national assets in the long run. On the other hands the dozens of billions of dollars in loans which the government is taking from international banks including the World Bank (I am informed USD 40 billion) is money in the government’s hands on the hypothecation of the nation’s natural reserves, which should be seen as an impoverishment of this nation. The human and ecological losses can never be calculated. As India presents itself as a growing economy so too daily India is falling into the trap of other developed nations relying on foreign banks…. It is falling into a debt-trap from which it cannot emerge, and which will have to be faced by future generations – and our rising population, climate change, and resulting lack of will to live will destroy the fabric of future Indian life.

Bulu Imam is a cultural activist and joint recipient of The Gandhi Foundation International Peace Award 2011. He can be contacted at: buluimam@gmail.com

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Gandhi Foundation.

Is Judiciary Biased Against Adivasis? by Gladson Dungdung

Is Judiciary Biased Against Adivasis?

By Gladson Dungdung

Gladson Dungdung

JharkhandMirror.org

July 23, 2012

On 15 July, 2012, in the afternoon, the weather was cool, the sky was cloudy and it was drizzling. The hundreds of Adivasis of Nagri village entered into the central hall of the Birsa Agriculture University, Ranchi with the single point agenda to get back their agriculture lands, which has been captured by the State with the power of Gun. In fact the Birsa Agriculture University was also built on their land after snatching it from their ancestors. They have been resisting against the forceful and illegal land acquisition because the present government has been attempting to grab rest of their land in the name of growth and development. They are well aware that if they surrender their land in front of the Gun, they’ll become landless, homeless and helpless. Their survival, identity and existence will be  vanished. Therefore, they were there to attend a meeting called off by the “High Power Committee” constituted by the Chief Minister of Jharkhand, Arjun Munda on the basis of an order of the Jharkhand High Court, which states that the Government should resolve the land row of Nagri within a week otherwise; the court will directly deal with the land owners.

Read the full article by clicking the link below:

Is Judiciary Biased Against Adivasis by Gladson Dungdung

Gladson Dungdung is a Human Rights Activist

Gloomy Thoughts on India Today By Antony Copley

Gloomy Thoughts on India Today by Antony Copley

These reflections are prompted by attending the Gandhi Foundation Award ceremony in the House of Lords of the Gandhi International Peace Award for 2011 to Binayak Sen and Bulu Iman and a seminar given by two very bright graduate students of the University of Kent on the writings and film making of Arundhati Roy. Biographical details on the two recipients can be seen in the Gandhi Foundation Peace Award article on this website and their two acceptance speeches will also be published shortly, so this is no attempt to summarise what they had to say. But it filled me with a real sense of gloom about where India today is heading.

It was very moving to find oneself in the same room as Binayak Sen. It was something of a miracle that he was present at all to receive his prize, only by being let out of prison on bail and having his passport returned at a very late stage. Binayak Sen is a doctor and specialist paediatrician and he began by telling us that surveys on malnutrition, based on body mass indices, show that India is in fact in the grip of famine. Sen’s struggle for civil rights is well known. He ended his talk by telling us the Indian government is currently drawing up legislation in which almost all forms of dissent will now be branded as sedition. Such was the charge brought against him for his own active engagement in the struggle for adivasi rights and one that led to a sentence of life imprisonment.

Bulu Iman delivered a searing indictment against the current economic development of India with its rampant capitalism riding rough shod over the economic and cultural life of the tribal population. He opened up an apocalyptic vision of India’s own economic self destruction. All this ties into the consequences of climate change. None has done more than Bulu Iman to memorialise the remarkable culture of the forest people. We were recently provided with a brilliant photographic record of this culture at an exhibition of photographs by Robert Wallis in the Brunei Gallery at SOAS, conveying a horrifying sense of the threat from the coal-mining and mining of other minerals to the very survival of this culture. Talking to Bulu Iman afterwards he left me with a disturbing sense that, in fact, the battle for survival has been lost. He sees the materials in his Sanskriti Museum, Hazaribagh as time capsules. How can any culture of this fragile kind survive the destruction of its village life, with huge roads ploughing through the forest destroying all in their way? At least a third of the tribal population in the forest areas of eastern and central India have already been dispossessed and driven into urban slums.

Felix Padel, historian of the tribal struggle and vital intermediary between The Gandhi Foundation and the two recipients, endorsed their findings. If anything, he sees the situation as even more dire.

No-one has more vividly described this human catastrophe overwhelming the forest population than Arundhati Roy. I learnt that her imagery always refers back to the holocaust of the partition. Initially, I could see how this imagery would work for the disaster that has struck Kashmir and the horrors of communal violence in Gujerat in 2003 but I was less certain of its relevance to the tribal tragedy. But then it was explained to me that their forced dispossession precisely echoes those images of long lines of migrants on the move during the massive migrations of the partition years.

Has the India of its founding fathers really come to this? Was there some fatal flaw in Nehru’s vision for change, a paternalist concern towards the vulnerable in Indian society that could turn dictatorial? Did that visionary sense of rapid development with its power stations and dams in fact presage the rampant capitalism on view today? It was Nehru himself who laid the foundation stone 5 April 1961 of the Sardar Sarovar, the scheme for some 3000 dams on the River Narmada. The forest people were drawn into a Nehruvian development project. Of course it is tempting to place the blame for the exploitation of the forests on the Raj and its Forest laws of 1878 and it is true that much of its timber was set aside for exploitation- think of the amount of wood needed fort the Indian railways. But the colonial regime did set aside protected areas and sought to shore up the way of life of the forest people. It is also worth recalling that originally these were plains people but driven into the forest by aggressive agrarian castes. But independence seemed to release even great depredation of the tribal economies. In the eight provinces of Bihar that were in 2000 to become the state of  Jharkand, far more mineral wealth was being extracted and exported than development aid was being invested. Did it only need Narisimha Rao’s Congress government’s liberalisation of state controls over the economy in 1993 to release globalisation in all its exploitative greed? For decades India was the world’s most exciting prospect of a developing economy and yet did we foresee Shining India as its outcome? Bulu Imam for one was sceptical if there be any life left in any earlier visionary outlook.

Of course it is distastefully possible to be dismissive of the chances for survival in today’s economic imperatives of such vulnerable communities as the forest peoples. If you adopt a historically determinist approach, then so called primitive or backward communities simply have to give way to `progress’. At best, you offer the communities some share in the profits of the mining revolution. It was argued in that seminar on Arundhati Roy that the newly enriched Indian middle class have no sense that the forest people are worth protecting-they simply stand in the way of the making of wealth. It helps to understand such indifference if we realise the staggering profits that will be made from the mining of minerals in the forests. Maybe the forest people are themselves –or so it is sometimes argued- morally obliged to accept that they have no option but to share this wealth.

But of course there are very strong counter arguments. In the tribal way of life we are given an example of a sustainable economy, one that respects nature, and is just the example of sustainability we need if we are to stave off the disastrous consequences of climate change. Bianca Jagger, inter alia Council of Europe Goodwill Ambassador and Trustee of the Amazon Charitable Trust, in her intervention at the Award ceremony pleaded for new paradigm on development. There has to be a development plan that accommodates the needs of such vulnerable societies. Not everyone knows that Parliament now has an All Party Parliamentary Group for Tribal Peoples. The LibDem MP, Martin Forwood, its founder and Chairman, attended the ceremony. He reminded us of the threat from the Maoists. And clearly there are alternatives models for development than industrial capitalism. More radically, we need to abandon the concept of growth for one of sustainability.

So is there any prospect of checking this invasion of the tribal lands in its track? We have to live in hope. Ilina Sen agreed with me as we said farewell in the corridors of the House of Lords. Without hope we are lost. I do not myself give up hope that the progressive ideals incarnated in the Indian Constitution, the democratic political vision of Nehru, the role of a free press in independent India, have wholly disappeared. At least one Minister of Forests tried to rein in the corporation, Vedanta and delay the mining of bauxite in Chhattisgarh. If the political class are too hand in glove with the capitalists then we have to fall back on dissent from India’s intelligentsia. Aruna Roy, distinguished journalist of the Times of India, put faith in such dissent. Admittedly, if Binayak Sen’s fears over changing the laws on sedition are accurate, then there is a momentous struggle to be waged. Will university students, amongst others, stand up for Civil Rights?

Where does this leave the Gandhians? In an earlier struggle, the Narmada Bachao Andolan (Save the Narmada Movement), under the inspired leadership of Medha Petkar, a Gandhian movement went some way to check the flooding of the river by the dams and the destruction of its riverside tribal culture. And it may well be asked, why did this cultural vandalism not cause as much shock as that of the vandalism of the Babri Masjid mosque in 1992? In 1993 the World Bank withdrew funding, embarrassed by the wonderfully named Monsoon satyagrahas, with Gandhian activists ready to expose themselves to the rising waters, in the practice of jal samparan, sacrifice in water. The whole issue was referred to the Supreme Court. But it has to be acknowledged that in the end it came out on the side of the dam. In its judgement, `it became necessary to harvest the river for the larger good.’ There was to be rather more good fortune in a Gandhian protest against the Maheshwar Hydroelectric Scheme in Madya Pradesh, a protest linked to the NAPM, the National Advancement of People’s Movement, set up in 1996.Yet we were told at the award ceremony when the women of Tamil Nadu protested against a nuclear power station all 5000 were arrested. Has the iron entered the soul in current Indian policy making?

So can a Gandhian protest influence the outcome in the current struggle in eastern and central India? Few people are aware of the scale of the conflict today. Has the freedom of the press been stifled? Are people just indifferent? To deal with the conflict both the police and increasingly the Indian army are heavily engaged. Quite who carries out reprisals against the tribal villages is unclear to me though I was told in the seminar that Hindu communal nationalists are heavily involved. They hold the tribal peoples, who of course lie outside the caste system, in contempt. Many tribals have joined the Maoist led revolt, driven out of their villages, outraged at the violation of their women. But what do the Maoists,or Naxalites as they are alternatively known, want? Have they a vision which in the long run saves the economies of the forest peoples? It does not fit with Marxist notions of economic development. Admittedly Marx, at the end of his life, came to see in such simple communities the very ideal of the communist society he was envisioning. Might today’s Indian Maoists do the same? It seems far more probable that the Maoists see themselves as engaged in a power struggle with the Indian state and have but opportunistically seized on this social unrest. The majority of the forest people find themselves in the crossfire of a civil war between the Indian army and the Maoists. Is there scope for non-violent satyagraha? So Bhikhu Parekh argued for at the end of the Award ceremony. Arundhati Roy feels that up against the violence of the State there is little prospect for a Gandhian solution and wonders if there is a non-violent alternative to the violence of the Maoists. Bulu Iman, a committed Gandhian, is equally pessimistic. In his view a satyagraha can only impact if your opponent has a moral susceptibility to injustice and he feels that such receptivity, one that existed with the likes of a Christian Lord Irwin of the British Raj or a Smuts in South Africa, does not exist in to today’s India. It makes one fear that a committed Gandhian like Binayak Sen may yet be disappointed in his life’s struggle. But again, one must not give up hope.

Eastern and Central India is not the only locale for struggles by tribal people. It also rages in North East India, Kerala, and on every other continent. These are not saintly movements. Up against the threat from globalisation several have retreated into exclusivist and xenophobic autonomous movements .Their political future would be better served were they to seek out more pluralist solutions. Such tribal people are at risk world wide. In the Award ceremony much was made of the role of international capital, the City of London, host to most of the Corporations financing the mining of tribal areas, a particular villain. The threat to the forest economies is clearly a part of globalisation. The tribal people stand in its way. Their communitarian values and ideals of a sustainable economy may yet be the inspiration to save us all from the consequences of unchecked growth. Their struggle is one that concerns us all.

 Antony Copley
Honorary Senior Research Fellow, University of Kent and Trustee of The Gandhi Foundation

Books consulted, Alf Gunvald Nilsen Dispossession and Resistance in India : The river and the rage Routledge 2010, Ed Daniel J Rycoft and Sangeeta Dasgupta The Politics of Belonging in India: Becoming Adivasi Routledge 2011,Arundhati Roy Broken Republic Hamish Hamilton 2011

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