Tony Benn – the Vegetarian

Tony receiving the Lord Parshvanath Award at Trafalgar Square. It is being presented by late Sudha Mehta and Kumudbhai Mehta

Tony receiving the Lord Parshvanath Award at Trafalgar Square from the late Sudha Mehta and Kumudbhai Mehta

Tony Benn passed away on 14th March 2014 aged 86. Tony had been a vegetarian for many years and was present at the Vegetarian rally held on 22nd July 1990 in Hyde Park. The event had massive media coverage. Many newspapers reported the event titled,’Veggie Benn’. Tony became a vegetarian after his son told him about the colossal use of crops used in feeding animals to produce meat. At the rally Tony said that he felt very healthy as a vegetarian and he opposed animal exploitation as much as he opposes human exploitation. Tony often mentioned that he had met Mahatma Gandhi when he was a child. Gandhi had made a great impact on young Tony which shaped his concern for social justice and inequality. He was also a passionate campaigner for stopping all wars and advocated pacifism. The following quote from Tony shows his concern for animals:

‘The case for animal testing is now being directly challenged by scientists and doctors and their judgement must be taken seriously.’

By Nitin Mehta, who is the founder of the Indian Cultural Centre in Croydon and of the Indian Vegetarian Society.

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.

The Gandhi Foundation AGM and Lecture 2013

The Gandhi Foundation AGM and Lecture 2013 was held on Saturday 8th June at Kingsley Hall, London

Read a copy of The Gandhi Foundation Annual Report 2012_2013

After the AGM, Ruhul Abdin and colleagues from Paraa gave a lecture, slideshow and video presentation about their work to establish a community learning and resource centre in the Mohammadpur Geneva Camp in Dhaka, Bangladesh. This project has been helped by the Gandhi Foundation.

Paraa is a London based charitable organisation which works to develop the built environment of various communities in Bangladesh. The country is among the least developed countries with a high population density vulnerable to natural disasters due to climate change. They provide expertise to various communities that will enable dwellers to maximise space usage for a better standard of living. Paraa believe in the development of a built environment that respects the cultural and traditional architecture and it’s context.

http://paraa.org.uk/

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.

Jharkhand Human Rights Movement Condemns Police Atrocities on Rights Activists

JHRM
Jharkhand Human Rights Movement
C/o-Mr. Suleman Odeya, Near Don Bosci ITC Gate, Khorha Toli, Kokar,
Ranchi -834001. 0651-3242752 Email: jhrmindia@gmail.com

Press Release

Date: 26/07/2012

JHRM Condemns the police atrocities on Rights Activists

The Jharkhand Human Rights Movement (JHRM) an alliance partner of the Jharkhand Alliance of Democratic Movements (JADM) condemns the police atrocity on rights activists and protestors during the Jharkhand bandh (blockage) on 25 July, 2012. Needless to say that the Jharkhand Government has been acquiring 227 acre of fertile land of the Adivasis illegally and forcefully at Nagri village near Ranchi for the construction of IIM, IIIT and Law University. The villagers have been protesting against it since several months. They had sat in protest for 125 days, where 3 women died due to hit by the sun stroke but the government didn’t hear their plea. While they approached to the Supreme Court and the Jharkhand High Court, the Courts also denied hearing them. Finally, the villagers are in the street to save their lands. Several organizations and political parties are also supporting them.

On the eve of 25 July, 2012, several organizations had organized Masal Julus and informed the people about bandh. Accordingly, the Bandh started at 8 O’clock on July 25, the bandh supporters started their peaceful protest. They had also requested the police not to arrest them. When the people were protesting in Ranchi peacefully and requesting the people to support their bandh, the police started arresting them, beat them with lathis. The police also slapped, hit and kicked them.

Consequently, human rights activist Mr. Gladson Dungdung got severe injuries in his right leg, left leg and right ear-site. A student Mr.Pritam Tirkey also got severe injury in his right hand and General Secretary of Adivasi-Moolvasi Chatra Sangh Mr. Kamlesh Ram got severe injuries in several parts of his body. He was also beaten severely in the police station after his detention. The police also arrested more than 500 students, men and women who were taking in the peaceful bandh.

The JHRM demands for investigation and legal action against the police personals, who were involved in committing atrocities on the rights activists during the peaceful peace Jharkhand bandh.

With regards
Sunil Minj
Chairman
JHRM, Ranchi.

UPDATE 07/08/2012
Gladson Dungdung has been released on bail.

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