Skip to main content

India ushackled? Alternative agenda for future: Community living, "control" over resources

Gram Sabha in progress in Mendha Lekha
By Rajiv Shah
In an unusual move, in 2013, tribal residents of Mendha Lekha, a tribal village in Gandchiroli district of Maharashtra, decided to transfer the ownership of their farmlands, about 200 hectares, to the Gram Sabha. This, according to Pallav Das, one of the authors of an article published in the recently-published 683-page book “Alternative Futures: India Unshackled” (edited by Ashish Kothari and KJ Joy), happened because villagers considered “land as a community resource and not as individual property.”
Calling it a “revolutionary concept of the ‘commons’ (air, water, forests…)”, Das says, the villagers, belonging to the Adivasi Gond community, have not stopped there. They have, in fact, gone a step further by organizing “cultivable land into collective ownership”. He adds, “This ensures that the land stays in the ownership of the village and individual owners are not tempted to sell land to land sharks operating in the adivasis region.” Community leader Devaji Tofa is quoted as saying, “With private ownership, people tend to get selfish and isolated.”
While the author in his article, titled “Power Equation and India’s Future”, continues with his Mendha Lekha theme for three more pages, pointing towards how it created the “first crack in the power structure in 2009”, when it became one of the first two villages in the country to implement the Forest Rights Act (FRA), Das is not the only one who strongly believes in a solution on the lines of Mendha Lekha, of community living as a way out of the complex problems India faces today.
MP Parameswaram, in his essay, “Date to Dream”, says that “self-reliant and self-sufficient communes” formed in “Ralegan Siddhi, Hirave Bazar and Medha Lekha”, even though dependent on state, “began to strengthen their local economy, produce more and more of the necessities of life, reject goods with only vanity value, and boycott goods of large scale and corporate enterprise.” 
Glandstone Dungdung in his “Vision for Adivasis” wants the Adivasis to learn from Mendha-Lekha, “which established self-rule more than two decades ago with the slogan, ‘Our government in Mumbai and Delhi, but we are the government in our village’.” 
And, Ashish Kothari and KJ Joy, in their essay “Looking Back into the Future”, in an imaginary address by one Meena Gond-Vankar in winter of 2100, point towards how Mendha Lekha “in Central India took the revolutionary step of placing all agricultural land into the village commons, while reclaiming their collective rights to forests, water, and grazing land from state ownership.”
A collection of 35 essays, all of whom seek to talk about “future as a possibility”, a term used by well-known sociologist Shiv Visvanathan in his Foreword, the book is dotted with what its editors Kothari and Joy call in the introduction, the authors’ own “utopian nature" of  visions. According to them, while many readers might find such an approach objectionable, “this is understandable, for we are constantly made aware of how serious a situation we are in, how difficult it is to make even small changes and sustain them… and for those with historical knowledge, how many revolutions have started with similar visions but failed to achieve them.”
Indeed, except a few of them, most of the authors seek to imagine some type of utopia, which appears difficult to realize, especially today, when India’s democratic system appears to be at risk. Thus, in their essay, “Changing natures: A democratic and dynamic approach to biodiversity conservation”, Kartik Shankar, Meera Anna Oommen and Nitin Rai say, “Communities that are the connected with the land and the sea are the best stewards of the environment and resources”, making one wonder, whether this is so at a time when the India’s forests and sea shores are being opened up to private corporate houses, even as providing legal alibis for doing it. 
The authors talk of “community based customary areas” of indigenous peoples and “community conserved territories”, and want to put “more lands under common property regimes managed by nested democratic institutions.” They insist, while recent focus has been on “biodiversity and conservation”, and “there have been some successes at city-wide scales, we suggest that small communities work best together.”
Anand Teltumbde in his essay “Envisioning Dalit futures” seeks a solution in what has long been rejected even by die-hard communists – whether it is Russia, China, or West Bengal. Wanting all village land to be nationalized as a solution to rural casteism, he says, “Caste being integral with the village power structure and land being the signifier, it holds key to the caste system. It can be accompanied by abolition of private property beyond homesteads. All cultivable lands may be nationalized and parceled out to village collectives formed by the families desirous of cultivating lands in common on the basis of established local knowledge and modern technologies.”
In “Technological alternatives to Indian futures”, Dinesh Abrol seeks a solution in “cooperatives and group enterprises”, insisting, “Network forms can be co-evolved by adopting the frame of local economies”, which can be upgraded as muti-sectoral network forms of group enterprises, led by “worker management and active participation of petty products in enterprise development”. 
Ise Kohler-Rollesfson and Hanwant Singh Rathore in their essay “Pastoral futures in India”, insist, “Future of livestock production should be decentralized and tailored to make optimal use of local biomass, capacity building and support to young pastoralists”, even as wanting to develop “value chains that promote and support pastoralism.” 
And, in their essay, “Anna Swaraj: A vision for food sovereignty and agro-ecological resurgence, Bharat Mansata, Kavitha Kuruganti, Vijay Jardhari and Basant Futane, while rejecting the Green Resolution model which, according to them “pushed farming and farmers towards a crisis of unsustainability, pollution and impoverishment”, want to fall back upon “ecological farming” as “a path of agro-ecology, based on careful management of natural resources by small scale farmers.” This, according them, alone would “reduce vulnerabilities.”
There are, of course, those take these "utopias" with a pinch of salt. Shripad Dharmadhikary and Himanshu Thakkar in their essay, “Future of Water in India”, agree that there may be an “urgent need to ensure community driven regulation of groundwater management”, but emphasize, the fact is, “there is absolutely no credible movement in that direction.” According them, as of today, the only strategy which could be pursued is to go on and “keep fighting for institutional changes.” 
And Aruna Roy, Nikhil Dey and Praavita Kashyap in their essay “Allowing people to shape our democratic future”, seek growth in “synergies between people’s movements”, even as “allowing cross fertilization of ideas to enable people to see intrinsic connection between economic, social and political rights, with control over ecology and natural resources.”
Taking a sharply different view, Aditya Nigam, arguing for “a radical social democracy” by drawing upon the visions of MN Roy, Dr BR Ambedkar, Mahatma Gandhi and Rabindranath Tagore, believes, “Modernist utopias, irrespective of whether they were Marxist or liberal free market type, eventually became massive projects of social engineering that relied crucially on the state to enforce them.” He reminds the reader, without naming the countries he might be hinting at – Russia or China – “These projects were inherently violent, based as they were on the cognitive ignorance of the modern mind that sought to eliminate all signs of 'backwardness' and 'irrationality'...”, calling them “modern forms of exploitation and violence.”

Comments

TRENDING

It's now official: Developed Gujarat's regular, casual workers earn less than 19 top states

By Rajiv Shah
Though not as low as state chief minister Vijay Rupani claims it to be (0.9%), Gujarat’s unemployment rate, at least as reflected in a recent report released by the Government of India, is 4.8%, lower than the national average, 6%. Yet, ironically, the same report, released soon after the Lok Sabha polls came to an end in May 2019, brings to light an even grimmer reality: Lower wages in "model" and "developed" Gujarat compared to virtually the whole of India, including the so-called Bimaru states.

Amaravati: World Bank refusing to share public grievances on Land Pooling Scheme

By Our Representative
A new report, prepared by the advocacy group Centre for Financial Accountability (CFA), New Delhi, has taken strong exception to the World Bank refusing to share its independent assessment of the Land Pooling Scheme (LPS), floated by the Andhra Pradesh government in order to build the new capital.

Beijing-based infrastructure bank 'funding' India's environmentally risky projects

By Our Representative
A new civil society note has questioned the operations of the Beijing-based Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), a multilateral development bank that aims to support the building of infrastructure in the Asia-Pacific region, seeking to fund projects in India through the Government of India’s National Infrastructure Investment Fund (NIIF), calling it “a risky venture”.

British companies export 'deadly' asbestos to India, other countries from offshore offices

By Rajiv Shah
“The Sunday Times”, which forms part of the powerful British daily, “The Times”, has raised the alarm that though the “deadly” asbestos is banned in Britain, companies registered in United Kingdom, and operating from other countries, “are involved in shipping it to developing nations”, especially India. India, Brazil, Russia and China account for almost 80% of the asbestos consumed globally every year, it adds.

Govt of India 'lying': MGNREGA budget reduced by Rs 1,084 crore in 2019-20

Counterview Desk
NREGA Sangharsh Morcha, a well-known advocacy group for the rural jobs guarantee scheme, under implementation since 2005, has said that the statement by the Rural Development Minister has a made a mockery of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) on the floor of Parliament, revealing the ruling BJP’s “anti-worker and anti-poor bias”.

Include all workers exposed to silica dust in anti-TB programme: Govt of India told

Counterview Desk
In a letter, sponsored by well-known civil rights organization, Occupational & Environmental Health Network of India and signed by more than 60 professionals and activists*, Dr Harsh Vardhan, Union Minister of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India, has been told that Indian policy makers shouldn't just acknowledge higher TB risk to mine and stone crusher workers, but also “other silica-exposed workers”.

Why crib? 4.5% is far better than pre-1980 'Hindu rate of growth': Subramanian replies

By Rajiv Shah
Even as sticking to his original argument that India's gross domestic product (GDP) since 2011-12 has been overestimated by 2.5%, renowned economist Arvind Subramanian has said in a fresh paper that his estimate of post-2011-12 growth rate at around 4.5% is surely not "implausibly low", as some of his critics have been arguing following his controversial June paper.

Universal healthcare? India lacks provisions to 'fight' non-communicable diseases

By Moin Qazi*
Universal health coverage (UHC) -- ensuring that all people receive proper and adequate health care without suffering financial hardship -- is an integral part of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. It enables countries to make the most of their strongest asset: human capital.

RSS, Hindu Mahasabha were 'subservient' to British masters: Nagpur varsity VC told

Counterview Desk
Well-known political scientist Shamsul Islam, associate professor (retired), University of Delhi, in an open letter to the vice-chancellor of the Rashtrasant Tukadoji Maharaj Nagpur University, Dr Siddharthavinayaka P Kane, has taken strong exception to the varsity decision to include RSS’ “role” in nation building in the syllabus of the BA (history) course, citing instances to say that the RSS ever since its birth in 1925 with its Hindutva allies like Hindu Mahasabha led by VD Savarkar worked overtime to “betray the glorious anti-colonial freedom struggle”.

UP's Sonbhadra killing of 10 tribals highlights 'failure' to implement Forest Rights Act

Counterview Desk On July 17, as many as 10 people, including three women, were killed and 28 injured when a village head and his supporters opened fire on a group of tribal farmers in Ubha village of Sonbhadra district in Uttar Pradesh. While the firing took place following a clash between over a land ownership dispute, it reportedly highlights failure of officials enforce Forest Rights Acts (FRA) and Survey Settlement in favour of tribals.