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

Whistle-blowing IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt's wife suspects foul play after truck hits her car

By Nachiketa Desai*
Paranoia has seized Shweta Bhatt, wife of suspended Indian Police Service (IPS) officer Sanjiv Bhatt, after the car she was driving was rammed in broad day light. According to Shweta Bhatt, it was beacon light-flashing truck without registration number plate. The incident took place on January 7, just a day ahead of the Gujarat High Court was scheduled to take up the bail application of Sanjiv Bhatt, arrested last year for "involvement" in a 23-year-old case.

Call to support IIM-Bangalore professor, censured for seeking action against Uniliver

Counterview Desk
Sections of the Indian Institute of Managements (IIMs) across India have strongly reacted to the decision to censure Dr Deepak Malghan, a faulty at IIM-Bangalore. Prabhir Vishnu Poruthiyil, who is faculty at IIM-Tiruchirapalli, has sought wider solidarity with Dr Malghan, saying, "The administration has censured Deepak for merely suggesting a meaningful action against Hindustan Unilever for their abysmal environmental record" by “disinviting” it for campus placement.

Morari Bapu, who has installed new statues of Ram, Laxman, Hanuman without weapons

By Sandeep Pandey*
A saint is one who can give some inner peace by his/her voice. This will happen only when s(he) will talk about love and harmony. Morari Bapu is one saint who has been conveying the message of love, peace, harmony, fraternity, etc. Today when a number of saffron clad figures with aggressive posture, spewing venom, fanning hatred to polarise voters are at the forefront of politics of Hindutva it is a relief to see Morari Bapu in a different mould.

99% MGNREGA funds "exhausted", Govt of India makes no additional sanctions: Study

Counterview Desk
A letter, addressed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and prepared by senior activists led by Aruna Roy on behalf of the Peoples’ Action for Employment Guarantee (PAEG), and signed, among others, by 80 members of Parliament, has regretted that, despite repeated public statements by his government promising employment and job creation that will boost the country’s growth, the country’s only employment guarantee programme, Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), “is being systematically undermined.”

Nuclear reactors sought from French giant "not safe": Letter to Modi on Jaitapur project

Counterview Desk
Amidst reports that the French nuclear giant EDF has submitted a “techno-commercial offer” for the world’s largest nuclear power park proposed in Maharashtra’s Jaitapur nuclear power park in Jaitapur on the Maharashtra coast, Dr EAS Sarma, India’s former Union Secretary in the Minister of Power, and an eminent voice in the civil society, has written an open letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who also heads Department of Atomic Energy (DAE),  protesting the move.

World Bank clarifies: Its 26th rank to India not for universal access to power but for ease of doing business

By Our Representative
In a major embarrassment to the Government of India, the World Bank has reportedly clarified that it has not ranked India 26th out of 130 countries for providing power to its population. The top international banker’s clarification comes following Union Power Minister Piyush Goyal’s claim that India has “improved to 26 position from 99” in access to electricity in just one year.

Kaiga NPP expansion: Karnataka to get just 400 MW, but lose thick forest, fresh water

Counterview Desk
In an open letter to the chairman and members of the Atomic energy Commission (AEC) on the issue of Kaiga nuclear power plant (NPP) expansion plan in Karnataka, Shankar Sharma, well-known power policy analyst, has argued that that in case of expansion, the site will face “exponential increase in radiation emission risks”, underlining, “Nuclear safety experts identify such a scenario as enhanced risk for NPPs with multiple reactors and shared technical facilities."
Sharma says the questions that also be asked whether Karnataka should lose more than 54 hectares of thick forests and about 152,304 cubic meters of fresh water per day from Kali river for a meager benefit of 400 MW from the Kaiga NPP, for which “there are many benign alternative options available for the state at much lower overall costs to the state.”
Text of the letter: This has reference to the public hearing under the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Rule 2006 of Ministry of Environment, Fore…

Uttarakhand High Court: Biodiversity boards can impose fees on Ramdev's Divya Pharmacy

By Mridhu Tandon
In a significant decision, the Uttarakhand High Court on December 21, 2018 has dismissed the writ petition filed by Divya Pharmacy founded by Baba Ramdev and Acharya Balakrishnan, challenging the demand of the Uttarakhand Biodiversity Board (UBB) imposing fees under the provisions of the Fair and Equitable Benefit Sharing (FEBS).

Modi becoming Prime Minister now appears to be an "accident" to the people of India

By Sandeep Pandey*
Anupam Kher's film 'Accidental Prime Minister' has targeted Dr Manmohan Singh who served for two terms and may be again acceptable for the job if his party regains power. But his tormentor Narendra Modi seems to be out of breath even before his first term is over. Disillusionment with him is so widespread and deep that people of India may not bear with him for another term. As the general elections approach again the difference between the two needs to be examined.

Story of a foot soldier of Gujarat riots coming from a vulnerable community, Chharas

By Rajiv Shah
He is one of the more prominent "foot soldiers" of the 2002 Gujarat riots. Suresh Jadeja, alias Langdo, alias Richard, is indeed a well-known name in the Naroda Patiya massacre case, in which 97 persons were killed on February 28, 2002, the first day of the riots that shook the nation. Ordinarily, such a person should have been subjected to sociological scrutiny. What have here is a keen journalistic account, with clear political-ideological overtone.