आय का सवाल, ज्ञान और किसान आंदोलन
कृष्ण गांधी (24 दिसंबर 2021)
दिल्ली की सीमाओं पर 380 दिनों तक चला किसान आंदोलन स्थगित कि या गया है। 22 फसलों के लिए MSP की कानूनन अनिवार्यता की मांग आंदोलन की सबसे महत्वपूर्ण और दूरगामी मांग रही है। MSP के इस मुद्दे पर एक कमेटी बनाई जाएगी, लेकिन उसकी कार्यशर्तों का खुलासा नहीं हुआ है। इसमें दो राय नहीं है कि खेती कि सानी करनेवाला समाज ज्ञानवान कुशल श्रमि क होते हैं। मौसम, मि ट्टी, पानी, खाद, बीज, पौधों का स्वास्थ्य, बीमारी के उपाय, खरपतवार की रोक आदि पर ज्ञानपूर्वक प्रयोग, खेती का प्रबंधन, उत्पादन का प्राथमि क प्रसंस्करण, बाजार में लेन देन, पूंजी का प्रबंधन, सरकारी वि भागों से निपटना, ऐसे तमाम कार्य खेती से अभि न्न रूप से जुड़े हैं। सरकारी कर्मचारी, कॉर्पो रेट मैनेजर/ इंजीनि यर या अस्पतालों में कार्यरत डॉक्टर/नर्स, इन के कार्यों से तुलना करें तो खेती कि सानी बराबर या अधि क जटिल कार्य मालूम पड़ते हैं। लेकिन कुशल प्रबंधक, कुशल श्रमि क की बात तो दूर, मनरेगा में कार्य करनेवाले अकुशल मज़दूर की मज़दूरी के बराबर तक भी कि सान की मेहनत को आंका नहीं जाता है। Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP) जि न 22 फसलों केलि ये सरकार से MSP की सिफारिश करता है, उस गणना में कि सान का श्रम मनरेगा की मज़दूरी से भी कम पकड़ता है।
संगठित क्षेत्र (सरकारी विभाग, कॉर्पोरेट इकाइयां) में कार्य करने वाले अमूमन B Tech, MBA, या अन्य उपाधि -धारी होते हैं और इस कारण उन्हें ज्ञानवान माना जाता है। इन यूनि वर्सि टी/कॉलेज के पढ़े लोगों पास ही ज्ञान है, बाकी खेती-कि सानी, बुनकरी, कारीगरी या अन्य पारंपरि क धंधे करने वाले (लोक विद्याधर) समाज के पास कोई ज्ञान नहीं है या उनका ज्ञान नि म्न दर्जे का है, इस मि थ्या पर आधारि त राजनीति और अर्थनीति आज चल रही है। लोकविद्याधर समाज के शोषण के मूल में यह सोच है कि उनका श्रम उतना मूल्यवान नहीं है जि तना कि यूनि वर्सि टी/कॉलेज में पढ़कर उपाधि प्राप्त करनेवालों के। जब तक मानव समाज में यह मिथ्या हावी रहेगी, तब तक लोक वि द्याधर समाज का शोषण समाप्त नहीं हो सकता।
लोकविद्याधर समाज का सबसे बड़ा हि स्सा खेती कि सानी करनेवालों का है। कि सान आंदोलन के इतिहास में किसानों की आय का मुद्दा स्वतंत्र भारत में करीब पचास वर्षों से छाया हुआ है। MSP को कानूनन अनिवार्य बनाने की मांग के पीछे कि सान असल में अपने श्रम और ज्ञान कलि ये संगठि त क्षेत्र में कार्यरत लोगों के श्रम और ज्ञान के बराबर का दर्जा मांग रहा है।
किसान आंदोलन की इस मांग को संगठि त क्षेत्र से जुड़े पढ़े लि खे लोग पचा नहीं पा रहे हैं। उन्हें लगता है कि कि सान अपनी औकात के बाहर बढ़ रहा है और वर्तमान तंत्र और उसे संचालि त करनेवालों के बर्चस्व को ही चुनौती दे रहा है। अतः साम दण्ड भेद कि सी भी तरीके से कि सानों की मांग ठुकराने की कोशि श हो रही है। तरह तरह के बहाने खोजे जा रहे हैं। जैसे सभी फसलों के लिये देश भर MSP कानूनन अनि वार्य करना असंभव है क्योंकि इस से सरकार दि वालि या हो जाएगी। पर वास्तवि कता तो यह है कि कि सानों को MSP दिए बगैर ही सरकार और वि त्त व्यवस्था दि वालि या हो रही है। अग्रणी कॉर्पो रेटों द्वारा कर्ज़ में लि ए गए लाखों करोड़ रुपया डूब रहा है और NPA में तब्दील हो रहा है। इसकी न तो कोई इलाज हो रही है, और न सरकार और विशिष्ठ लोग इसको लेकर गंभीर हैं। पर कि सानों को MSP अनि वार्य रूपसे देने पर वि त्त व्यवस्था डूब जाएगी इसका ढिंढोरा पीटा जा रहा है। अनुमान है कि MSP कानूनन अनि वार्य करने पर कुछ लाख करोड़ रुपये अतिरिक्त खर्च होंगे। वर्तमान में सर्वजनि क क्षेत्र के बैंकों पर NPA 10 लाख करोड़ रुपये के ऊपर है। जो प्रति वर्ष कुछ लाख करोड़ रुपये की दर से बढता जा रहा है। अतः MSP कानूनन लागू होना और अर्थव्यवस्था के डगमगाने की बात को एक दूसरे से जोड़ना तार्किक बिल्कुल नहीं है।
देश की कुल आबादी में आधे से ज़्यादा हि स्सा कि सानों का है। असंगठित क्षेत्र को जोड़ें अर्थात सम्पूर्ण लोकविद्याधर समाज की चर्चा करें तो उनकी आबादी कुल आबादी का 80-90% पहुंच जाती है। सवाल उठता है कि कृषक समाज या सम्पूर्ण लोकविद्याधर समाज की आमदनी तुलनात्मक रूप से दुगुनी करने पर देश कैसे चौपट हो जाएगा? समझ में यही आता है इस से सामाजिक विषमता कम होगी और सम्पूर्ण देश समृद्ध और खुशहाल होगा। पर विशिष्ठ लोग इससे सहमत नहीं है। उलटे वर्तमान में जिस प्रकार कुछ गि ने चुने कॉर्पोरेट घरानों की ति जोरि यों में देश की आधी संपत्ति बंद हो रही है, उससे देश का गरीबीकरण और बेरोज़गारीकरण भयानक रूप से हो रहा है। पर इसे वि कास बतानेवाले वि शि ष्ट लोग और कॉर्पो रेट दलाल सरकार और मीडिया पर हावी हैं। वि कास के नाम पर चल रहे इस दोगलेपन को ही कि सान आंदोलन चुनौती दे रहा है।
किसानों की आय दुगुनी करना सरकार की घोषित नीति है। शायद तुलनात्मक दृष्टि से नहीं, बल्कि संगठित क्षेत्र ले लोगों की आय जब चौगुनी होगी, तब कि सानों की आय दुगुनी होगी, यही सोच सरकार की है। वरना MSP का कानून लागू कर अपनी नीति सरकार अमल कर चुकी होती।
व्यापक संदर्भ में देखें तो कि सानों की आय बढ़ाने की दो नीति सकती हैं: एक, MSP द्वारा फसलों के दाम बढ़ाकर और उसे अनिवार्य बनाकर; दूसरी, किसान / लोकविद्याधर समाज के बैंक खातों में सरकारी खजाने से पैसे सीधे ट्रांसफर कर, जिसकी झलक PMKISAN (प्रधानमंत्री कि सान सम्मान निधि) योजना में हम देख सकते हैं।
विश्व व्यापार संगठन के अंतर्गत कृषि पर जो समझौता हुआ है, उसमें फसलों के मूल्य सीधे सरकारी समर्थन और सब्सिडी के द्वारा बढ़ाना price-distorting अर्थात बाजार के नियमों का उल्लंघन करना माना जाता है और इसका प्रयोग प्रत्येक फसल के अलावा सभी फसलों के कुल उत्पादन केलि ये भी एक सीमा तक (deminimis level: विकासशील देशों के लिए प्रत्येक फसल के कुल उत्पादन और कुल कृषि उत्पादन दोनों के लिये कुल मूल्य के 10 प्रतिशत तक, विकसि त देशों कलि ये 5 प्रति शत तक) ही अनुमन्य है। भारत में फ़ूड सिक्योरिटी के नाम पर हो रही सरकारी खरीद और भंडारण के खर्च शेष बिजली, खाद आदि की सब्सिडी में जोड़ें, तो यह सब्सि डी कुल कृषि उत्पादन के मूल्य के 10% से ज़्यादा हो रही है, यह आरोप भारत पर विकसित देशों द्वारा लगाया जा रहा है। अतः सरकारी प्रत्यक्ष सब्सिडी से फसलों के मूल्य बढ़ाने की अधिक गुंजाइश नहीं है, यह दलील दी जा रही है। खाद्य सुरक्षा, खाद्य संप्रभुता से जुड़े इस प्रश्न के प्रति सरकार का रुख क्या हो, यह एक विचारणीय मुद्दा है। एक विकल्प यह है कि WTO के कृषि समझौते से भारत बाहर आएं। क्या सरकार ऐसा कर पायेगी? दूसरा विकल्प विश्व व्यापार संगठन के कृषि समझौते को नए सिरे से इस तरह ढ़ालने की दिशा में भारत व अन्य विकासशील देश मिलकर दबाव डालें जिससे प्रत्यक्ष सब्सिडी द्वारा मूल्य समर्थन करने की छूट विकासशील देशों को प्राप्त हों।
कि सानों की आय दुगुनी करने का दूसरा उपाय सरकारी खजाने से पैसे कि सानों के बैंक खातों में प्रति एकड़ एक निश्चित राशि के रूप में सीधे ट्रांसफर करना है। जैसे PMKISAN योजना में वर्तमान में नाम मात्र के लिए किया जा रहा है। कोई भी किसान अपना आत्मसम्मान इसमें देखता है कि वह अपने पुरुषार्थ से, अपनी मेहनत का फल भोग कर जियें, न कि किसी सरकारी भीख का मोहताज हो कर। किसान यह चाहता है कि उसे सरकारी तंत्र पर निर्भर न होना पड़े। यह तभी संभव है जब सरकार और कॉर्पोरेट दोनों के प्रभावों से बाजार मुक्त हो, सम-विनिमय (equal exchange) के सि द्धांत पर चलनेवाले बाजारों का निर्माण हो। यह एक दूरगामी लक्ष्य है। यह किसान समाज का स्वराज का लक्ष्य है।
उपरोक्त लक्ष्य दो चरणों में हासि ल हो सकते हैं। पहले चरण में यह कार्य करना होगा कि बाजारें को सरकारी हस्तक्षेपों से मुक्त करें। यह केवल एक हमारे देश की बात नहीं है, विश्व के हर देश की सरकार की बाजार में हस्तक्षेप करने की ताकत को भी नगण्य करना होगा। यह इसलिए जरूरी है कि आज सारी सरकारें मल्टीनेशनल कंपनि यों के गुलाम हो चुकीं हैं। और वैश्वीकरण के इस दौर में मल्टीनेशनल कंपनियां विश्व बाजार पर अधिपत्य सरकारों के ज़रिए कर रहीं हैं। जब सरकारों का संरक्षण मल्टीनेशनल कंपनि यों को प्राप्त होना बंद हो जाएगा, तब बाजार में छोटे उत्पादकों और उपभोक्ताओं की ताकत बढ़ेगी। और बाजार के सम-विनिमयी (equal-exchange based) होने की संभावना भी बढ़ जाएगी। अतः दूसरे चरण का कार्य बाजारों को कॉरपोरेटों के कब्जे से मुक्त कर उन्हें सम-वि नि मयी करने की होगी।
किसानों, छोटे उत्पादकों, कारीगरों, बुनकरों, व अन्य धंधे अपनाकर जीवनयापन करनेवाले लोकविद्याधर समाज के स्वराज पाने की दि शा क्या होगी? यह वि षय अत्यतं महत्वपर्णू है क्योंकि जि स प्रकार का पूंजीवादी विकास दुनिया मे चल पड़ा है, उससे लाभान्वित आबादी का हि स्सा आज 10-15% प्रति शत ही है, और यह प्रतिशत निरंतर कम होता जा रहा है। टेक्नोलॉजी, विशेषकर डिजिटल टेक्नोलॉजी पर जिस तरीके से सरकारें और कॉर्पोरेट नियंत्रण बढ़ा रहे हैं, उससे राजनीतिक-आर्थिक सत्ता के केंद्रीकरण की प्रक्रिया तेजी से बढ़ रही है। इसका असर भारत के राष्ट्रीय सकल उत्पादन (GDP) में देखा जा सकता है। GDP में संगठि त क्षेत्र का योगदान विगत कुछ वर्षों से तेजी से बढ़ रहा है और आबादी का 90 प्रति शत लोकविद्याधर समाज का योगदान गिर रहा है। यह दर्शाता है कि सकल उत्पादन में मानव कौशल व श्रम महत्वहीन हो रहा है। मानव की भूमिका एक क्रियाशील उत्पादक से एक निर्जीव उपभोक्ता में रूप में सिकुड़ती जा रही है। कमोवेश दुनिया भर यही हो रहा है। साथ लोकविद्याधर समाज में बेरोजगारों और अर्ध-बेरोज़गारों की संख्या बढ़ती जा रही है। अतः आम उपभोक्ताओं के हाथ में क्रयशक्ति कैसे बढ़ें, यह आज अर्थशात्रीयों की चिंता का मुख्य विषय बन चुकी है। कुछ अर्थशास्त्रियों के अनुसार, असंगठित क्षेत्र की आबादी की क्रयशक्ति भले ही न बढा पाएं, पर उन्हें मरने से रोकने के लिये (वरना सामाजिक उथल पुथल बढ़ेगी, अशांति बढ़ेगी) यूनिवर्सल बेसिक इन्कम की योजना लागू करनी चाहिए। तो कुछ और अर्थशास्त्री / राजनेता जनसंख्या नियंत्रण लागू करने की वकालत करते हैं। लेकिन कोई भी अर्थशास्त्री बाजार में व्याप्त विषम-विनिमय आधारित लेन देन को समाप्त करने की बात करना तो दूर, उसकी ओर ध्यान देना तक नहीं चाहता है। आखिर पूंजीवाद का आधार यही तो है।
आज लोकविद्याधरों के सामने यह चुनौती है कि अपने मेहनत के बल पर एक सम्मानपूर्वक जिंदगी कैसे जियें। इसका दूरगामी उपाय लोकविद्याधर समाज का स्वराज स्थापित करना ही है। पर तब तक आय के सवाल का निराकरण कैसे हो, इसपर स्पष्टता लाने की ज़रूरत है। मरता क्या नहीं करता इस कहावत को सही मानते हुए, फिलहाल सरकार के प्रत्यक्ष हस्तक्षेप से ही यह संभव दिख रहा है। चाहे वह बाजार में लोकविद्याधर समाज द्वारा उत्पादित वस्तुओं के मूल्य समर्थन के द्वारा हो या सीधे राजकोष से पैसे के ट्रांसफर के द्वारा आय संवर्धन से हो, लोक विद्याधर की आय बढ़ाने की सरकारी नीति की तत्काल आवश्यकता है।
Vyakti, Samaj, Gyan and Dharma
Krishna Gandhi (08 Dec 2021)
- Human society consists basically of four entities: 1) Individual 2) Family 3) Community 4) Nation. This was not always so. The emergence of nations in world history happened only in the last few hundred years.
- The entity Individual is singular and is the basic indivisible unit of society. Family, community and nation are collections of individuals. The individual as an entity has gained more importance at the expense of both community and family under capitalism which has promoted written constitutions and adult franchise.
- Under modern constitutions family and nation are well-defined but community is not.
- Normally, an individual belongs to one nuclear family and to one nation. But she/he can belong to many communities at the same time.
- There are thousands of communities both traditional and modern in India. These communities may be divided into two major types: communities that are confined to a definite geographical area or region and those who are not. Geographically confined communities for example reside in villages, mohallas and regions. Regions are mostly geo-agro-climatic zones where communities bound by common customs, traditions and a language/dialect reside, for example Vidarbha, Bundelkhand.
- Examples of non-geographical communities are religious, caste, and professional communities like Sikh, Lingayat, Buddhist, Brahmin, Indian Medical Association (IMA).
- Many communities may coexist in the same village, mohalla and region.
- Members of a community share many customs, traditions and beliefs, a common history, a common mythology, and a common world-view. In short, they possess a common knowledge system specific to that community..
- The economic wellbeing of a community, very often, depends on the mutual cooperation of the members of the community with each other. This manifests through fair exchange of goods and services among the members of the community.
- Sometimes one community equipped with better arms and weaponry may expropriate the resources of other communities for own betterment. Many methods of expropriation can happen from direct loot to unequal exchange through the market. Today unequal exchange is the most prevalent method of expropriation.The story of the conquest of the native communities of the world by the people of Europe during the last four-five hundred years illustrates this.
- Alongside this story of subjugation of one community by another, runs a parallel story of the struggles of the subjugated communities for liberation/emancipation.
- These struggles for liberation by enslaved communities are guided by their respective knowledge systems and their vision of an exploitation-free world.
- Here we must make distinction between a class and a community. A class is defined on the basis of property ownership or more generally, ownership of the means of production. Marx’s proposition that human society progresses through class struggles does not seem to be borne out in colonial and post colonial eras. Perhaps conflicts among communities shaped history far more than class struggles.
- After the industrial revolution in Europe, the capitalist mode of production came to dominate the world. This capitalist class has now crossed national boundaries and has become global. Multinational companies are now dictating production and distribution of goods and services in the world through market, nation states, and international financial organizations.
- A community may consist of a number of interdependent classes. In a traditional village community, small traders, occupational castes, landless labour and farmers used to have interdependent, complementary roles in the village based production system.
- But the term capitalist community is rarely used. Although, all those classes who are a part of the capitalist production system (owners of capital, workers in factories and managers) may be called the capitalist community.
- The vision of an exploitation free world underlying the struggles of the subjugated communities has certain recurring themes such as swaraj (rule of self by self), autonomy, swadeshi, decentralised and distributed systems, fair exchange, non-hierarchy, nyay-tyag-bhaichara (justice-renunciation-brotherhood) and so on. Some of these are applicable to individual lives too, like the idea of swaraj in personal life.
- Not only is the future society envisioned as just and non-exploitative, but the process of achieving that goal must also be just. Non-violence, participatory democracy, decentralised decision making, etc…are some of the essential characteristics of this just process/ just means to achieve a just end.
- The ongoing farmer movement at Delhi borders is an example where many of the above ideas are demonstrated. This movement is the expression of the resentment of the agricultural community against the unequal exchange imposed on it by the capitalist class.
- Capital is the embodiment of the combined might of big machines, finance capital, centralised production and the centralised knowledge system that defines their interconnected working.
- The farmer movement has ultimately succeeded in forcing the central government to repeal the three farm laws, after an year long struggle. Many reasons for its success has been put forward. The foremost reason cited is the role of the Sikh community in mobilising the farmers and in providing support in the form of langars (community mess), medical facilities, infrastructure (tents, living quarters) and international media attention. In addition to the sikh community, the khap panchayats of jat farmers of western UP have also played a major role.
- All attempts by the government to sow dissention within the ranks of the agitating farmers failed. That is, the class distinctions within the farming community did not in any way weaken the farmer movement.
- The collective decision-making process adopted by the leadership of the movement is another reason why the government could not manipulate one section of the leadership against another. This decision-making process follows the traditional community level panchayat system of collective and consensual decision-making.
- The SKM, the Samyukt Kisan Morcha, leading the movement is the coordinating body of thirtytwo farmer organisations of the country. It has, by and large, been successful in bringing together on one platform more than one hundred farmer organisations from all over the country. Attempts by the government to paint the movement as the movement of farmers of only two states (Punjab and Haryana) ended in failure. This shows that the subjugated communities of India can and do come together to raise issues of common concern when the opportune moment arrives.
- The farmer movement shows that the Sikh community ethos is sufficiently broad based to accommodate many oppressed communities in its fold. The Sikh community tradition of coming to the aid of other oppressed communities is alive even today (as seen in the Shaheen Bagh protests against the CAA).
- Although the government has unilaterally withdrawn the three farm laws, the farmer movement is insistent that unless its demand for legally guaranteed MSPs for all 23 crops is met, the agitation will continue. This shows that the leadership considers the question of unequal exchange as of utmost importance. How this demand will be resolved is going to determine the future of Indian society.
- Neither the state nor the market appears to be helping the farming community resolve this problem of unequal exchange, because both the state and the market are controlled by global monopoly capital. So the might of global capital has to be tamed, and an alternative vision of a future society based on fair exchange has to be established.
- As a rule, unequal exchange takes place whenever there is discrimination. Discrimination is the outcome of systemic and institutionalised injustice prevailing in society. It is the outcome of the “us versus them” attitude that seeks to accord a superior status to one community at the expense of another. This is sought to be justified and reinforced by the knowledge system of the dominating community over the subjugated one. The era of colonisation by European powers of the rest of the world was accompanied by the claim of superiority of the knowledge system of the modern capitalist class over those of the colonised communities. Since morality is also part of the knowledge system, the values held and propagated by the modern capitalist class also seeks to reinforce its superiority over others.
- Not only the farming community, but all other traditional communities like Adivasis, Karigar (Craftsmen), Dalits, Women are also the victims of discrimination at the hands of Capital. All these communities form the Lok Vidya Samaj because they survive on the strength of the knowledge accrued through their daily activities. This knowledge is Lok Vidya, and it is decentralised and distributed in society. In contradistinction, the knowledge possessed by the capitalist class is centralised and confined to universities, research establishments, big industries and government owned institutions. Just as the capitalist class dominates society, so does its knowledge system dominate other knowledge systems in society.
- The commonality of the interests of the farming community and those of the other subjugated communities vis-a-vis the capitalist class provides the basis for all these communities to come together and launch a movement for the establishment of a new social order that will be non-discriminative and non-hierarchical.
- Every community has historically developed, through its experiences and the lessons drawn therefrom, its own way of looking at and dealing with the world, which may broadly be defined as the knowledge system of the community. This knowledge system governs the following spheres of human activity: interactions among members of the same community, interactions of members of one community with members of other communities, and interactions of members of the community with nature.
- This knowledge system that enables members of a community to deal with the world has two dimensions: one, the moral dimension, that is the moral code or dharma that governs the interactions and two, the more mundane dimension of the techniques or vidya involved in the interaction.
- Dharma, that is, the moral code of interaction of an individual with the world, can have many attributes like kindness, nonviolence, love, truth and so on. But if one were to choose the most desirable moral attributes that should govern a person’s behaviour with other human beings, It would appear that Nyay (Justice), Tyag (renunciation) and Bhaichara (brotherhood) stand out from the rest.
- Thus, a member of the Lok Vidya Samaj (constituting all communities marginalised by the dominant capitalist class) is equipped with both dharma and vidya to guide his actions directed towards the betterment of his own and his community’s conditions. This member of the Lok Vidya Samaj, who can be called a Lokavidyadhar, is endowed with the knowledge and the norms to deal with the world.
- Discrimination within a community and between communities will disappear if the moral codes, that is the dharma, of all communities uphold Nyay, Tyag and Bhaichara as the highest and inviolable attributes of an individual’s behaviour. This will help us arrive at the concept of Lok Dharma, a common dharma which transcends the specific codes of morality dictated by particular communities or religions.
- From this it follows that each community must have the freedom to evolve autonomously, without being subjected to the dictates of any other community. This is possible only if the knowledge system of any one community is considered in no way inferior to that of any other community. Practically, any community of producers of goods and providers of services will be considered in no way to be inferior to any other similar community.
- What this means is that in the new social order, all communities are to be accorded equal status, that is, there will be no hierarchy among communities. Communities will be able to coexist and interact with each other on equal footing, with respect for each other’s roles and functions, without any community being reduced to a status of inferiority or subservience to any other community. This will also be true for the knowledge systems of different communities.
- Thus, human society will ideally consist of numerous autonomous communities each having its own autonomy, at the same time each functioning without encroaching upon the autonomy of other communities. Every community will practice the principle of non dominance over every other community. That is, autonomy of autonomies will be practised among all communities of the society.
- How the communities of the world can liberate themselves from the stranglehold of the global monopoly capitalist class and proceed towards the establishment of a system of non-hierarchical, non-dominating communities each having its own autonomy (swaraj) is for the Lokavidyadhars to explore. Lokavidyadhars of different communities must reach out to each other across cultures and continents, transcending the boundaries of their knowledge systems and work out a plan of action in that direction. That seems to be the message of the ongoing farmer movement at Delhi borders.
On Local Markets
Krishna Gandhi (22 Oct 2021)
Local markets are proposed as one of the solutions to liberate the family goods-producer/service-provider (Lok Vidyadhar) from exploitation in the globalised capitalist market, controlled by the nexus of MNCs and finance capital. The chief mode of exploitation in the capitalist market is the mechanism of unequal exchange. Hence although the family producer may possess the means of production like land, machinery she is unable to get a fair/just price for her product. The capitalist market is designed in such a way that the cost of production incurred by her is always more than the cost of production that a mass producer (company owning factories) incurs. The inherent bias of the capitalist market in favour of the factory producer and against the family producer, manifested through the system of laws governing taxation, credit, production, licensing, quality control, packaging-labelling etc. enacted by the state, the possession of a marketing machinery for advertising and branding covering global markets, access to cheap inputs sourced from all over the world, all these and more are the design features that make it nearly impossible for the family producer to survive in the capitalist market as a financially viable and independent entity. One of the solutions suggested to overcome the handicaps faced by the family producer in the capitalist market is to organize them into collectives like cooperatives or producer companies etc. But apart from a few exceptions these have not been successful so far, in India at least, in providing better incomes to the family producer.
Irrespective of the success of this strategy of corporatisation of the collectives of family producers, local markets (that can act as a non-exploitative institution for the fair exchange of goods and services) do need to be promoted. There is a view that only through a process of social transformation that redefines the role of the state and its power structure can local markets really come into existence and serve the interests of the family producer. I am not inclined to accept this view which puts local markets only in the realm of future possibility with nothing much left for us to do except work and wait for the revolutionary changes that may occur in future.
During the freedom movement, Charkha and Khadi symbolised the economic philosophy of Swaraj as envisioned by Gandhiji. The constructive movement centred around Charkha and Khadi was as important as the political movement to gain freedom from the British. It is my view that similar is the case today as well. There must be a constructive movement centred on local markets, along with the political movement for social transformation. These movements will be inspired by a vision of a future society that will have the local market as its fundamental building block. Hence there is a need to work out the imagined role of the local market in the future society, its dharma, and also the program of action that will take us forward to the establishment of local markets as an alternative to the present global capitalist market.
The program for the establishment of local market will centre on these activities:
- Conduct debates to reach a consensus on the moral value system such local markets must be based on, that is, the local market dharma. (See Krishnarajulu’s article on local markets). The local market upholds that all forms of labour (all vidya) are equally dignified and there is no hierarchy among them or among the knowledge systems they are a part of.
- Raise the demand for amending the Constitution to grant local communities including village panchayats, the powers to set up, own, operate and regulate local markets including the imposition of local taxes.
- Boycott of factory-produced items of mass consumption in such sectors as food, clothing, shoes, furniture, ornaments and so on where family producers can supply the products easily.
- Customised production will be the rule rather than the exception in the local market. Commodification of products will not be allowed. To begin with, local markets will allow only family produced items to be sold. Later on customised production of items by a producer to meet the specific requirements of a consumer will take over. For example, readymade clothes will be replaced by custom made clothes stitched by the local tailor, as ordered by the local consumer. Similarly, a weaver, a blacksmith, a goldsmith, a potter or carpenter will produce items that are meant to meet the specific requirements of particular local consumers. I envisage a situation where even a farmer will produce only those foods or crops as are required by a consumer member of the community. Hence there will be no difference between the farmer and the artisan as far as the local market is concerned.
- Customised production will lead to a direct transaction between the producer and the consumer in the local market. A system of mapping of production to consumption through direct linkage of the producer to consumer will mean that there is no excess production or deficit production except in extraordinary situations like unexpected natural calamities etc.
- This direct mapping of production to consumption in the local market can also be extended to non-local markets through internet-based ecommerce platforms that connect a consumer searching for his specific requirements to a producer willing to supply such items to the consumer. This will end the commodification of products and the resultant alienation of products from both the producer and the consumer and bring human concerns for each other into their transactions.
- Local markets will also encourage innovation based on the concept of jugaad. Today, the state has prohibited any individual producer to custom make motorcycles, motorcars, tractors, etc. made through jugaad technology by enterprising vehicle mechanics/mistris for own use or sale. The local markets will allow the sale of such jugaad technology products subject to certain safety standards.
- Right to repair and service factory made products. The local markets will allow mechanics/mistris to offer repair services for factory made products. The culture of “use and throw” imposed by the capitalist market encourages wasteful consumption. This is also a ruse to deny the local communities a chance to acquire knowledge involved in the making of the product.
The basic problem with all markets is that there is inherently a tendency towards aggregation/ accumulation in markets. Goods, Services, Capital, Labour all are aggregated and then sold in bulk. This problem of aggregation or accumulation becomes more and more acute as markets expand. And when aggregation or accumulation takes place at a point in space time, it will cause an underutilization and accompanied under valuation of the aggregated items. Those markets which do not allow such aggregation or accumulation will ensure that there is no under valuation of any of the above items.
Theoretically speaking, non-geographically confined local markets can exist among virtual communities. But then the basic problem will be the establishment of trust among the participants of virtual local markets, which is possible only where there is full transparency among the participants of the market. There are certain new IT based solutions such as Blockchain that promise transparency in transactions. A local geographically confined market where everyone knows everyone else, like a village haat, may not always be possible. In such cases, a virtual local market with full transparency among participants may be an answer. We see many family producers using social media platforms like Facebook and WhatsApp to sell their products. This could be a trend that picks up strength in future.
Some Thoughts on Markets from the Perspective of Lokavidya Samaj
Krishna Gandhi (06 Oct 2021)
Markets are mechanisms that facilitate exchange of goods and services. The historical evolution of markets must have been intimately connected to the evolution of human societies themselves. But it was not a monotonic function of time. European colonization of the world and the industrial revolution that followed it mark a fundamental transition in the nature of markets. It has been said that the plunder of the colonies financed the industrial revolution of Europe. There is no doubt that European capitalism grew powerful on the basis of the unequal exchange it forced upon the colonies. Today, more than two hundred years later capitalism has covered the whole world. Capitalism has now outgrown its geographical origins and there is no particular geographical tag associated with it. Although many writers talk about Western capitalism, and its Japanese, Chinese, South Korean, and Indian versions etc.., there are no fundamental differences among them. They have all become enmeshed with each other and are part of the same Capitalist market that now pervades the whole world. Every aspect of human society is now controlled by it.
The capitalist markets pitted, as it still does, the labour intensive family based production systems of the farmers and artisans against the might of the capital intensive centralised mass production systems. The former, broadly termed the Lok Vidya Samaj are losing the battle both in terms of numbers and strength. Their very existence is under threat wherever the capitalist mode of production has taken root. Be it handloom cloth, leather products, agricultural implements, handicrafts, pottery, ornaments etc,, they are inexorably being wiped out. The departure of the British from India did not make any difference to this process; perhaps it only accelerated it. During the freedom struggle Charkha and Khadi were seen as having the potential to provide an alternative to capitalist production. But after independence even that promise has disappeared. Khadi has become entirely dependent on state support for survival. The sector where family based decentralised production still continues is agriculture. Apart from India, China, and some Asian, African and Latin American countries continue to have predominantly family based agricultural production. In the developed countries family owned and operated farms are becoming a rarity, and may soon disappear unless protected by the state.
Gandhiji called these family based production systems as production by the masses, as opposed to the capitalist mode of mass production. His vision of a future society was to be based on production by the masses. But will it be possible to be realised within the capitalist market system? There are two opinions on this: one, which says only local markets that uphold the Swadeshi spirit can promote production by the masses and the other, which seems to think that the interests of the family centered production systems can be accommodated within a modified global market.
Local Markets based on the principle of Swadeshi
One of the perceived solutions to this problem is the idea of Swadeshi and local market institutions based on that idea. Local markets like weekly/biweekly village haats survive in many parts of India. They can be revived and strengthened. However, these revamped local/swadeshi markets must be endowed with a dynamic different from that of the conventional capitalist market. These local markets must not allow mass produced goods to dominate small/family produced goods, by undercutting them with lower prices. For that to happen, the control of the local markets must rest with the local communities like village panchayats. These village panchayats must have the power to tax the mass produced goods such that they do not swamp local products. However, under GST, it is claimed that the era of “one nation one market” has started. The powers of taxation of the states have been almost completely eliminated under GST. But under the Panchayati Raj amendments to the Constitution, Panchayats have been given special powers of taxation. These powers must include the power to tax factory made goods.
However, Swadeshi as a foundational principle for creation of local markets may face many challenges. Swadeshi based on geographical nearness has been weakened considerably with modern technologies of communication accessed through the smartphone. E-commerce has made it possible for a villager to purchase a factory product made in distant lands just by a simple touch of the screen. How that transaction can be taxed by the panchayat will need to be worked out.
Recently the Indian government has started a program to establish 10,000 Farmer Producer Companies/ Organisations (FPCs/ FPOs) in the next 5 years or so. Several incentives like subsidies in the initial years of formation have been announced. These FPCs or FPOs are updated versions of producer cooperatives. They can now be registered as companies under laws passed in 2013, although law making in this direction started as back as 2002. Building on the success stories of cooperatives in the dairy sector like Amul, laws governing FPOs/FPCs were enacted to put them on par with private companies. It is generally felt that individual/family producers whether it be a farmer or artisan cannot participate effectively in the capitalist market. While he has the capacity to produce goods, he lacks the wherewithal to market his products in the market. These FPOs or in general POs are meant to help the small producer overcome his handicap in marketing his goods, by forming collectives of producers in the form of a company or cooperative that will be run by expert managers, who may be hired from outside if necessary. Many FPOs have come up and some have made a mark as success stories, like Nashik based Sahyadri Agro Farms that exports table grapes and other fruits and vegetables.
The basic idea is that the small/family producers have to come together and start their own capitalist enterprises to process and market their products in a globalized world. This idea is being put into practice in many parts of the world including developing and developed countries. The European Union is concerned at the rapid decrease in the number of family owned farms there and is providing several incentives to family farms to come together and start their collective production/marketing organisations.
This may be said to be a form of corporatisation of the Lok Vidya Samaj, where the ownership of the corporation or company is a collective one of a few hundreds or more of farmers or artisans. Some of the challenges in this approach are 1) Need for capital to set up and get running a PO in the initial years, may be five. In the case of FPOs it has been claimed that the land holdings of the shareholder farmers will be the core assets against which banks may provide credit to them. But what about other producers like weavers, potters etc.? 2) The state must provide tax exemptions to POs, which is not the case now.
They are covered under GST, which is a very cumbersome system involving extensive bookkeeping, which even SMEs are unable to cope up with. 3) Running a company involves gathering market intelligence and devising marketing strategies which are beyond the capacities of farmer shareholders. For these managerial tasks they are forced to appoint professional managers, whose work they may not be able to evaluate.
Any discussion on the markets of the future cannot be separated from the vision of a future society. Increasing autonomy for village communities leading to Gram Swaraj had been the vision that drove Gandhiji’s actions. For the Lok Vidya Samaj to flourish, markets need to be freed from the clutches of the nation states which have become pliant instruments in the hands of the capitalist class. We have to remember that capitalist markets expanded under the compelling forces of European nation states in the colonial era. The nation states then represented the forces of an emerging competitive capitalist class. They were more powerful than the companies of those times: even the East India Company had to bow before the British Crown. But post second world war, transnational companies or MNCs of the developed countries have emerged as powerful global entities dominating the world market. They have pushed the agenda of globalisation, that is, and opening up of national markets by elimination of quantitative restrictions, and reduction of tariffs in international trade as well as doing away with restrictions on foreign investments. This ascendancy of the MNCs has dwarfed the say of the nation states in the workings of the globalized market. Perhaps it would be truer to say that the nation states have been captured by MNCs. Of course there are other competing forces at play but the MNCs are in the driver’s seat as far as nation states are concerned. In the non Western capitalist countries like Japan, South Korea, China, India etc. the state has taken over the role of actively nurturing the growth of home grown MNCs.
At the end of the 1980s, with the fall of statist (communist) regimes in Soviet Russia and Eastern Europe, it became fashionable to abuse statism or the dominance of the state over markets. Liberalisation or removal of state controls over the market, was on the agenda of many govts. It was in this context that Sharad Joshi argued for the elimination of the state’s intervention in agricultural markets as a precondition for ending farmer’s exploitation, for, according to him the state was the biggest monopoly obstructing farmers from getting their dues in the market. According to him, even if elimination of state from the market were to result in an oligopoly of a few competing MNCs, that would be a better situation as far as farmers are concerned. It was from this perspective that he welcomed the formation of the WTO and the opening up of agriculture to international trade. It seemed to him that the WTO with a one country one vote mandate was a step in the democratisation of international trade. That promise of the WTO was still born as far as Indian farmers were concerned because of the continued govt subsidisation of the agriculture of developed countries.
Any imagination of future markets has to squarely face the question as to whether globalisation of markets per se is detrimental to the interests of the Lok Vidya Samaj. Gandhiji imagined future human societies as consisting primarily of self sufficient village communities, which he called Gram Swaraj. But is it really possible to re-establish self sufficient village communities, which, it is said, existed in the past? I don’t think the flow of history can be reversed even using some time machine. Despite romantic notions of a cyclically evolving nature having human societies as its integral part, all evidence points to a non-cyclical progression of human history. There is a lot of truth in the claims of historians that human societies were less hierarchical, happier, and healthier when they lived as the hunter gatherers. When they took up agriculture and settled down in villages about 10000 years ago, simultaneously exploitation also started. Kings, kingdoms, emperors and empires came into being based on extraction of surplus from agriculture. Civilizations themselves came into being based on this surplus from agriculture. Villagers were required to part with a share of their produce to the king in return for his services of protection from robbers and external attacks. Extraction of surplus was direct, not through unequal exchange in markets. Although markets for exchange of goods and services must have been there from the very beginning of settled agriculture, they may not have been exploitative. Unequal exchange through markets as the main mechanism of extraction of surplus from agriculture started only after the industrial revolution and rise of capitalism.
A return to pre capitalist self sufficient village societies seems impossible now, however attractive they may appear to us. Human societies are not going to give up the use of machines they have grown accustomed to in their daily lives. These machines have increased the degrees of freedom that a human being enjoys today in comparison to pre capitalist villagers.
So we have to think of ways to recast the capitalist markets on a non exploitative basis. Globalization cannot be reversed, but the exploitative nature of the global markets may be changed for the better.
Hence any talk of a future reorganisation of society with self-sufficient villages/communities as its fundamental building blocks seems out of place. Such autarkic social organisations giving rise to closed economies have proved to be unviable in the past (the Pol Pot regime in Kampuchea, China under Mao are examples) and were overrun by external forces.
The globalised market is today transcending national borders. Although India’s share in international trade is estimated to be around 2% in value terms, despite all talks of Atmanirbhar Bharat, India cannot afford to stop its international trade (both exports and imports) or even come out of WTO. China’s phenomenal growth as an economic power is often attributed to its policy of export-led growth through which it has been able to establish itself as the factory of the world. Some economists advocate a similar export led growth strategy for India. Though we may have missed the bus to make India a manufacturing powerhouse like China. yet many people believe that India can choose a path of services exports (export of software services and skilled workers) led growth.
This process of globalization of markets has been accompanied by less and less scope for intervention by individual nation states in international trade. From 1946 GATT was acting as a multilateral regulating body for international trade. This regulatory framework was expanded with the establishment of the WTO in 1995. Agricultural trade was also brought under the ambit of WTO and has taken full effect from 2000. The block of developed nations resorted to various manipulative practices to deny the advantage of opening up of international trade to developing and underdeveloped nations. But despite all that, some benefits definitely percolated to these countries at least in the first decade of WTO’s existence till 2010. But globalisation did not benefit the populations of the developed countries uniformly. And those disadvantaged by globalisation, like the less skilled blue collar workers and the farmers of the developed world, started opposing globalisation. The result is that since 2015, protectionist policies are increasingly being followed by the developed countries. The rise of China as an economic superpower seems to have rattled them. There is a groundswell of popular resentment in developed countries against liberalisation of international trade and globalization. Hence far-right ultra nationalist ideologies are becoming popular in the developed world. How long this trend will continue is difficult to predict. But, it is hard to believe that the process of globalisation is going to be reversed in future. Trump’s unilateral withdrawal from UNFCCC (the international convention on climate change), his threat to withdraw from the WTO, The exit of Britain from the EU (Brexit) etc… will end up as mere blips in the inexorable process of globalisation. Multilateral regulatory bodies on climate change and international trade will continue with some changes. Although a number of regional trading blocs are springing up, WTO will continue to provide the overall regulatory framework for international trade.
Any imagining of future markets that would serve the Lokvidya Samaj must take into account the historical inevitability of globalisation. Creating closed economies or closed societies even in the name of Swaraj, self reliance, or autonomy may be futile. Some of us are of the view that the capitalist market system can never serve the interests of the Lok Vidya Samaj. Hence we have to limit ourselves to local markets where the Lok Vidya Samaj members can exchange goods and services on equal terms of exchange.
Thus the task before the Lok Vidya Samaj is the re-ordering of the globalized market, so as to render it non exploitative, non discriminatory to the Lok Vidya Samaj. Retreating to defensive shells of closed economies or closed markets is not the solution. A coordinated movement of the Lok Vidya Samaj of all countries of the world towards this end seems to be the way forward.
Summary of 29 Sep 2021 Session on Markets
Girish Sahasrabudhe (29 Sep 2021)
The session was proposed in the context of articles about the question of MSP and WTO role in global agricultural prices posted on the Whatsapp group by Gandhi and the importance of coming to grips with the conception of future markets in the Lokavidya thought.
There is general agreement that emergence of global markets has deepened the condition of unequal exchange as a mechanism of exploitation of farmers and of lokavidya samaj in general. There is also a consensus on the opinion that a market, which is less exploitative and more just for these samaj needs to be a ‘regulated’ market. The important questions to debate are (i) What kinds of regulation? and (ii) Regulation by whom and at what level? It should be beneficial, as well as probably not incorrect either, to consider distinct opinions expressed by everyone during the session as views on going about answering these questions.
Following is a not-too-brief (mostly non-literal) summary of points emphasized by everyone.
An important aspect is whether the products on the market are exchanged as “use values”, or as “exchange values”. The more the latter, the more the absence of “human element” in the market. Withdrawal of government from markets for food articles and strengthening of modern markets in its place deepens a situation where buyers of food from farmers are not its consumers and actual consumers of food appear merely as buyers. Eventually food is not produced for consumption, but for sale. Such trade would inevitably involve and cause unequal exchange. Vis-a-vis this a small shop-owner appears more as a facility-provider rather than a substantial gainer in this unequal exchange. Arrangements like the earlier e-chaupal, which apparently reduce the intensity of this unequal exchange, work only in conjunction with sale of costly industrial input to agriculture. International trade, which existed earlier constituted a very small proportion of local market. Also, it related not to articles of daily consumption. So, thinking about markets may probably not be essentially influenced by international, which might be treated as a perturbation. The preference shown by people to global products is not from considerations of quality, facility etc but is caused by something else. Thus, a social campaign (swadeshi, local preference, …) is needed to promote local produce.
Global market in agricultural produce is strongly under the yolk of subsidies by Western nations, which are expected to grow three-fold to $1.7 Billion by 2030. So, with this, where is the ‘market’? WTO regime has failed to discipline these subsidies. International grain prices for grains (wheat and paddy) are lower today than they were in 1986-97. Here they are higher only due to devaluation of the Rupee. In this system, where the most mechanized farms also need subsidies to sustain, how will farmers’ incomes here increase? The farmer and the lokavidya samaj cannot survive in this market. Varanasi kind of experiments will not work after post-globalization changes. Even experiments like e-chaupal paid higher prices only when international prices were high. Vinoba had clearly said that we need an economy where grain sells at high price and industrial produce is cheaper. Nations, which tried to modernize by keeping food prices low are all poor today. We need to study the case of Japan, which did the opposite, paying 3-4 times the global prices to their paddy producers. Purchasing power of farmers and lokavidya samaj must be increased. Prices in urban areas rise and fall so as to match demand at a price to supply. But, what does this even mean in the absence of purchasing power with 80% of people? Apart from export-import policies and fiscal arrangements (like needed by pay-commissions) the government uses even its buffer stocks to manipulate prices. The MSP itself was never considered remunerative by Farmers’ movement. Yet today we are compelled to demand even that. Free markets do not solve the problem. We need regulation in the interests of the farmer and the lokavidya samaj.
Earlier the proportion of produce exchanged was relatively smaller. It was local exchange of produce, not barter, but with local currency – may be grain. If one looks at the meaning of market price over time one may get a good idea about the meaning of market over time. The concept has been related to the idea of scarcity. Modern markets now have become more and more impersonal. Here the idea of relative (Naresh, is this the word?) power becomes very important. Every market must function within some institutional framework – there is nothing like free market – one entirely between the buyer and the seller. Markets for different things have very different determinants.
Not just the modern market, but modern production itself is organized to produce for sale. The new laws deflate the difference between food and other consumption articles. Equal exchange cannot be imagined without regulation. However, intervention by modern state / government has always proved to be damaging to lokavidya samaj. There is need to think about the geographical / territorial scale at which regulation is to be exercised. This scale may be larger than that at which governance and administration may be imagined.
Are there any other nations, where procurement by government is done on the scale existing here? Is there really any difference between cash and non-cash crops today. It appears that everywhere mostly local agricultural produce is not what is consumed locally. So, even in agriculture almost everything is produced for cash. Is it then significant to raise the question of use values even in relation to food?
Government procurement existed in EU. They used it to export grain to India, when we were deficit. After WTO, they switched to different methods like income assurance. We have been talking of support to local markets. We have to think whether this is possible. India was not rich because of local markets. Can we shun global markets? Regulation is necessary, but what type and by whom? Government intervention is not going to solve the problem. We need to think about these questions with these constraints. We have talked about a market morality (dharma, shared values), which can regulate markets. Need to think about what the dharma was in pre-British times. We cannot have any external body to regulate. Is self-regulation with mutual agreement between producer, service provider and consumer possible? May be we need both – dharma and self-regulation.
Purely economistic thinking about markets will not help. It may at most uncover some long-term laws / trends, which may be purely fortuitous. But, with introduction of power considerations, do they survive? Short-term measures such as subsidies / support for modern agriculture etc does not change that. Force becomes important in what emerges. Not that any equilibrium happens except in the short run. State power appears as a direction-giving power to agriculture and industry establishing a system of ‘enlightened’ relationship between big capital and the poor. This nexus creates markets and decides outcomes. For example, contribution of agriculture to the GDP. Morality appears out of place in all this, and its introduction not in our hands. So, it appears we are back again at looking at relationships between different social sections and whether there is an emerging consciousness to challenge imperialism.
Hierarchy and Autonomy
Krishna Gandhi (13 Sep 2021)
with comments by G Sivaramakrishnan (13, 16 Sep 2021)
Let us consider the caste system in India. Each caste has a separate identity, with its own distinct customs, occupations, festivals and even gods. Their daily experiences over long periods of time have endowed them with a corpus of knowledge, their Lok Vidya, that has helped them survive and flourish. It would not be incorrect if we term them semi-autonomous communities: not fully autonomous but interdependent on each other because of their need to cooperate in the productive activities and social life of traditional village communities. Not without some justification, the traditional village communities have been described as village republics. They were autonomous, that is, without outside intervention, through collective decision making, the resources available in the village were put to use to meet the basic needs of the members of the village community. But the same cannot be said of caste communities, the constituent parts of the village community.
We do not know when the organisation of the village community through its constituent occupational castes started in India. It must be a very ancient system of social organisation, if not as old as settled agriculture (10,000 years ago), at least from the times of Harappan civilization (5000 years ago). It would not have been rigid and hierarchical in the beginning. Pre-Aryan civilizations like the Tamil civilization dating back to 5th century BC do mention broad occupational castes like rulers, traders and agriculturists. Mention is also of specific occupational castes like goldsmith. But there is no mention of caste hierarchies and untouchability in the early Sangam literature. In fact, those engaged in agriculture were accorded respect, unlike what happened later in post Aryan period when agriculturists were tagged as shudras occupying the lowest rung in the varna system. Some historians link, on the basis of recent linguistic and archaeological studies, the ancient Tamil civilization to Dravidian/Harappan civilization. Whatever that be, it will be safe to surmise that hierarchies among occupational castes did not arise until after Aryans came.
Hierarchy invariably has been based on racial superiority. DNA studies have proved beyond doubt that around 2000 BC there was an influx of nomadic pastoral tribes from Central Asia into Northwest India. Upto 17% of the DNA of the present-day Brahmins of north India consists of DNA elements of the people of Central Asia. A period of drought spanning over 200 years from 2000 to 1800 BC, spread over the whole of Eurasia was the principal cause of such a large-scale migration. Geological evidence has accumulated in support of such a premise.
This long period of drought brought about a decline of the Harappan civilization. Whatever remained of the urban settlements were destroyed by the Aryans when they came. But in the rural hinterlands the remnants of the Harappan civilization continued to exist. The invading Aryans may have intermingled with the native populations and a definite mixing of the DNAs took place. This mixing may not have been even. And some sections especially the priestly class (Brahmins) who retained more of the Aryan (central Asian) DNA, arrogated to themselves racial and occupational superiority. This may have started the hierarchical varna system of hierarchical order of castes based on racial purity. Over millennia, the self-appointed guardians of this varna system ascribed to mythical Manu, the Brahmins, devised a rigid hierarchy of castes with untouchability also introduced to reinforce hierarchy. Descriptions of 19th century Kerala throw light on the levels to which such a hierarchical system of castes and subcastes can descend and degenerate. The Namboodiri Brahmins at the top of the hierarchy dominated the caste system although they constituted a tiny fraction of the population. It is said that they started arriving in Kerala during the reign of the Kadamba dynasty around 4th century AD and were granted large tracts of lands. They saw to it that their lands did not fragment under their patrilineal system by allowing only the eldest son to marry a Namboodiri woman. The younger sons had to satisfy their sexual needs by visiting women of Nair households under a system of temporary alliances (sambandham), with no responsibility towards their children born out of such relationships. Namboodiri women were denied the right to marry anyone of lower caste and this resulted in most of them forced live as spinsters. These Namboodiri landlords sublet their lands to the relatively higher up castes down the ladder (Nairs) who in turn sublet to lower status hardworking Ezhavas or made the lowest rung castes like the Pulayas and Parayas with serf like status work on them. It is said that even the Kshatriya kings were afraid of the Namboodiri Brahmins, as they had exclusive knowledge of the shastras, Ayurveda and many arts. Sanskrit language was their exclusive domain. They determined the rules governing social interactions among castes and in case of disputes among castes, their verdict was final. Rules of hierarchy was imposed on all spheres of social activity. Various degrees of untouchability (impurity by sharing meals, by touch, by distance of approach, breath of same air, even by sight) were practised. Only the Namboodiris were allowed the privilege of using umbrellas when it rained.
Sufficient to say that there was no autonomy for the lower castes. The lower in rank, the lesser the autonomy enjoyed by the caste. Not only serfdom, but slavery also was prevalent. Certain lowest ranked castes were termed slave castes and they occupied a significant part (more than 10%) of the population.
To conclude, while occupational castes may have evolved from ancient times along with settled agriculture, there was no caste hierarchy in the pre-Aryan historical period (before 10th century BC in north India and before the start of the common era in the south). Dignity of labour was practised. Autonomy or semi autonomy of the castes was prevalent. The caste panchayat used to decide on matters pertaining to the caste, while the village panchayat decided on matters related to the village as a whole.
But this nonhierarchical system of semi- autonomous castes became a rigid hierarchical varna system under Aryan influence. Racial purity of the priestly class of Aryan origin (brahmins) may have been the starting point. Without doubt, their monopoly over Sanskrit and codified knowledge gave them enormous power. They used this power to entrench themselves and to create the hierarchical varna framework wherein the various occupational castes were incorporated. They determined the rules of interaction of one caste with another and were the self-appointed final arbiters of disputes among castes. While Kerala may have been an extreme case, rigid caste hierarchy was propagated and enforced throughout India to varying degrees by the priestly brahmin class.
What lessons do we draw from this understanding of India’s history, in imagining and creating a new social order that will lead to the emancipation of the human spirit from the deadweight of hierarchy?
- Ideas of racial superiority of any caste or community must be resolutely fought against.
- The exclusive use of a language by any class or community (Sanskrit in the past, English today) will end up being a weapon used to create hierarchies.
- Codified knowledge and the processes of creation of the same must not remain the exclusive right or privilege of any class or community. In the past the priestly class (brahmins) monopolised this sphere of human activity. Today, the corporations, the universities, the research laboratories manned by specialists, scientists and experts are monopolising codified knowledge.
Even so, the ultimate question needs to be answered, which is, can human society function effectively without hierarchies of power? Because some diehards would argue that humans cannot progress without some class or community assuming the power to rule over others. Is it really so? Historical evidence points in the opposite direction. Societies and humans were at their creative best when hierarchies were fought, shaken, loosened, or destroyed. The European renaissance was brought about when the hold of rigid church and papacy over society was broken, and a fresh wave of enquiry and experimentation swept through Europe.
Similarly, when colonies fought foreign rule and achieved independence human creativity rose to new heights there. So, there is absolutely no substance in the argument that authority, hierarchy, centralised power are essential or even desirable for human progress. But how do we visualise a nonhierarchical society? Perhaps the villages of the Sangam era could provide us an answer.
However, one thing is certain: The road to swaraj or even autonomy is not that of hierarchy.
Response from GSRK:
I share some of my immediate reactions to Gandhi’s write up on hierarchy and autonomy.
First, it appears he is following the very familiar trope of varna, caste and hierarchy. That once upon a time, during pre-Aryan days, Indian society was nonhierarchical and more autonomous. And then came the Aryans, with their varna system, with Brahmins conspiring to keep the village communities under the ideology of caste hierarchy. In my view there is no logical connection between hierarchy and autonomy. Villages that had castes and with untouchability practices were also perhaps ‘autonomous’ if we look at how they governed themselves. Dharampal’s Chengalpattu villages were relatively more autonomous but not free from hierarchy of castes and statuses. In fact, most pre-modern societies can be shown to be autonomous in comparison to modern industrial societies but they were also more hierarchical than industrial societies.
A larger point is, why is hierarchy to be condemned if it is shown that all human societies are hierarchical by ‘ nature’ and it is the ideology of Western modernity that has given a bad name to hierarchy. Dumont’s classic ‘Homo Hierarchicus’ has amply demonstrated what I am trying to argue.
There is nothing wrong in aspiring to create a society based on the principle of ‘autonomy’ as much as it is legitimate to think of equality as a great virtue. But why should autonomy be considered impossible in a hierarchical society? On the contrary, whatever little empirical evidence we have of Indian villages of pre-British times shows that caste hierarchy and village ‘autonomy ‘ had very peaceful coexistence!
Further comments from GSRK (16 Sep 2021):
While there was some useful discussion on this yesterday, it was not obviously conclusive. I present some more of my thoughts on the question of autonomy and hierarchy.
I don’t really get Budhey’s contention that both cannot be together. Most of the instances of autonomy in the real world appear to have no problem in keeping company with hierarchy. I had given the example of family throughout history. But a more appropriate example is our jati system itself. Each jati is not only autonomous regarding its rituals, practices etc. but jealously guards its autonomy from any interference from other ‘superior’ jatis, and from the state. But the jati system is also considered as a paradigm example of hierarchy.
Girish was very correct in drawing attention to the segmentary state of the Chola and the Vijayanagar empires. Burton Stein’s work on ‘Peasant State and Society in South India’ must be taken seriously to understand the relative autonomy enjoyed by peasant communities. The frequent confrontations that our farmers have with the State may be seen as some expression of this urge for autonomy even as their demands are also about prices and subsidies.
Therefore, it appears autonomy can and does exist comfortably with hierarchy in most cases.
Budhey is right about some hierarchies being only ritualistic. In fact, the entire caste system can be seen as a hierarchy of ritual statuses. But then we run into problem once the dimension of power is factored in. Dumont’s point about hierarchy based on the notion of purity-impurity has been challenged precisely on the question of power. But there are many instances of ritual hierarchies. Our own constitution places the President only as a ritual head of the State, with no power to override the advice of the Cabinet. His being the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces is similarly a ritual status. The British Monarch or the other Monarchs in several other countries is again very ritualistic power / hierarchy.
One thing I haven’t been able to understand is the repeated mention of ‘autonomy of autonomies’ by almost everyone. What does it mean? Is it that there should be autonomy within autonomy? Or does it amount to saying that ‘everything’ has to be autonomous. That is, autonomy cannot be limited by time, place, etc? Obviously, everything in this universe cannot be autonomous. Life is interdependent, the predator needs the prey. One cannot conceive of the individual without first positing a society.
To talk of autonomy of the individual is to fall into the trap of the uniqueness of the individual soul, which is a Christian notion and Western idea, hardly sustainable in Indian culture. There have been arguments that the very notion of the individual is alien to Indian culture. It is said that what we have are dividuals and not individuals. I am told there is no word for the individual in most Indian languages.
Autonomy and Political Subject
Girish Sahasrabudhe (18 Aug 2021)
We take it that the idea of political subject captures the main agency, the driving force of transformative processes, which aim at a far-reaching realignment of inter- and intra-community relations in an exploitative society – a realignment, which will presumably, and credibly, lead to a better, more just society. These processes inevitably nurture questioning of existing power relations. We would also like to believe that the general idea of autonomy is a source of strength for such regenerative social transformation. It suffuses the transformation with new life. In other words, our interest is in political subject acting to create more just society of autonomous communities.
What is autonomy? I regard autonomy as a distinguishing characteristic of all life. In human life autonomy expresses itself, perhaps more strongly and definitively than in any other life, as creative action and imagination. Autonomous action always creates something new, something which did not exist earlier. Human life is always social life. Therefore, creation and imagination are always social. They are merged too in the new entity brought into existence, be it a crop, or a garment, or an implement, or a song, or a sculpture, or an idea, or a unifying initiative, or an edifice, or a community institution, or a community norm … . Depending on what it is, the author of this new entity may be an individual, a family, or a group, or an entire community, or a political subject acting autonomously at their respective levels.
Autonomous action is such only insofar as it is not destructive of autonomous action of others. That is, autonomous action is a farce without “autonomy of autonomies”. This further means that truly autonomous action reinforces other autonomies – an idea at the root of human cooperation. In this sense, autonomous action is not “independent” action, but action that incorporates a responsible response. To the extent that at any juncture this may be possible in many ways, this qualification in no way precludes the response at that juncture from being “free” response.
Self-determination / Self-governance: Therefore, autonomy implies self-determination, and governance, the ability of choosing from many possible actions, all of which are in a relation of responsibility with autonomy of autonomies.
Self-correction (Immune System): Responsible response of autonomous entities to autonomy of autonomies also presumes an idea of “self-correction”. Self-correction is a result of reflection on previous autonomous action and its result. It leads to more informed, yet routine choice of renewed creative actions. Its nature is as demonstrated, for instance, in an event where the Agaria master who goes wrong in producing the right quality steel in a foreign land, makes amends to account for, say, higher water content in the air, and succeeds. Self-correction strengthens, as well as guides, autonomous existence. This is akin to the way immune systems in life-forms function. The animal immune systems are known to not only bring into play defensive mechanisms against foreign attacks – a function, for which it is normally credited – but also to trigger specific growth pathways in an organism.
Knowledge and Knowledge Subject: Autonomous creative action is the primary mode of creation of all knowledge, as well as of its renewal and extension. As such, autonomous action in the first place itself partakes of accumulated knowledge. Knowledge is thus a shareable higher form of autonomous creation, the contours of which are defined by the nature of creative activity. Given the reality of any number of distinct genres of human creativity, one may say that each generates a knowledge-world, or knowledge tradition of its own. Given also that social life within any community gives rise to a multiplicity of knowledge traditions, the community may be identified with them. Every community is thus an instance of what we may call the “knowledge subject”. That is its identity. Individual members of that community will reasonably be on the intersection of a few of the knowledge traditions in the knowledge-world of the community, providing them several identities at the same time.
Equal and Unequal Exchange: The conception of a community respecting autonomy of autonomies may suggest that the community exits as a singularity, and that its knowledge systems suffer a closure. This may be true in some concrete sense as far as territoriality is concerned. For, it is quite true that the specific territorial existence of a community must make a distinct mark on creative activities it engages in apart from also creating an instinct for territorial preservation and safety. However, that in no way precludes specific knowledge traditions of a community cutting across another community. For instance, writing about tribal communities here G. N. Devy states that exchanges between tribals and non-tribals “have been of profound significance in areas such as medicine, folklore, narrative technique, religious abstraction, music, dance, theatre and even agricultural technology”.1 One may think of these as primarily a knowledge dialog between the two communities as knowledge subjects. One might say that if such exchanges, as well as the non-knowledge exchanges accompanying these, are to respect autonomy of autonomies, they will in some sense be “equal” exchanges, and so perceived by both the communities. An exchange, which is unequal is so in the sense that it creates a disturbance in autonomous existence of both.
Political Autonomy: There is nothing like “political autonomy by itself”. Political autonomy of a community, which is not a knowledge subject, is a farce. The notion itself arises when communities, existing hitherto as knowledge subjects, experience external domination and disruption of their autonomous existence, that is, only after they have ceased to be knowledge subjects.
The truth of the above has been amply demonstrated time and again in detailed studies of experiments in political autonomy since Independence. The chief external power responsible for disruption and destruction of communities as knowledge subjects in our country has been the modern Indian nation state and its collusion with forces of globalization. Studies supportive of the idea of the Indian nation state, as well as those opposed to it, are unequivocally agreed on the conclusion that political autonomy experiments have been exercises for accommodation and more, or less peaceful control so long as possible. Never have they been efforts at recognizing autonomy of the subject, nor has there ever been any such intention.
By political subject we understand a social power, which stands in contradistinction with existing governmental realities as well as, in general, with power relations in an exploitative society. Political subject is the driver of transformative social and political processes. Liberal thought in Western societies produced the citizen, with democratic constitutional and legal rights and duties as the political subject. As the idea was exported to conquered territory, liberal thought never parted company with the modern nation state, capital and science. In fact, it firmly stood with all these amidst extreme violence and destruction initiated by them all over the globe. Inevitably the citizen as political subject is a non-starter in the global South. Long since, for very large parts of entire populations, “citizen” stands reduced to its opposite pole – a mere object of manipulation. The power of the State is needed at each juncture to keep the illusion afloat. Fissures are all too visible even in the global North – be it Canada with its graves of indigenous children, or USA with its Black Lives Matter, and underground fuel pipes in indigenous lands and manipulated school curricula in South Dakota, or China with complete disappearance of non-state initiative at transformation.
As the political subject initiates transformative processes, it creates new politics. Clearly this is a contentious process. Primacy of existence and thought are both contended for collectively. It is a collective process.
In Marxist thought and practice the proletariat as a class is the political subject. In countries, where the proletarian class was admittedly not well-formed, it was the party acting in the name of peasantry, and other communities, but charged with proletarian ideas. The misconceived notion of “incomplete capitalist development”, and of its state-sponsored completion in a reconstructed form led either to collapse, or to emergence of monolithic state power.
The reality is, of course, different from one of incomplete capitalist transformation. In the once colonized world, starkly so. It is one of open destruction of autonomous communities, and of violent displacement of fully functional autonomous knowledge traditions – both sustained by unequal exchange. Gandhi’s response to it was rejection of the western civilizing idea in Hind Swaraj, imagination of future as a republic of villages and village, or community of villages as political subject. Unlike the proletariat, a class which “has lost all and has nothing further to lose but its shackles”, village is an autonomous community with knowledge traditions capable of a non-violent reconstruction. This is a different genre of political subject. And so will it be in future of these countries.
The social-political reality today is, of course, changed in almost every specific detail. As we have all been engaged for long with understanding it, there is no need to dwell on it – except only to note that: (i) The essential colonial situation has deepened and we face today a situation, which is broadly perceived as one of (a) epistemic reduction of all knowledge to science and knowledge-management and (b) ontological denial, except in their “negative aspects”, of real existence of the communities most affected by globalization and strengthening of the nation state; (ii) Emergence of the global market has intensified an already unequal exchange, thus facilitating the control of all natural resources like land and water as well as of electricity and finance; (iii) The use of ICT’s has intensified exploitation of communities living by their knowledge; (iv) Dominant politics has become far more remote from the people, governance far more unresponsive and faceless, and representation meaningless.
All through a period of more than the last two decades we have been with the thought of knowledge in society – Lokavidya. For us the emergence of ICTs marked the recognition of a situation in which there was a real possibility of Lokavidya thought gaining some hold in the public domain. This also means that we see an important role for Lokavidya – understood very broadly as expressing the ontology of knowledgeable autonomous communities of people – in emergence of the political subject.
So, how do we go about grasping this emergence of the political subject?
Emergence of Political Subject
In this last section I will confine myself to just listing a few things. The perception of inter-connections between some of them as well as their import are hazy at most. Yet, I feel they are all relevant here.
- Emergence of political subject is at the root a question of non-correspondence with dominant political reality. Dominant politics bears no normal relation to the reality as known to the subject.
- Emergence involves new knowledge of the basis of reality. Questioning of received “common sense” and the universals in existing knowledge of reality is quite clearly a central aspect of the new knowledge. For instance, in 2006 the Naga leader Thuingaleng Muivah spoke of “the peace of the brave” and what should be seen as “reasonable” by the Government of India in dealing with the Naga people.2 In a recent debate on TV one of the leaders of the ongoing farmers’ movement was told by a panelist not to be disrespectful of M. S. Swaminathan. His response was that no one need enlighten him on Swaminathan’s extensive work and not to “forget that it is since the green revolution that the farmers face the burden of heavy debt”! Not only do the farmers know how to handle farm technology, but they are quite aware of its general implications too. Similar is the assertion, “We too know how to run the Parliament” made by Rakesh Tikait during demonstrations in front of the Parliament. This is assertion of abilities to legislate, govern etc, not normally attributed to farmers as a community. Moreover, it is possible to conjecture that Tikait’s use of the word is a statement that Parliament should work like the khap. This is akin to Iqbal in 1924 saying, “Western nations are different from our nation”.
- As noted earlier, emergence is a contentious process. One aspect of this process is questioning of existing power, its justification as well as its morality. A call for “Nyaya, Tyaga and Bhaichara”, if made by the farmers’ movement, may be viewed as a call for such moral questioning. It is natural that this questioning becomes evident to the larger society and gains the public domain at first only in movements. The values the movements talk about have their distinct meaning, understood at once by those in movement. For example, the “bhaichara” of farmers’ movement is quite different from brotherhood as God’s children, simply because it springs forth from actual cooperation within farming communities and their autonomous existence. The movement has repeatedly talked of destruction of bhaichara and family farming as inevitable consequence of implementation of new farm laws.
- Contention is, apparently paradoxically, also important in building of solidarity within the emerging political subject. Political subject necessarily has inherent ambiguities as it matures. Internal contention is to be expected and is bound to confuse identification. Evidently, that contention will be treated and promoted as dissension by the sovereign power and used as such. A dispute on river waters between upstream and down stream farmers’ communities is an example. So is the contention for social position between castes and communities in village.
- Just as emergence creates new knowledge of social realities, it also creates a new imagination and a new “language”, in terms of which the new universals are expressed. It also creates a dialogic promoting this language.
- Another aspect of contention is assertion of existence – an identity, a difference. Collective memory gains importance here and fashions the assertion. Shaheen Bagh is a clear example, where a legislation is perceived as clearly destructive of identity. The Dravidian Model initiative is another instance, where difference is the central concern. Both these examples have more to do with rejecting and fighting “ontological denial” and not so much with “epistemic reduction”. This is not to say that they are not important in the emergence of the political subject. In fact, they quite possibly might inaugurate widening of the process.
- From a knowledge point of view emergence of political subject may be imagined as a solidarity of communities as autonomous knowledge subjects engaged in a knowledge dialogue. Autonomy is a part of imagination in movements of indigenous people. In Ecuador and Bolivia, it is a part of the Constitution.
Nothing in the above, of course, resolves anything about where do race, caste, language, region – territory, … stand in relation to emergence of political subject, a question that has been engaging us. Except indirectly, as it is difficult, if not impossible, to see them as defining “knowledge subjects”, although doing that in each of these cases may not be equally difficult. To me “knowledge subject” seems a reasonable way of identification of a samaj, community as we call it. The farmers of different regions can be seen as members of many such communities. By no criterion is it possible to underestimate the significance of farmers’ movement (a major part of lokavidyadhar samaj for us) in thinking of the political subject.
- p. ix, Introduction to Painted Words : An Anthology of Tribal Literature, G N Devy.
- “We rejected the Indian Constitution way back in 1950. Despite an invitation, the Nagas did not attend the constituent Assembly, stating clearly that they were not a part of India… (Yet) India must realise that since 1950 we have taken several steps forward to come closer to it. … If the Indian political leadership does not appreciate them then how can we say that it wants a solution through negotiations… It will be a federation of India and Nagaland to be bound together by an agreement which elaborate the interdependence between the two… We say interdependence’ because we realise that we cannot be totally on our own… (We) prefer to use the term ‘federation’ in preference to the ‘Union of India’ as the latter describes the relation between the centre and states of India. The background and history of these states are different from ours. Once the terms of the negotiated settlement are incorporated in the Indian Constitution as well as in the Constitution that the Nagas will give themselves, we will recognise the Indian Constitution and India will recognise our Constitution. No unilateral change would be permitted in the terms of the settlement either through Ordinances or Constitutional amendments… We think that this is reasonable approach. Both sides would end up recognising each other’s constitution as well as the close links binding the two documents. Indians and Nagas would become inseparable. What more could India want?”, p.167, Emergence of the Political Subject, Ranbir Samaddar.
On why the Indian Constitution must be amended to protect the rights of communities to follow their traditions so that India’s diversity is protected and celebrated
Krishna Gandhi (04 Aug 2021)
Although we never tire of proclaiming to the world that our country, India, is an outstanding example of “Unity in Diversity”, the sad fact remains that we have collectively failed to create conditions for our diversity to flourish or even endure.
In the past, one after another many empires came into being and disappeared into history. Despite this, the Indian subcontinent continued to remain the cradle of many languages, customs, traditions, cultures, castes, tribes, communities, and creeds. Many great social reformers like Buddha, Mahavira, Basaveshwara, Guru Nanak, Kabir and saints belonging to the Sufi tradition and Bhakti movement tried their best to re-organise the societies of their times on the basis of certain perceived universal values of brotherhood, compassion, non violence etc…They made enormous impact on their times. But, as time progressed, their followers formed their own cult and established their own separate identity to survive as just one more community among the many communities and cults which constituted Indian Society. Nevertheless, their teachings were internalised to varying extent by members of various other communities too that populated India. India, however, stubbornly continued to remain a plural and diverse society of tribes, castes, communities, religious sects (panths/cults) and traditions. This internal social dynamics of creation and amalgamation of sects and communities that influenced each other’s perceptions on what is right and what is wrong, formed the basis of the evolution of a common dharma (a set of moral codes that governed people’s interactions with each other), accepted to varying degrees by the members of all communities. India’s plurality was also enriched by the influx of various persecuted communities from foreign lands who were given protection by the rulers of various Indian kingdoms. Many kings also welcomed with open arms proponents of Christianity and Islam who were given the freedom not only to preach their religion but also to convert their subjects to these religions.
Indian Constitution and traditional communities
In sum, it may be said that India has not functioned as a melting pot of different traditions, tribes, castes, communities etc. Instead, it is a mosaic of these and that is the strength and uniqueness of India. However, the political leadership of the country after independence, the product of Western Education that instilled in them imported notions of nationhood, rule of law based on a written Constitution, democracy, individual freedom, equality and progress while admitting that this diversity is unique to Indian society were not able to come to terms with it and grant the traditional communities of India the legal sanction and constitutional right to follow their traditions. Only, the right to practice and preach the religion of one’s choice was granted to individuals. The political leadership with perhaps the exception of Mahatma Gandhi, feared that this diversity would turn out to be not India’s strength, but its weakness. Most of the political leaders, irrespective of whether they belonged to the left centre or right of the ideological spectrum, while paying lip service to the notion of “Unity in Diversity” acted in a manner that sought to undermine the plurality and diversity of India.
Nothing illustrates this better than India’s Constitution. The whole Constitution is centred on the notion of the Indian Republic as constituted of individual citizens. The preamble starts with the phrase, “We, the people of India”, whereas it would have been more representative of the country, were it to be replaced by “We the peoples of India”, a truer description of ourselves, reflecting and acknowledging the plurality and diversity of India. Nowhere in the constitution is there any legal status or rights accorded to “indigenous communities” as distinct from “individual citizens”. Castes and tribes are not considered deserving of any constitutional right to preserve their autonomies and separate and distinct customs and laws. There is no legal status accorded to a village community, or any community confined to a geographical region, as possessing the right of collective ownership of common natural resources like forest, land and water belonging to that region. It is implicit in the Constitution that property can belong either to a private entity (an individual or a legally constituted entity) or the state. Nowhere is it granted that communities can collectively have property rights over land, water and forest. The collective rights of the communities were replaced by private rights. Public right to property was exclusively that of the state. This is the foremost reason why people have discontinued their traditions of upkeep and maintenance of their natural environment, because the state has arrogated to itself all powers over the management of natural resources and environment.
The continuing obsession with the Uniform Civil Code (UCC)
While the Constitution has a framework for enactment of uniform civil laws for the citizens of the country, there was and is disagreement over enacting uniform personal laws governing marriage, inheritance etc… for all communities (belonging to different religions). The Hindutva groups, argue that the right to have four wives granted under Sharia (muslim personal law) has the potential for unchecked population explosion of the muslims eventually resulting in the Hindu majority becoming a minority, This, although is a laughable argument born more out jealousy than reason, and is not borne out by the demographic data on birth rates, has been used as rallying point to unite the Hindu majority. Apart from it, the Hindutva proponents would definitely like to bring under one umbrella of UCC, all the castes, tribes and religions like Jainism, Buddhism and Sikhism and even native Christians it seems, to make sure that the majoritarian project versus the minority muslims is successful. In the Constituent assembly debates and afterwards in the early years of the Nehru government, Ambedkar was insistent on having a UCC, which although may not be mandatory could be an optional choice for any citizen to adopt. Ambedkar resigned from the Nehru government on this question, specifically on the issue of a uniform Hindu Code. Ultimately the Hindu Marriage Act as well as a Special Marriage Act, the latter for those who want to follow civil laws of marriage, were passed. All this happened before Ambedkar ironically opted to embrace Buddhism in 1956. The UCC debate received boost during the Shah Bano case, which saw many twists and turns done by Congress to placate the muslim community. The BJP made political capital out of it and ultimately succeeded in enacting the bill banning Triple Talaq.
Although the UCC was relegated to the status of Directive Principles in the Constitution, again and again the issue is being raised. The question is, should the UCC be allowed to have any place in the Indian Constitution at all? Has not the time come to permanently bury the subject?
Community rights/traditions and the Sabarimala temple entry issue
The Supreme court gave the verdict favouring the entry of women in Sabarimala temple, citing constitutionally granted equal rights for both sexes. Ironically, the very same BJP which is championing UCC and the equal rights of muslim women, did a U-turn in this case, and argued for banning the entry of all women, be they Hindu Muslim or any other religion or not, into the temple, in direct contravention of the Supreme Court’s orders. The Congress party spoke in many voices, with the Kerala unit opting to support the ban on the entry of women. Even the CPM govt in Kerala was forced to soft pedal the issue after an initial push to implement the Supreme Court’s order. All these events show that the traditions of India’s communities are too strong to be uprooted merely because the Western educated elite have subscribed, at least publicly, to European notions of individual rights, parliamentary democracy, Constitution, equality and progress.
I would therefore argue that it is time the Constitution is amended to grant rights to communities to follow their customs and traditions so long as those do not infringe on the rights of other communities to follow their own separate customs and traditions. At the same time, a certain minimum set of individual rights must also be granted protection, along with an option granted to individuals to choose between these explicit constitutionally guaranteed rights and the traditional rights enjoyed by the individual by virtue of his being a member of a particular traditional community.
Possible issues arising from grant of Constitutional rights to traditional communities
Now let us examine the problems arising out of the grant of Constitutional rights to communities to follow their customs and practices including those pertaining to collective ownership of property.
- Communities dwelling within areas defined in geographical units – like villages, kasbas, mohallas, towns, and panchayats at village, block and district levels. These communities normally resident in their respective areas themselves may consist of many castes and tribes and sects but are united by their common interest in improving the quality of their lives and their environment. These are administrative units and local self-government bodies that have been constitutionally recognised through the Panchayati Raj amendment of the Constitution. And therefore, it is easy to confer common property ownership rights to these bodies.Now, while land and forest can be geographically partitioned between villages and panchayats, the same cannot be said of water flowing overground and underground. Standard principles and procedures must be formulated to resolve conflicts of interests between upper lying villages and lower lying ones.Secondly, these community organisations (units of local self-government) to be functional and to be autonomous of the central and state govts must have their independent sources of income to depend on and not just grants or funds allocated to them from above, under the schemes run by state and central govts. Certain taxes, levies and cesses must exclusively be under the jurisdiction of these units.
- Non geographically defined communities like castes, sects, religions. These types of communities may be spread over large areas, overlapping each other geographically. If, they are classified as belonging to Hinduism, the default religion assigned to any community when they are not muslims, christians, parsis etc…(that is, religions of foreign origin), there is the temptation to put them in a vertical hierarchy of the Chatur Varna system, ascribed to the Hindu mythological figure Manu. This becomes extremely problematic when the upper castes command the lower castes to follow their dictates of social behaviour. Hence, a way must be found to overcome this. One solution that comes to mind is to outright ban any attempts to create any hierarchies among castes, tribes and communities by religious heads. Further, mention of religion could be made illegal or optional when a child is admitted to school, with only the caste/community needed to be mentioned.
The basis of emancipation of communities and their knowledge systems from hierarchical structures
It is to be accepted by all that no two communities can be compared to give a judgement that one is superior to another. This is because every community has its own unique customs, traditions and knowledge systems, that it has developed through its peculiar historical experiences which cannot be duplicated by other communities. That is every community is unique and that is the basis of its equal status to other communities.
Taking this argument to the realm of knowledge, it must be acknowledged that the corpus of knowledge possessed by a community, the Lok Vidya of the community is unique and distinct from those possessed by other communities. Thus we come to the conclusion that Lok Vidya is not a monolithic abstract entity, but is something that changes from community to community. Since each corpus of knowledge or knowledge system came into being and developed in order to fulfil the aspirations of a particular community or a group of communities (being in turn a community itself), we cannot as a corollary make comparisons among knowledge systems to prove the superiority of any particular knowledge system over another. Thus we have to accept all knowledge systems as legitimate expressions of the aspirations of differing communities and cannot pick and choose among them. Of course these knowledge systems will also interact when communities interact, and evolve with time, enriching themselves from the knowledge possessed by other communities.
The above argument of the essentially equal status of different communities based on their unique characteristics, and the logical extension of this argument to the realm of knowledge possessed by the differing communities results in the acknowledgement that differing knowledge systems of different communities have to be granted their own space to evolve, unhindered by violence, suppression and dominance by other communities and their knowledge systems. This means that each autonomous community must grant autonomies to other communities and their knowledge systems to evolve and flourish.
However, this is easier said than done. History does not bear this out. This does not mean that the autonomy of autonomies of differing communities is impossible. We have to inquire into the essence of autonomy of autonomies, that is, the rules of mutual interactions of autonomous communities.
Autonomy of autonomies
Non-domination of one community by another has been proposed as the fundamental principle. This would logically mean that there is no need to have any central power that grants autonomy to communities and ensures their autonomies. Because any central power means domination of one form or another. This however does not preclude the possibility of coordination among communities to make sure that there is no violation of autonomy of any community by another community.
We need a new political imagination to visualise such an autonomy of autonomous communities in today’s context where the world dominated by a few centres of power that wreak violence and suppress the aspirations of communities. However, such an autonomy of autonomies can be witnessed in the panchayat system of self governance practiced by traditional communities. An instance of this is the Khap system of Western Uttar Paradesh and Haryana. Here among rural communities separate Khap Panchayats deal with issues affecting the particular Khap, while Sarva Khap Panchayats take collective decisions affecting all communities. Here autonomy of autonomies can be seen in action. We need to inquire into and study such practices of autonomy of autonomous communities/sects. Another such event is the Kumbh Mela organised periodically after every 12 years, which sees coordination of autonomous sects to organise the event. We should perhaps learn from such traditional practices and take them forward into the future.
Homogeneity versus heterogeneity
There is a view that continued existence of traditional communities is a hindrance to human progress. This view is shared both by proponents of capitalism and communism. The capitalist class in the expansionist mode wanted to overcome the limitations of tiny kingdoms and fragmented markets and was instrumental in establishing nation states and elected governments. Colonialism caused large scale elimination of traditional communities, called savages and natives by the colonial masters, in the conquered territories of the Americas, Australia, Africa and parts of Asia. Where the traditional communities were not physically eliminated, their ways of living, their social organisation, their means of living and most importantly their knowledge systems were destroyed. Through Western education, an alien knowledge system was forced upon them. This disruption of the traditional communities was considered essential for capitalism to expand. Notions of progress considered coterminous with the creation of modern nation states, unified markets, elected governments were instilled in the minds of the conquered races. Post colonial globalisation although devoid of the cruelty and violence of colonialism, is also a manifestation of the expansionist capitalism, this time led by a few monopolist multinational corporations. Enforced homogeneity in tastes, habits and aspirations is the means by which global capital expands ita spread. Traditional communities have even lesser chances of survival in this globalized world. The major force opposing this expansionary global capital today is the peasantry whose social organisation as traditional communities still survives in large parts of the world.
Some leftists argue that this homogenisation of the traditional communities through markets dominated by global capital is laying the ground work for unified/class action by the exploited and oppressed masses. They claim traditional community organisations tend to weaken the unity among the exploited masses.
However this does not seem to fit with the evidence of mass movements rising in various parts of the world against the domination by global capital. In our own country, peasant organisations from various parts of the country have forged alliances and led combined movements. Sikhs, Muslims and Hindus have been able to come together and fight common causes.
On the contrary, homogenization of society can give rise to dictatorships much more easily than in a society constituted of many traditional communities. India’s plurality acts as a bulwark against the dictatorial tendencies of monopoly capitalism. That is alao one of the reasons we must celebrate India’s diversity. Many proponents Hindutva believe that all the castes and tribes have to be brought into the Hindu fold, for a strong nation to emerge. Nothing could be farther from the truth. A nation where the legitimate aspirations of its traditional communities are denied expression is sure to end up fighting for their breathing spaces in order to survive. The unrest we see today in the North East is a reflection of the fact that enforced homogeneity by Hindutva forces are creating conflicts where none existed before.
Ideas of Today for the Politics of Tomorrow
J K Suresh (24 July 2021)
The problem of Philosophy
As an unnatural human activity, philosophy is disadvantaged in so many different ways. Unlike the study of society, it cannot describe the rituals of human life with a view to discovering their inner principles at work. Unlike the study of the mind, it cannot observe behavior with a view to finding the basic influences of Nature and Nurture on it. Unlike the study of exchange, it cannot look at markets in terms of value, impulse or negotiation as its fundamental dimensions.
Philosophy, in considering the human condition or its connection with all else in the world, locates itself as though it is an other-worldly basis (or a meta-construction) for understanding (or in the Indian sense, sublimating) the concerns of this world. Therein perhaps are the roots of its pre-occupation with the proposition, including in its self-description – either as seeking the love of wisdom or of the meaning of life – whose object seems determined to stay unproven. Moreover, to the extent that a reliance on belief (even if it is conditional on truth and justification) becomes unavoidable in determining the validity of propositions, the insertion of social mores, rituals, preferences and interests as marginal (and usually hidden) subjects of its kingdom constitutes an ignored self-contradiction of philosophy.
Is it possible that this is the reason why the realm of philosophy flounders at such times when social life is perceived to have become oppressive, to the point of desperation and hopelessness? When describing the world seems pointless because it involves mere repetition, and visions of tomorrow appear fantastic or unjustifiable because they have no legs to connect them to the ground? In other words, is it likely that precisely when philosophy is most needed – at a time of great crisis for the human spirit – does it becomes incapable of offering solace to man because it is enveloped in its own existential angst?
A further question is, are we at such a juncture today?
Of course, there is a way to side-step the obvious dead end that the above line of reasoning leads us to. One way to do this is possibly by examining our perceptions of the world and inspecting whether they might have led us into the dark corner of hopelessness. And perhaps after due thought, it may so happen that we realize that our perceptions need fundamental changes, which in turn enable us to understand the world differently; and perhaps infuse the new understanding with hope.
It is in undertaking such an exercise that philosophizing possibly helps, when mere descriptions or recommendations for change – the usual components of social debate – have run their course and utter hopelessness reigns in public spaces.
In our midst, a deep reconsideration of Lokavidya may perhaps serve our purpose of furthering our ambition of identifying and encouraging streams of thought that have the potential to ultimately provide a release from bondage of a large section of society.
Lokavidya: Scope and Limits
As a defining attribute of a large section of society whose fortunes have been on the downswing for at least a couple of centuries, the idea of Lokavidya served several purposes: identification, in the sense that it provides a demarcation of society between the oppressors and the oppressed with knowledge as its prime component; description, to the extent that it provides a basis for understanding the fundamental contradiction of our times; explanation, in the sense that it provides insights into how the social, economic and ethical frameworks of the dehumanized sections of society not only help them cope with new waves of oppression but actually provide a model for a just and sustainable social order of the future.
As opposed to a consideration of indigenous knowledge either as a formal or practiced system when it was clearly different from that of the colonizer (e.g., healthcare, steel making, or education), the novelty of Lokavidya was that it enabled a transcendence of historical location by establishing continuity not with the content of indigenous knowledge, but primarily with the dimensions of justice, methodology and cooperation entailed by the former. This makes Lokavidya proximate with the human condition rather than (only) with epistemological concerns of historical interest. Especially in a context where information and knowledge have become instruments of new forms of oppression that have no parallel in human history, Lokavidya provides a source of inspiration for the rediscovery of possible pathways to construct and evaluate resistance against the dominant.
Having taken birth at a time when a new world order was being constructed, with knowledge as the prime mover of the new forms of ideology, organization and destitution of society, the notion of Lokavidya was indeed novel and stimulating. Initial engagement with small groups facing the brunt of the new order being forcibly imposed was indeed encouraging and it did seem for a time that the idea of Lokavidya could perhaps gain traction and catch the imagination of a large number of people. However, this has not happened even as oppression continues to widen its spread in recent decades.
A small digression here: it appears to me that when a sweeping change affects society, language too adapts to it to help propagate its core ideas farther, to areas that are not affected yet by it. In that sense, the reification of labour or capital, even if viewed as a mere language construct, may have actually aided its spread and not merely been an inert reflection of a new reality taking shape in the 19th century. Similarly, without the ordinary human being seen as an instance of embodiment of Lokavidya, one may not be able to normalize the use of the term Lokavidyadhar except in smaller confines. Perhaps this is what underlies the relative comfort that some of us recently experience with the term “ordinary life” in contrast to Lokavidya.
It does appear that there has been some acknowledgement of this in recent times. It has led to a new attempt to identify within popular movements those elements of Lokavidya that might, with the right amplification, provide a new core of strength to the people of India.
I do believe that this may be a worthwhile project that may be further assisted by the following steps:
- A recognition that we as a group have none of the skills for rallying people, or even coordinating other groups as some did during the farmers’ agitations of the 1980’s; however, we do have abilities that are not ordinarily possessed by many others, viz., to read, reflect and write with reasonable clarity.
- Perhaps it is time for us to commit ourselves to spend a few weeks or months every year to bring out a state-of-the-society collection of articles on India that is sufficiently well argued out and somewhat representative of the essential strands of thought seen in various people’s struggles in the country. In light of the international scenario, where possible.
- If it is likely that our fervor lasts for another ten years, I should think that these collections may one day possibly aid someone’s thinking, somewhere. Even if it doesn’t, I suppose it may be considered that it is time well spent by this group.
I am sure that this note is likely to raise no questions or answer any. This note was written more to articulate a set of thoughts on Lokavidya that have affected me for long. I do believe that this ought not to be the subject of our discussion tomorrow and perhaps we should continue last week’s discussion of Krishnan’s note.
It may be useful to emphasize that this note deliberately avoids the materialism-idealism, consciousness-reality, idea-action types of dualities. Centuries after Renaissance and Machiavelli, we are perhaps in need of a meta-narrative that considers (for example) Hegel, Marx and Gandhi as actors, and not supra-historical prophets, in the project of discovering or acting upon “universal” truths. And even if we reflect such dualities in our own arguments, it might as well (appear to) be our own, and not that of times past. Indeed, the shadows of the past cannot but be present in our ideas of tomorrow, and yet perhaps it is time that we let them be there, in the shadows.
A Note for Discussion
G Sivaramakrishnan (14 Jul 2021)
Foucault in his famous essay on knowledge-power talks about insurrection of subjugated knowledges in the context of the West. Strangely or perhaps not so strangely, he does not talk about the knowledge systems of the colonised / indigenous people or their insurrection. Be that as it may.
We were quite excited at our own lokavidya standpoint, which we arrived at on the understanding that the ICT revolution marks a substantial break in capitalism. We rightly understood the coming of knowledge society and what it implied. The decline in the hegemony of science over all spheres of knowledge along with the challenge faced by the University as the sole producer of all valid knowledge, the clear decline and decimation of the proletariat and the dominance of global finance capital were easily identifiable consequences of the ICT revolution. We also argued that with the ICT revolution a new opportunity was available to the subjugated knowledges of the colonies as well as the subjugated knowledges of the West to gain respectability and legitimacy. This possibility was quite exciting.
But now, some two decades later, where do we stand? While the knowledge question still remains at the centre of any understanding of global capitalism, the respectability gained by subjugated knowledges has not made much difference to the actual bearers of these knowledges. We did not expect the global capital to be impacted in any manner by the legitimacy given to these lokavidyas. What has perhaps happened is that some smart startups have come up to creatively market the products of lokavidya samaj. We do occasionally hear about a rural craftsman or artisan making it big by the grace of dame luck.
We have claimed, rather naively, that the lokavidya samaj has no hierarchies, or at least it brooks no hierarchies. While we may detest hierarchies in general and hierarchies in knowledge in particular, the lokavidya samaj has always had hierarchies. Nyaya or justice in lokavidya samaj is to give what is due to a person or product. Since the lokavidya samaj is hierarchical (based on crafts and castes) it is hugely problematic to mobilise the samaj as a community. It might work when they are facing a common threat but soon after the threat disappears, they go back to the divisions of castes / sub castes. Unlike industrial workers who would at least be physically together in factory floors, lokavidyadhars are physically separated to feel a sense of camaraderie. Urban slums are perhaps the only equivalents of industrial shop floors where people physically get close to each other.
Community life in rural areas may not be a reality if one goes by the recent Pew research findings on religious affiliations and segregation in India. What has been preventing conflicts between groups and castes in India is that most of them are quite indifferent to what others are doing (eating, worshipping etc.). Traditional villages in India have always reflected their social segregation in their very physical structure. Only some rare events brought the whole village together, like some natural calamity or the annual festival.
The political subject in the Indian context can only be castes. The recent expansion of the Union ministry and the detailed press release on the sub castes of the incumbents only shows that caste may soon receive official and public recognition as political groups (which in my view is a belated but necessary recognition of the political nature of caste).
Suneel Sahasrabudhey (07 Jul 2021)
So far, we have no note for discussion today. Even if we do not receive anything now, let us meet and discuss the larger context and our place in it.
A few days back, I had prepared the following as a (rough) context in which we need to focus our ideas and discussion. I can initiate the dialogue with this before us. If it is agreeable, the meeting invitation may be sent.
- Farmers’ Movement, India.
- Centre – State Relations, India.
- Corona Condition worldwide.
- Movement of Indigenous Peoples, South and Central America and new developments in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and USA. Africa and Asia need to be checked.
- Democracy versus Autocracy, Formulated and announced by G7 through its meeting in England in June 2021, as the chief global political concern.
Vidya Ashram Ideas and Initiatives
- Nyay, Tyag and Bhaichara.
- Lokavidya Darshan.
- Lokavidya Knowledge Intervention necessary for a political imagination of structural change – A political – philosophical dialogue.
- Equal (to organized sector) returns on lokavidya work.
- Lokavidya Jan Andolan: Publication, dialogue, campaign, gyan panchayat, bauddhik satyagraha, association with movements, initiatives like lokavidya bazaar, bhaichara vidyalay, lokavidya satsang , kala sadhna, yuva gyan shivir, Lokavidya Swaraj.
- Global Fraternity of Peoples’ Knowledge Movements.
- Shaping new initiatives in the world of knowledge, in particular focussed in the domains of Art, Language, Philosophy, Media and Design. Main strategy would relate to equal and friendly relations between Lokavidya and University Knowledge.
The last one is in the formulation stage and is yet to be circulated for ideas and response.
Autonomy and Emerging Political Imagination
Girish Sahasrabudhe (30 Jun 2021)
In India, the notion of autonomy has been in debate in the public domain largely in its political sense. This may be more, or less true elsewhere too except in countries, where the indigenous people’s movement has existed. In the Bolivian Constitution the term autonomy appears in large number of articles as a governing principle to be respected at all levels. In our country, it is clear that the “yearnings for autonomy” witnessed since independence have been addressed with actions fitting a nation state in birth, and that, with its coming of age, we are today witness to their closure as well as reversal. Simultaneously, today we also witness events and movements, in which we may very well glimpse a new hope for, as well as new visions of autonomy.
Autonomy Under the Nation State
Independent India has seen many movements for recognition, self-governance, decentralization of power and formation of States. At the time of bifurcation, the then existing substantial regional autonomy of Kashmir, preservation of which was a stated precondition for its inclusion in Indian union, was reduced under Indian rule to a “special status” of the State of Jammu and Kashmir. This was achieved by Article 35A, added in 1954 by a Presidential Constitutional Order under Article 370.
Autonomous district councils, formed for tribal regions in the Northeast hills as parts of a Union Territory, and later as parts of a full Sates under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution, appeared much later starting with reorganization of the North-East. These Councils were granted substantial executive, legislative, financial, and judicial powers.1
These, similar autonomous institutions created along the entire Northeast border under provisions of the Fifth and the Sixth Schedules, and the later Ladakh Autonomous Hill Council of 1995 for the Leh district, are all concerned with border regions. There have been no similar developments in response to movements for recognition and pursuit of ‘own ways of life’ elsewhere, including even in the large tribal tracts well within the country. Clearly, the notion of autonomy in the political sense, seen in action here, is consistent with the cartographic anxieties associated with formation then of a new nation state in its secular-liberal incarnation. It has been called “governmentalized” autonomy. Failures of these autonomous arrangements have been seen as consequences of “governmentality of autonomy” instituted by the Indian Union. Typically, the failures, as they have largely been understood as failures to “develop”, are seen to be triggered by violations and delays by the Centre, and the parent State, in honouring their financial liabilities toward these autonomous regions. They are marked by feelings of neglect and second-rate treatment among smaller tribes. There have been demands for cessation from the union. Some of the forces for cessation have been incorporated into the electoral and democratic processes. For example, the Mizo National Front, after holding the Centre responsible for the Rat Famine of 1959, led a major uprising in 1966, carried out militant underground activities for number of years. But, after signing the Mizoram Accord with the Centre in 1986 the MNF has now been drawn into an alliance with NDA to rule Mizoram. With emergence of the Hindu nationalist avatar of the nation state, given the Muslim connection of Kashmir region, the abrogation of special status of Kashmir and reorganization of the State into two union territories is a natural fallout of political reduction of autonomy. By all accounts, the planned delimitation exercise is aimed at furthering central control of the region.
Limitations of Autonomy in a Nation State
Beyond the overall “governmentalization of autonomy” in service of the nation state, various studies of experiences in instances of autonomy recognize the complexities and the variety in forms of autonomy legislation, workings of institutions as well as the changing emphases in new demands for autonomy.2 They point out the paradox of Indian autonomies.3 These studies, however, seem to concentrate on the ‘political subject’, “whose existence is in contradistinction to the existence of the governmental realities of this world”.4 The political subject is a product of autonomous practices that are indicated by autonomy. Analytic of autonomy needs to reflect on the “kinds and relations of power that propel emergence of autonomous spaces”.4 Therefore, it seems that it is primarily power relations that are taken to define autonomous spaces. Concern is with a political subject “who claims autonomy and defines oneself against the dominant form of relation”. Also, the “autonomous spaces” seem to be essentially demarcated by a dominating external power relation, say, one imposed by a nation state. So, autonomy, is “different from freedom, because freedom is essentially a value, while autonomy is essentially a category of power.” Autonomy is the “other” of governmentality. It is “different from self-government because, while self-government focuses on the ability of the individual or the collective individual to govern oneself, autonomy always points towards the supplement that remains after (the task of) government has been accomplished.”
We may call this a strictly “political” view of autonomy. Attempting to seek to overcome the paradox of autonomy practices in India, it does throw up some important insights.
- It clearly sees that “the long liberal thinking of autonomy never came to terms with freedom, will, and the political realities of coercion and management of orders connected with will”. The public sphere, where democracy resides, is unable to cope with the politics of autonomy. One reason seen for this is that “modern democratic polities with their celebrated public spheres are not all dialogic, therefore they understand freedom much more and are ready to be guided by wills, but cannot cope with autonomies, perched as they are on the old juridical notions of sovereignty. All that these polities can accommodate is a sort of “boutique multiculturalism.”5
- Dialogic politics, considered as the “third dimension” of autonomy is seen as resulting from a quest for “minimal justice”, ruled by principles of compensation, supervision, custodianship, guarantee and innovation. It is minimal because quest is not for removal of all wrongs, and because liberal order does not allow full justice to be played out. This is clearly a liberal downgrading of the general idea of “dialogic politics”. It follows from a limited view of justice – as issue of justice surfacing repeatedly from the tussle between two political idioms – (i) a liberal / nationalistic idiom grounded in constitution and its continuous re-interpretations, tolerating autonomy to varying degree; (ii) a territorial idiom demanding “recognition”, itself also reinforced by the same constitutional liberal ideas. This is discussed in the context of a the old deadlocked and failing politics of autonomy failures, as a third escape dimension. Thus, it is clearly based on a belief in the possibility of success of a liberal dialogic order. This is important in that we may understand better some events like the recent “Dravidian Model” initiative in this light.
- Autonomous practices can be viewed as reorganizing principle of future society, creating a dialogic zone for negotiation of autonomies.
- A more potent idea is suggested in the context of Kashmir. This is the notion of autonomy of autonomies. It is contended that the notion “needs to be approached both ontologically and epistemologically. In the former sense, what ought to be at the center of projects designing accountable institutions are people with multiple identifications, and not categorically fixed ethno-religious identities. Equally critical is to ensure that we move from principles to practices / institutions and not vice versa. One of the cardinal principles on which the notion of autonomy of autonomies rest relates to a paradigm shift from domination to non-domination as the fundamental principle of governance at all levels.”6 This suggests assertion of existence not admitted otherwise, building of new institutions in consonance with it as well as urging co-existence based on denial of domination. Further, the principle “compels an acknowledgment of the fact that there is not one but several geographical knowledges of autonomy, produced at various sites. The challenge is to ensure that none of these geographical knowledges, especially the one produced at the official sites, acquires the hegemonic and homogenizing status of an unchallengeable regime of truth.”6 This has to do with denial of an “official history of the region” and assertion of a local understanding.
A Knowledge View of Autonomy
The weakness of the political view of autonomy is seen in many ways. It is developed in relation to practices of autonomy in India, which are largely restricted to border regions and reflect anxieties of a nation state in relation to the national borders. As far as our country is concerned, the borders have their own specificities – difficult forest and hill tracts quite different from much of the mainland, inhabited by “indigenous” tribal populations, religious demographies, etc. It declares that no viable non-territorial autonomies have been produced in India. Although, it clearly sees that liberalism fails to come to term with autonomies, the program it suggests for breaking the impasse old autonomy movements have reached is a liberal dialogic order. I think that this weakness is because of the understanding of autonomy as a category of power, and of autonomous spaces as spaces created amid interplay of power relations, including relations with external dominating powers.
A knowledge view of autonomy situates it in the life activity of each human being in a community. Autonomous spaces are then permeated by the knowledge spaces of that community. They are neither created nor defined by an external imposed power relation. (That does not mean that they are not affected, and possibly may even be destroyed by an external power, as many have undoubtedly been since the onslaught of imperialism.)
A knowledge view of autonomy is to regard autonomy as the chief characteristic of all life. Man’s autonomy expresses itself in action composed of creation and imagination. The two are joined together in that both refer to something new, something which did not exist at the earlier moment. And, also, in that they relate directly to each other as inseparable aspects of the same autonomous act. They are both concrete in the truest sense of the term. They refer to appearance on the scene of a new element of reality, an element in which they are merged. In no sense is this new element conceivable apart from the individual who first brought it into existence. However, it is shareable – others may partake of it. It can trigger new imagination and new creation, by other individuals too.
Autonomous actions of individuals in a community are the primary source of all knowledge with the individual, as well as of its continuous renewal and deepening. In the same measure, this autonomous action itself also partakes of that knowledge. Thus, autonomous activity as such achieves a ‘higher’ form and becomes knowledge activity. Knowledge is then a higher form of autonomous creation. That is not to say that it becomes precise, or universal, or free. It is just that it is now eminently shareable in the community, and, as such, adds to the whole repertoire of knowledge with the community. It becomes part of lokavidya.
Clearly, a community nourishes within it a variety of human creative activities. Knowledge created in all of them together define a world of knowledge in that community. It is natural to suppose that in many ways the community nurtures autonomy of actions of its members. A moral code of behaviour and rules adhered to more, or less willfully by all would exist in the community. It may be conjectured that the world of moral knowledge thus defined comprises notions with actual community-wide presence. This is a universality as it will incorporate a world view of the community and as it guides abstraction from the imagination, and the creation making up autonomous actions.
Therefore, autonomous spaces are fundamentally spaces defined by the autonomous activities of such communities with their knowledge worlds. In principle, inasmuch as they have their own universalities, they are ontological entities with diverging knowledge worlds in the sense of divergence as defined by Stengers. The dialogic order proposed to further autonomy movements makes sense, shedding its liberal cloak only if this admitted; and justice proper displaces minimal justice as basis of dialog. Also, the notion of “autonomy of autonomies” suggested in the context of Kashmir would find an appropriate and extended reinterpretation.
Autonomies Challenging the Nation State
The knowledge view of autonomy and autonomous spaces would discern such spaces everywhere. This is a far cry from the position that India has shown no viable non-territorial autonomies. Moreover, autonomy movements are properly recognized as those opposed to ontological reduction and an epistemological domination of their spaces, led by a nation state, be it secular-liberal, or Hindu-nationalistic.
Farmers’ movement is such a movement, though not apparently raising any demands normally associated with autonomy movements. However, it has shown itself to be a knowledge movement in its open rejection of the received wisdom on liberal economics and agriculture. It explicitly rejects the basis of an equally liberal tolerance toward peasantry – the assumption of its inevitable disappearance as a community, while exposing what is perceives to be designs of the state to forcibly destroy it as a community.
- “They can make laws regarding (a) allotment, occupation, and use or setting apart of land other than land in reserved forests, for the purpose of agricul-ture or grazing or residential purposes or for non-agricultural purposes or any other purpose likely to promote the interests of villages or towns, (b) management of any forest, not being a reserved forest, within the autono-mous council area, (c) use of any canal or water course for the purpose of ag-riculture, (d) regulation of the practice of jhum (shifting cultivation) or any other form of shifting cultivation, (e) establishment of village and town com-mittees or councils and the regulation of any other matter relating to village or town administration, ( f ) running the village or town police, (g) matters of public health and sanitation and maintenance of facilities, (h) regulation of in-heritance of property, marriage, divorce, and social customs, (i) constitution of village councils or courts for trial of suits and cases between parties (but only those belonging to Scheduled Tribes), ( j ) establishment, construction, and management of primary schools, dispensaries, markets, cattle sheds, ferries, fisheries, roads, road transport, and waterways, and (k) assessment and col-lection of land revenue. With a view to encourage local participation in devel-opment, the Mizoram government has also entrusted 20 additional functions to the district councils for execution.”, Subir Bhaumik and Jayany Bhattacharya, Autonomy in the Northeast: the Hills of Tripura and Mizram, in The Politics of Autonomy – Indian Experiences, Ed. Ranabir Smaddar, Sage Publ. 2005.
- “In India the political struggles of autonomy led to a wide variety of constitu-tional forms, in the introduction of which, the colonial administrative practices too had an equal hand. Indeed, the Indian experience is the most instructive because of its diversity and range, the extent of colonial innovations, multiple forms of autonomy, the complex path of constitutionalism, a wide variety of accords, the persistent demands for self-determination in various forms, and an unyielding and innovative state determined to keep the destined nation intact while keeping others from gaining nationhood. It is also important to recall in this context, the political and constitutional ways in which the minorities have been negotiated by the Indian state by granting mainly religious minorities limited form of autonomy in personal laws and cultural autonomy …”, pp. 18-19, Ranbir Samaddar The Politics of Autonomy – Indian Experiences
- “In short, we have in the Indian instance, the most extraordinary juxtaposition of measures of autonomy and a relentless centralization. Seen from another angle, we have here, the most relentless constitutionalism and governmental-ization of the principle of autonomy and the most insistent demand of the po-litical subject to gain recognition. It is also a narrative of how and when a group refuses to accept at some historical moment, the identity of a minority and claims the status of a people, a nation.”, pp. 20-21, Ranbir Samaddar, The Politics of Autonomy – Indian Experiences
- Ranbir Samaddar, p. 10 Introduction to Politics of Autonomy
- Ranbir Samaddar, p. 19 …
- Sanjay Chaturvedi, p.167, The Ethno and the Geo: A New Look at Kashmir’s Autonomy, in The Politics of Autonomy – Indian Experiences
Pillars of Social Organization
Lessons from the Farmers’ Movement from a Lokavidya point of view
Chitra Sahasrabudhey (16 Jun 2021)
In the present times capital, politics, technology and administration has so converged to tie down the humanity that it has become rather difficult to think transcending the limitations imposed by them. However, it is important, rather necessary, to make such efforts in the times of constantly increasing injustice, falsehood, indignity and exploitation in society. Such times are a result of tailoring the world, in particular ways by Europe and America in the preceding two and half centuries or so. Their philosophy, values, logic and methods of organization and practical behaviour, come together, to encircle and suppress our wisdom and creativity. They raise big hurdles on every path of initiative. The chief values of the French Revolution, mainly, Equality, Liberty and Fraternity became the basis of Democracy everywhere and even today they are the most respected values of social and political organization. It must be noted that the French Revolution, which was against the Aristocracy, settled in favour of the bourgeoisie and failed to secure the rights of the workers and ordinary people. This revolution opened the gateways for capitalism to emerge victorious all over the world. When Europe started its colonization drive to enslave and loot other countries, then the narrowness and hypocrisy of the systems of democracy became apparent. The values of equality, liberty and Fraternity served only the people who became part of the bourgeois economic-social activity and the price was paid by large population through their enslavement and pauperization. When the colonized countries became independent they continued such systems by incorporating a small number from their own countries into the capitalist social formation, the rest, – a great majority- remained colonized, these were mainly farmers, artisans, adivasis, and service providers and retailers working with very small capital. The farmers’ movement in India which began around late 1970s, provided a very clear understanding through the slogans of ‘Bharat-India’ and ‘Gore Angrez- Kale Angrez’.
Farmers’ Movement that started in November 2020
The present farmers’ movement is also giving a call to think in new ways in the difficult time we are in. In the tragic present time the demand is to rise above the logic and values that have a received status in the present social organization and forms of political power. Noted below are some important observations about this farmers’ movement, which started in November 2020.
- The movement has been non-political all along. It means that very large population of this country has no faith in politics (systems and processes) and they have some different suggestions for the organization and governance of this society.
- Collective leadership and panchayats have played an important role in this movement. As a result broad participation of many communities has become a source of people’s initiative and activity. This is preparing the ground for emergence of new forms of social organization and governance based on people’s participation.
- This movement has straight away rejected the advice/intervention of political leaders and experts of economic and agricultural sectors. This means that the movement is not only registering its opposition to the present policies of organization of agriculture and economic activity, but raising question on the knowledge basis and objectives of this system as a whole. Political parties and experts of today have proven to be the supporters and sustainers of the present system. Their knowledge contains little in the name of knowledge that has any meaningful suggestions for working in the interests of the people.
- The movement insists on a direct dialogue with the government. However it is becoming clear that the present political intent and the system do not want that this dialogue take place.
- This movement has the support from all states, regions and classes. Women have been active participants on a big scale.
- The farmers’ movement has been peaceful all along. The very large panchayats have had no place for violence in the language used, the thoughts and the proposed actions. This can only be the result of the extraordinary knowledge possessed by the participant communities generally and particularly of organization and regulation of the movement as a whole. Nyay, prem, tyag and bhaichara has taken concrete forms to strengthen the movement which lays bare the falsity of the statements and the conspiratorial attempts of the state towards the farmers.
- The way lodging, boarding and sanitation arrangements have been made for all the visitors and supporters who have been coming to the site of the movement is enough to convince that ‘Bharat’ has the capacity to take one and all with it for organization of life that provides all the basic necessities.
- Sometimes it is said that farmers’ organizations, like trade unions, think only about themselves. However this time the farmers’ movement has openly falsified this charge. They have expressed their ideas with force through the slogan “We shall not allow bread to be locked by the moneybags”, “We shall not allow trade on hunger/ empty stomach” and “We talk about saving the coming generations”. Right from the beginning the movement had said that the three laws shall steal the food of the poor households.
Direction of Reconstruction
One may not be able to say whether the movement will succeed in having its demands met. But this movement has forged a very large unity of the village, farmer, artisan and the worker and also obtained support of various other segments of society. This has brought forward people’s ability to organize leading one to imagine that this is perhaps where the leadership and initiative need to rest for a people oriented reconstruction of our society and the nation. The whole atmosphere surrounding the movement appears to give a call for us to return to our roots, our traditions, our values and the philosophy of life to recreate them with the help of our experiences of the latter times. With such an understanding of what this farmers’ movement is saying and doing let us try to think about a possible path of reconstruction based on lokavidya darshan and the experience of the lokavidya movement.
- The bare essentials of life: Food, Clothing and housing.
- Means/resources of life: Knowledge, natural resources, production and supply.
- Values of life: Nyaya (Logic and justice), tyaga (giving), prem (love) and bhaichara (fraternal).
- Bases of organization of life: Truth, ordinary life, autonomy, lokavidya (Knowledge in society), and swadeshi.
- Bases of the unit of organization: Geographic (territorial) region, economic, social, cultural and other.
This relatively concrete picture is made to enable an imagination of the constituents of the main pillars (the five above) of society and the relations between them. The purpose is to underline that nyaya, tyaga, prem and bhaichara are embodied in the existence, activity and reconstruction of the rest four. Also constituents of any one pillar develop in active relationship with constituents of other pillars. Though this picture appears mechanical, if a comparison is done with the body of living beings then it would perhaps look natural. Something similar to how every part of the body has a stock function to perform and yet each part is in active relation with other parts and partakes in the processes of fulfilling variety of their needs.
There is one more important thing which is not covered in the above picture. Amir Khusaro , the sufi-saint of 13th century Delhi, has said it beautifully.
Khusro bazii prem kii , jo main kheli pii ke sang
Chhap tilak sab chhiin lii re, mose naina milai ke.
खुसरो बाज़ी प्रेम की, जो मैं खेली पी के संग
छाप तिलक सब छीन ली रे, मोसे नैना मिलाइके.
[Broadly meaning that these values of life work in such a way for every constituent and every unit of life-organization and place such ideals for them, that they may merge their identity in the whole.]
It is obvious that here nyaya and bhaichara are the values of the society and not only supposed to be sanctioned by a democracy according to law and in the leadership of a special class.
The picture above is to open a way to be able to think about a just society.
Thinking about Society
That everybody has food, clothing and housing with dignity is the first and necessary condition for a just society. Equally necessary is that not just humans but every living being must get its natural food and dwelling. To have these physical needs fulfilled with dignity it is necessary that the knowledge, means/resources, production and supply be organized in such a way that large parts of the population partake in these activities. In other words everyone must bear the responsibility of completing an aspect of some activity. One can see this happening when every person and social formation is seen as a store and source of knowledge. Such knowledge locations house the knowledge of different methods relating to means/ resources, production and supply in their specific context or milieu and they are the creators, discoverers, inventors, organizers and thinkers of that universe. It brings us to an understanding that people will be able to obtain and fulfil their life needs by just methods and in a natural course, if the knowledge, means/resources, production and supply of the life-needs exhibit a great variety. In other words if the sources of organization of life have great variety, without discrimination and hierarchy, then the gates for a just, rational and equal society open seamlessly. That such pathways may be identified and constructed requires nyaya, tyaga, prema and bhaichara to assume the status of foundational values of life.
Our country has had an unbroken tradition of these values since early times. Knowledge, truth and people’s interests were tested with the criteria of nyay, tyag and prem, and conversely. If the choice and use at every step of resources, processes, means of production, technology, system, supply and use are tested against considerations of tyaga and prem then it strengthens the basis of society in nyay and loka-hita. This further expands the basis of determining the quality and acceptability of knowledge. All this put together opens the way towards distributed control and power over resources and their management. Also as a result different streams of knowledge find themselves oriented for a fraternal relationship among them. For everybody to get food-clothing-housing, they all need to have access to the relevant resources. This is possible when the various constituents of the resources incorporate bhaichara, tyaga and nyaya as the desired values. Goals and means both will need to be supported by the values of nyay, tyag, prem and bhaichara. It is then, that autonomy, ordinary life, lokavidya and swadeshi can become the concrete bases of societal organization. If these bases are wide ranging then the values of nyaya, bhaichara and prema will be strengthened in society.
Today politics, trade, modern industry, administration, services, education, health-care etc. stand on the basic value of ‘constant increase in profit’. But this does not mean that values of nyaya, tyaga and bhaichara are dead. Their contemporary forms reside in ordinary life. They find expression in human sensitivity, mutual relations, creativity and art activity. These sensitivities, activities and artifacts together create that critical space where the logic of truth vs. falsehood and moral vs. immoral takes shape and thereby opens pathways for justice in society. The bases of life organization and values of life have such mutuality that they constantly create and recreate each other, strengthen each other and lead to the construction of a moral, dynamic, active and just worldview – a world-view which facilitates self-transcending view of physical needs, resources and life organization. In such a society production of surplus is determined by wise balance between sensitivity, ability to give and justice. Only such societies, which observe their duty towards the individual, family, community, religion, language, region, race, provinces and the nation and simultaneously also transcend the limitations of each, perform their duty towards the whole (universe).
What needs our attention is that the ongoing farmers’ movement has in it embryos of building such a society. If these embryos develop and spread then there surely is a case for a better world. Gates have opened for farmer, artisan, adivasi and worker families to come together and shape the agenda for the country.
[Two booklets published by Vidya Ashram are very relevant for the ideas expressed in this article. These are लोकस्मृति and स्वराज परम्परायें. Hard copies of the booklets can be obtained by writing to Vidya Ashram, Sarnath.]
इस लेख का मूल हिन्दी रूप: pdf
The Farmers’ Movement and the Promise of a New Social Order
A Note for circulation and discussion
Krishna Gandhi (08 Jun 2021)
By Farmers’ Movement, I mean the nearly 6-month long farmer movement at the Delhi borders demanding the repeal of the 3 new farm laws. But at the same time, I wish to remind the reader that this farmer movement is the culmination of a series of farmer movements our country has seen since the 1970s that questioned the unequal terms of exchange between agriculture and other sectors of the economy. Further, since this movement is taking place in a globalised world, we also need to study the farmer/peasant movements in other countries of the world.
By Social Order, I mean the social, economic and political organisation of the society. This also includes the value systems that govern people’s interactions with each other. The various transactions that people enter into with each other through the market or outside of it form an integral part of the social order. It is understood that the knowledge systems that explicitly or implicitly inform or provide a basis for these mutual interactions must necessarily be an essential component of social order.
The current farmer movement at Delhi borders has been looked at with much hope by many thinkers and activists as having the promise within it of a radical movement for the establishment of a new social order. This is despite the fact that, in general, the new farmer movements in post independent India have sought to look at the problems faced by the farming community as also the solutions thereto, almost exclusively in economic terms. The demand for fair or just prices for crops was and is the central demand of the new farmer movements. What will be the mechanism by which it will be accomplished was the major and perhaps the only question that was at the root of dissensions within the movement. While large sections within the movement asserted that it is the duty of the governments at the centre and states, to ensure that farmers get just prices through its policies and concomitant market interventions, a significant section led by Sharad Joshi advocated that it is only the market mechanism, devoid of all government interventions, that can ensure that farmers get fair and just prices. This division within the farmer movement continues to this day. The present farmer movement at the Delhi borders, broadly belongs to the same formation that believed that it is the duty of the govt to ensure that farmers get fair and just prices. Hence it has been demanding the repeal of all the three new farm laws and the continuation of the APMC system. Of course, as a way out of the deadlock over the repeal of the three new farm laws, it has put forward the new demand that the government legally enforce minimum support prices for all the 23 crops notified by it. This new demand has universal appeal, with even the groups claiming allegiance to Sharad Joshi supporting it. However, the spokesmen of Samyukt Kisan Morcha leading this movement claim that the government has categorically refused to discuss it so far.
The nation state and the current farmer movement
It has been widely accepted that the current government at centre is a puppet in the hands of a coterie of home-grown monopoly capitalists, who would have all the country’s resources laid at their feet by this ever obedient servile govt. They want to have a free run over the economy that would catapult them to the ranks of the mightiest corporate entities of the world. For which, they aspire for the political transformation of to a completely centralised autocratic system, something which has been time and again hinted at by the ruling powers through terms such as “Presidential system”, “One nation, one election, once in 5 years”, “Change the constitution” and so on. Already “One nation, one market” and “One nation, one proof of identity – Aadhaar” are in place. Although Aadhaar law mandates it for availing govt subsidies only, nevertheless it has been made de facto mandatory for all government services, financial transactions and by even private sector. The narrative of Hindutva and majoritarianism has been sought to be further strengthened through CAA-NRC and repeal of article 370 in Kashmir. Federalism has been sacrificed. This is evident not only in the way the three new farm laws have been foisted on the country, but also in the betrayal of commitments to states of GST revenue sharing and the management of Covid-19 pandemic. All these point to only one thing: the imminent establishment, sooner than later, of a dictatorship that will help realise the global ambitions of a few state sponsored monopoly capitalists.
It is in this context that the farmer movement led by Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM) at the Delhi borders needs to be understood. Today, the government and the ruling party is increasingly relying on a false narrative centred on such terms as “nation”, “national security”, “sedition” to suppress dissent and drum up support for its anti-people policies. “People” is increasingly being substituted by an abstraction called “nation”, a vehicle to realise the global ambitions of the home-grown monopolists. All policy making is centred on making the “nation”, that is the nation state powerful, at the expense of the people and their rights. Under such a dire scenario, where even the ant-CAA protests could not succeed, the farmer movement has been successful in putting the government at the centre on the defensive. It has exposed the autocratic, anti-federal, anti-people centralisation of power in Delhi and has been able to win over the sympathies of a large section of the urban population. It has also been successful in directing public anger against the blatant favouritism of the present government towards a couple of corporate houses.
The economistic nature of the farmer movement
Despite all the above, the farmer movement under SKM has not gone beyond the economic demand for government backed legally enforced MSPs for all the notified 23 crops. It has not even clearly articulated a demand for more federal powers for the states even though it has condemned the manner in which the central govt encroached upon the powers of the states in enacting the three new farm laws. Also, while it has actively campaigned against the ruling party at the centre in the recent state assembly elections notably in West Bengal, there does not seem to be an overt move to play the role of the kingmaker in Indian politics by appealing to the opposition parties / regional parties to come together to put up a united front to take on the ruling party. The strategy of campaigning for the defeat of the ruling party will be continued in the elections next year to the Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand assemblies too, it has been announced by the SKM spokesmen. But there is no sign of engagement or coordination with opposition parties for this purpose. In short, the farmer movement, limiting itself to demands only of economic character has not consciously crossed the boundaries of an economistic movement. While there is no denying that the realisation of these economic demands would have a far-reaching impact on the current social order in India, yet a clear conscious articulation of the promise of a new social order is absent in the farmer movement led by SKM. This is in keeping with the character of the farmer movement led by BKU since the 1970s in Punjab, where they had steadfastly refused to create an independent political front of their own unlike the farmer movements of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Maharashtra, all of which started as non-political movements but formed their own political parties and participated in state assembly elections. Even the movement under the leadership of Mahendra Singh Tikait in Uttar Pradesh had occasionally betrayed political ambitions by hobnobbing with Jat political heavyweights of Haryana and Western Uttar Pradesh like Devilal and Ajit Singh and some of its top leaders like Rakesh Tikait contested in elections. Although the Punjab BKU in the past has tried to influence elections by supporting one party against another, it has always called itself a pressure lobby that seeks to ensure that farmer interests are protected. The leading spokesman of the present SKM and founder leader of Punjab BKU, Shri Balbir Singh Rajewal only recently reiterated that all political parties are uniformly anti farmer and called them “ek hi thaily ke chatte batte” (broadly meaning “birds of the same feather”). This is in keeping with the “non-political” credentials of the Punjab farmer movement and makes it clear that outwardly and explicitly, the leadership of the farmer movement at Delhi borders, is reluctant to go beyond the economic demands already raised.
The distinguishing features of the current farmer movement
In spite of all this, it is important to note some features of the ongoing farmer movement that distinguishes it from preceding farmer movements. The SKM leadership itself is conscious of this and enumerates some of these as follows:
This farmer movement is explicitly national in character. Not only farmer organisations of Punjab, but also farmer organisations of other states like Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu and to a lesser extent of other states of India are participating in the movement. The leadership of the movement is in the hands of a 32-member body of Samyukt Kisan Morcha, with representations from many states and all the decisions are taken by consensus.
Another unique feature is its collective leadership, which has survived all attempts by the government to create split in the leadership. The absence of a single charismatic leader, which was mostly the case with the state level farmer movements of the past, seems to actually work to the advantage of the movement.
1. For the first time, the farmer movement has been able to get broad sympathy from not only the whole of rural population, but also the urban population.
2. The Sikh community has unitedly come forward to support the farmer movement by taking upon itself the responsibility to arrange services like health, temporary housing, and feeding hundreds of thousands agitating farmers at Delhi borders.
3. The Khap panchayats of Western Uttar Pradesh and Haryana have played a major role in sustaining the movement after the setback suffered at the Republic Day tractor rally of 26th January 2021.
4. Another remarkable feature is that for the first time, the farmer movement has generated wide international attention and support. Not only the Sikh community throughout the world, but even activists and public figures of foreign countries have supported the movement. The sheer size of the gatherings at the national capital’s borders had compelled international media attention towards the farmer movement. All this has restrained the government from using excessive force to disperse it.
Community mobilisation and the current farmer movement
Of all the above, the complete support extended by the Sikh community is by far the most important and distinguishing feature of the current movement. This support has been instrumental in sustaining the movement all though these six long months. There can be different approaches to the question of why the Sikh community has extended its support: this can be analysed in terms of class, caste, religion and so on. But to me it appears that the whole Sikh community identified itself with the movement and was provoked to actively support it from a sense of moral duty. No less important is the support the movement received from the Khap panchayats of Western UP, infusing a fresh lease of life into the movement after the debacle of 26th January tractor rally. The Khap panchayats (communities) rushed to support it when a call was given by Rakesh Tikait, an important leader of the Balian khap, to rescue the movement from forceful eviction by the police forces on the intervening night of 26-27 January. Later on, many Khap panchayats sprang into action in Western UP, Haryana, Rajasthan etc.. to express their solidarity with the movement, seen as the victim of state repression.
What defines a community?
Both these cases, the mobilisation of the Sikh community as well as the Khap panchayats, cannot be explained in class terms. The mobilisation was not along class lines, it was along community lines. This distinction is important because class is basically an economic concept, whereas what defines a community is the bond the members of the community share, that is based on a code of social conduct, a moral order, passed on from generation to generation. A community is a broader and a richer concept compared to a class and may, in fact encompass many classes. Class consciousness has been discussed by Marxists and it has been placed at an exalted footing compared to community consciousness due to a number of reasons, the most important being, that a community is rooted in the past and its traditions. Secondly, religion, termed as the “opium of the masses” by Marx, on many occasions plays a key a role in shaping a community consciousness. But it is not necessary that religious consciousness be the same as community consciousness. For example, the Jat community in north India is distributed across at least three religions – Hindu, Muslim and Sikh and yet they share some common set of values and mutual affinities. Similarly, the Gujjar community is spread among followers of Hinduism and Islam. At the same time, it is true that within the same religion, many caste communities exist. At a broader level, community consciousness can arise from many factors like shared race, language, geography, history and culture. Several sub-nationalities exist in India like Bundelkhandis, Uttarakhandis, Kannadigas, Bengalis, Malayalis and so on. Whether they constitute a community is open to debate, as is the question as to what defines a community. In the case of the Sikh community, the community consciousness seems to be largely shaped by shared ethnicity, language and religion. Whatever be the case, what seems important and pertinent in the context of the ongoing farmer movement, is the idea of a community defined by a shared code of social conduct deriving from a moral order and a tradition of upholding those moral values over long periods.
One thing is certain: the farmer movements in India (especially the current one) have disproved the Marxian notion that the peasantry is a sack of potatoes are therefore incapable of collective action. What has contributed to this collective action, its continued sustenance and mass appeal? It is community participation. The non-farmer members of the community identified themselves with their agitating fellow members, crossing barriers of class, caste and even religion and that propelled this huge mobilisation. The basis for this identification is the shared code of social conduct based on a moral order, that binds the members of the community to one another and which the community has cherished over generations. We may call this code of social conduct as the shared dharma, the internalised values of public morality of the community.
The materialistic interpretation of the success of community mobilisation over class mobilisation
Is there a materialistic interpretation for the success of community mobilisation versus class mobilisation? Marx had proclaimed that the dynamics of class struggle determines the development of societies, but his predictions were not borne out by history. The Russian revolution was not strictly a class struggle. The Chinese revolution was a liberation movement against Japanese occupation, led by the peasantry. In the liberation struggles of most third world countries, despite their being motivated by Marxist ideology, it was the peasantry that formed the vanguard of the struggle. Why this was so, and why we see hardly any revolution led by the working class, has perhaps to do with the fundamental fallacy of the Marxian proposition that it is the ownership of the means of production, that is, the ownership of property, that sets apart the exploiting class from the exploited. The history of colonisation by European nations showed that it was through the mechanism of unequal exchange that capital was extracted from the colonies. When these colonies became attained freedom from their colonial masters, the capitalist class of these newly independent countries in turn used the unequal exchange mechanism to extract capital from primary producers (basically, peasantry) to follow the model of development of the European colonisers. Thereby internal colonies came into existence within the newly independent countries of the third world (“Bharat” versus “India”). So, the promised revolutions led by the proletariat (working class) never came about. And it was the newly propertied peasantry of these erstwhile colonies that donned the leadership of the fight against imperialist capitalist class. In this new era where unequal exchange through the market is the dominant form of exploitation, the entire population dependent on agriculture for their livelihoods, cutting across distinctions based on property ownership, forms a natural community potentially united against exploitation by imperialist capital.
Why the Asiatic Mode of production, the village-based economy in India, thrived for millenniums, has something to do with the equal terms of exchange that existed among the members of the village community and also between the village and the rest of the world. These village communities were bound by a social code of conduct, a moral order, whose material basis was the fair exchange of goods and services among the various members of the community. The British rule put an end to this village economy, with the introduction of the zamindari system in agriculture, and the destruction of the village industries based on the artisanal mode of production. This may appear as an oversimplified and overrated view of village life in pre-British times. Of course, we have to also understand why, if everything was so wonderful about community life in Indian villages, social inequalities based on caste became entrenched and suffocating. Nevertheless, this objection does not diminish the argument that the material basis for the sustenance of village communities over millennia was the fair and equal exchange of goods and services among its members. The management of the day-to-day affairs of the village was effected through the village panchayat, with every decision arrived at by consensus. Every caste also had its own community organisation, the caste panchayat, which resolved disputes among its members. So, it appears to me that there is a grain of truth in the assertion that for centuries India was a land of village republics, with kings and emperors and their reigns coming and going with hardly any impact on the function and internal dynamics of village communities.
The nation state versus the community
Coming back to the present, we are now faced with the two contradictory entities, the nation and the community. On one side, there is the unholy nexus between the home-grown monopoly capitalists and a Hindutva motivated political class, both of whom are trying their best to use the idea of nation, an abstract concept from which people and their problems have been clinically separated and discarded, as the vehicle for their global ambitions. On the other side are the traditional communities, having their own traditions of collective action, independence (from the state), autonomy and swaraj, based on their own conceptions of a moral order, a social code, a common dharma to which they adhere. Most often, these communities are also bound together by common economic interests arising from the existence of an eco-system of fair exchange of goods and services within the community. The juggernaut of imperialist capitalism, (here we make no distinction between domestic and foreign) through the projection of the idea of a powerful nation that is sterilised of all human content, would like to eliminate all opposition to its advance. Those traditional communities nurtured and sustained on a shared moral code (dharma) are likely to resist the onslaught of such a nation state and thus could act as umbrellas offering protection to people’s movements. The mobilisation of support to the ongoing farmer movement by the Sikh community and the Khap panchayats are examples.
The nation state has to be forcefully withered away
I am fully convinced that in today’s world, the nation state is the most anti-people and anti-social construct, a huge weight on the chests of ordinary people preventing them from standing on their own feet. It represents the combined might of the collaboration between imperialist capital and the populist, backward-looking and dictatorial political class. All revolutions in the past whose leadership saw the capture of state power as the means to transform people’s lives for the better ended up as bitter disappointments in the long run. Hence, the notion that the state can be a vehicle for people’s progress stands discredited. This is certainly true of a nation state run by a political class with imperial ambitions. Therefore, the role of nation states in a globalised world must be minimised, not maximised as is being done at present. Various social thinkers including Marx thought that the full creative potential of the human society will be realised only when the state withers away. He had prophesied that a communist state will finally wither away by itself. But history has proved otherwise. Hence it is foolhardy to wait for the state to wither away by itself. People’s action must be directed to the elimination of the nation state altogether or at least reduce its role to the minimum. An ecosystem of self-governed communities will replace the nation state. I see the glimpses of such a community emerging from the Sikh tradition.
Will competitive capitalism replace the nation state?
Many adherents of the liberal thought that emerged from the western tradition believe that competitive capitalism is the answer to the excessive might of the nation state. For many of whom, the books of Ayn Rand are the gospel of competitive capitalism. In this tradition, it is greed and one-upmanship that drives human progress. Greed has been exalted to the realm of virtue. Individuals acting in self-interest without any concern for others in society, except as determined by the rule of law enforced by a minimalist state, are the driving force of human progress. But I find it very difficult to digest the idea that a civilized society can be built on the foundation of individual greed as its definitive virtue. In this western liberal conception, societies function best when they are composed of atomistic constituents, individual human beings, without any role for communities or community life. Communities, as carriers of tradition and value systems, are seen as hindrances to the development of a society based on competitive capitalism. However, of late, some soul searching seems to be happening among the champions of liberalism. Notably, Raguram Rajan, economist of repute, in one of his recent interviews said that economics has to take into account the role communities play in economic development. Diehard liberalists are opposed to the very concept of a welfare state. According to them, the state should totally exit from extending health services and provision of education, drinking water etc… to the citizens, and private enterprises motivated by profit, should provide such services. However, the recent Covid 19 pandemic has exposed the hollowness of these arguments. The public perception today is that it is the duty of the state to protect its citizens in times of such calamities. Keynesian economics originated as an answer to the great depression of 1930s.
However, the nation state has failed miserably in coming to the rescue of citizens in this crisis. Even the US, considered by many liberals as the model of a competitive capitalism based on private enterprise, has failed to protect its citizens from the devastation of this epidemic. I am saying this just to prove that competitive capitalism is not the alternative to statism. Anyway, competitive capitalism of the Adam Smith variety never existed in reality, it is just an axiom in economics. The growth of capitalism in the world was always uneven and was marred by outright plunder and unfair competition. Today, the growth of capitalism in the world has reached a stage where nation states are mere captives of MNCs rampaging over the world in the pursuit of relentless accumulation and domination. Democracy has become shambolic and is a pretext for the rule of a few cliques composed of Adanis, Ambanis, Gates, Musks, Zuckerbergs, Bezos and men of their ilk. Sustainable environment friendly growth based on fair distribution of wealth is a casualty. Gandhiji said that nature can satisfy the needs of all people, but not the greed of even a single person. And the greed of these persons is playing havoc with both nature and human society. Some diehard liberals, enamoured of the development of South Korea, Singapore and even the US, would have us believe that this state of affairs has come about as a natural progression of the dynamics of competitive capitalism and therefore must be welcomed! They are happy with an oligopoly of MNCs ruling over them. Swaraj or self-rule is farthest from their thoughts.
So the only way out of this dire predicament is the forced withering of the nation states and their replacement by an ecosystem of communities that are self-governing. Only then will the full potential for human creativity be realised. The less the power to the nation states, the more is the power to the people. But people must not just be an atomistic collection of individuals. Human societies developed as communities before empires and nation states came into being. We have to resurrect communities to counter the oppressive dominance of nation states. Only then will swaraj take root. Thousands of communities driven by their own dynamics of swaraj will then start to bloom. The ultimate resolution of the twin problems of the market and the state facing the people will be possible only when the nation states disappear and communities flourish. And, of course, communities can flourish when a code of social conduct, a moral order, and a sense of dharma or public morality binds their members, which is internalised by them. Let us work towards that goal.
The new six-month old farmers’ movement has been able to put the central government on the defensive in the face of relentless drive toward centralization of power and strengthening of the nation-state using a false narrative centred on such terms as “nation”, “national security”, “sedition”. Its strategy has been to pressurize the government into submission and acceptance of its demands.
The movement has raised two major demands -withdrawal of the three new farm laws and legal guarantee of minimum support price for all the 23 commodities for which MSP is announced by the government. The second demand has universal appeal for all farmers. The demands are economistic. Although pointing out that agriculture is a subject to be addressed by the States, the movement has not explicitly followed this up by opining on federal politics.
However, this movement stands apart from earlier ones because of (i) the support it has gained from all sections of people, (ii) the total support from the entire Sikh community, (iii) the participation of khaps and panchayats, and (iv) the international attention it has gained.
Community participation is significant. “Community” is a concept much broader and richer than “class”. Consciousness can arise from many factors like shared race, language, history and culture. In this movement the idea of community arising from a shared moral code of conduct deriving from a moral order and tradition upholding those moral values is important.
The materialistic basis of the movement may be seen in the post-British order generated by sustained unequal exchange characterising the colonial order and post-independence social order treating peasant societies as internal colony. In this era where unequal exchange, initially forces and then through the market is the dominant form of exploitation The entire population dependent on agriculture for their livelihoods, cutting across distinctions based on property ownership, forms a natural community potentially united against exploitation by imperialist capital. As against this the stability of pre-British India as a collection of village republics may be seen in the more, or less equal internal and external exchange at all levels of polity.
Today, we are faced with the two contradictory entities, the nation state and the community. On one side, there is the unholy nexus between the home-grown monopoly capitalists and a Hindutva motivated political class, both of whom are trying their best to use the idea of nation, an abstract concept from which people and their problems have been clinically separated and discarded, as the vehicle for their global ambitions. On the other side are the traditional communities, having their own traditions of collective action, independence (from the state), autonomy and swaraj, based on their own conceptions of a moral order, a social code, a common dharma to which they adhere. The former is the most anti-people and anti-social construct, a huge weight on the chests of ordinary people preventing them from standing on their own feet. People’s action must be directed to the elimination of the nation state altogether or at least reduce its role to the minimum.
People lived in communities, not as atomistic individuals as in the modern nation states, before empires and nation states came into being. Swaraj can take root only with resurrection an ecosystem of communities to counter the oppressive dominance of nation states. Thousands of communities driven by their own dynamics of swaraj will then start to bloom. The ultimate resolution of the twin problems of the market and the state facing the people will be possible only when the nation states disappear and communities flourish. Communities can flourish when a code of social conduct, a moral order, and a sense of dharma or public morality binds their members, which is internalised by them. I see the glimpses of such a community emerging from the Sikh tradition.
I am in general agreement with the ideas expressed in Gandhi’s note. I will make some brief comments:
- I think the demand for repeal of the three new farm laws in itself is also more than a purely economistic demand. Accompanied with it is both (i) the awareness that the laws will create a situation, which will destroy family farming and farmer families, and (ii) opposition to control by corporates. Moreover, the movement has also expressed the fear that this will destroy the value of brotherhood.
- It is important that the international attention comes from associations, which cite their own experience of corporate takeover and destruction of family farming. These associations are also supporters of the idea of food sovereignty.
- The idea of nation states is of course much older than globalization. Its older role is mainly to provide a reasonable and mutually agreed code for distribution of spoils of imperialist exploits. Rabid nationalism has arisen earlier only when this agreement developed fissures for whatever reasons. Nationalism in the era of globalization seems different. In US, or in Europe it is based on mobilization of those who have a feeling of relative deprivation to others – its aim is to correct the imbalance. The nationalism seen in India seems to have quite a different role to play – to silence the majority, the internal colony, and provide a free run to the forces of global and national capital for more intensive expropriation and control of wealth generated from the labour and knowledge of the majority. We have a fairy sound understanding of this process from a knowledge (science) point of view in lokavidya thought. It is the “resurrection of eco-system of communities” that needs to be imagined in some detail.
Social Change and Nyaya (Equality), Tyaga (Duty) and Bhaichara (Kinship)
B Krishnarajulu (25 May 2021)
Every movement for social change over the past 2500 years has been initiated by a fresh interpretation of the concepts of nyaya (rationality & equality), tyaga (duty) and bhaichara (kinship with all life forms) in the realm of ordinary life practice. Such interpretations were put forth by gurus and sants / swamis (saints); ‘accepted and absorbed’ into the belief systems and life practices of ordinary people. Their lives thereafter underwent changes appropriate to the sustenance of such changes. Most often, this led to the ‘formation’ of different sects within the all-pervading sanatana dharma that characterized Indian society.
Such interpretations can be seen, for example, in the teachings of the Buddha and Mahavira and later in the teachings of Basaveswara, Guru Gobind Singh and many others. More recently we find that Mahatma Gandhi too, offered a new ‘talisman’ for ordinary life practices through his interpretations of these concepts. All these ideas/interpretations formed the bases of mass ‘movements’ and we know, historically, that they did lead to social change. However, with the onslaught of capitalist mode of production, and the concomitant ‘destruction’ of the natural environment, such changes in society and lifestyle have been under severe pressure and the very sustenance of the belief system and social formations, that those interpretations engendered, have been pushed to the brink of ‘extinction’.
Nyaya, Tyaga and Bhaichara in the Context of the Knowledge Movement
All characteristics of inter-relationships are primarily, and in the main, determined by interactions between individuals and between communities/collectives, and governed by the evolving worldview that determines these relationships. Concepts of equality (nyaya), fraternity (bhaichara) and collective governance (swarajya) evolve through such economic, social and cultural exchanges. The contemporary capitalist-market worldview, that influences ALL relationships today, will have to make space for Knowledge-based (Lokavidya) dharma which will henceforth influence ALL relationships within and without Lokavidya Samaj. This is the basis and agenda of the movement for social change.
The concept of dharma has NO equivalent in non Lokavidya-based societies and it has, therefore, been subject to ‘silencing’ by commentators and analysts trained in other knowledge traditions and influenced (unconsciously perhaps) by the prevalent market-driven values. Lokavidya dharma should incorporate Nyaya, Tyaga and Bhaichara Nyaya, Tyaga and Bhaichara as axiomatic principles.
Public discourse should be in the vocabulary of vidya and dharma; their meaning is commonly understood by ordinary people albeit in different ways. Such understanding is not in conflict with principles of Nyaya, Tyaga and Bhaichara and should now serve as the basis of establishing a system of interactions for the protection of fundamental right to life and livelihood, in a globalized Knowledge-based society.
- The march towards the establishment of an order, based on Nyaya, Tyaga and Bhaichara, begins, in this ‘Knowledge era’, with ensuring the Right of individuals, individually and collectively, to live by and base their livelihoods on the Knowledge they possess and practice.
- The aspect of inequality, arising from the exchange-activity process, has to be addressed by redefining the concept of value of a commodity/service, by incorporating the idea of knowledge-based value. In a knowledge paradigm, that recognizes the fundamental equality (in utility) between all knowledge and knowledge-based activity, the sustenance of a concept of knowledge-based value and the social and economic equality that it engenders, will not prove beyond the new political imagination, that will evolve in society.
[Value: The value of a commodity (this term to denotes ALL goods and services which are produced by and through human labour for self-consumption and/or exchange) is neither pre-determinable nor pre-assignable i.e., there is no intrinsic value to any commodity. A value accrues to a commodity as a result of it being essential to life and/or during the process of social exchange and is by nature a dynamic variable.]
Ideas on Knowledge equality- an important aspect of Nyaya
1. from Basaveshwara:
The inequality, which Basaweshwara lamented, was not the inequality of personal endowments, but of the social, economic, religious and spiritual practices which created inequality and came in the way of development of individual personality. He went to the very roots of the state of nature in attacking the inequality created by human beings.
Basaveshwara gave a concrete meaning to the conception of work or occupation in the form of Kayaka which is regarded as an important means for the removal of all inequalities–economic, social, religious and spiritual. Kayaka is a spiritual view of labor and not merely a materialistic view. Every kind of labour is looked upon with high honor, dignity and spiritual significance. Kayaka doesn’t encourage amassing wealth or hoarding of money. It is NOT motivated by profit.
2. from Gandhiji’s “Autobiography” summarising Ruskin’s “Unto This Last”:
“A lawyer’s work has the same value as the barber’s, as all have the right of earning their livelihood from their work.”
“A life of labour i.e the life of the tiller of the soil and the handicraftsman is the life worth living.”
“The right system respecting all labour is, that it should be paid at a fixed rate; but the good workman employed, and the bad workman unemployed.”
“The equality of wages, then, being the first object towards which we have to discover the road, the second is that of maintaining constant numbers of workmen in employment, whatever may be the accidental demand for the article they produce.”
3. from Dharampalji’s “Essays on Tradition, Recovery and Freedom” summarizing the Chengalpattu data:
“An elaborately worked out system of sharing of the produce of the region also seems to ensure fairly equal distribution of economic and cultural prosperity among the various communities and occupational groups that inhabited the region”
4. from Paul Mason’s article in The Guardian titled ”The end of Capitalism has begun”
A study for the SAS Institute in 2013 found that, in order to put a value on data, neither the cost of gathering it, nor the market value or the future income from it could be adequately calculated. Only through a form of accounting that included non-economic benefits, and risks, could companies actually explain to their shareholders what their data was really worth. …The knowledge content of products is becoming more valuable than the physical things that are used to produce them. But it is a value measured as usefulness, not exchange or asset value… (but) information as a social good, free at the point of use, incapable of being owned or exploited or priced.
Ideas on Tyaga or Fundamental Duty
[Tyaga is neither renunciation nor charitable donation / alms giving]
1. from Tirukkural (Valluvar’s instructive text focused on wisdom, justice, and ethics.)
Goals of poruḷ (wealth obtained in ethical manner) and inbam (refers to pleasure and fulfilment of one’s desires) are desirable, yet both need to be regulated by aṟam (dharma). Valluvar holds that aṟam is common for all, irrespective of whether the person is a bearer of palanquin or the rider in it.
2. from the Bhagavad Gita
Karmanye Vadhikaraste ma phaleshu kadhachana OR “Perform your duty but do not have any expectation of the fruits”. It speaks of being dedicated to your job, your art, your science (your livelihood practice) as a fundamental duty. The Indian tradition also holds that there exists an inherent tension between artha and kama. These must be pursued with “action with renunciation” (Nishkama Karma), that is, one must act (do one’s duty) without craving in order to resolve this tension.
3. from Basaveshwara:
Kayaka is to be done in the spirit of dasoha. Dasoha meant working hard for one’s livelihood and for the maintenance of society. In his view, a dasohi should consider himself, but a servant of society. Therefore, dasoha in principle assumed that what belongs to God must return to Him and what came from society should be given back by way of selfless service.
Kayaka is a duty by which each one has to maintain oneself and render its proceeds to the welfare of all. As per the principle of dasoha, since everyone earns his minimum requirement through Kayaka he contributes the rest of his labour to the society rather than accumulating personal wealth. Therefore, Kayaka does not encourage the amassing of wealth if it is done in the spirit of Dashooha, Human beings are equal by nature in their wisdom and virtues, that should be maintained accordingly.
4. from Guru Gobind Singh
Dharam dee kirat karnee – Do your work (livelihood practice) as a duty.
Dasvand denaa – Donate a tenth share of your earnings.
Langar Parshaad ik ras vartaaunaa – Serve Langar prashad (food) with impartiality.
Ideas on Bhaichara or Kinship
1. from the Maha Upanishad
Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam meaning “the world is one family”.
The Gandhian vision of holistic development and respect for all forms of life; nonviolent conflict resolution embedded in the acceptance of nonviolence both as a creed and strategy; were an extension of the ancient concept of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam
2. from the teachings of Mahavira
A central tenet of his teaching was a renunciation of violence in all its forms and a concern for allforms of life; that all living beings, irrespective of their size, shape, and form how spiritually developed or undeveloped, are equal and we should love and respect them.
Social Action for Change
It does not take much to see that ALL the great movements for Social change, in different parts of the world, have been based on teachings (new interpretations of Nyaya, Tyaga and Bhaichara), such as the ones quoted above, and have led to new social (religious) groupings based on belief systems which have incorporated the essence of these teachings. These movements have been sustained through centuries by the tyaga that dominated (and governed) these social groups; that is until the ‘onslaught’ (both ontological and ethical) of modern western Science and Technology, especially and very perceivably by the advent of the globalized capitalist market system.
Climate Change, a fallout of the Capitalist Development paradigm, is directly linked to the absence, neglect or down-grading of Bhaichara (as enshrined in various belief systems). Environmental Movements against the ill-effects of Climate Change have, in almost all cases, re-emphasized the understanding of Bhaichara; that was a given in the World of the Tribal/Indigenous Peoples of the World.
It appears that the space and opportunity for redefining Nyaya, Tyaga and Bhaichara has been opened up by various peoples’ movements across the world. In India too, the current Farmers’ movement has provided a space for this redefinition by ordinary people who form the bulk of this non-violent mass movement. The reason for stating this is that this ‘movement’ has been going on for the past 6 months attended largely by small farmer families from Punjab, Haryana and UP. The Langar, local arrangements for stay & facilities and healthcare have been provided for by bigger farmers and their organisations. It is my opinion, that the urge to stay together seems to be the overarching belief that the(Khalsa)leadership is being guided by the teachings of Guru Gobind Singh: of grow food (as a duty), share food through Langar (Bhaichara) while ‘fighting’ for justice(Nyaya) for the entire community (that is dependent on agriculture). Those teachings will certainly be reset to the contemporary context in order to sustain the movement, but this provides the hope that a new interpretation of Nyaya, Tyaga and Bhaichara could well emerge and be ‘accepted’ by ordinary people, through this movement.
Summary by J K Suresh
I have read with interest the note sent by Krish, which hopefully I have summarized correctly through the points below:
The essence of Santana Dharma is defined by Nyaya, Tyaga and Bhaichara. Redefined across social situations and time, they acquired different flavors, e.g., through Buddha, Mahavira, Basava, Gandhi and innumerable other saints who strove for social change.
However, capitalism has disrupted this core process of social intervention prevalent in the society. Irretrievably.
It is desirable for the capitalist-market worldview to make space for Lokavidya dharma to influence ALL relationships in society. This is the basis and agenda of the movement for social change. To do this, we need to
Provide the right for individuals to live by their Knowledge in accordance with the principles of Nyaya, Tyaga and Bhaichara.
Address inequality by incorporating the idea of knowledge-based value.
To illustrate the hypothesized centrality of Nyaya, Tyaga and Bhaichara in India, several observations are made regarding Basava, Thiruvalluvar, Gandhi, etc
It is the author’s belief that the space and opportunity for redefining Nyaya, Tyaga and Bhaichara has been opened up by peoples’ movements across the world. In India too, the current Farmers’ movement has provided a space for this redefinition by ordinary people who form the bulk of this non-violent mass movement.
It is held that the Langar, local arrangements for stay & facilities and healthcare have been provided for by bigger farmers and their organisations. These developments create a hope that a new interpretation of Nyaya, Tyaga and Bhaichara could well emerge and be ‘accepted’ by ordinary people as a consequence of such movements.
J K Suresh
While I suppose that I understand and am in agreement with the spirit of the note, I am a little uncomfortable with its normative tone and axiomatic connotation.
Here are some points that need a little attention during the debate tomorrow:
- While it is commonly accepted that Buddha, Mahavira, Basava etc were agents of great social change, it is not often clear whether social change was their intended goal, or was in reality a consequence of their pursuit of something else. If it was social change, it does not seem to have lasted beyond their life-time. If it was something else, we need to know what it was so that we arrive at an understanding of what moves the people of this land to follow such saints and in the course of their following, change the world around them. This, however, is a minor point.
- I am unable to articulate this very clearly, but I am rather ill at ease with the use of terms such as Sanatana Dharma, Karmanyevadhikaraste etc. This stems from my perception that their usage usually entails a view of a unitary set of ideas that drive (or drove) this society. We may remind ourselves that these are constructs of the elite about the society and provide a picture of it quite at variance with its actual state. For example, 50 years ago, if you asked a person in Karnataka if he was a Hindu, he would recoil with horror and state that he belongs to Halumata, or Jhunjappa mata, or Maadeva Voklu (family), etc. And before being classified by obliging Brahmans in the latter part of 19th century as literature, all writings of the different jati’s of Karnataka were referred to as “Neeti Maatu” or “Dharma Pada/ Saastra”. Kuladharma and Kulachara of the region were likely to be of the greatest influence rather than Sanskritic and abstract notions on behalf of all humanity. And all this without even considering the tribals and other groups of India which amounted to no less than 50% of our people. However, having said all this, it is possible that there were common principles of Karuna, Tyaga etc in all of these communities, jati’s and groupings. As a result, this may also be considered a minor point.
- On the other hand, abstracting principles from our history and establishing their suitability to address what we believe are the ills of today’s society encounters two serious problems:
- It is ahistorical, almost. To illustrate this point, consider that at least one view exists that Europe irreversibly changed after Protestantism. While the Christian God was always out of this world, he was less so after the advent of Protestantism. He could be seen in (acts of) humans more literally than in earlier times. This change in turn deeply anchors life in the here and now. That is why Christian virtues and sins were redefined in ever so many ways since then. That being the case, how are we sure that such irrevocable changes have not happened in India too? Even if we assume it has not, why can’t people profess a set of beliefs (that they don’t believe in) only to be in synch with the dominant?
- I also wonder if creating agency in humans is possible through recasting people’s belief systems. The problem here is that if a belief system does not operate in a real setting, it has no life. If it does operate in a real setting, it immediately changes from what it was a few hundred years ago – and it is not in our control what they become. That in part is the problem that arises from the assumption that ideas rule the world. Even if they do, they are of the today, not of the past..
- More significantly, this seems to defy the categories of historical materialism through which – in all our earlier years – we have tried to arrive at a broad understanding of the world around us. For example, where do we see this change coming, even in a proto-state? On what basis do we say this? The farmers are certainly not saying anything remotely like this. Nor is there any debate about this in the other parts of society either.
It certainly is true that an analysis and description of the world through our categories (either of Lokavidya or of Nyaya, Bhaichara and Tyaga) may not be very attractive to us at the present juncture either because we have already done a great deal of it over the years, or because we are tired of it. However, a normative prescription that is not located on a firm foundation of theory, practice or mass movement, may not offer a desirable alternative.
I have several problems with the write up.
Let me begin with a story very familiar to us.
A chandala crosses the path of Sankara as he was going to the ghats of Kasi along with his disciples. The chandala is shooed away because his very sight can pollute Sankara.
But the chandala confronts Sankara by posing a question that if the Atman that resides in him is the same as one residing in Sankara, what is the problem? There is a twist to the story. The chandala who confronted Sankara and his disciples was no ordinary chandala of this world!
He is actually the presiding deity of Kasi, lord Vishwanath himself, in the guise of a chandala!
There is further twist to the story. Some centuries after Sankara was confronted with a chandala, in 1920s during the temple entry movement, Gandhi is unable to persuade the Shankaraharya of Sri Kanchi mutt, to bless the entry of harijans into the temples.Despite Gandhi meeting the pontiff twice, he was unable to convince the Shankaraharya that harijans’ entry into the temples is not against sanatana dharma. Be that as it may.
Let us look at the twelfth century reformer Sri Basavanna. He is said to have started a movement questioning the Brahmanical supremacy and caste practices. He attracted thousands of followers from all castes. A new order came into being, called veerashaivism. The twist in the story of veerashaivism is that all the castes that are found in Hinduism are all found in the new order including untouchability. Now, how does one understand this? One can say that Basavanna was able to persuade people to give up their castes and call themselves lingayats or veerashaivas. And they did so.
But soon after Basavanna, the castes reappeared in the new order! There can be a better explanation. That is, even as Basavanna established a new order, he did not expect or want them to join the new order by giving up their castes. He only wanted them to embrace a new set of rituals. These new rituals and practices were simply superimposed on the existing identity of caste. Thus no one gave up one’s caste to join the new order but did so retaining their castes. Therefore, Basavanna did not fail to abolish castes but was only replacing one set of rituals and practices with another.
Evolution of Knowledge in Society
B Krishnarajulu (09 May 2021)
- Knowledge as a conscious social activity begins with the advent of agriculture and the human control over production of food.
- The resulting growth of Knowledge in Society(Lokavidya)/Indigenous Knowledge( other terms have been used to denote local knowledge aggregation such as “tracking science’, Neozapatismo, Acate compilation, etc) and conscious advent of a ‘Knowledge Dialogue in Society’ is entirely due to the co-operative nature of the primary productive activity, that is, agriculture( and all other allied productivity activity such as home building, cooking, transport, cloth making(after the production of cotton), etc
- Knowledge Development in Society is directly and closely associated with the location of and control over it’s primary productive activities ,that is, with the location of the agricultural (and agri-based) productive activity. It therefore has a very strong local contextual flavour and import.
- Social and moral norms (dharma) and the development of a ‘belief system’ is based on the requirement to sustain the primary productive activity and concomitantly the sustenance of Society.
- The development of ‘Science and Technology’ (concepts and machines) takes place to enhance and sustain productive activity- invention of fire-making, wheel, water-wheel, plough, axe, chisels, rock implements, rope, etc and to ‘counter’ the uncertainties caused by Natural processes and by other species. Such development, until the advent of industrial(capital controlled) production, did not remove the control of the primary producer over the ‘products of labour’.
- With the advent of Industrial(capital controlled)production; control over the ‘products of labour’ are alienated from the primary producer and with it , the growth of Knowledge in Society and the Knowledge Dialogue see a marked change. Knowledge production (and dissemination) get ‘relocated’ to external Knowledge production centres.
- This gives birth to a Conflict between Knowledge Societies
- Re-legitimisation of Knowledge in Society requires a (struggle for) shift back in control over the produce(and it’s distribution) to the hands of the primary producer. This is a political movement.
- Imperialism is the natural force of Capital (and it’s control) towards globalization/universality.
- Without imperialism, Capital and Capital mediated production and services cannot survive.
- The political control over this (Capital mediated) process has been shown to be effective only through various kinds of political dictatorships. Those nations/societies that wish to be linked to(participate in) this Capital controlled Global Market System will opt for political dictatorships.
- All ‘other’ sections of humanity will ‘of necessity’ deemed to be ‘dispensable / redundant’ and ,consequently, to be deprived of their entitlements- through mass exterminations of various kinds.
- This defines the politics and imperatives of the Global Peoples’ Knowledge Dialogue.
Agenda for a Knowledge Politics
Draft for discussion
Sunil Sahasrabudhey (06 May 2021)
In recent elections the state level parties have performed very well , namely, Trinamool Congress in West Bengal, DMK in Tamil Nadu and the Left Front in Kerala. Local body elections in Uttar Pradesh have also given a general mandate against BJP. The idea of coordination and cooperation between regional political formations to stand up to and emerge as an alternative to the domineering positioning of the Central Government has started gaining some ground. This particularly so in the context of 2024 General Elections. Covid -19 and its spread was already an issue on which the Central Government was being heavily criticized. The focus is both on irresponsibility and incompetence. Corruption is soon likely to emerge on a big scale. Another major issue which has suffered a partial eclipse because of these events is the farmers’ movement. These three seem to define the present political agenda of the nation. A discussion among us is needed to figure out whether this situation creates a fresh and robust occasion to talk about and do something significant for bringing into the public domain the idea of a knowledge politics. The following points may help give a start to our discussion on this.
- How far such a political agenda can give space to basic issues of poverty, unemployment, disparity, social hierarchy, communalism, etc.
- How should this political agenda possibly be seen from a knowledge point of view. For example –
- Is it opportune now to put forward the thesis that governance ought to be at the State level, Centre being a coordinating agency? Is it opportune and correct to raise the question of education to be entirely the state subject. Lokavidya argument may be integrated with this.
- If there is re-emergence of the identity (linguistic, cultural, historical) issue through these elections, it may be an occasion to formulate the concept of identity in knowledge terms, through mainly, formulating the lokavidya-knowledge discourse in the language of the region.
- Should there be a campaign to promote Loka Swasthya Paramparas in handling the Covid – 19.
- Do we see openings for a campaign on Food Sovereignty meaning that agriculture should be a state subject and the state governments should facilitate farmers’ and artisans’ control over the local resources with the rider that farmers shall be responsible for sufficient availability of food in the region. If clothing, housing and general services (repairs included) is added, an imagination of swaraj comes forth.
The Farmers’ Movement
Draft for discussion
Sunil Sahasrabudhey (06 May 2021)
Peasant movement, for the present purpose, may be seen as dating back to the Permanent Settlement Act and establishment of the Zamindari system in 1770s by the British. Since then the peasant across the country revolted against the new system again and again throughout the 19th Century and later. This movement later took the shape of ‘Land to the Tiller’, mainly a sharecroppers movement for the ownership of the land led mainly by the Kisan Sabhas of the Communist Party. Zamindaari abolition in 1953 paved the way to satisfy the share-cropper’s demand which happened slowly over the next decade. Telangana (Andhra Pradesh) and North Bengal (West Bengal) failed to implement this on ground, which resulted in the Naxalbari Movement and a decade later the Maoist Movement in Adilabad and Karim Nagar districts of Telangana.
The land distribution had been relatively accomplished in most other parts. Thus came into existence a new peasantry, now called ‘farmers’. When the Congress Party failed to accommodate the interests of these farmers, their dissatisfaction gave rise to regional political formations, the result of which was reflected in Congress being dethroned in 1967 Assembly Elections in several Northern States. Charan Singh has been identified as the main leader of these new farmers who had taken to the new technologies through the mid 1960s and 1970s. However the party political process failed to represent the interests of these new farmers. In 1980 the whole situation erupted into a major farmers’ movement in Maharashtra, in Karnataka and everywhere there after.
Actually this farmers’ movement can be said to date back to 1958-59, when Narayan Swami Naidu in Tamil Nadu emerged as a new farmer leader launching a struggle for reduction in the rates of electricity. Later in 1973 this movement came to everybody’s notice when they jammed the city of Koyambatoor with 10,000 bullock carts. Also in 1973 the procurement price for wheat was reduced from rupees 73 per quintal to rupees 69. Which created the occasion for Punjab farmers to launch struggle against it and form a farmers’ union called Kheti-badi Union. Then there was a major change at the Centre and Janata Party came to power. Charan Singh, a very senior minister in the Union Cabinet, argued for much greater allocation for the rural areas in the Union Budget and a big Rural Development Program was initiated. However the party political process still failed to accommodate the interests of the farmers. The chief plank of development remained transfer of value from the rural areas for capital formation for industrialization. This is what is known as ‘distorted terms of trade’ (un-equal exchange) that agricultural/rural products suffered in the market. Then came the rise of farmers in Maharashtra and Karnataka in 1980.
On 15th December 1981 leaders of the farmers’ movement from across the country met in a convention in Hyderabad and decided that Bharatiya Kisan Union shall be the name of farmers’ organizations shaping this movement. The years that follow saw very large mobilizations in Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Maharashtra , Punjab and Haryana and finally in 1987 in Uttar Pradesh. This is the Farmers’ Movement of our times, often referred to as The New Farmers’ Movement. The present movement (beginning 26 November 2020 on the borders of Delhi) demands a complete withdrawal of the newly enacted three laws : one, pertaining to promotion of contract farming, two, promotion of private interests in the purchase of agricultural produce and three, abolishing of ceiling on storage of essential goods including all agricultural produce and a legal framework for the Minimum Support Price (MSP) for agricultural produce declared by the Government. It is a continuation of the New Farmers’ Movement, of course with new ideas and a new expression under the new conditions. Look at the issues of this New Farmers’ Movement, the thought underlying it, the methods it has adopted and different dispositions that expressed its various moods and needs and you will realize that it is a historic movement which challenges the bases of imperialism.
It creates the occasion for the imagination of a new world order based on knowledge which is not separated from its location, governance which is distributed in society, exchange which is just for all the parties in exchange and which values friendship with Nature, tyag and bhaichara. It derives its sustenance from traditions of thought (Nyay) in which what is just is ‘rational’ and what is rational is ‘just’. The knowledge in society today, that is knowledge with farmers, women, artisans, adivasis and small retailers, that is lokavidya, embodies those traditions of thought and practice, which are a great resource for imagining such a new world and the path to take steps towards it.
A bird’s eye view of the movement
- Issues : Ownership of land (against displacement), prices for agricultural produce, electricity tariff and supply, cancellation of debts, prices and supply of water, seeds, fertilizer, pesticides, corruption of government officials, social forestry.
- Spread : Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Haryana, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar etc.
- Methods : Rail roko, raasta roko, stoppage of supply (eg. milk, wheat), crowding/jamming the cities, gherao, dharana, satyagraha, fast, stopping entry of political leaders in the villages, attacking corporate houses, very large gatherings/meetings, panchayats/mahapanchayats.
- Dispositions : Assertion, non-co-opration, protection, ideological expressions (Bharat-India, unequal exchange, self-governance, kashtakaar-kalakaar-kamgaar unity, exploitation of the peasants is from outside the village), peasant versus corporations consciousness, government as the chief protector in the market.
- Leaders : Narayan Swami Naidu, Dr. Shivaswami, Nanjunda Swami, Sunderesha, Sharad Joshi, Vijay Jawandhia, Kishan Patanayak, Mahendra Singh Tikait, Rakesh Tikait, Mangeram Malik, Samar Singh ‘Samar’, Gurnam Singh Chadhuni , Balbir Singh Rajewaal, Bhupendra Singh Mann, Ajmer Singh Lakhowaal, Darshan Paal Singh, Jasprit Singh Ugraahan, Deewan Chand Chaudhari and many others at the district and division level.