Monday, 5 January 2015

A Matter of Choice:

While discussing the future of Ladakh, my friend S commented that my outlook towards the people of Ladakh seems derogatory since I insist that they do not yet fully understand the implication of the impending changes. Surely a youth who does not want to do farming has the right to choose not to do so. I should not assume that people of Ladakh or any other place are not smart enough to not know what to choose for their own development.  This argument has been raised by many others too while debating on ‘development’ versus environment.  This post is for my friend S and those others.

I have seen abject poverty, the type of poverty where men and women wore torn pieces of clothe barely enough to cover their bodies, the type of poverty which made people gaunt with hunger and eyes dazed with desperation. 30 years ago, in eastern India, a region where I grew up, such sights were common. Once traveling through the jungles of the region that is now Jharkhand, my father had commented that the area held so many minerals that India could easily come out of such poverty. 30 years later, the jungles of Jharkhand, Odisha and Chhattisgarh are dug up and minerals taken, yet the condition of people in these regions hasn't changed much. They are still poor if not in such abject poverty.     

Economic Health - GDP and Growth:
Since the markets opened up in the 90s, we are slowly but surely adopting all features that define the western development model which has been successful in making them rich nations. This model, so to speak, measures economic health in terms of GDP (Gross Domestic Product) and puts high emphasis on growth. As Helena Norberg-Hodge puts it, GDP is a measurement of how many ‘products’ are manufactured and hence how much money is circulating in an economy. So, to take her examples, if you meet with an accident, it adds to the GDP because your accident has put an entire system of healthcare business into motion. So it is with cutting down of trees or blocking rivers. Growth on the other hand is linear; it has to keep going up. Both these together mean that in order for a country to be rich, it has to keep producing and keep selling, which means generate more consumerism, acquire more land, use up more natural resources, alienate communities from their traditional practices etc. And this will not stop till the last tree is cut down and all the rivers run dry eventually. This is also the reason why despite having small scale locally feasible answers to electricity generation, our government insists on bigger dams across all rivers. Look at the money being circulated here!

The Grabbing-From-Others Model:
If you look at how most of these nations have gotten rich, you will realize that it was mostly done by exploiting somebody else’s resources. America with native Indians, Britain with India and the SE etc. And we, blindly aping the model, are doing exactly the same with our farmers, tribals and African nations. This form of growth reminds me of various quick-rich pyramid / network marketing schemes, for example QNet.  In these schemes you have to generate the need for various dubious products through very creative means, ask for a huge investment from others and then encourage others to do the same to more people so that some amount of money keeps flowing back into your pocket. One does not realize that in the chain of such schemes, the bottom end of the lot will always be sufferers and hence very poor as all the resources of these people would have been taken.

Should It Be Capitalism or Communism Then?
Ask anybody, even in remote villages in India, and people will tell you that our country is very diverse. We are unique because of this diversity – socio-culturally, politically, geographically, climatic conditions and even biodiversity. Our problems are also unique and hence require different solutions than just thinking that either a capitalist or communist model will work. Both of these models are again made by westerners for their unique problems. Again as Helena NH puts it, both these models work on almost the same principles; they only differ in how the wealth is distributed. And as Sam Tranum puts it in his book Powerless (on India’s current energy situation), the only way India can face the energy crisis is to find a new or redefine its model of development. And the beginning for this redefinition will happen only when one starts looking within oneself, as a country and a society. 
Indian Himalayas, threatened by global warming 
A Matter of Choice:
When the markets were opened up in the 90s, were we told what these changes will bring in the next two decades? Were we told that one day, most forests will be cut down, species will go extinct, rivers will stop flowing and we as a community will be steeped in consumerism and lose our own unique identity to a more homogenous western world identity? Was I, as a citizen of this country, given a choice? Similarly, are the farmers, tribals, communities in remote regions, given the choice to define their form of development? Choice comes when people are explained the pros and cons of various alternatives and are then allowed to accept or reject any given option. We (the government, the more ‘educated’ lot and the ‘richer’class), on the other hand, are simply forcing down one mass solution for diverse issues and diverse communities and expecting the people to know better.

As the Sarpanch of Lata (in Uttarakhand) had once told me, it’s our duty to leave behind the world for our children exactly as we had inherited it from our forefathers. Our children it seems, will get to see a forest, snow capped mountains and free flowing rivers only in textbooks and films in future.

Books to read:
Ancient Futures: Helena Norberg Hodge
Powerless: Sam Tranum
The Story of Stuff: Annie Leonard
Adventures in the Anthropocene: Gaia Vince

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