23 September 2008
Recently i was co-facilitating a peace building workshop. it was a 8-day intensive process of figuring out 'what we can do with what we already know', than focusing too much on acquiring new knowledge. so we began with measuring how nations were doing according to the recent Human Development Report, and Amartya Sen's 'Entitlement' approach. We also had 1-day sessions on gender, local-governance and human rights and 2-days of using theater as a medium and process for empathy and emancipation.
Through these processes we got to know the plight of millions who suffer from hunger, mal-nutrition, dehydration, displacement, homelessness, ill-health, indignities, right's violations, abuses, humiliation and inability to exercise their freedoms. Close to 80% of Indians are earning less than 2 dollars a day. India ranks 128 among 177 countries. This despite the fact that there is another India that is "growing" and getting prosperous and richer. Yes, following the neo-liberal economic agenda India did manage to be among the largest economies in the world. India did manage to manufacture 54 billionaires and there is scope for hundreds more to emerge.
Large-scale transfers of resources from the poor to rich in the form of land, water, forests and minerals with state standing as guarantor/facilitator for such transfers and the state often indulging in asset-stripping and selling does make millions of Indians angry and outraged. And rightly some social commentators have called this process - neo-colonialism. And like most colonialism things cannot happen without complicity of some of our national and regional elite.
Instead of learning from experiences of countries which swallowed the neo-liberal pills, and the course correction they have taken since - India seems to have more head-strong economic bullies who would rather listen to kleptocrats, oligarchs, and economic hit-men thus forming an unholy alliance cemented with greed, power and arrogance. And all this is happening in such a pace that the civil society is struggling to both comprehend and deal with the Tsunami of "economic-reforms" unleashed.
A worrying trend is that of "special economic zones" a deceptive phrase for "special exploitation zones" which are being created with much glee, where violation of national laws and international declarations and agreements on right to life, livelihood, liberty as well as labor rights and entitlements can be diluted or done away with.
Though market and trading is not new to Indians, the new "market" and new form of international trade called "free-trade" which is another deceptive terminology for predatory economics which creates much inequality, impoverishment, displacement, injustice for the sake of increased profits and wealth accumulation/concentration is slowly becoming the norm. Markets need not be unfair or unjust, neither the trade whether national or international. Greed, exploitation and violations of rights can never be seen as a virtue. It is a vice to begin with and ends up being a crime, whether done by individuals, corporations or governments.
The greatest but "invisible" threat India now faces is the implosions happening in the state's structure which dis-empower the state in its ability to regulate, arbitrate, adjudicate, govern, manage and protect all its people and resources with justice, fairness and equality. And part of this invisible threat is the undermining of democracy. Efforts to strengthen democracy and participation at the local level through local self governance institutions namely the Panchayat Raj institutions have been undermined severely, mostly by the political parties and the bureaucrats, for the fear of losing power and control that they have consolidated over the years since independence, in active collusion with political and economic leaders.
To see poverty, hunger, dehydration and displacement of millions as caused by decisions that people have taken over several years, through violations of peoples right to life, livelihood, liberty and equality, was an eye-opener for some of us, who were trained or conditioned to focus more on the plight of the poor, hungry, thirsty and the homeless, than the causal factors.
I am now convinced more than ever that the path to peace is paved with rights, freedoms, equality, dignity and respect. And it is heart-warming to know that several peoples and institutions are working with awareness and commitment in co-creating a saner world.