10 November 2015

The Tolerant Majority

    I see that famous people in our country are returning the national awards they have received as a protest against the present state of intolerance in the nation. Apparently, they cannot tolerate this situation anymore, and don't know what else to do, except to return their trophies.
    I am also disturbed by many things. My protests are many, and I too am willing to return whatever it takes to set things right. I have had my quota of minor recognitions in my younger days in school and college, which are largely useless, just as the education that came with it. But now, there is a possibility that they could be of use in their return journey.
    I am, of course, neither famous nor are my achievements of national hue. But then the issues which disturb me are also local issues, small issues. I therefore announce herewith that I return all my trophies to their places of origin, to protest the following:
1. In Sawantwadi in the beautiful Konkan region of Maharashtra, the forests are dying so fast, you can see them vanish in front of your eyes. From just the small area between Sangeli and Amboli, where I am presently staying, some 25 truckloads of timber leaves for Belgaum, every day.
    I protest this massive and organised deforestation which has been happening for the last 15 to 20 years in the name of 'development'.
2. My neighbours are a hard-working and intelligent couple. They are now in their 50s, and the burden of  farming without help at this age is telling on them. That is because a farm economy is a family economy, and their family is fragmented by modern education - the two sons will not help their parents in the production activity. The couple has more than 10 acres, but has left most of it fallow, they can manage only about 2 acres of rice farming on their own, along with the care of their cattle. Not that the sons have learnt to do something else; their 'education' has given them nothing but it has taken away the value of agricultural livelihood, it has taken away their sense of familial responsibility, it has made them sulking strangers in their own village.
    I protest such an education system which is fragmenting rural communities; which demeans their occupational skills and kills their cultural connections to their home, family and village.
3. About 80 per cent of the villagers here own their own land, enough to be self-sufficient in food. In fact, they actually are self-sufficient in rice, growing it twice a year and producing more than their requirement and selling the surplus. Yet, more than 80 per cent of the younger generation wants to leave the village - they voluntarily want to leave the status of self-employed to join the class of servants, willing to do naukri. The education system mentioned above is of course doing the damage mentally, but it is the present economic system which is a primary cause of this calamity. It discourages local entrepreneurship and small-scale rural industry. It puts a wrong value on things, paying the farmer a pittance for his produce while promising quick and bountiful returns to salesmen, middlemen, speculators and cheats.
    I protest against this modern economic system which is ruining Indian rural industry and society, which has destroyed almost completely our diverse artisan expertise and which is now attacking our agriculturists.
4. In the areas where the village is allowed to take care of itself, one can see the spirit and competence of community still in operation - for example, the running of its temples or the organization of festivals. My village Sangeli, for instance, has an old, beautiful and locally managed Shiva temple which receives more than 50,000 pilgrims on MahaShivratri. All visitors are happily fed by the villagers in a collectively managed bhandar; it is a wonderful self-organized event. Yet, the same village has been made less confident in many other areas - it is seen to be begging the government for roads and street lights, for fertilizer and water pumps, and for jobs.
    I protest the continuance of this colonial system of centralised governance which is methodically destroying traditional strengths of rural communities and making them less resilient, less confident and more and more dependent.
5. In our neighbouring village Kalambist, there is an alcoholic in nearly half the households. They get their fix from a government-licensed liquor shop which also sells other spurious stuff. The place has become a den and affects all the neighbouring villages. And once licensed, there is no way the people can have it shut, even though a large majority of families would want it closed.
    I protest against such a sham democracy where government dictates policy and people have no real say in running their communities.
6. In Ambeghar village at Bhor in Pune district, where I stayed for three months last year, a section of houses on the higher end don't have piped water from the river reaching their homes. Because of weak pumping, it reaches upto one point (incidentally that was the house where I was living) and women folk from five other houses would come here every morning with their pots and pans and collect drinking water for the day. The water supply is for about an hour, during which time the women would carry repeated head-loads to and from their homes.
    I protest against this wrong and dehumanised application of science and technology in which we send a satellite to Mars, and crow about it, but where we feel no remorse that we have not installed simple booster pumps so that all our sisters can have piped water in their homes.
7. And as I observe all this, I also protest against myself, and people like myself, which may include many national award winners, who are the beneficiaries of this misgovernance. We enjoy electricity produced from displaced and drowned villages, we enjoy cheap food while being overpaid in our white-collar jobs, we enjoy the abundant availability of timber and metals even as our forests are cut and mined, and we exploit the availability of distress migrants to be used as servants and employees.
    What should we make of this behaviour of our society, of our silent acceptance of all these problems? Either we are delusional in that we actually see our rotten systems of governance, economics and education as being good. Or we are extremely tolerant. And if that be the case, I would pray for some real intolerance. I would urge every rural community to shake itself awake and start to question, and start to protest.
    It is my contention that if we work towards setting right the fundamentals at the community level, we may not create the type of ugly situation that we see in the nation today. Because both the intolerant and the nationally famous who are protesting the intolerance are products of the same dualistic, modern system which is deforming society. The winner in a rat race is, after all, still a rat - whether a communal rat or a secular rat. Let us protest against modernity itself, let us stop this race, let us challenge its rules; let us have a new darshan of how we see the world, and how we behave in it.