Ananta Kumar Giri, PhD
Global Harmony Association (GHA) Member
Coauthor of the GHA World Harmony/Peace Academy Project
Madras Institute of Development Studies
79, Second Main Road, Gandhi Nagar, Adyar, Chennai-600020,India.
Ph: 0091-44-24412589 / 24412295 extn 320. Fax: 24910872
Emails: firstname.lastname@example.org /email@example.com
Ananta Kumar Giri is currently on the faculty of Madras Institute of Development Studies, Chennai, India and has worked and taught in many universities in India and abroad including University of Kentucky, USA; Aalborg University, Denmark and University of Freiburg, Germany.
He studied sociology at Delhi School of Economics, India and anthropology at Johns Hokpins University, USA.He has an abiding interest in social movements and cultural change, criticism, creativity and contemporary dialectics of transformations, theories of self, culture and society, and ethics in management and development.
Dr. Giri has written numerous books in Oriya and English.Among his previous books are: Global Transformations: Postmodernity and Beyond (1998),
Values, Ethics and Business: Challenges for Education and Management (1998),
Sameekhya o Purodrusti [Criticism and the Vision of the Future, 1999],
Patha Prantara Nrutattwa [Anthropology of the Street Corner, 2000],
Conversations and Transformations: Toward a New Ethics of Self and Society (2002);
Building in the Margins of Shacks: The Vision and Projects of Habitat for Humanity (2002) Reflections and Mobilizations: Dialogues withMovements and Voluntary Organizations (2004); Self-Development and Social Transformations? The Vision and Practice of Self-Study Mobilization of Swadhyaya (2007);
Hrudayara Sehi Akhi Duiti [Those Two Eyes of the Heart] Rethinking Social Transformation: Criticism and Creativity at the Turn of the Millennium (editor, 2001);
A Moral Critique of Development: In Search of Global Responsibilities (co-editor, 2003); Creative Social Research: Rethinking Theories and Methods (editor, 2004);
Religion of Development, Development of Religion (co-editor, 2004);
The Modern Prince and Modern Sage: Transforming Power and Freedom (2008).
Address for Correspondence:
Dr. Ananta Kumar Giri, Madras Institute of Development Studies, Adyar, Chennai-20, India. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org / email@example.com
Ananta Kumar Giri
Spiritual Cultivation For a Secular Society
The project of building a rationalistic self and secular society was an important part of the project of modernity and this project is now confronted with an epochal crisis. The modernist conception of secular self, society and public sphere is now under siege, locally as well as globally, which in turn calls for a broadened conception of self, civil society and secularism. Taking the debates about the crisis of secularism in contemporary India as its main point of discussion, the present paper is an engagement in a reshaping of secularism as not an apriori denigration of religion but as an ethos of pluralism, non-violence, kenosis and self-emptying which involves a simultaneous critique of religious tradition and secular state. Such a reshaping of secularism, the paper argues, calls for an appropriate spiritual cultivation of self and society.]
..the world today speaks Latin (most often via Anglo
American) when it authorizes itself in the name of religion
Jacques Derrida (1998), "Faith and Knowledge:
Two Sources of 'Religion' at the Limits of Reason Alone," p. 27
..being able to laugh at oneself would entail not less but
more transcendence. It is a piece of folk wisdom that
Kierkegaard knew well.
Walter Lowe (2002), "Second Thoughts About Transcendence," p. 246.
The ethic of non injury applied to philosophical thinking requires that one does not reject outright the other point of view without first recognizing the element of truth in it; it is based on the belief that every point of view is partly true, partly false, and partly undecidable. A simple two valued logic requiring that a proposition must either be true or false is thereby rejected, and what the Jaina philosopher proposes is a multi valued logic. To this multi valued logic, I add the Husserlian idea of overlapping contents. The different perspectives on a thing are not mutually exclusive, but share some contents with each other. The different "worlds" have shared contents, contrary to the total relativism. If you represent them by circles, they are intersecting circles, not incommensurable, [and it is this model of ] intersecting circles which can get us out of relativism on the one hand and absolutism on the other (emphases added).
J.N. Mohanty (2000), Self and Other: Philosophical Essays, p. 24
I am neither a secularist in my conception of public life nor the defender of a specific church. xx The idea is to rework the secular problematic by exploring layered conceptions of thinking, ethos, and public life appropriate to a timely vision of multidimensional pluralism.
William Connolly (1999), Why I am not a Secularist, p. 4
Much water has flown down Jordan, Jhelum, Ganges, Cauvery, Mahanadi, Thames, Rhines and Mississippi since the dawn of humanity and the Independence of India and in recent years much discussion has taken place on the nature of secularism in India, its uses and abuses. Broadly speaking, we can classify various contending positions on secularism in India into three approaches: a) those who defend the secular character of Indian Republic as enshrined in the Constitution of India; b) those who oppose it on the ground that the practice of Indian state-led secularism has been a pseudo secularism; and c) those who critique that secularism is Western in origin and we must have something in its place which is appropriate to centuries-long tradition of India of spontaneous religious harmony and inter religious co existence. While I do not want to spend much time on the second argument of pseudo secularism which has been offered by Hindu fundamentalist forces with an eye on religious minorities, I wish to come directly to the first and the third argument and draw our attention to a dead end in which both the approaches are locked at present and how both need to rethink secularism and reshape it with a spiritual cultivation in self and society.
The defense of secularism in the face of the rising fundamentalism in Indian body polity, especially on the wake of the 1992 demolition of Babri Masjid in Ayodhya which was a watershed in the history of secularism in post-independent India, by many left wing scholars and constitutional experts has been mechanical and it does not wish to make a dialogue with the transcendental dimension of religion. Religion is a false consciousness to these secularists but even if it is a false consciousness, it is a reality in the lives of millions of people in Indian sub continent as it is in many parts of the world, including the so-called secularized universe of North America and Western Europe. How do we come to terms with religion if from the beginning we label it as a form of false consciousness? It is probably for this reason that Andre Beteille, himself an ardent defender of secularism in contemporary India, tells us: "If civil society is pluralistic and tolerant in its very nature, then it would be absurd for it to wish to expel religious institutions from its fold or to denigrate its beliefs as a form of false consciousness" (Beteille 1996: 23). Beteille warns us against what he calls the "adoption of a militantly secular ideology": "Our constitution is based, I believe wisely, on the separation between religion and politics, and on their mutual toleration. Civil society must find ways of creating and nurturing secular institutions, but that objective is likely to be hindered by the adoption of a militantly secular ideology" (ibid). And here as William Connolly argues from the other side of the Atlantic who is more self-critical about secularism than Beteille: "The historical modus vivendi of secularism, while seeking to chastise religious dogmatism, embodies unacknowledged elements of immodesty in itself. The very intensity of the struggle it wages against religious tolerance may widen blind spots with respect to itself" (Connolly 1999: 4).
It is a fact of living that Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Jains, Buddhists, tribals and people of other religious faiths live in India and the key question for an agenda of secularism is to ensure, facilitate and enhance toleration among people of different religious faiths. But defenders of secularism have not told us much how to have, ensure and facilitate toleration not only as a static equilibrium but as a dynamic movement of life which creates "fusions of horizons" in the people who are part of this process of inter subjective and inter religious (also multi religious) interaction. Similarly those who oppose secularism on the ground that it has originated in the socio historical context of Western Europe which has a monoculture of Christianity and is not applicable to our ethos of religious pluralism and present "Anti Secular Manifestoes" (cf. Nandy 1985) do not say that they want our society and politics to be guided by religious authorities. In other words, their agenda is not one of a return to a theocracy or "establishment of a Hindu state" (Madan 1992: 408). But they do not spell out clearly their positive agenda and whether their desire to relate to religion authentically and sympathetically supports violence and authoritarianism perpetrated in the name of religion.
A clear example of this ambivalence is the work of Ashis Nandy and T.N. Madan, two of our main proponents of the third approach to secularism mentioned above. Both of them make a cultural critique of the agenda of secularism and in the process rope in Gandhi. For example, in his now-famous address, "Secularism in its Place," fist presented as the Anniversary Distinguished Lecture on the occasion of the 1987 Annual Meetings of the American Association of Asian Studies, Madan (1992: 408) writes: "Perhaps men of religion such as Mahatma Gandhi would be our best teachers on the proper relation between religion and politics--values and interests--underlining not only the possibilities of inter-religious understanding, which is not the same thing as an emaciated version of mutual tolerance or respect, but also opening out avenues of a spiritually justified limitation of the role of religious institutions in certain areas of contemporary life." But Madan does not take further the issue of spiritual critique of religion which he just hints at with his phrase "spiritually justified limitation of the role of religion" (ibid). If secularism now has to be redefined as "religious pluralism," as Madan argues (Madan 1997: 262) then how does it relate to non-religious participation in our public life and what is its ethos of engagement-ethics of self-cultivation, terms of public dialogue and politics of becoming? (cf. Connolly 1999). Furthermore, Madan does not realize that the proposed intermixture of secularism and faith is not simply a given one--as Madan seems to be suggesting--but has to be an object of a spiritual sadhana. Madan does not explore the preparation in self and society that is required to make this possible. Gandhian agenda of secularism is a transformative agenda of alternative practice and movement at the level of self, culture and society. In Gandhi, in order to be secular i.e., to be able to accept each other coming from different backgrounds of religious faith, one has to be spiritual but this spirituality is a matter of conscious striving, sadhana and struggle. It is an aspect of continuous self cultivation in the life of both individuals and societies. Therefore, Gandhi used to have inter faith prayer meetings everyday. But this aspect of the Gandhian agenda of spiritual cultivation of self and society does not find much place in Madan's critique even in his latest work, Modern Myth and Locked Minds (cf. Madan 1997).
In this context of the dead-end in the discourse and practice of secularism, Indian society specifically and the present-day world more generally, the paper explores the pathways of a spiritual reshaping of secularism from an emergent transdisciplinary perspective involving dialogues with sociology, anthropology, political theory, theology, philosophy and literature. From the perspective of spiritual cultivation, the paper redefines secularism as genuine toleration (facilitated by appropriate ontological cultivation and intersubjective dialogue), non-violence and self-emptying or kenosis via-a-vis one's will to power, domination and annihilation. The paper argues that both the critics and defenders of secularism need a radical spiritual supplement for a fuller realization of their potential, and preparing them against one-sided self-closure and for simultaneous critique of religious tradition and secular state from the perspective of human dignity and non-violence. Cultivation in spirituality would enable us to reconstitute secularism as genuine pluralism, both ontological and social, and characterized by a striving for realization of non-duality between self and other, self and society, among religious groups, and between the religious spheres and the State. A spiritual cultivation would enable us to realize the plurivocal dimensions of our beings as well as broaden and deepen civil society and public sphere as a space of "multidimensional pluralism" (cf. Connolly 1999, Giri 2002b; Uberoi 2002).
Our contemporary conceptions of civil society and public sphere suffer from a rationalist and secularist blindness where sources from religions and spirituality are automatically excluded and a spiritual cultivation for a secular society contributes to a contemporary renewal of public sphere beyond the rationalist gaze of Kant, Rawls and Habermas. Thus starting with the specific debate about secularism in contemporary Indian society, the paper touches some of the broad themes of modernity, discusses the emergent evolutionary calling of practical spirituality, and points to the need for realization of non-duality and transcendence in self, society and polity as a way of spiritualizing secularism and modernity, self and the public sphere. Spiritualization here is not bound to religion, belief in a personal God, theistic beliefs and other familiar orthodoxies but embodies a permanent critique of violation of life and incessant striving for establishment of relationships of dignity.
Defense of Secularism:
Towards a Spiritual Transformation
of Justification and Application
Co existence and toleration are important aspects of the way of life which Gandhi inspires us to lead. Even defenders of secularism in the Indian context are coming to realize that toleration is the single most important task facing us now insofar as the issue of secularism is concerned. For example in his recent insightful reflection on the predicament of secularism, "Secularism and Its Discontents," Amartya Sen (1996) argues that the key question for an agenda of secularism is the question of symmetric treatment of religions, groups, individual and other autonomies. For Sen, a secular state has a moral duty to ensure such a symmetric treatment among religions and does not agree with critics of secularism such as Nandy that such a practice is inevitably accompanied by the increase in the power of the State to perpetrate violence on people in the name of defending secularism. What is helpful is that Amartya Sen just hints at an agenda of positive tolerance in the following lines of him: "There is, furthermore, a real difference between getting symmetry through the sum total of the collective intolerances of the different communities, rather than through the union of their respective tolerances. Anything that causes the wrath of any of the major communities in India is presently taken to be a potential candidate for proscription. We have to ask whether that is the form that symmetric treatment should take" (1996: 43)
But how do we cultivate and facilitate the capacity for symmetric and fair treatment to each other on the part of individuals and groups? Here, Sen does not go much farther and deeper. He does not address the ontological preparation that is required for such a mode of life to exist in our society and politics. Similar is the problem with another thinker such as Partha Chatterjee (1994) who titles his contribution on the subject as "Secularism and Toleration." But Chatterjee does not tell us how we can cultivate toleration among members of different religious faiths. And like Sen, Chatterjee finds a panacea only in secular politics. For Chatterjee, by the initiation of a politics of representative democracy among the minorities to run their religious affairs such as the Muslim Wakf Board or the Akal Takht, we can help initiate reform within these and create a more favorable condition for inter group toleration. But is this enough to ensure toleration? Practice of toleration requires a preparation in the life of individuals for another religion, another world, and this is not a matter of politics alone.
The same challenge of self-cultivation and transformation we find in the defense of secularism offered by other political scientists of India. They defend secularism as part of democratic equality. Manoranjan Mohanty makes a distinction between secularism--hegemonic and democratic. Mohanty would agree with critics of secularism such as Madan and Nandy that there is a danger in making it only an ideology of the state or an elite and would want secularism to be part of ongoing democratic mobilization and transformation of Indian society. Continuing the same engagement with democracy, though a bit more constitutional rather mobilizational as in case of Mohanty, Neera Chandhoke (1999) defends secularism as defense of minority rights which is part of a broader agenda of democratic equality. For Chandhoke, "..the principle of secularism is not self-validating, for we can justify it only when we derive it from, and validate it by, reference to the antecedent moral principle of democratic equality. Consider this-secularism as equal treatment of all religions makes sense only when we refer it to the (prior) principle of equality. Correspondingly, a polity will be logically committed to treating all religious groups equally only when it is antecedently committed to the generic principle of equality" (Chandhoke 1999: 4). For her, "..societies that are deeply polarized on the matter of religion, such as India or Northern Ireland, will need to institute protections for minorities against majoritarianism" (Chandhoke 1999: 7). But Chandhoke also argues, implicitly suggesting the argument of Uberoi that the problem of humanity cannot be solved "within a framework of majority and minority" (cf. Uberoi 2002: 120): "..the right of a minority community to its own identity and practices has to be balanced with respect for the rights of other communities to their own identity and practices. [..] the struggle for recognition that is simultaneously a search for dignity, directs our attention to the intersubjective conditions of human realization" (Chandhoke 1999: 19; emphases added).
To this defense of secularism Rajeev Bhargava contributes important clarifications by redefining secularism contextually. He develops a notion of contextual secularism partly out of the recognition of the problem posed by Nandy and Madan that there is very little sensitivity to religious pluralism in the state-centric discourse of secularism. Contextual secularism recognizes that "many forms of separation lie between total exclusion and complete fusion" (Bhargava 1998: 516). Contextual secularism for Bhargava is political secularism, not ideological secularism, and "political secularism demands only that every one-believer, non-believer-gives up a bit of what is of exclusive importance in order to sustain that which is generally valuable.." (ibid: 496). In the context of Madan's and Vattimo's theses about the Christian origins of secularism, Bhargava provides us with an alternative genealogy:
At no point in the history of humankind has any society existed with one and only set of ultimate ideals. Moreover, many of these ultimate ideals or particular formulations of these have conflicted with one another. In such times, humanity has either got caught in an escalating spiral of violence and cruelty or come to the realization that even ultimate ideals need to be delimited. In short, it has recurrently stumbled upon something resembling political secularism. It is neither purely Christian nor peculiarly Western. It grows wherever there is a persistent clash of ultimate ideals perceived to be incompatible (ibid: 498).
But is politics enough in realizing political secularism or does it need an appropriate ethics and spirituality? Is realization of democratic equality possible only by institution of group rights in the Constitution or does it require appropriate self cultivation and ontological preparation in self and society for inviting the other into the hard core of the "political" self. And this requires not only a Rawlsian political liberalism and Habermasian inclusion of the other but also a spiritual praxis of self opening and self transformation which is conspicuous by its absence in Rawls and Habermas (cf. Cohen 2001; Giri 2002b). Bhargava's conception of political secularism uncritically reflects a Rawlsian project of liberalism but the challenge now to realize the limits of Rawls. As Connolly urges us to realize: "But secularism is the last historical moment in the politics of becoming Rawlsian categories authorize us to acknowledge. Rawls wants us to freeze the liberal conception of the person and the secular conception of public space today while everything else in and around the culture undergoes change" (Connolly 1999: 66; emphases in the original).
Chandhoke herself writes that "we need not value pluralism although we are faced with a plural society" (Chandhoke 1999: 297). This urges to realize that even if institute pluralism constitutionally we may not embody a plural mode of being or what William Connolly calls "the ethos of pluralization" (Connolly 2001). As Connolly would suggest, for embodying an ethos of pluralization we need to be self reflective about the modernist privileging of epistemology and open ourselves to ontological journeys. However, this calls for not only a multi-dimensional conception of the pluralism and public sphere as Connolly suggests but also a multi-layered conception of being which is suggested in Connolly's conception of "plurivocity of being." But Connolly's "plurivocity of being" only stops at the foot hills of Nietzsche and thus it is no wonder that the only other dimension of plurivocality of being that we are opened to in Connolly is the dimension of the infrarational. But here a cross-cultural and trans-civilizational philosophical and spiritual engagement can help us realize that it is not only Nietzschean and Deleuzean infrarational which constitute the other dimension of plurivocality of being but also Sri Aurobindo's supra rational and Roy Bhaskar's "transcenentlly real self" (Bhaskar 2002: 139) which is characterized by the striving for realization of non-duality in a world of duality and strife. For Sri Aurobindo, the "supra-rational dimension" of our being enables us to overcome the limitations of our mind, especially our "desire-mind," and enable us to "have the joy of contact in diverse oneness" (Sri Aurobindo 1950: 484).
A multidimensionally rich conception of self facilitates the realization of secularism as multidimensional pluralism by facilitating not only public contestations of one's fundamentals but also a sharing of selves, a creative interpenetration between the self and other, or as Uberoi would say, an exchange of self, not only of gifts (Uberoi 2002). And this sharing in self and society is preeminently a spiritual activity. Thus in the political reshaping of secularism as democratic equality a spiritual foundation is helpful. But spiritual processes of transformation are not foundational only in a genealogical sense but in a critically constitutive sense of permanent critique and refiguration. Spirituality as a permanent critique of violation of life and the destructive logic of power provides us with a much needed perspective of "limits," i.e. the realization of "limits of politics" to both the confident and self-critical political scientists of our times (see Lalcau 1992). As Roberto M. Unger, himself a political and legal theorist, tells us: there are two kinds of sacred-a transcendental sacred and a social sacred and whenever a system of power loses touch with the transcendental sacred it can and very often present oppression as manifestation and justification for the social sacred and there may not be any critical ground to critique such an unjust arrangement (Unger 1987). And here as Alberto Melucci, a sociologist, urges us to realize: "Instrumental rationality has restored the world to mankind's scope of operation, but it also denies humanity all chances to transcend reality, it devalues everything that resists subsumption under the instrumental action. Society thus becomes a system of apparatuses identical with its own actions and intolerant of any diversity. The sacred thus emerges as an appeal to a possible other, as the voice of what is not but could be. Divested of the ritual trappings of the churches, the sacred thus becomes a purely cultural form of resistance which counters the presumption of power by affirming the right to desire-to hope that the world is more than what actually is" (Melucci 1996:171).
Melucci's critique of instrumental rationality in modernity is in tune with Gandhi's and even has a resonance in Weber. As Madan helps us understand this: "A Gandhian critique of secularism in terms of ultimate values and individual responsibility is in some respects similar to Max Weber's concern with the problem of value. What Gandhi and Weber are saying is that secularized world is inherently unstable because it elevates to the realm of ultimate values the only value it knows and these are instrumental values" (Madan 1997: 237-238). These critiques point to a spiritual horizon of secularism not as a way of providing a stable ground to the inherent instability of secularism but as a permanently moving frame of criticism. But understanding this requires not only a transformation in our political reasoning but also sociological reasoning. Sociology has been part of the project of modernity which believes that it can "provide a privileged or authoritative interpretation of social events," making it a hegemonic discourse while "all others, including religious utopias, derivative" (Wuthnow 1991: 14). But opening ourselves to spiritual critique and transformations calls for us to "interpret the significance of contemporary movements in terms of hopes and aspirations of their participants, including their hopes for salvation and spiritual renewal.." (ibid).
The Calling of Mutual Learning
and Cultivating a Non-Dual Pluralism
If toleration is the most important part of the agenda of secularism then we must lay its seed in our minds and hearts and for this it is important for us to learn about each other, know each other in an open ended spirit of exploration, dialogue and creation of a new ground of life. Such a mode of learning is preeminently a spiritual activity. Spirituality is about the quality of relationship between the self and the other (cf. Kurien 1997); in fact spirituality lies in the heart of relationships or at the mid point of relationships, to borrow a phrase from Martin Heidegger (cf. Dallmayr 1996). And for a more dignified relationship, we must prepare ourselves for it by being engaged in multifarious practices of education, self cultivation or Bildung (cf. Dumont 1994) and to understand the spiritual foundations for a secular society.
But now there is a shocking ignorance about each other's religion. In a society like contemporary Indian society not only are we not taught about it in schools because of the secular injunctions against it nor do we have any opportunity for this in civil society. If we do not know anything about each other's religions then how can we accept each other's religions? It is true that knowing is not enough but this is an important part of a more inclusive process of feeling and realization. But how do we learn about each other's religions? If the Hindus learn about Islam only from the Rastriya Swayam Sevak Sangha and the Viswa Hindu Parishad (sectarian Hindu organizations) and Muslims learn about Hindus from sectarian Islamic organisations, then what is the nature of our knowledge of each other? Is this not a knowledge of hatred only? Is there any knowledge here where we have already formulated our objects of knowledge in an apriori mode?
In this context, it is helpful to listen to my discussion with a follower of a Hindu socio-spiritual movement. This movement is an exciting one and it believes that we should accept all religions. Sarva Dharma Samabhava (Goodwill towards all religions) is not enough; we must have Sarva Dharma Swikara-acceptance of all religions. This movement also believes that Hindus should accept Jesus as the eleventh incarnation of God and Prophet Mohammed as the twelfth. But when I asked him does he know anything about Jesus or Mohammed, he told me: " I am sorry that I do not know anything." I told him: "But the city in which you live has so many Muslims. Could not you make a little effort?" Then he told me: "Yes, there is an eagerness within me. But it stays at a subterranean level of my consciousness. It is helpful if we have organizations to activate this dormant eagerness within me." Thus the challenge of education I am pleading for goes much deeper and here we must have appropriate institutional condition for learning both at the level of state and civil society.
In this context, what Arvind Sharma writes in his engaging Hinduism for our Times, deserves our careful attention: "We know that religious barriers exist but [our task is to convert] these barriers into bridges. This is to be achieved by promoting the realization that all religions of the world are the heritage of each human being. This goal can be achieved by promoting the study of all religions as one's own, so that we stop regarding our own religion as the only true one" (Sharma 1995: 89; emphases added). Despite constitutional injunctions against the teaching of religions in schools and colleges, Sharma urges us to realize that "even the Constitution does not stand in the way of introducing such a respectful study of the religions of the world into our curricula; it is our misinterpretation of it and the talismanic misuse of the word secularism which stands in the way" (ibid: 92). Like Amartya Sen, Sharma argues for a positive meaning of toleration and writes: "In the theory of secularism we notice the distinction between two interpretations of it-along the lines of the 'wall of separation' and along the lines of the 'no preference' clause. The no preference clause is negatively phrased but it need not possess a negative connotation. In fact, it can and should be imparted a positive connotation. And even if the Constitution comes in the way then it should be changed. xx Let us not confer on the Constitution the immutability we deny even to the sanantana dharma (perennial religion)" (Sharma 1995: 193).
If secularism has to be redefined as pluralism and multiculturalism then we must confront the epistemic task of living in such a plural and multi religious society. Unfortunately, neither in India nor in the US, there is much creative interpenetration between the discourse of multiculturalism and the discourse of secularism. A multicultural society is, and has to be, a learning society where different cultures and individuals are open to learning from each other. But this requires, as Satya Mohanty tells us, "an adequate appreciation of the epistemic role of 'culture'" which provides us "deep bodies of knowledge of human kind and of human flourishing" (Mohanty 1998: 240). Each culture is an epistemic community and provides us a unique mode of knowing the world but this knowledge is not destined to be particular rather it finds its fulfillment in a creative universalization (Sunder Rajan 1998). Genuine multiculturalism facilitates a creative universalization of particular knowledges of the world and requires the flourishing and practice of "epistemic co operation" (Mohanty 1998: 240). This in turn requires opening and learning from the members which assertive identity politics in the name of culture, religion and secular State, makes it difficult to happen. But this epistemic learning is not simply a question of epistemology as it seems to be the case with Satya Mohanty but involves ontological preparation and work on self development on the part of self, culture and society. An ontological opening for epistemic co operation can facilitate the realization of "cultural communication" and "cultural liberation" and contributes to the much needed "recomposition of the world" in these days of fragmentation and deconstruction (Touraine 2000).
It hardly needs to be stressed that such a vision and practice of multiculturalism calls for a reformulation in our conceptions of culture and communities. As Baumann reminds us: "Multiculturalism is not the old concept of culture multiplied by the number of groups that exist, but a new, and internally plural praxis of culture applied to oneself and to other" (Baumann 1999:vii). Each culture has a dimension of beyond which resists its total subsumption under custom, convention and power (Pande1989). As Veena Das, herself an anthropologist, tells us: "There are constantly moving, dynamic, challenging, encompassing relations between culture as a societally agreed set of values which structure voice and voice as appearing in transgression, proclaiming the truth of culture and relationship yet allowing culture to be born not only as external facade but as endowed with soul" (Das 1995: 160). But mobilizations in the name of cultural and religious identities have their limits in realizing such a vision and practice of culture, especially recognizing human voice. They also have a naturalized view of community. But community is not only the storehouse of a naturalized identity, it also has a moral dimension which calls for what Habermas calls a "post conventional" identity formation on the part of the participants (Habermas 1990). In such an identity formation, identity needs cannot be easily satisfied by appeals to communitarian frameworks; rather it requires a morally just identity formation on the part of the actors and proceeds with a frame of "qualitative distinctions" (Joas 2000; also Matustik 1997). Such a process of identity formation calls for rethinking community as not merely a space of conformity but as a space of responsibility. In fact, in thinking about community there is a need now to make a move from community as a space of "descriptive responsivity" to it as a space of "normative responsibility" where as Calvin O. Schrag passionately tells us: "Responsibility, nurtured by the call of conscience, supplies the moral dimension in the narrative of the self in community" (Schrag 1997: 100).
Thus living in a secular society as a multicultural and plural society calls for appropriate epistemology and ontology. We need an epistemology which is not a slave to modernist privileging of epistemology as merely procedural and positivist and an ontology which is not imprisoned within the secured house of Being and God. We need a new epistemology of participation where to "know," as Sunder Rajan tells us in his passionate recent work Beyond the Crisis of European Sciences: Towards New Beginnings, is not only to "know of" but to "know with" (Sunder Rajan 1998: 78).
To live in a plural society we need a new ethics, politics and spirituality of self cultivation. And it is this focus on self cultivation which is missing in our discourse on both secularism and pluralism. In Indian sociology, T.K. Oommen (2002) is a passionate advocate of pluralism but his pluralism remains at the boundaries of groups and it does not have a project of what Iwould call ontological pluralism. ontological pluralism calls for realization of non-dual plurivocality in our beings. Roy Bhaskar, the philosopher of critical realism, who has taken critical realism into new depths and horizons of spiritual strivings, provides us glimpses of non-dual self-realization as an important part of realization of ontological and sociological pluralism (see Bhaskar 2000; 2002). For Bhaskar, "the possibility of human emancipation depends upon expanding the zone of non-duality within our lives; and in the first instance upon shedding our own heteronomy so that we become in a way non-dual beings in a world of duality" (Bhaskar 2002: 11). And this "non-duality is not something 'mystical,' not something that depends on any kind of belief or faith, but the necessary condition for our most quotidian states and acts" (ibid: 261).
In order to live in a plural society, we need a new ontology and a new logic of working out our own relationships of reconciliation between variables considered previously as aprioristically dual. We need what J.N. Mohanty (2000) calls a "multi valued logic" and Uberoi calls the "the four logic of truth and method" "in place of the restricted two valued system of dualism that we have inherited from the European modernity" (Uberoi 2002). For Uberoi, "..the opposition between self and other is mediated by the emergence of the other self and the common human language of 'oneself.' This human language is the real and the true non-dualist locus of culture, labor and politics, whether the other should be God, non-human nature, the world or other human selves, masculine or feminine, native or foreign" (Uberoi 2002: 113). For Uberoi, in our striving towards the realization of non-dualism in self and society, we can learn not only from Gandhi but also from Goethe and the Hermetic tradition of Europe (Uberoi 1984). Considering the epochal need now to intertwine the striving for building a secular society with a genuinely plural and multicultural society not only in India but also in Western Europe and North America, Uberoi's following lines point to the calling of non-dualism as it relates to pluralism and as it knocks at our doors: "[..] under a regime of pluralist non-dualism, all human differences and partitions are negotiable in civil society as a 'community of sovereignties because no one reality or truth falsifies another. [..] In effect our common humanity thereby returns to the perennial fashion of the Hermetic tradition of Europe, and produces neither simple homogeneity (equality) nor heterogeneity (inequality) but a new non-dualist axis of correlation and mediation, correspondence and complementarity" (Uberoi 2002: 130).
There are several implications of realization of non-duality for the project of reshaping secularism. one implication is that there is no point in thinking about the relationship between the religious and the secular in terms of an essential opposition. But the other implication for us in this path of engagement is to open ourselves to emergent evolutionary happening and possibility. As Uberoi suggests, which reminds us of Sri Aurobindo: "..the theory of evolution means to us, not chiefly or only development of what is complex out of simple, but also the development of many varieties of existence out of the original few, and without humanity in anyway losing the unity of its universe of discourse" (Uberoi 2002: 130).
(b) The Calling of Practical Spirituality
At this point the work of German theologian Johannes B. Metz (1981) deserves our careful attention. He says that the quest for unity can not be achieved on the level of faith but has to be a practical quest, the practical quest of addressing the concrete problems of men and women here on Earth. We can utilize this as a turning point for discussing practical spirituality as an emergent mode in many world religions now. Swami Vivekananda had spoken about it more than hundred years ago. Practical spirituality, as Swami Vivekenanda argues, urges us to realize that "the highest idea of morality and unselfishness goes hand in hand with the highest idea of metaphysical conception (Vivekananda 1991: 354). This highest conception pertains to the realization that man himself is God: "You are that Impersonal Being: that God for whom you have been searching all over the time is yourself--yourself not in the personal sense but in the impersonal" (ibid: 332). The task of practical spirituality begins with this self-realization but does not end there: its objective is to transform the world. The same Vivekananda thus challenges us: "The watchword of all well-being, of all moral good is not 'I' but 'thou.' Who cares whether there is a heaven or a hell, who cares if there is an unchangeable o r not? Here is the world and it is full of misery. Go out into it as Buddha did, and struggle to lessen it or die in the attempt" (ibid).
What is to be noted that practically spirituality as articulated by Swami Vivekananda and Johannes B. Metz can be looked at as an emergent global genre. Consider for instance the the shifting contours of spirituality in contemporary American Society. For Robert Wuthnow in contemporary American society there is a shift from a "spirituality of dwelling" to a "spirituality of seeking" (Wuthnow 1998). "A spirituality of dwelling emphasizes habitation: God occupies a definite place in the universe" (Wuthnow 1998: 10). It "emphasizes an orderly, systematic understanding of life" (ibid: 8). But a spirituality of habitation and dwelling is inadequate to satisfy our multiple aspirations at present when the secured houses of our lives are in a flux. This creates the context for the emergence of a "spirituality of seeking" which is "closely connected to the fact that people increasingly create a sense of personal identity through an active sequence of searching and selecting" (ibid: 18). But Wuthnow makes it clear that a spirituality of seeking in itself is inadequate to come to terms with challenges of self development and responsibility to the other and the world as it offers only "fleeting encounters with the sacred" (ibid: 8). Spirituality of seeking suffers from the danger of making seekers of spirituality satisfied with temporary spiritual sensations and needs to be supplemented by what Wuthnow calls "practice oriented spirituality." Practice oriented spirituality provides multiple grounds for combining spiritual practice and social service. In another context, Roy Bhaskar has argued that active love of God and men, women, and children is at the core of spiritual engagement of the present and the future as he writes: "The dialectics of de alienation (of retotalisation) are all essential dialectics of love, love of self (Self), of each and all (Totality) and in both inner and outer movements, both as essentially love of God. The essence of liberated man is therefore love of God and God, we could say, is not only essentially love but essentially to be loved" (Bhaskar 2000: 44). Practice oriented spirituality creates spaces and times which can hold Bhaskar's proposal of universal self realisation as a dialectic of love. Practice oriented spirituality is not confined to moments of spiritual sensations but touches all aspects of our life: "..the point of spiritual practice is not to elevate an isolated set of activities over the rest of life but to electrify the spiritual impulse that animates all of life" (Wuthnow 1998: 198).
The significance of practical spirituality as a global genre is attested by many observers of the contemporary scene such as Peter Beyer (1994) who argues in his Religion and Globalization that "pure religion" is at a disadvantage in the global society and the solution to its increasing and inevitable privatization lies in finding "effective religious applications." Thus in order to be of interest to both believers and non believers, religions have to undertake activities which ameliorate the conditions of poverty and suffering, build the foundations for what Giddens calls a "generative well being" (Giddens 1994) and through this act of building encourage the participants to develop themselves ethically, morally, and spiritually. But the practical activities of religion are not just "applied" where application is dissociated from what Kierkegaard (1962; also Giri & Quarles von Ufford 2000) calls a transcendental inspiration of love.
The applied activities of practical spirituality manifest themselves through various projects both the life projects where the actors are committed to a cause and live in accordance with such a commitment and social projects where religious movements are engaged in a concrete activity as building houses as in the case of Habitat for Humanity or building water harvesting structures in case of Swadhyaya but these projects are not merely instances of "application"; they are manifestations of an integral mode of engagement where applied activities are nourished by a spiritual relationship with the Transcendent. Thus the applied projects of such movements of practical spirituality are different from projects of mere application which is the case with many development projects of our times (cf. Quarles van Ufford & Giri 2003). Practice and practical work in such movements differ from the familiar anthropological category of practice outlined by Bourdieu (cf. Bourdieu 1971) and the notion of practical discourse presented by Habermas (1990) as both the categories refer only to rational strategies and rational deliberations of actors and are not linked to spiritual realization and transcendent self-awareness of actors. The applied activities of movements of practical spirituality transcend the familiar dichotomies between Transcendence and Immanence; in fact, their projects of social action for the other which are simultaneously initiatives in self development transcend the familiar dichotomies between transcendence and immanence and exist at the "mid point" of the relationship between transcendence and immanence.
In his reflections on religion and globalization, Beyer also writes: "A further consideration concerns the role morality plays in the relationship between religious function and performance" (1990: 360). But what is the shape and contour of moral engagement in the field of religion now? In the past, moral considerations meant "sin, ignorance, etc." but now there is a transformation in the ethico moral horizons of religions where the condition of our life and society the nature of poverty, social justice, etc. is the subject of ethico moral engagement. This is evident in the following lines of Vattimo: "We all stand in need of forgiveness; not because we have broken sacred principles that were metaphysically sanctioned, but rather we have because we have 'failed' toward those whom we are supposed to love" (Vattimo 1999: 90). In fact, there is an ethical transformation at work in world religions where ethics is much more concerned with quality of our conduct in this world, with self development and responsibility to the other. In such a mode of engagement, ethics is not just for the other; it is also for self cultivation and spiritual realization.
The realization that ethical action is not just for the other but for the self is part of an aesthetic deepening of the agenda of ethics to which in recent times thinkers such as Michel Foucault (1986), F.R. Ankersmit (1996), Wolfgagang Welsch (1997) and Seyla Benhabib (1996) have contributed. In such a project, the art of self cultivation, self development and spiritual development is not looked at apologetically but plays an important role in ethics itself. As Foucault challenges us: "What strikes me is the fact that, in our society, art is now only linked to objects, rather than to individuals or life itself. But couldn't we ourselves, each one of us, make of our lives a work of art? Why should a lamp or a house become object of art-and not our own lives" Despite lack of a fuller realization of possibilities of aesthetics ethics in Foucault, this does point to new relationships between aesthetics and ethics, self and other. Urlich Beck provides us with a sociological contour of this shifting trajectory: "For more and more people, 'social progress' is measured by the extent to which opportunities are created for self-fulfillment in the value references and dimensions of one's own life. [..] it is this often-demonized individualism-and not the traditional duty orientation-which embodies a hitherto untapped source of engagement, a mighty 'social capital' lying dormant.." (Beck 2000: 152).
By the way of conclusion:
Spirituality as a Permanent Critique and Creativity
In this essay we have explored different pathways of spiritual cultivation for realization of a plurivocal being and a multi-dimensionally rich public sphere. We began this essay with a caution from Jacques Derrida that we should be on our guard so that we do authorize in the name of religion. In exploring spiritual cultivation for a secular society am I authorizing in the name of spirituality? In this essay, I have not provided a definition of spirituality but spirituality for me lies in the in-between lines and embodies a permanent quest for realization of relationships of dignity. But it would be mistake to look at spirituality as a stable foundation, as the ultimate truth, and as solution to all our problems. It is also important not to forget that spiritual movements many a times are entrapped in a logic of individual salvation. For example, a spiritual care of the self is very much at the heart of many Indian spiritual traditions but such a concern has many a time forgotten the face of the other. As Daya Krishna helps us understand this: "[Once we begin to] see the 'other' as a subject in his or her own right and capable of being affected by one's actions...one will begin to see the self as 'responsible' to the 'other' and not just concerned with the state of one's own being. Yajnyvalkya's [an important sage in Indian tradition] atman centric [Self centric] analysis of the human situation and his contention that everything is dear for the sake of the self would, then, seem to result from a one sided analysis" (Krishna 1996: 58).
In this context, as we work on spiritual cultivation for a secular society, the challenge before spirituality now is to continue to fight for radical universality a universality which transgresses the boundaries of self and other, creates new intimacies and solidarities across boundaries and participates in the struggle for creation and nurturance of transformative institutions of justice, well being and dignity. To dream, strive and to sing with Sri Aurobindo's Savitri:
A lonley freedom cannot satisfy
A heart that has grown one with every heart
I am a deputy of the aspiring world
My spirit's liberty I ask for all (Sri Aurobindo 1954).
[This is a revised version of a paper first presented at the national seminar on "Post-Secular and Post-Religious Reflections on Religion and Secularity: Emerging Frameworks in the Indian Context," organized by Dept of Philosophy, University of Madras and DVK, Dharmaram, Bangalore and held at University of Madras, Dec. 14-16 2001. My grateful thanks are due to Br. V.T. Pius for insisting me to write this and to participants of the seminar, especially Professors T.N. Madan, Francis D'za, T.K. Oommen, S. Paneerselvam, Drs. George Thandathill and Anthony Sarvari Raj for many helpful comments and questions. This was subsequently presented in the discussion group on "Religion and Society" at Department of Cultural Anthropology and Non-Western Sociology, Free University, Amsterdam in May 2002 and my grateful thanks are due to Professors Philip Quarles van Ufford, Anton van Harskamp and Mr. Mohammed Amer for incisive observations. The paper was revised during my Rockefeller visiting fellowship at University of Kentucky and my thanks are due to Drs. Betsy Taylor, Herbert Reid and Lisa Cliggett and colleagues at the Appalachian Center for Social Theory for generous hospitality.]
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1. For Nandy, "to accept the ideology of secularism is to accept the ideologies of progress and modernity as the new justifications of domination, and the use of violence to achieve and sustain ideologies as the new opiates of the masses" (quoted on Sen 1996: 37). But for Sen, "The principle of secularism demands ..symmetric treatment of different religious communities in politics and in the affairs of the state. It is not obvious why such symmetric treatment must somehow involve 'the use of violence to achieve and sustain ideologies as the new opiates of the masses" (Sen 1996: 37).
4 . This is as much a challenge for Neera Chanhoke and Rajeev Bhargava as for William Connolly. It is striking that Connolly's inspiring conception of "politics of being" has no engagement with the issue of self-cultivation in terms of, among others, developing kenosis or self-emptying vis-a-vis the will to power. Note here the way Connolly defines "politics of being," and compare this, without judgment, with the vocation of being articulated by Roy Bhaskar described later in the essay: "By the politics of becoming I mean that paradoxical politics by which new cultural identities are formed out of unexpected energies and institutionally congealed injuries. The politics of becoming emerges out of the energies, suffering, and the lines of flight available to culturally defined differences in a particular institutional constellation" (Connolly 1999: 57).
3. Scholars such as Peter vander Veer do not do justice when they equate Swami Vivekananda's practical spirituality with the supposed "spiritual Hinduism" of VHP. Consider here the following lines of vander Veer: "On the level of discourse there is very little difference between VHP propaganda and the sayings of the founder of Ramakrishna Mission, Swami Vivekananda" (vander Veer 1996: 136). But in Bengal many communists, as Girija Bhusan Patnaik, himself a participant in the communist movement during India's freedom struggle, tells us, many participants in the communist movement in Bengal had drawn inspiration from Swami Vivekanda See Patnaik's preface to an alternative biography of Vivekananda written by Chitta Ranjan Das (1996).
Reflections and Mobilizations:
Dialogues with Movements and Voluntary Organizations
For Alain Touraine, Alberto Melucci, Veena Das and Upendra Baxi
Table of Contents
- The Struggle for Life and Light:
Agragamee and the Management Functions for Human Liberation
- Fighting Displacement and Dispossession:
Reflecting on the Strivings of Agragamee and ACTIONAID for the poor and Tribals around the Indravati Project of Orissa
- Samajik Seva Sadan: A Journey
- We Make the Road By Walking:
Jana Bikash Kendra and the Strivings for Creating Collective Foundations of Prosperity and Well-Being
- Housing Movements in India: Some Examples from Kerala
- Narratives of Creative Transformations:
Constituting Critical Movements in Contemporary American Culture
- Pee for Free with Dignity
- Towards a New Mode of Embodiment of Responsibility:
Swadhyaya and the Spiritual Regeneration of Social Capital
- Globalisation of Hinduism:
Swadhyaya in England and Sai Baba in Bali
- Education for Self-Transformation and Social Change
- A School for the Subject:
The Vision and Experiments of Integral Education
- Self-Development and Voluntary Action
- Reflections and Mobilizations:
Development as Global Responsibilities
Reflections on Some Contemporary Themes and Challenges
The chapters of the book have evolved over the last twelve years. The first chapter, “The Struggle for Life and Light: Agragamee and the Management Functions for Human Liberation,” was written in 1995 and was part of a nation-wide study on management functions of non-governmental organizations carried out by Professor Shankar Dutta of Institute of Rural Management, Anand. My thanks are due to Professor Dutta for his kind invitation and support for this study and to all the actors of Agragamee, particularly Achyut Das, Vidya Das, Professor Chitta Ranjan Das, Anil Pradhan, Arjun Behera, Rumita Kundu, Gayatri Behera, and Gunjuli for their generosity of sharing. They are however not in any way responsible for the views expressed here. It was first published in Man & Development and a shorter version of it had also appeared in Race & Class. The second chapter, “Fighting Displacement and Dispossession,” also dealing with the work of Agragamee, this time in one of its projects dealing with the displaced people of Indravati dam, grows out of a mid-term review of the work of this project and the partnership between Agragamee and ActionAid, its funding agency. I am grateful to Mr. Achyut Das, the director of Agragamee for his kind invitation to join this review exercise. I am also grateful to all the friends in Agragamee, Kashipur and Action Aid, Bhubaneswar, particularly, Suresh Patnaik, Gopal Sahoo, Vijaya Kumar and Rajan Mohanty for their support. I remember warmly working with Mr. P. Viswanath and Ms. Sabaramati, fellow members of the team, and I am grateful to them for their wonderful friendship. The chapter grows out of the report originally written collaboratively by all three of us.
The subsequent two chapters have also their origin in review exercise. The third chapter, “Samajik Seve Sadan: A Journey” grows out of a review of the work of Samajik Seva Sadan, a voluntary organization in Dhenkanal, Orissa and its “partnership” with its funding agency, ActionAid. I thank Mr. Vijaya Kumar, head of ActionAid for his kind invitation to lead the review team and to Sanjida Begum, Brother Emmanuel,Veronica Dungdung,Premananda Dhal and Sujata Sahoo for support and affection. The fourth chapter, “We Make the Road by Walking: Janavikash Kendra and the Strivings for a Creating Collective Foundations for Prosperity and Well-Being” also grows out of a review engagement. I am grateful to Mr. Sarat Chandra Pradhan, the director of Jana Bikash Kendra, for his kind invitation and to Sanjida Begum, Khulna Mohanty, Ganesh Parida, Akshyaya and Amulya Nayak for support. This was previously published in Man & Development. I would like to record my thanks to the leaders of the all four groups here, Agragamee, ActionAID, Samajik Seva Sadan and Jana Bikash Kendra for enabling me the experience of these review exercises which opened my eyes to many new horizons and I am grateful to their generosity of heart for understanding my desire to share this with a wider public in a spirit of mutual learning and public enlightenment.
The fifth chapter, “Housing Movements in Contemporary India: Some Examples from Kerala,” grows out of the research I had done in Kerala in 1991. I am grateful to Mr. K. Viswanathan, Shankar, Avida, PD Mathew for their kind support during this phase of my life. This has been earlier published in Social Action. The sixth chapter, “Narratives of Creative Transformations: Constituting Critical Movements in Contemporary American Culture” was written when I was a doctoral student at Johns Hopkins and published in Dialectical Anthropology in 1990. I am grateful to late Professor Stanley Diamond, the founding editor of Dialectical Anthropology for his kind interest and encouragement.
The seventh chapter, “Pee for Free with Dignity,” grows out my stay at and discussion with activists of Open Door Community in Atlanta in December 1994. I am grateful to Mr. Ed Loring and his fellow workers at Open Door for their kindness and generosity. This has been earlier published in Man & Development. The eighth chapter, “Towards a New Mode of Embodiment of Responsibility: Swadhyaya and the Spiritual Regeneration of Social Capital,” was first presented at the Roundtable on Social Capital organized at Institute of Social Studies, The Hague, in June 2001. I thank Irene van Staveren for her kind invitation and Des Gasper and other participants of the Roundtable for their comments. This was also subsequently presented in Vienna University of Economics and Business and my grateful thanks are due to Professor Herwig Palme and Dr. Rienhard Pirker for their kind hospitality and comments. This has been subsequently published in Gandhi Marg. The ninth chapter, “Globalisation of Hinduism: Swadhyaya in England and Sai Baba in Bali” was prepared on invitation from Dr. Martin Ramstedt in International Institute of Asian Studies, Leiden and subsequently published in IIAS Newsletter. My thanks are due to Dr. Ramstedt as well as to Leo Howe of Department of Social Anthropology, University of Cambridge who so generously shared with me his work in progress on the Sai Baba movement in Bali.
The tenth chapter, “Education for Self-Transformation and Social Change,” owes its origin to an invitation to participate in the national seminar on “Education for Social Change” organized by Agragamee at Puri in April 1995. I am grateful to Mr. Achyut Das for his kind invitation and to Professor Chitta Ranjan Das and Kumudini Apa for their bibliographic help. This has been published in University News and my thanks are due to its editor. The subsequent chapter, “A School for the Subject: The Vision and Experiments of Integral Education,” owes its origin to a kind invitation of Mr. Purshottam Thakur and Mr. Smitu Kothari of Lokayan, Delhi, to take part in a nation-wide study on “Seeds of Hope.” I am grateful to them as well as to all the actors of integral education in Orissa and outside for their generosity in sharing their experience. This essay was presented at Madras Institute of Development Studies; Institute of Social Studies, The Hague; Center for Asian Studies, Amsterdam; and Austro-Indian Association Meeting in Vienna and my thanks are due to participants in all these places for enriching comments, particularly to Professors S. Muthukumaran, C.T. Kurien, A. Vaidyanathan, Des Gasper, Ranjit Dwivedi, Sharada Srinivasan, Mario Rutten, Willem van Schendel, Jan Breman, Anita Hardon, Mohammed Amer, and Oscar Salamink.
The twelfth chapter, “Self-Development and Voluntary Action,” was first presented in a national seminar on alternative forms on governance organized at Gandhi Gram Rural Institute, Madurai in October 1997. I am grateful to Professor G. Palanithurai for his kind invitation and Dr. N. Markandan, the then Vice-Chancellor of Gandhi Gram, for hospitality. This has been published in Gandhi Marg as well as in the seminar collection, Contemporary Development Dynamics, edited by Professor Palanithurai. The following chapter, “Reflections and Mobilizations: Development as Global Responsibilities” grows out my work for a collaborative book on development ethics with Professor Philip Quarles van Ufford of Free University, Amsterdam and my thanks are due to him.
The reviews and notes in the appendices have been published in Contributions to Indian Sociology, Economic and Political Weekly, Indian Review of Books, The Hindu and Indian Express. I am grateful to editors of these journals as well as to editors of Man & Development, University News and Gandhi Marg who provided an encouraging space to share these efforts.
The twentieth century that has just faded out was one of remarkable achievements and of colossal calamities. At the dawn of the new century what are the prospects for the future? Is it going to be a repeat of the past, or are there reasons to think that major changes can be expected? Of course, the future will never be the same as the past and change is always inevitable. But the issue is different. Is it possible to expect a civilizational transformation that will result in a social order that is pronouncedly humane and inclusive? That, surely, is a tall order if the expectation is that the objective will be fully, even substantially, achieved. But is it possible to get glimpses of what is to be attained? Are there initiatives that, though as small as the mustard seed now, have the potential to grow?
In the pages that follow Ananta Kumar Giri explores these questions. According to him the work “describes actors, organizations and movements who are striving for making another world possible”. No one can say whether those who strive will achieve what they are after. But what is important is that they are striving. And achieving is not arriving at some fixed target. In the words of Fred Dallmayr whom Giri quotes: “… achieving does not suggest a form of technical construction or social engineering; rather the term here has a connotation of practical labor or engagement – a labor in which the `achieving’ agents are continually challenged (or called into question) by what needs to be achieved. Far from designating a linear-strategic line, achievement hence carries a round about or mediating significance …” In other words, as one of the actors puts it, what is important is to have a vision and pursue it, not to reach a goal.
Giri places before the readers many such actors. There is Achyut Das, a post-graduate in Mathematics of the Utkal University who accepts work among the tribals of Kashipur, Orissa as his life’s mission, identifying as fully as possible with them. There are Veronica Dungdung, Premananda Dhala and Sujata Sahoo working for the empowerment of an entire community, especially the women near Dhenkanal in Orissa. Soon one comes across Laurie Baker pioneering an alternative building technology in Kerala and Shankar, inspired by Baker, but taking a path of his own into low-cost housing. Then there are Chitta Ranjan Das, Anjati Apa and Arpita Apa trying out new experiments in education. There is also Ed Loring in far away Atlanta, USA, who in his campaign to have public toilets for the homeless in the city carries a toilet into the lobby of the city hall and gets arrested on charges of disorderly conduct! And many more. What do these actors have in common other than their passionate zeal for the cause they are committed to? Each one is showing that alternatives are possible. Through their examples they a re also challenging others to think anew and to try out different ways of meeting life’s perennial problems.
But in this process individuals are not – cannot be – isolated entities. New endeavours naturally enthuse others and become the means of mobilizing energies and commitment. Such mobilizations then necessitate new organizational structures also. Giri draws attention to some of these organizations that keep the vision alive and canalize the spontaneous flow of energies. Examples are Agragamee attempting human liberation in many diverse spheres, the Samajik Seva Sadan committed to the empowerment of women, Jana Bikash Kendra attempting to lay the foundations of a new concept of well-being, Swadhyaya which tries through concrete and continuous action to break down the many barriers in society. The central problematic in all these instances is how to evolve new organizational patterns to translate the new vision into reality. This is no easy task. To give just a couple of examples: How to combine the practice of the equality of its workers and the need to have some minimal command functions in an organization? Granted that some transfer of resources is often necessary, how to enable the involvement of donors without the air of superiority and the desire to dominate? How much acceptance of the manifestations of poverty is necessary and desirable for a genuine identification with the poor? Giri provides sympathetic accounts of the struggles of the organizations he deals with in these and similar areas and offers his own comments as well.
The actors and organizations seen in this volume have had their successes and failures. The Narisangha (women’s wing) of the Samajik Seva Sadan has succeeded in enabling the women to take advantage of many government schemes. It has also done well in containing alcoholism, including imposing a fine on those who drink and beating up an unruly drunkard on one occasion. But it has not had any impact on the more wide spread mother-in-law versus daughter-in-law conflicts. Swadhyaya in England and the Sai Baba movement in Bali have done much for the globalization of Hinduism but they have both led to local tensions, the former because the RSS and VHP do not find Swadhyaya militant enough on behalf of Hinduism and the latter because in Bali the Sai Baba movement is seen to be not in tune with the state sponsored Agama Hinduism. Swadhyaya which has achieved much in demonstrating the feasibility of “practical spirituality” and has succeeded in knocking down the social gap between the rich and the poor within the organization, does not extend it to “all the poor, downtrodden and the low-caste in the village”. It also has not succeeded in getting rid of the caste hierarchy in its internal structure.
Giri is not necessarily endorsing any of the many initiatives he narrates in this volume. As a cultural anthropologist he has been attempting a “dialogical encounter” with them which offers many lessons worth pursuing.
I feel that I’m being not only reformed but transformed. But I still have many qualities which stand in need of concentration, elimination or development. And the very fact that my spirit can discern its own failings of which it was ignorant before is in itself evidence of its transformation for the better [..]
I never spend an idle day. I even claim half the night for study: I only succumb to it, my eyes, weary and blinkering with tiredness, still reveted to my work.
Seneca, Philosophical Letters
It was an early morning. I had woken up at 4: 30. Before going to bed at 11: 30 the previous night, I was looking at Eleanora’s book shelf and was happy to see many books of poems and novels. Eleanora had picked me up from the Italian small town of Ferara at eight thirty the previous night as I was coming to meet with her from Bologna and was driving me to station that early morning for me to be able to catch an early train to Venice. It was a beautiful rainy morning. There was a deep silence all around. I said: “Elenora! It seems you are a great lover of poetry.” Eleanora said: “Yes, I am! I love poetry; poetry comes from human heart.” The last night during our late dinner as she had so graciously cooked a vegetarian meal for us Eleanora had generously opened herself to a visiting anthropologist and shared with me her involvement with the local branch of Attac, Italy. Attac is a new social movement in Europe and also works in many other countries around the world fighting for global justice and democratic control of multinational companies. Eleanora had told me that she was attracted to Attac because here she found a new mode of doing politics. I asked Eleanora: “What is the relationship between your love for politics and love for poetry?” In the midst of the dancing chorus of rains, Eleanora said, “For me both deal with human heart. Politics is not only about acquiring power. It is touching and healing human heart so that our existence can be lived with the tune of our heart spontaneously and in loving relationship with others.”
We continued our conversations. Eleanora sighed that the present-day media-steered politics and public sphere do not have much space for human heart. But she is not hopeless. She is happy to work with Attac and finds new strength from her involvement. She is looking forward to hosting a public seminar on water in her home town the coming weekend. Now as part of WTO agreements there is a move to privatize water and Attac, Italy, like many other national and local chapters, is fighting against this privatization of water in coordination with other like-minded groups. Eleanora and her friends want to reach out to the public and alert them to the dangers of privatization of water.
Eleanora does not speak English and we had our discussion with the help of her Italian-English dictionary by her side in the dinner table. on our way Eleanora told me that she teaches “little people” in a school about environment. Her expression of “little people” for children reminded me of Gilles Deleuze whom I had read the night before: “We must be bilingual even in a single language, we must have minor language inside our own language, we must create a minor use of our own language [..] Not speaking like an Irishman or a Rumanian in a language other than one’s own, but on the contrary speaking in one’s own language like a foreigner” (Deleuze & Parnet 2002: 4-5; italics added). Deleuze here urges us to realize the creative possibilities and transformation in language when one speaks a language as a foreigner and even when one speaks ones’ s own language as an outsider. Eleanora’s translation of children as “little people” suggested to me that possibility. In Eleanora we find a new poetics and politics of being and becoming, a poetry and politics of self-cultivation and public participation. It is a poetry and politics of human heart which transgresses the familiar dichotomy between self-development and social commitment. We find this in many people across the globe who are striving and struggling for making possible another world. Helena Tagesson is a young leader of Attac, Sweden and Attac, Europe. She is completing her studies in international development at the Peace and Development Research Institute at Gothenburg University, Sweden. She is fighting for a better world beyond the imperialistic logic of contemporary corporate globalization. She as well as friends in Attac, Sweden such as Olav Unsgaard want Sweden to take a unilateral step in third world debt reduction. Helena had just come out of a debate with Goran Persson, the Prime Minister of Sweden, a few days before our first meeting in Gothenburg on August 22, 2002. During our conversations, Helena shared with me, among others, her experience in participating in this media-steered debate. For her, “the media does not provide a space for authentic self-expression. It is so offensive. It wants you to take a yes or no position.” But she wants to have the opportunity to have a genuine dialogue on public issues so that it can contribute to public clarification and enlightenment.
Helena is an active participant in Attac, Sweden and Attac, Europe and plays a key role in the Europe-wide coordination of European Social Forum. She and Attac want a democratic control of contemporary multinational economic forces which are guided by the sole motive of profit maximization. Her heart is with the following aspiration articulated in last European Social Fourm in Florence, Italy, November 6-10, 2002:
We have gathered in Florence to express our opposition to a European order based on corporate power and neoliberalism. This market model leads to constant attacks on the conditions and rights of workers, social inequalities and oppression of women and ethnic minorities, and social exclusion of the unemployed and migrants. It leads to environmental degradation, privatisation and job insecurity. It drives powerful countries to try and dominate the economies of weaker countries, often to deny them real self determination. once more it is leading to war.
We have come together to strengthen and enlarge our alliances because the construction of another Europe and another world is now urgent. We seek to create a world of equality, social rights and respect for diversity, a world in which education, fair jobs, healthcare and housing are rights for all, with the right to consume safe foods produced by farmers and peasants, a world without poverty, without sexism, without racism, and without homophobia. A world that puts people before profits. A world without war.
Helena and her teacher and friend Hans Abrahamson have developed a notion of confrontative dialogue as a mode of engagement for critical conversation and collective action. At the end of the day in Gothenburg before taking a night bus to Stockholm in order to take part in the Attac-organized city cultural festival, I was fortunate to meet with Hans thanks to the remarkable generosity of our common friend Stellan Vinthagen. Stellan is an inspiring activist in the peace movement in Europe and as, Helena told me, it is Stellan who had inspired her to join the peace movement when she was only 16. Stellan had then gone to Helena’s hometown of Linchoping for conducting a peace rally. I was so very tired after a day’s of dialogue and work and after hosting me a delicious Chinese dinner Stellan took me to his department of peace studies, the epicenter of revolution in Sweden, and showed me a little room in the corner for rest. No sooner I took to the bed I was in deep sleep but was able to return to Stellan’s office by 9 P.M. Stellan was then looking at my books. We then walked to the city center across the beautiful canals of Gothenburg. We boarded a train in a hurry. We had to meet with Hans at the appointed time of 9:30. We were in front of Gothenburg Central Station just in time. Hans was standing there with a gracious smile. Hans told me: “I have a proposal. Helena called me and said that she very much liked meeting with you this morning. You saved her day. She is now working night shift in a care center for the elderly. Let us go there.” I was so happy to hear this as I also wanted to be able to see Helena once again before I departed Gothenburg.
During our conversations at the care center, Hans welcomed the fact that an anthropologist from India should look at social mobilization in Europe. Hans was eager to listen to my observations about Attac, Sweden. I told: “Unfortunately it would take a few years as I work at a slow pace and I am only at the beginning.” I then requested Hans to elaborate their emergent conception of confrontative dialogue. Hans said: “The contemporary notions of dialogues are geared towards an apriori consensus or consensus as a goal. Those who want to confront the system have very little interest in taking part in it. This was not just a theoretical dilemma for us. During the European Union summit in Gothenburg [in June 2001 briefly described in chapter thirteen of the book] there were groups who wanted confrontative violence while the status quo was for a consensual dialogue. But we said: We do not want consensual dialogue nor confrontational violence but confrontational dialogue. During the EU summit, this opened a new way for participation and dialogue. You can confront and at the same time be dialogical. The very notion of confrontative dialogue changed many social action group’s mind to participate in dialogue. Despite this there was violence by some groups, a major part of which of course was provoked by the police. But Attac suffered heavily for this generalized violence in Gothenburg even though all along we have maintained that ours is a path of non-violence and we do not support violence in any form.”
It was already eleven in the night. I had lost my sense of time but Hans had not. Driving me back to the bus station Hans said: “In confrontative dialogue you are less a debater than a pedagogue. Confrontative dialogue takes time. You confront the other person with your position in order to help the other person also clarify her position. You are able to see from where the other person is coming. But it takes listening.”
Confrontative dialogue calls for not only argumentation but also listening. It also calls for self-cultivation. It is not satisfied with just a villainous construction of the other: the need for transformation here is as much personal as structural. It is no wonder then that Helena, a practitioner of confrontative dialogue, also practices meditation. She has been a practicing Buddhist for the last many years and becoming a Buddhist was certainly an interesting turn in her life as she had begun her university studies in order to be an Episcopal priest. During our last meeting at Florence, Helena told me: “The European Social Forum last month at Florence [European Social Forum was held in November 6-10, 2002 at Florence, Italy] was exciting. Before it many in the city were afraid of outbreak of violence but everything went on peacefully. It was touching to see people waving flags of ‘No war, and for Peace’ from their windows. on the last day there were five million people walking in the streets of Florence. But somehow I felt that the movement lacked a space of critical self-reflection. It was as if our mobilization was directed only at the villainous other—World Bank and George W. Bush. But the enemy is as much inner as outer.”
Helena is an active participant in contemporary struggles for a just world but in her engagement she is not only within the valorized world of the performative and does not proceed with a dualism between politics and moral commitments. She would probably not be able to agree with Habermas when he writes: “The burning issue of a just global economic order poses itself primarily as a political problem [..] The unjust distribution of good fortune in the world was certainly a central concern of the great world religion. But in a secularized society, this problem primarily belongs on the political and economic table, not in the cupboard of morality […]” (Habermas 2002: 166) The opposition between politics and morality in Habermas would be inadequate for Helena’s self-expression and political struggles though she and her movement Attac exemplify what Habermas looks for: “On the practical level, only social movements will be able to create the necessary innovations beyond the national borders” (ibid). Helena would probably also like to ask the question that Gerry Cohen has recently posed to Rawls to Habermas, “If Your’re an Egalitarian, How Come You are So Rich?”: “[..] egalitarian justice is not only, as Rawlsian liberalism teaches, a matter of the rules that define the structure of society but also a matter of personal attitude and choice [..] a change in social ethos, a change in the attitude people sustain towards each other in the thick of daily life is necessary for producing equality [..]” (Cohen 2000: 3).
In one of her emails to me, Helena had so kindly written: “I carry Global Transformations and the Spiritual Cultivation text in my bag a lot of the time (I’ m one of these people who normally carry around just slightly less than a whole library: o) [..] I would really like to write down some of my thoughts on how spirituality and political activism relate to each other in my life (except during this last month, when WORK sort of took over the whole arena: o), and share with you, if you would like to.” Helena wished there was an adequate space for exploring her simultaneous engagement in politics and spirituality in her organization Attac.
Like Eleanora’s, Helena’s quest also embodies a new poetry and politics of being and becoming. I was so happy to meet with a similar kindred spirit and seeker in Gerardo in Sao Paulo, Brazil, recently, just a week after my recent meeting with Eleanora and Helena. I had gone to Sao Paulo to take part in a seminar on participatory democracy jointly organized by UFMG, a university in Bel Horizonte, and the city council of Sao Paulo. In my presentation I had talked about spiritual cultivation in the process of democratic participation and this immediately established a bond between us-- myself and Gerardo, as also between myself and many of his co-workers in the Participatory Budgeting Council of the City such as Paulo and Fathima. Gerardo is a young man, only 20 years now. He has finished his first degree in international relations and has been working with the participatory budget council of the city of Sao Paulo for a year. Participatory budgeting is an instrument and mode of popular participation in the spending of the money in projects that people themselves prioritize and formulate. It embodies a spirit of permanent mobilization and suggests the possibility for a democratic control of the economy. Gerardo now works with this mobilizing process of participatory budgeting which involves working with many concerned actors in this intertwined process: the city council of Sao Paulo, the participatory budgeting wing, the Workers Party (SP) of Brazil which is instrumental in creating this economy of solidarity, elected delegates and local assemblies of participatory budgeting and the people. During our meeting, Gerardo told me: “I have been born into a Catholic family. Initially when my parents brought me to the church I was not interested. But then slowly I realized if I am coming to the Church then I must have a deeper involvement. Slowly I became more interested in Christianity and in the life of Jesus. Over the years I have also opened myself to Buddha and Gandhi.” I could not believe my ears when my friend, so young in age, told me: “The only thing you can be radical is love. I started with spirituality and then came to politics. I want to do something concrete. There is no final solution. The final solution lies in being together. The final objective is welfare of human beings.”
During my recent journeys I have been touched by my meeting with another young person who embodies this ideal of welfare of all in a silent but inspiring way. Pratima Panda is in her late 20s and works in an integral school in the tribal hinterlands of Ayodhya in the district of Balasore, Orissa. Integral schools are alternative educational experiments inspired by Sri Aurobindo and Mother’s vision of integral evolution of humanity (described in chapter eleven in the book). Pratima Apa was born into a Brahmin family and has a college degree. She had not got married. She teaches and stays in the integral school in Ayodhya and is not only a teacher but also a mother to her students. Many of her children are tribals and Dalits and they come from the neighboring hamlets where tribals and Harijans live. The village has a Government upper primary and middle school but these are located in the center and amidst caste neighborhoods and the children from tribal and Harijan hamlets do not feel welcomed in this school and are subjected to many humiliating comments not only from fellow students but also from the teachers. But as the principal of the integral school in the village, Pratima Apa invites them not only to the school but also to her heart. Most of the children here suffer from skin diseases and in the evening Pratima Apa not only takes extra classes but also cleans their wounds. It was an unforgettable experience for me to sit besides Pratima Apa one evening as she was cleaning the chimney glass for her evening class in the school which does not have electricity and hear her share her feelings: “I no longer feel my body as separate from their body.”
Pratima Apa is a Brahmin and she now cleans the wounds of tribal and Dalit children in a spirit of embodied intimacy. She herself looks anemic suggesting that she does not have enough nutritious food to eat. She is also overworked as all the friends we have met so far and Seneca’s self-description about not having enough time to sleep definitely applies to her. Pratima Apa is also striving for making another world possible for herself as well as for the children of the village around. In her sadhana and struggle the mobilized categories of identity politics of Brahmin and Dalit are breaking down as she, a fair looking Brahmin girl, cleans the wounds of the dark-skinned bodies of tribal and Dalit students. Pratima Apa draws inspiration from Sri Aurobindo and Mother and in her silent, persistent and joyful work provides us the glimpses of transformation of religion and spirituality at a time in India when fundamentalist forces, in the name of religion and caste, are finding pleasure in burning others alive rather than touching each other’s bodies and experience our common humanity.
Eleanora, Helena, Stellan, Gerardo and Pratima Apa are exemplary participants in movements and organizations to make another world possible at the local as well as planetary levels. They are struggling for achieving another world, a world which can be truly “ours” in a meaningful way. Their aspirations and social struggles can be better understood and appreciated in what Fred Dallmayr, the soul-touching seeker and theorist of our times, writes about the calling of achieving our world at the contemporary juncture: “ [..] achieving does not suggest a form of technical construction or social engineering; rather, the term here has the connotation of practical labor or engagement—a labor in which the ‘achieving’ agents are continuously challenged (or called into question) by what needs to be achieved. Far from designating a linear-strategic line, achievement hence carries a round about or mediating significance, operating steadily in the ‘middle voice’ (between speaking and listening, moving and being moved). This significance carries over into the sense of ‘our’—which in no way should be taken as a possessive pronoun. If the goal of ‘achieving’ involves the simultaneous transformation of achieving agents, then the world to be rescued from slippage cannot simply be the target of managerial appropriation. Despite the need to resist slippage into automatic self-regulation, the world can be ‘ours’ only in a highly complex and mediated way—assigning to human beings only the task of responsible guardianship rather than mastery or possession” (Dallmayr 2001: xi-xii).
The present book describes actors, organizations and movements who are striving for making another world possible so that the world can be “ours” in a meaningful sense of food and freedom for all. In fact, food and voce is the animating goal of one of the main partners of dialogue in this endeavour, Agragamee. Agragamee has been striving and fighting for enabling tribals of Orissa to realize a life of dignity for the last quarter century. It began its work in the Kashipur block of the undivided district of Koraput and at one time was working in eight districts of Orissa. It has also inspired many organizations to spring up in tribal areas such as Jana Vikash Kendra in Anugul district whose story we read in chapter four and SWWS (Society for Welfare of Weaker Sections), Parlakhemundi in Gajapati district in Southern Orissa. But over the years Agragamee has faced many difficulties and challenges from the vested interests and now from the State and multinational mining companies. For the last seven years multinational companies have been trying to start bauxite mining operations in the area but people of the locality have been resisting this and fighting for their land and culture, partly enabled by Agragamee’s silent work among the local tribals over the years. Two years ago the State Government of Orissa had banned Agragamee on the charge of instigating tribals against the agenda of the State-led development and there was also police firing on a peaceful assembly of tribals brutally murdering three young men on the spot in Maikanch (described in chapter thirteen). It is now a difficult time for Agragamee as well as for the tribals of Kashipur who are fighting to keep their land and habitat from the jaws of the state and multinational companies.
The other movements and organizations whom we meet in the pages of the book such as Samajik Seva Sadan, Jana Bikash Kendra, COSTFORD, Nirmithi Kedra, Open Door Community, Attac, Swadhyaya, and integral education embody transformative strivings in different fields of life—tribal development, community development, education, housing, human rights and economic development. Their visions and experiments touch on many of the key issues of liberation of our times. As a prelude to our dialogue in the book, it would be probably helpful to touch on a few of these briefly here.
Self-development is an important theme in many of the movements and organizations narrated in this book. This, for example, is a key concern with Swadhyaya and integral education. Self-development includes, if not always as a reality but as a possibility, both care of the self and responsibility to the other. This focus on self-development as a theme as well as calling needs more attention from the actors of social movements and development organizations. Understanding the significance of self-development would enable all concerned here to realize that participation is not only public but also has a dimension of self-cultivation. As argued in chapter twelve, “Self-development and Voluntary Action” in the book, overcoming authoritarianism and embodying dialogical democracy is one of the biggest challenges in the voluntary sector in India today and in this both measures of public accountability and self-cultivation are helpful. one important challenge here is overcoming one’s clinical preoccupation with power and to strive to realize what Heidegger calls a “power-free” existence (cf. Dallmayr 2001). This calls for developing humility and the power to listen and learn and not only assert. This also calls for developing what Gianni Vattimo (1999) calls “weak ontology” and what I have elsewhere called an “ontological epistemology of participation” (Giri 2002).
The pathway of an ontological epistemology of participation combines both practices of learning and self-cultivation. This simultaneous work on epistemology and ontology frees both from their inherent limitations such as an epistemic procedural arrogance and fixed ontology. Social movements and voluntary organizations can embody both epistemic learning and ontological self-cultivation. Their routine activities such as organizational evaluation can contribute to this process provided there is a willingness to overcome the logic of bounded organizational rationality and self-justification. It should be apparent to the readers of the book as well as partners of dialogue that there is a great deal of challenge of learning from each other on the part of different kinds of movements. While socio-political movements such as Agragamee can learn from Swadhyaya the significance of self-development, socio-spiritual movements such as Swaydhyaya can learn from Agragamee to be able to take the side of the poor and to be on the guard so that the name of God is not abused for asserting authority and contributes to self-transformation and world-transformation.
The pathway of ontological epistemology of participation as a possible mode of being and relationship for both the actors and observers of movements pays equal emphasis on appropriate public engagement and self-engagement. Sadly in critical theorists of public sphere and human development of our times such as Jurgen Habermas and Amartya Sen we miss any acknowledgment of this need for appropriate self-cultivation. In their recent work, India: Development and Participation, Jean Dreze and Amartya Sen tell us about both the instrumental and intrinsic significance of participation for “value formation’ and for democracy and development. In their words: “[..] political and social participation has intrinsic value as an aspect of the quality of life. Second, democracy has an important instrumental role in enhancing the hearing that people get in response to their claims to political participation (including the claims of economic needs) [..] the practice of democracy gives the citizens an opportunity to learn from each other, and can also profoundly influence the values and priorities of the society [..] In this sense democracy has a constructive importance, in addition to the intrinsic value it has in the lives of citizens and its instrumental role in political decisions. Value formation is as much a democratic activity as is the use of social values in the determination of public policy and social response” (Dreze & Sen 2002: 25). Dreze and Sen’s agenda of democratic participation is definitely of great significance for all of us concerned, especially in India which is still feudal in its temperament and social arrangement in many ways and where even spiritual movements have hard time in overcoming their feudal past. But in Dreze and Sen there is no recognition of the need to radically supplement public participation with appropriate self-engagement and self-participation including nurturing ontological self-cultivation for value formation. But radically supplementing democratic public participation with self-cultivation is now an epochal challenge. Ramshroy Roy presents this need for simultaneous engagement in his characteristic evocative manner in his Beyond Ego’s Domain:
[Public order is threatened by the split between] man’s concern for his own good and that for the good of others. But can this threat to the public order be mitigated, if not completely eliminated, by the installation of the Polis? [..] For Aristotle, transcendence of self-interest is consequent upon participation in public affairs [but] the shortcomings associated with personal character cannot be expected to be rectified by the public realm, if it lacks necessary support from individuals reborn as citizens. To be reborn as a person who, rising above his self-interest, becomes attentive to and actively seeks to pursue collective good, is, then, to willingly accept a life dedicated to the cultivation of dharma” (Roy 1999: 5).
Along with self-development, reconstitution of the public space and reconstruction of government is another key concern with many of the struggles depicted in the book which of course includes foundational critiques of state and market. Agragamee’s efforts in creating grain banks and alternative management of public distribution system by the village committee rather than private contractors which is part of a broader public mobilization to take on Government tasks is significant here. Agragamee, Samajik Seva Sadan and Jana Bikash Kendra have encouraged tribals to have collective farming for the common good. This is similar to Swadhyaya’s efforts in God’s farming at the village as well as supra-village levels based upon devotional labor. Agragamee says that with all Governmental programs, it adds a dimension of participation, and many times it is an addition of shared labor so that the saved money from government funding can contribute to the common village fund. Devotional labor in Swadhyay and shared labor in Agragamee point to the significance of relating to body, time and labor in a different manner for revitalizing, reconstructing and transforming the public space and institutions in these days of fragmentation and privatization.
In this critique and reconstruction, the question of survival and deprivation is an important one. Many new social movements and discourses of emancipation today seem to forget that many people in the world do not have two square meals a day. Here we can invite Subarna to our homes and hearts. We meet her briefly in chapter thirteen in the book. She does not have any land. She has to go to a distant forest to collect woods for her survival. Her husband Abhilash was brutally killed in the unprovoked police firing as he and people of the locality had been fighting to keep whatever little land they have in the community. In this context, struggle for land and habitat is an important part of human emancipation today locally as well as globally. Here while Agragamee has supported the struggle for land on the part of the tribals not only vis-a-vis multinational companies but also visa-vis-local landowners such as in Chiliguda, Swadhyaya has adopted a neutral stance in villages where the landless have striven to occupy gochara (grazing) land .
Agragamee’s support for land struggles of the tribals finds an important ally in Landless Workers Movement (MST) in Brazil which is the largest social movement in this great country at present. For the last quarter century MST has been fighting for land rights of the deprived and marginalized. But Andreas, an activist with MST, was very quick to make it clear during our journey together from Porto Alegre, the beautiful capital city of the Southern Brazilian province of Rio Grand de Sul, to his settlement where many families like his have been rehabilitated as a result of the struggle of MST: “The first fighter for land were the Indians.” When we reached the sprawling settlement in which his as well as many of the landless families are settled, Andreas was happy to show me the collective farming that a section of the settlers do there. They have got this piece of land after long struggles. Brazil has probably one of the most unequal land distribution in the world and landless people in MST have been squatting on the unused land in a non-violent manner and thus forcing the Government to take land from the landless owners and make this available for the landless. But despite their non-violent struggles 19 peasants were shot dead on April 17, 1996 when 3, 000 squatters marched for land rights in Para in Eastern Amazonia. To broaden the discourse of development, participation and social transformation it would be insightful to do a comparative study of struggles over land in India and Brazil, contemporaneously as well over the last fifty years, and the global locations of the book—in Kashipur as well as in Oslo, in Atlanta and in Gopinathapur, in Pallalahara and in Gothenburg—is also animated by such an aspiration of a comparative study of struggles for land in India and Brazil as part of a broader comparative global inquiry.
Dialogues with movements and voluntary organizations in this book in these multiple locations in our contemporary globalizing world are however an ongoing one--these are parts of an ongoing journey rather than finished conclusions. I am now doing further work on Swadhyaya, integral education and Attac and currently preparing a monograph on Swdhayaya.
At this point, it would be probably helpful to share a bit more about the nature of the present project. This book is about ethnographically tinged dialogues with social movements and voluntary organizations at work in different parts of the world. This is not a book about tribal development nor social movements in Orissa per se though many pages of the book are devoted to these issues. This is a book about narratives of a possible more human world in the making in the work of actors, movements and organizations in different parts of the world and my dialogue here has been in the spirit of an expanding “we” where “we” is a normative ideal as well as a reality of relationship going beyond the bounded logic of a self-certain “I” or a self-assured them. The use of “we” many times in the book reflects the reality of emerging solidarity on the ground as well as the normative ideal of an expanding togetherness; it has the character of a verb rather than a noun, least of all a possessive pronoun.
In my dialogical encounter with organizations and movements described in the pages of the book I do not proceed with any “preconceived notion.” I have sought to learn for myself as for all of us interested to learn from all these efforts in amelioration of suffering and reconstructive social development. I describe the vision and experiments of actors, organizations and movements but I do not stop there. For me, description of normative vision must be accompanied by efforts to understand its work in practice (even though in the pages of the book I have not always been able to carry out a full-fledged ethnography of practice given the limitations of specific contexts of dialogues). This then inaugurates a process of critical dialogue which begins with the critiques that participants themselves have about their lives, organizations and movements, for example Helena’s self-critique that we have listened and the internal criticism of actors of Agragamee in the pages to follow. .........
Dr. Stephen Gill
PEACE AND FREEDOMS FOR INDIAN WOMEN IN THE DIGITAL ERA
The easy availability of information technology even in remote areas is going to open a new chapter for women in India.The emerging digital era will give them a wide range of options and a power to be more self-aware, more enlightened and economically independent.Women will be more decisive as mothers,wives,taxpayers and as humans. As mothers, they will developcourage to say iftheir sons should go to wars to kill the sons of others.As taxpayers, their views will be honored in political circles. They will have the means to give better education to their children and also for themselves even without stepping out of their homes. Digital technology will provide them with opportunities to continue education within their homes even after their marriage. Those who do notsend their daughters to colleges and universities for religious or other reasons can make education available to them within the walls of their homes.
Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister of India, said "you can tell the condition of a nation by looking at the status of its women."Nehru was a historian and a reformer, as well as a politician. He knew that the country cannot make evident progress towards peace and prosperity unless women who are almost half of the population also become equally active contributors. Half of this half population in India cannot read and write.
India is, as it has always been, shrouded in mystical contradictions. Often talked about contradictions are more visible in the treatment of women than anywhere else. In Riga Veda, which was written between 1700 BC and 3000 BC, women have been praised in different capacities, including as sages and daughters-in law. They have been symbolized as the goddesses Durga and Laxmi. Laxmi stands for prosperity and peace. This human goddess is not allowed to chant Vedic hymns though there is nothing in the Vedas against it. In Indian culture, women have been put on the pedestal of a goddess.This goddess is not safe even in the twenty-first century on streets and in jails. Indian women have suffered for centuries due to her illiteracy. At the same time, India has produced some notable liberated and learned women in the world. Though the legal age of a girl to marry is 18 years, she has no say in the choice of her husband and is married at an early age. Though the dowry system has been banned, it is still growing stronger. Another contradiction is about the foetal sex determination and sex selection that is a crime, but its practice is common.
One institution that subjugates women brutally is the dowry system. Parentsspend handsome amounts to give dowry as gift to the side of the boys to find decent husbands for their daughters. Often the parents of the girls have to borrow that money. Though the dowry system has been illegal since 1961, this institution is flourishing. Though this brutality has been declared illegal by the constitution of India, there are still stories of women being burnt or killed for not bringing enough dowry. This and other problems prompt parents to abort female fetus. Thousands of female fetuses are aborted every year. Because of discrimination even when she is in the womb, there is a higher mortality rate among females. It is ironic that on one hand, a woman is considered a symbol of goddess Laxmi and on the other, her birth is not welcome.
Women have suffered and are still suffering discrimination from womb to tomb. Manu has deeply degraded women in his Manusmirti, a book of conduct for Hindus that appears to have been compiled between 100 and 300 A.D. This book establishes the doctrine of superiority based on the caste system that provides the philosophical basis for the antiwomen mindset. Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) that is still in power in someprovinces and influential in some others, and also its ideological parents the Rashtriya Swayamsevek Sangh (RSS) support this book that debases women. The book documents that women are not fit for independence. It also documents that women should be kept under control of men when they attach themselves to sensual pleasures and wives become disloyal to their husbands, no matter how closely they are guarded.Before Manu, the status of women in India was much better.
For centuries Indian women suffered also due to the Sati tradition that goes back to 2000 years A.D. Sati refers to a virtuous woman who burns herself on her husband's funeral fire to go straight to heaven. A widow who did not burn herself had worse life because she was not allowed to marry again and was forced to shave her head, eat once a day and sleep on the floor. When the British came, they banned the custom of Sati in 1829.
There had been also a mysterious and controversial cult who had girls called Davadasis. Under the cover of temple women this cult exploited girls for prostitution.In some areas, several wives are allowed for men for economic or other reasons. There are several other ways to degrade women.
There are women also in orthodox Muslim families who are not encouraged to go to schools and are forced to live under veils from head to toe. They are not allowed to choose their spouses and to work outside their homes. Education of most women, particularly in the rural areas, stop after their arranged compulsory marriage at an early age.
The status of Dalit women is most tragic in some parts of India. The word Dalit includes untouchables.Dalits have been trained for centuries to believe that they are impure. They live in constant fear of being publicly humiliated and beaten. They are forced into unclean jobs at minimum of wages. They suffer as females and also as untouchables. They suffer from the upper cast Hindus and also from their own folk. In some parts, they are no better than the slaves had been in the United States of America. Slavery was abolished about two hundred years ago in the USA. In India, millions of women from Dalit communities are still being treated as slaves and sold in the concubine trade. Roughly, there are more than one hundred millions Dalit women in India. There are countless human rights violations against them. According to Zee News of March 9, 2007, “A United Nations panel has expressed concern over what it called an alarming number of allegations of acts of sexual violence against Dalit and tribal women in India, who were being trafficked and forced into prostitution.”
There have been reformers who tried to free women from their chains. What they and the laws have not been able to achieve, the digital technology is going to achieve. India has started basking in the sun of the digital era. once this sun starts moving towards its zenith, it will massively melt the effects of the adverse opinions and discriminatory practices against women. Economics largely shapes human relations and government policies.
If democracy is to be strengthened in India, it is vitally important for its population of more than one hundred million Dalit women to be free from the shackles of illiteracy and economic miseries. These freedoms are the central pillars for the success of democracy.Without a proper democratic structure there cannot be peace and real prosperitywithin the country. A democratic constitution is not enough in itself. In order to be democratic, a country needs a free press, independent judiciary and free participation in decision-making processes by minorities and especially by economically backward communities. Also, the country needs an atmosphere of tolerance. Dalits deserve a climate of tolerance and also the means to remove the boulders of illiteracy and poverty. The absence of this climate poses a tough challenge to the structure of democracy. Education will let women know their rights and responsibilities and to discharge them intelligently. Economic freedom will provide them a climate to exercise their votes properly. Poverty and illiteracy reduce democracy to a shame and lay the groundwork for corrupt politicians. With illiteracy among more than one million women, the oak of democracy cannot nourish. Illiteracy and poverty are the natural enemies of democracy. Education is the gateway to women’s empowerment that solidifies the base for the edifice of the constitutional rule to be meaningful. Women can contribute to prosperity and peace only if they are also educated, economically independent and healthy to be able to make decisions and implement them. A population that is poor, ill-informed, oppressed and unhealthy cannot be of any help to a nation.
The digital era will prove that Shakespeare was right who towards the end of 16th century said that men rule the world but women rule the rulers. The world would be a better place to live if these rulers of the rulers are enlightened. It is also said that educating a woman is educating a generation. Information technology would help to say goodnight to illiteracy among Dalits and even others who are far from the big cities. They will become productive partners of the nation.
The author of Manusmrit and its followers would faint to hear that man of today has failed to create peace and a time has come to give a chance to woman. Its journey may start from India that has produced and is still producing prominent women in the fields of arts, diplomacy, administration, teaching, business, army, space technology, medicine, engineering, politics and the list can go on. Where men have failed, women may emerge to lead the nation to new heights of peace in the digital era.
In the digital era, the process of peace will not be handled just by activists and politicians. This process will be handled also by knowledgeable and economically independent women who will eventually realize that their love for their children will shape their sons and daughters to become better administrators and politicians of tomorrow. Peace is the outcome of love and mothers can give it in abundance and intelligently when their baskets are filled with the flowers of education. The new technology that is impacting all aspects of life is expected to impact dramatically the alchemy of peace in and outside of India.The emerging digital era will give women more muscles of enlightenment to be able to play their roles more independently and intelligently in domestic and international affairs.
The new era will foster an unprecedented migration of women to distant geographical regions and will encourage interracial and intercultural marriages that would build bridges for understanding.Immigrants and the new generation from these marriages would accept other cultures more readily than their parents did. Even those immigrants who preserve their ethnic identities closely are open to admire other cultures. The practice of marrying outside one’s ethnic and religious group promotes a universal outlook and social harmony. This practice is going to be widened in the digital era that will accelerate the process of understanding among nationalities and races. Christian theologians, including St. Thomas and St. Augustine, were against marriages within clans and families because they wanted to overcome obstacles in the way of larger social institutions. The digital era would go one step further. It will encourage marriages with partners of other nations.
International and intercultural marriages through the internet will become more common. This would remove caste and religion from marriages. Mobility will be more frequent. Most religious and social stigmas are also due to fear from parents, relatives, friends and members of own caste. once women, particularly from Dalit communities, move to unknown areas of the world, they will be able to marry the men of their choice without any stigmas of the birth. Immigration, the greater ease of travel and digital communications will bring down barriers and encourage intercultural and interracial marriages that would improve the status of women, particularly from Dalit families. This will contribute to the understanding among nations and improve the climate of peace in India and around the world.
These intercultural and interracial marriages are going to shrink the world further. Mobility among the citizens of different nations will increase. The birds of new cultures will sing freely everywhere. Interracial marriages create anatmosphere that is conducive to the garden of culture to flourish to a degree unparalleled in the history of civilization. Immigrants and new generation from such marriages will realize that a minority in a country is no longer weak, and the majority is no longer as strong as it used to. be. The philosophy of live and let live is the moral beacon for the mutual survival that has been a constant message of the sages of the East.
What those sages from the East have not been able to achieve, the digital era that was initiated inthe West, will achieve through women. International corporations, that are more powerful than some national governments, will set up their outlets for jobs wherever the labor is cheaper and more profit is possible. They do not care for birth stigmas, men and women and black or white. Information technology is based on knowledge and intellect and it is available to the powerful and rich as well as to the weak and poor. This technology has demolished most of the walls and boundaries and is going to demolish even more.There is no discrimination in the digital industry against women, who are already on the increase in colleges and universities. Women software professionals have dramatically increased now.Some call centers prefer women because of the softness of their voice. Moreover, this industry is flexible to hire employees on an hourly basis that provides good incentive to housewives. Also there are sites on the internet for women to take care of their health and education. This knowledge would stop the female infanticide that is common among uneducated Dalits. Through the internet women will come to know what their counterparts are doing in other countries
However, there are millions of poor Dalit families and others who do not have access to digital technology. Eventually, governments and international economic forces will make use of these unexplored sources. The profit-seekers of information technology may go to these unexplored areas and communities. In return, these depressed and outcast communities would be economically powerful and independent. Women would be freer and able to express themselves in the newly-found environment of economical freedom. The digital era has started changing housewives from diffident to confident civic conscious citizens. Reformers, including Guru Nanak, Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Swami Dayanand and Mahatma Gandhi, could not bring the desired results. Even the laws of the British and free India have not improved the status of women. In certain sectors, the situation has grown more unpleasant. The air of change will free women from most miseries in the digital era. This air has started blowing and will be blowing harder and pleasantly in less than five years from now. The digital era will achieve for women, particularly Dalits, what reformers and laws could not. This will alter the destiny of India.
This encouraging fast trend that has the capacity to alter the destiny of India can be seriously impeded by two major disasters. These disasters can sap the energy of India. one of them is war. Wars arrest the progress of a nation and destroy the natural resources. Even during peace, bombs and tanks are not productive- they do not bring any revenue. on the other hand, the country needs money to take care of them.
Another disaster is caused by terrorists, who hit the belly of economic prosperity. Terrorists do not want tourists to bring foreign exchange in to the country and also they do not want businesses to prosper. Most of the time the national governments spend money and time to find these terrorists and to defend the rights of their citizens.
India loses its natural resources, manpower and taxpayers money whenever there are wars and terrorist attacks. Tourists shun the countries which are unsafe and international investors look for safe environments for their businesses. Under the threats of wars and terrorism, the digital technology would remain confined to large cities in a limited way, whereas most women who are educationally and economically backward in the areas that are far from the centers would continue suffering. These are mostly the Dalit women who will pay the price under those situations.
It is in the interest of democracy and human rights to encourage information technology to enter the backward areas. The government and service organizations can work to make its entry easy and rapidly feasible. Just the cell phones are known to have benefited women in small businesses where they have handled their businesses and also their family issues. At present, most benefits are largely confined to towns and cities because most rural areas do not have the equipments and skills for women to take full advantage of this technology.
Among the negative factors of the digital era, isolation is a major one. Working from home would bring more isolation to women. However, women from orthodox Muslim families and Dalits are already isolated. They will not be as isolated as they are at present because they will be in touch with the rest of the world. They will be able to pass their time in meaningful persuasions. At the same time, they will be close to their home environment, particularly their children.
©copyright Stephen Gill, March 2007
Canada based multiple award-winningauthor Stephen Gill (www.stephengill.ca) has authored more than twenty books and his prose and poetry have appeared in more than five hundred publications. The main area of his writing is world peace.
StephenGill, Dr.Box 32, Cornwall, ont. K6H 5R9 Canada (Tel. 613-932-7735)
Ansted Poet Laureate