The thinker Satish Kumar on the divide between the two lndias – the affluent urbs and the other that is “based on land and livelihood, people and forests”.
In 1962, Satish Kumar walked on foot on a personal peace march from India, through Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran, onward through the Soviet Union and Europe, arriving in the United States in 1964. His first mission, inspired by the writings of Mahatma Gandhi had been a walk across India at the age of 18 as part of the Bhoodan land reform movement of Vinoba Bhave.
In 1974, Kumar became editor of Resurgence, the journal of ecology, environment, new economics, and spiritual values. He came close to the economist EF Schumacher, after whose death he helped found Schumacher College, an international centre for ecological studies. Satish Kumar was interviewed by journalist Rahul Goswami while attending a conference on ´Gandhi, Health and the Environment´, in Maharashtra´s Gadchiroli district.
Q: From the perspective of green philosophy, how do you view the developments in India since the liberalisation of the economy in 1991?
A: The 1991 liberalisation was a natural consequence of the policies of the Indian government. They had the choice of either going towards a more decentralised local economy, more people-oriented and ecologically sustainable, or they had to join the world´s trend of the industrialised-globalised-liberalised economy. That actually is a contradiction in terms, for it is anything but liberal, very centralised and very top heavy.
Nehru and the Congress party did not work towards a decentralised green economy, and Manmohan Singh was the natural consequence. There was a stagnation of the economy because of the half-hearted centralised model, the way out of that stagnation should have been a more local Gandhian economy.
The pre-1991 policy was not a good one, but the middle classes benefited quickly and directly from liberalisation that followed. They became better consumers, better equipped to destroy quickly that which they were destroying slowly. Television has now become very degraded, with shoddy consumer goods that are tempting, attracting the middle classes to buy, buy, buy. This is the opposite of what a sustainable and participatory economy should be.
Q: Amidst the tendency to look at one-dimensional growth – ‘GDP as a measure and indice of development’ – do you believe it would have been possible to follow the route to ´gram swarajya´?
A: Yes, if they had had the political will. That would have helped more directly and immediately the 50 to 60 per cent of our population which is in a way still stagnant. Liberalisation has created stagnation at a lower level. If we had chosen a more green economy, agriculture, craft and local economies would have flourished, but the middle classes would not have imported goods. They would have been challenged to make things within, with their own genius and ingenuity. If the will was there it would have been a real liberalisation and a real improvement. Instead we have a division in India – 50 per cent have gone downhill even in terms of movement in economy. There is more trade and income, but limited to a small acquisitive group.
Q: Do you have hope in the urban population?
A: The urban elite have become very callous. They do not want to see the other India and close their eyes to what exists at their doorstep. They are selfish and blinkered and see nothing but their consumerism. They now understand only that progress means consumerism and the commodification of everything.
People are not strong enough in the marketplace because big companies are better equipped technologically, scientifically and financially; they wield more manipulative power and they will buy because they can pay more. Land, forests, rivers and water will be all commodified. We have an anaesthetised middle class that allows this to happen.
Q: Where would a resurgence emerge from?
A: It has to come from the village, the tribal, and the small farmer.
Q: But they have to struggle just to even get heard.
A: There are some good spokespersons – Medha Patkar, Arundhati Roy, Aruna Roy, Vandana Shiva. They can communicate the agony, the pain and the sorrow of rural India and the victims. In India there are two forces now. One is represented by the consumerist middle class. The other is based on land and livelihood, people and forests, and all they need is to be organised. The problem is that they are fighting a million mutinies without connecting with each other. The power of their resistance is not felt because they are too busy working in just their own areas. Something has to happen to make them more united.
Creativity is a very basic urge in the human psyche and soul, and the industrial and consumer culture destroys it. This is the root of this disenchantment. Like Kabir´s poem – “Chalti chakki dekh kar, diya Kabira roye / Dui paatan ke beech mein, sabit bacha na koye (Looking at the grinding stones, Kabir laments that in the motion of the wheels, nothing stays intact)” – people are finding the grind of life and pace, this rush, too much to bear.
Human life depends on nature and its beauty and purity. Now we buy bottled water which is stale – machine-made and processed. Everything is processed and over-processed. People are finding the end of creativity and the end of good life – which means good food, clean pure natural food, and natural water and air. People realise we are cutting the branch upon which we are sitting. The reason for all this is the destruction of creativity.