Who decides whether India is developing or is it a mirage?

“Humans just do not experience things, but they also think about their experience.”

Visual of an open discussion forum at Vikalp Sangam

Visual of an open discussion forum at Vikalp Sangam

A bunch of nature and humanity enthusiasts travelled from across the country to the outskirts of Baroda city, to a place where squirrels fly, where people 12000 years before today had once drawn some paintings on the rocks which nature and humans are yet to erode, where I reached before the Vodafone puppy could reach (no network zone). In the midst of it was an academy of adivasis (tribals), run by the adivasis for the adivasis, where trees speak in different languages, where no groups meet twice at the same location. These people had travelled from across the distance to have a sangam (meet), and deliberate over vikalp (alternative) to the current development model. They are the Vikalp Sangam, a family of inspiring individuals who have long back left their share of cake because they saw the shortage of bread for many and the high environmental pollution that a cake making process causes. I experienced quite a lot in the two day long visit and here’s what I feel when I thought about this experience.

Man has made great innovations…..we have come a long way

  • Information and Communication technology, transport systems has made distances and time look shorter
  • Innovative technologies have made our lives prosperous, helped us to harness renewable sources of energy, build washing machine, mobiles, cameras

But this doesn’t seem to be good for all

  • Great technologies have been created but current economic systems do not allow equitable access of some great human inventions for everybody.
  • In the process of technology and innovation, there have been certain technologies and practices developed that are not healthy for our environment.

There is clearly a concern for our environmental and well-being for all. One way to address is to ignore the inventions and lead a traditional way, harmonious with nature that produces and consumes locally. This community might have to wait another 50 years before somebody within their own community innovates what was figured as dengue and a remedy of it was found at another corner of the world. That’s how old civilizations have been, that’s how life without Information Communication and Technology can be. The alternative is to study why our economic systems have failed to provide equitable access to the amazing innovations of humanity. Why can’t there be economic systems to promote environment friendly technologies over technologies that are not environmentally friendly, not equitable? Are we incapable of imagining a means of exchange, a market system that can let humans have access to the great inventions to make human lives easier?

My intuition says the answer may lie somewhere in the middle, there may be local economies for certain basic goods with global information economy, global infrastructure economy. That is definitely for the budding economists to debate in a way that will lead to higher people and planetary well-being. When we talk of development, there is always a concern raised for languages, cultures, traditions and the need to preserve them. This voice was stronger at the place I went, that being an epicenter for documenting and preserving Indian languages which are estimated to be around 1600 languages. Let me put it this way, today I have a choice to either stay at Delhi, continue working for Development Alternatives or return to Bhopal and begin a small venture or go to this beautiful adivasi forest area and live like an adivasi. I am informed of the options and the entire bunch of gains and compromises each comes with. Also, I have over time acquired certain skills that support me in what I want to do. I always have the choice amongst these three and many more unlisted alternative choices. My power lies in the power to make the choice. Does the tribals, the small farmers, the construction labourers have the power to make a choice? For having the power to choose, one requires complete information about the alternatives available. Relevant skills enable the person to make the choice. What is disturbing about the current development paradigm is that many don’t have complete information of what all are their choices and more importantly lack the skills that one may require to choose what one wants to do. If one keeps teaching a cobblers’ community how to make best shoes and in the most sustainable way and not tell him or train him of other skills, he can only become the best cobbler and never may think of becoming for instance, a potter. I would have felt betrayed if my parents would have put me in a medical school from standard I where all I knew that there are medicines and all that I could be is a medical doctor.

When I heard stories of Adivasis in Chattisgarh preferring polished rice over natural ones, when I met three hungry poor kids on Baroda street who refused the samosas I bought for them because they wanted wafers, when I met son of a panwadi shop-owner who wants to become a chemical engineer so that he can be employed at ONGC and when I met a driver in Delhi who came from Bihar leaving his large prosperous land to Delhi because he enjoys the city, I felt that happiness is when one has the choice. We don’t question each of our choices on the parameters of rational decision making. We drive our cars, use air conditioning make many more choices that may not seem environmentally socially rational to many. We smoke cigarettes – a perfect example of economic, environmental and social catastrophe.

So let’s rejoice our power to make choices and strive to empower everyone to choose- for their own! Governments and other relevant stakeholders can although influence our choices and I wish they influence it such that we make choices that cares for well-being of all humans and health of our environmental systems!

Anshul Bhamra




The views expressed in the article are those of the author’s and not necessarily those of Development Alternatives.

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