Part III – THE VIRUS, THE MUSLIM AND THE MIGRANT: Rewilding, pirate care and solidarity

THIS IS THE FINAL PART OF A THREE PART POST

India has been effectively under an RSS coup d’etat  since May 2019, after the  extremely dubious “sweeping victory” of the BJP in the Lok Sabha elections. Since then, there has been a concerted and relentless onslaught on democracy from the twin forces of Hindu chaudhrahat and predatory capitalism, an assault accelerated under cover of the lockdown since March 2020.

Part I of this post discussed how the triumphant Hindu supremacist Indian state has been producing Hindu chaudhrahat,  both formally through law, as well as informally (by “stealth”), through the sabotaging of institutions.

Part II discussed the accelerated offensive by state-backed private capital; in all its old forms, of course, including treating human labour as just another resource for it to exploit, like coal or oil; but also in its more recent and dazzling avatar of data capitalism.

The lockdown only made sense if it was used as a breathing space (a sad, unintended pun), to prepare for contact-tracing and infrastructure to deal with the spike in infections that was bound to result upon the lockdown ending. It has instead been used by the current regime as a full blown political emergency. Civil liberties are effectively suspended and large scale arrests of anti-CAA protesters have been carried out. In addition, the mythology of the “Urban Naxal-Jihadi network” has been produced to continue the arrests of  academics, journalists and activists. This deranged script, concocted in RSS HQ, blends the twin projects of Hindu supremacism (“jihadi”) and predatory capital (“urban Maoist”) to effectively turn the lockdown into a lockup for opponents of these projects.

Meanwhile, since the actual pandemic is not the concern of the government, infections and deaths are on the rise, and once the lockdown is lifted we can expect much worse.(There are of course, non-BJP state governments that have done much better, and too much has been written about Kerala as an exemplar for me to add anything here.)

In the midst of the breathless rage and frustration of the moment, the millions of us who still resist both Hindu Rashtra and the depredations of capitalism, are connecting to ideas across the globe that dare to imagine other worlds.

How are we to combine, come together, connect to other stories the virus tells us, find our way to other lanes down which it leads us? How will we find and inhabit  those fissures and chinks in which green things can grow, and solidarities, and compassion and hope.

All over the globe, this pandemic has sparked some extraordinary reflections – on the future of capitalism and anti-capitalism, on ecology, democracy, on representative government, on collective action. This post will take up just three themes, indicatively and necessarily schematically, themes that point the way to radically different modes of thought and activism, modes that refuse to recognize “common sense”, “practicality” and other such sage notions that restrict our imagination.

This post will address the three ideas of Rewilding, Pirate Care and Solidarity as they have emerged in discussions and practices, here as well as around the globe.

Rewilding

Rewilding is a specific ecological strategy, but I want to use the term also as a metaphor for a conscious, political retreat from “civilization”, which is usually counterposed to “wildness”. We will return to rewilding as a metaphor in conclusion.

What is rewilding? “Rewilding wants the earth to become self-willed”.

Anna Souter puts it this way in a thoughtful review of Daisy Hildyard’s book The Second Body, but then she reflects:

“But to rewild a place in order for it to become self-willed is a strange contradiction in terms. One half of the sentence linguistically contains the dualistic subject-object relationship between human and nonhuman that lies behind the current ecological crisis. The second half of the sentence wants the nonhuman to become the active subject. Are both possible? Perhaps there is a sense of temporality at play here, a feeling that rewilding is an action that unfolds over time, where agency is passed over from human to nonhuman and where the timescale and completeness of that handover depends on the specificities of the people and places involved.”

At the heart of rewilding is the idea that all life is simply, life. Souter quotes Daisy Hildyard:

“To be an animal is to be in the possession of a physical body, a body which can eat, drink and sleep; it is also to be integrated within a local ecosystem which overlaps with ecosystems which are larger and further away. To be a living thing is to exist in two bodies. 

Rewilding can be of three kinds:

Pleistocene rewilding entails reintroducing species or descendants of megafauna species from the Pleistocene era, more commonly known as the Ice Age. Rather than the reintroduction of a species that recently disappeared from the area, Pleistocene rewilding potentially involves introducing a completely foreign species to an ecosystem.

Passive rewilding aims to reduce human intervention in ecosystems, giving human cultivated land back to nature, with the goal of restoring natural ecosystem processes and reducing human influence on landscapes.

Translocation rewilding is a more active approach, also involving the reintroduction of species, but the species it focuses on reintroducing are of more recent origin. It seeks to restore missing or dysfunctional processes and ecosystem functions by reintroducing current descendants of lost species.

Serious debates swirl around these ideas that constitute rewilding, but what is clear is that rewilding is not conservation – it is anti-conservation, anti preservation. However, negotiating in the world as it is, requires those who try to rewild, at least at this stage, to build networks with conservation and preservation strategies too. To remind ourselves about what Souter said, “rewilding is an action that unfolds through time.”

Pradip Krishan is someone who practices rewilding in India,  “a form of small-scale ecological restoration”, as he puts it in an article contesting the idea of “compensatory afforestation.”

“An old forest is a whole lot more than the sum of its trees. How do you recreate a community of plants, fungi, microbes, insects and animals that are all part of a living jungle ecosystem? How many decades might it take? And how do you call into being a soil teeming with microorganisms and mycorrhiza that inhabit the humus that has taken 30,000 years to build up?”

Rewilding initiatives are taking place in different parts of India, initiated by middle class people with an ecological vision, the cultural capital to embody it, and the capacity to attract funding, but these facts do not necessarily delegitimize what they are achieving. Because they do involve local communities in the process, who do not otherwise find a voice or the space to act.

Alongside these though, we must take on board living adivasi practices that preserve biodiversity, threatened, and often destroyed by predatory capital in partnership with the Indian state. This 18 part series by different authors on Adivasis and the Indian State in Firstpost discusses the multiple aspects of the crisis  for adivasi lives, beliefs and practices from rampant industrialization. Many of them reiterate the norms of collective living that characterized these communities, and their passion to protect jal, jangal and jameen, and show how both capitalist incursion and bourgeois environmentalism have dispossessed Adivasis of resources they have protected for millenia. Of course there is resistance too, and the pathalgadi movement that claims the sanction of the Constitution is but one example of Adivasi militancy to protect their common lands and collective ways of functioning.

 Conflict between Dalit politics and ecological concerns?

At one level there is an immediate conflict, which arises from the valorizing of historically previous, pre- industrialization forms of social organization, which can only for Dalits, mean the violence of the brutal caste system that confined them to the most humiliating and filthy work. Traditional livelihoods for Dalits do not mean what they mean for Adivasis, or for caste Hindu landowning castes.

Mukul Sharma has outlined the contours of this conflict in Caste and Nature: Dalits and Indian Environmental Politics (2017). But he concludes, from a study of the struggles, myths and memories of different Dalit communities, that a Dalit environmentalism alive to caste oppression is very much possible and does exist.

The proponents of Dalit capitalism, like Chandrabhan Prasad, are the contemporary heirs of an earlier moment of BR Ambedkar’s thought on machinery and technology. Ambedkar’s text Gandhism reflects the understanding of the European Enlightenment that

“the distinctively human function is reason, the purpose of which is to enable man to observe, meditate, cogitate, study and discover the beauties of the universe…and control the animal elements in his life.”

Ambedkar goes on to add, “Man thus occupies the highest place in the scheme of animate existence” and says, contra Gandhi, that

“the slogan of a democratic society must be machinery, and more machinery.”

Gandhi’s celebration of manual labour (voluntary for savarnas), cannot of course be shared by Ambedkar who knows what coerced manual labour is, for his people.

However, there appears to be a radical shift in Ambedkar’s thought from this high modernist and anthropomorphic instrumentalizing of nature, especially after his conversion to Buddhism. According to VM Ravi Kumar,  Ambedkar offers us in his last text Buddha and his Dhamma, an “egalitarian environmentalism”.

“For Ambedkar, a biotic world does not have any superior and inferior qualities,” he says, and quotes Ambedkar –

“all individual things are analogues to one another and therefore, no one can be regarded as the final sources to any other.”

Ravi Kumar draws a direct link between Ambedkarian Buddhism (or Neo-Buddhism) and a perspective of ecological justice, for Neo-Buddhism proposes an organic relationship with all living forms. Ambedkar, says Ravi Kumar, invoked Buddha to reflect upon this aspect as follows:

“Love is not enough; what is required is Maitri. It is wider than love. It means fellowship not merely with human beings but with all living beings.”

Thus, Ambedkar proposes what Ravi Kumar calls  “a self emphatic and reflexive ethical code for human beings while engaging with other species, meaning he was not satisfied with the dominant anthropocentric conception of the world but prefers an inclusive bio-ecological centric world wherein all species have equal rights for their existence.”

This later development in Ambedkar’s thought suggests that his views on technology and its relationship to nature were reshaped by a Buddhist perception of the interrelatedness of all things in the universe, while retaining a socialist/Marxist critique of the deeply iniquitous Brahminical caste order.

Life itself

What the Covid pandemic has taught us is that we can no longer continue to think of life as “human” life alone, counterposing it hierarchically to all other forms of life as (mere) “nature.”

Human life is part of nature and conversely, the virus is life too.

One of the most informative and insightful essays on the roots and ramifications of the pandemic emerged from China in February 2020, written by the Chuang Collective. In Social Contagion, the Chuang Collective argued that  because capitalist production relates to the non-human world at a more fundamental level, two things follow:

a) the “natural world,” including its microbiological substrata, cannot be understood without reference to how society organizes production, because the two are not separate.

b) the only communism worth the name is one that includes the potential of a fully politicized naturalism.

The first point leads to the assertion that

“the basic logic of capital helps to take previously isolated or harmless viral strains and place them in hyper-competitive environments that favor the specific traits which cause epidemics,” such as

“rapid viral lifecycles, the capacity for zoonotic jumping between carrier species, and the capacity to quickly evolve new transmission vectors. These strains tend to stand out precisely because of their virulence. In absolute terms, it seems like developing more virulent strains would have the opposite effect, since killing the host sooner provides less time for the virus to spread. The common cold is a good example of this principle, generally maintaining low levels of intensity that facilitate its widespread distribution through the population. But in certain environments, the opposite logic makes much more sense: when a virus has numerous hosts of the same species in close proximity, and especially when these hosts may already have shortened lifecycles, increased virulence becomes an evolutionary advantage.”

I read this as a reminder that viruses have “agency”, and the will to survive, just as much as humans do. For the virus then, the human is but a means to an end, just as for capitalism, nature is but a means to an end.

However, the second point, about communism requiring a “fully politicized naturalism” seems to be limited by an orthodox Marxist frame.  The article uses the term just that once, and does not explain it further at any point. So one is left to interpret it in the way in which that term is usually used. Naturalism is generally understood to mean a philosophy that sees nature as explicable by science, thus rejecting supernatural or spiritual explanations for natural phenomena. So it seems the Chuang Collective understands nature as fully comprehensible in the terms set by science, and “politicized naturalism” would then be a rejection of capitalism on a scientific basis. But this would require a rejection of all knowledge systems that do not conform to “Science” –  the “supernatural”, the “spiritual”. But perhaps at this point in the history of the earth, these distinctions and hierarchies cannot and should not be sustained? After all, we are coming to understand how the earth and its biodiversity have been protected for millennia by practices and beliefs that cannot be contained within the framework of science.  One could attach an entire reading list here, but consider the work of Walter Mignolo, the volume edited by Sita Venkateswar and Emma Hughes, this essay on eco-religion in Jharkhand by Radhika Borde,  or this essay in National Geographic.

I would however, like to pick up on the first idea, which I have chosen to read as the “agency” of the virus, drawing on the work of Bruno Latour, who has argued that the nature/culture divide is the founding mythology of modern thought. Latour and Michel Callon, who have collaborated extensively, are noted for their development of Actor Network Theory in which they suggest that scientific theory emerges out of complex networks actor-networks in which human and non-human participate equally – the latter including everything from laboratory equipment to the object of study. This last aspect of their understanding is often misunderstood. “Agency” as I understand them to be implying here, suggests that humanity is not the only force in the universe that functions with purpose.

In a recent piece in the context of the pandemic, Latour reiterated this understanding. He said we have been forced to come to

“the sudden and painful realization that the classical definition of society – humans among themselves – makes no sense. The state of society depends at every moment on the associations between many actors, most of whom do not have human forms. This is true of microbes – as we have known since Pasteur – but also of the internet, the law, the organization of hospitals, the logistics of the state, as well as the climate. And of course, in spite of the noise surrounding a “state of war” against the virus, it is only one link in a chain where the management of stocks of masks or tests, the regulation of property rights, civic habits, gestures of solidarity, count exactly as much in defining the degree of virulence of the infectious agent. Once the entire network of which it is only one link is taken into account, the same virus does not act in the same way in Taiwan, Singapore, New York, or Paris. The pandemic is no more a “natural” phenomenon than the famines of the past or the current climate crisis. Society has long since moved beyond the narrow confines of the social sphere.

But whom has this “painful realization” hit?  Humans are not a homogeneous mass. There are those who run the world, and then there are those who evade, resist, or go with the flow of how the world is run. The language of war and counterinsurgency that permeates discourse of states around the virus, is testimony to the fact that nothing has been learnt by those in power.

What is missing in Latour’s analysis is the identifying of the precise tendency that has led us to this pass.  Joshua Clover points out that

“Ecological despoliation is a consequence not of humans, as the name “Anthropocene” and Latour’s essay suggest, but of industrial production and its handmaidens…

Clover insists that capital, with its “inescapable drive to reproduce itself”, is not merely one actor in a network, equivalent to other actors, but in a sense, the director and producer of this script.

“The compulsion to produce, and to produce at a lower cost than competitors, in turn compels the burning of cheap and dirty fuels to drive the factories, to move the container ships, even to draw forth from the ground the material components of “green energy” sources.”

But the script produced by capitalism, while responsible for where we are today, is not the only drama in town. There are other dramatic productions that are simultaneously showing in multiple, smaller theatres.

Is ‘green energy’ the way?

This last point Clover makes about the “material components of green energy” has been at the centre of a huge controversy among Left ecologists recently. A 2019 film by Jeff Gibbs, produced by Michael Moore, Planet of the Humans (see the film here), claims that green energy (wind, solar power, biomass) cannot solve the problem of climate change because

a) the components required for these (for example for solar panels), are materials like quartz that have to be mined in the same ecologically damaging ways, while biomass energy requires deforestation (and turning of food crop farming into crops that can be used to produce energy).

b) that since sunshine and wind are intermittent, these forms of energy require fossil fuel backup, and so green energy is not in fact replacing fossil fuels and

c) that green forms of transport like electric cars, still tap into conventional electricity grids run by fossil fuels.

The film also argues that capitalism has taken on green energy production as its latest profit making enterprise. Although the film has been severely attacked for this claim, among others, this argument is not a new or startling one. In India, green energy is the domain of powerful industry players like Tata and Adani and is fast becoming a “hotspot for renewable energy investors” from around the world. This is in fact true everywhere.  Barbara Harris-White and Elinor Harris have argued for the UK that “the politics of renewable energy is enmeshed in the interests of capital.”

The film, having torn down green energy claims to controlling climate change, offers no alternatives, but concludes with a Malthusian pronouncement about the urgent need for population control. It has come under tremendous attack from climate change activists for feeding oil and gas company claims against renewable energy. The film is charged by climate change activists with presenting old data to bolster its argument, saying that clean technology has made huge advances in the decade the film took to be completed, but the film maker denies his data is dated.

Amidst this controversy, the film was taken down by YouTube on a copyright violation claim by a photographer whose clip was used in the film, and who is severely critical of the film.  (Please note it can still be watched at the link I have given above). This does look like censorship by other means, because the clip has been duly credited. The photographer claims violation of fair use only because he does not agree with the use of his clip in the context of the argument of the film, which he rejects.

Now, without entering into the details of the controversy, or the quality of the film as a film, I would like to address what I see as the key question that the film raises. We can set aside the population control argument because it is not the poor masses of the earth that consume energy, but the “top 10 percent of the global income spectrum  that consumes 20 times as much final energy as the bottom 10 percent.”

The key question really is this –  is green energy simply becoming part of the discourse of “sustainable development”, which as Thomas Lemke has pointed out, is central to ‘the government of new domains of regulation and intervention’?  Nature in this understanding, is the ‘environment’ of the capitalist system, and needs to be protected for that reason.

“In an age of ‘sustainable development’, previously untapped areas are being opened in the interests of capitalization and chances for commercial exploitation. Nature and life itself are being drawn into the economic discourse of efficient resource management’ (Lemke 2002:55).”

Or as Arturo Escobar puts it,

“the key to the survival of the rainforest is seen as lying in the genes of the species, the usefulness of which could be released for profit through genetic engineering and biotechnology in the production of commercially valuable products, such as pharmaceuticals. Capital thus develops a conservationist tendency, significantly different from its usual reckless, destructive form” (cited by Lemke 2002:56).

The key idea here is ‘regulation’ – the environment is to be regulated in the interests of long-term extraction. Within this perspective, even renewable sources of energy are envisaged as being the means to ensure endless production and consumption. A characteristic statement illustrating this perspective is Barack Obama’s Inaugural Address after his first election, in which he declared poetically,

“We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil”

To what end?

“To fuel our cars and run our factories.”

There is no sense here that assumptions about consumption, urbanization, and endless growth will have to be drastically rethought.

Bolivia’s Law of Mother Earth and Integral Development for Living Well (2010), which establishes eleven rights of Mother Earth, including the right to life, biodiversity, pure water, clean air, and freedom from genetic modification and contamination, is potentially revolutionary. Who is to protect these rights, though? If local communities were the guarantors of these rights, that would mean a significant break from the nation-state paradigm. However, this law too, appears to be designed to enable the state to facilitate resource extraction and industrial development while protecting ‘Mother Earth.’  Vice-President Alvaro Garcia Linera stated at the law’s promulgation ceremony: ‘If we have to extract some mineral, we have to extract it, but finding equilibrium between the satisfaction of needs and protecting Mother Earth.’

So that’s all it is? Sustainable development – extending the life of “natural resources” so that capitalism can carry on with its business as usual?

The much talked about Green Deal, espoused by left-of-centre forces in the global North, calls for reduction of dependence of their economies on fossil fuels, and the curbing of greenhouse gas emissions. It also aims to guarantee new high-paying jobs in clean energy industries.

But is this too, simply a way of keeping capitalist production alive and well? A movement espousing Degrowth, argues it is. That Green Energy without a rejection of the capitalist imperative of perpetual economic growth, is meaningless.

Degrowth, the pandemic and radical change

Degrowth rejects GDP as an indicator of economic well-being and proposes a framework for transformation to a lower and sustainable level of production and consumption, ‘a shrinking of the economic system to leave more space for human cooperation and ecosystems.’

Degrowth calls for

*shrinking the economy

*downscaling production and consumption in a way that increases human well-being and enhances ecological conditions and equity on the planet

* focus on sufficiency not efficiency

*innovation not just to take technology to higher levels (I Phone Level n!) but to build new social and technical arrangements that will enable us to live convivially and frugally.

Degrowth calls for a future where societies live within their ecological means, with

“open, localized economies and resources more equally distributed through new forms of democratic institutions…Degrowth proposes…a shrinking of the economic system to leave more space for human cooperation and ecosystems.

In the context of the pandemic, the Degrowth movement has made it clear that moving towards a low-energy society remains the only way to avoid climate catastrophe. Thus, they are in conversation with Green Energy proponents, but insist that while wind and solar power, depending on where they are sited, can be among the ‘lowest-impact’ and ‘lowest-carbon’ forms of energy, Green Energy cannot be a substitute for Degrowth.

“But ‘lowest-impact’ is far from ‘low impact’, and lower carbon is nowhere near ‘zero carbon’. Nor, as we have seen, is it realistic to expect such forms of energy to replace current fossil fuel use, and certainly not in the time necessary to prevent the most disastrous effects of climate change. Moving towards a low-energy society remains the only path for avoiding a climate catastrophe.”

(Here is a useful article comparing points of difference and convergence between Green Deal politics and Degrowth, and their relative strengths and weaknesses.)

In the specific context of the pandemic, degrowth proponents say:

“Whilst the current slow-down of economic activity may have some analogies with degrowth, this is clearly not the societal transformation we are struggling for. Instead, the crisis shows the failure of the current political-economic system and its inadequacies in dealing with such crises in a humane and just way. Degrowth offers a more resilient, just, and sustainable alternative way of organising society.

Most encouraging of all, the current crisis highlights the potential for a degrowth transformation across all scales of society. States are planning, regulating and being challenged, communities are creating mutual support networks, and individuals are radically adjusting their way of living.

(You might like to see the 4 part post by Aditya Nigam here on Kafila that also reflects on some of these issues.)

Food sovereignty, commoning

Any attempt to deal with the ecological crisis in centralized ways at the level of states is bound to fail. The only way out is through secession into decentralized, local ways of life, a replenishing of the commons, and rejecting the idea of growth altogether. Such a retreat is not a passive apolitical act, but a deeply political blow to the continuing violence of corporate capital and the state systems that sustain it.

The two ideas listed above connect with rewilding and degrowth to create a tapestry of linked practices that could escape, even triumph over capitalism’s dreary concrete, like the pipal that finds roots in high-rise building walls, threatening to split them open as it pushes its roots deep inside; like the weeds that spring up in cracks in grey pavements.

Food sovereignty is a radical alternative to “food security,” which refers only to the availability of food. Food sovereignty on the other hand, as defined by the Declaration of Nyeleni (2007) is :

“the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems. It puts the aspirations and needs of those who produce, distribute and consume food at the heart of food systems and policies rather than the demands of markets and corporations.”

Food sovereignty includes subsistence farming but is not limited to it, for everyone cannot grow their own food. In addition therefore, it is based on

*sharing sustainable and organic food production methods;

*organizing to sell food collectively for fair prices;

*protecting biodiversity and genetic resources within ecosystems;

*lowering costs while improving the quality and quantity of yields;

*educating their governments to put smallholder farmers’ interests before those of multinational corporations.

In Latin America there is La Via Campesina, made up of 200 million family farmers, peasants, landless people, rural workers, indigenous people, rural youth and rural women, which is a food sovereignty network. South Africa too, has a strong food sovereignty campaign. In University of Witswatersrand in Johannesburg, a fledgling food sovereignty initiative by faculty and students has started planting vegetables and fruit trees on campus, with the idea that gradually the campus could become self sufficient in food, and no person on campus would go hungry. India too has a growing food sovereignty movement. In an article here in Kafila, J Devika made some concrete suggestions for food sovereignty in the context of Kerala, albeit she conceives of it in this particular piece, as state-led.

A related idea is “commoning“.

As David Bollier and Silke Helfrich put it, commoning is not a utopian fantasy – “Commoning is everywhere but widely misunderstood.” In Free, fair and alive: The insurgent power of the commons (New Society Publishers 2019), they say:

“Our capacity to self organize to address needs, independent of the state or market, can be seen in community forests, cooperatively run farms and fisheries, open source design and manufacturing communities with global reach…The elemental human impulse…to help others, to improve existing practices, ripens into a stable social form with countless variations: a commons.

The impulse to common plays out in the most varied circumstances – impoverished urban neighbourhoods, landscapes hit by natural disasters, subsistence farms in the heart of Africa, social networks that come together in cyberspace.”

The commons is about more than just sharing, say Bollier and Helfrich. “It is about sharing and bringing into being durable social systems for producing shareable things and activities.”

For example, as universities increasingly get privatized and inaccessible, especially with the accelerated thrust towards online education post-Covid, we could think about how to bring about durable social systems for a knowledge commons, free of both state and  market.

And we saw across India, in the face of the terrible state-created tragedy of millions of migrant workers stranded far from their homes, the way in which non-state, non-market networks of commons spontaneously emerged, of resources, food and solidarity,

Pirate Care and solidarity

One recognition from the Covid 19 lockdown globally, is the value of care work and the enormous burden it places on women. Morse and Anderson have termed it “the shadow pandemic, which is rapidly unraveling the limited, but precious, progress that the world has made toward gender equality in the past few decades.”

Degrowth feminists have issued a statement calling for a recognition of care as work:

“Our intervention therefore asks: how can we use this moment to democratically rebuild social organization of labor and care work? To reconstruct the realm of public welfare that has been so depleted by decades of neoliberalism, austerity, structural adjustment, and the privatization of education and healthcare? How can this opening lead our economies towards emancipation from the grips of the growth paradigm founded in heteropatriarchal capitalist principles? A feminist degrowth project calls for an end to the subalternization of reproduction in service to the realm of production.

The feminist degrowth response is one within an efflorescence of thinking around this core feminist idea. See the following links, I am citing just a few out of many.

Vibhuti Patel and Lea Goelnitz;  Sarah Tuckey; Polly Toynbee; Helen Lewis.

Let us now consider a rather subversive take on care, “Pirate Care”. This is a conceptual intervention that tries to map activism “at the intersection of care and piracy”, in a world in which:

“captains get arrested for saving people’s lives on the sea; where a person downloading scientific articles faces 35 years in jail; where people risk charges for bringing contraceptives to those who otherwise couldn’t get them. Folks are getting in trouble for giving food to the poor, medicine to the sick, water to the thirsty, shelter to the homeless….

These practices are experimenting with self-organisation, alternative approaches to social reproduction and the commoning of tools, technologies and knowledges. Often they act disobediently in expressed non-compliance with laws, regulations and executive orders that criminalise the duty of care by imposing exclusions along the lines of class, gender, race or territory.

This is an initiative drawing on the experience in Europe, but we have seen in India too, during the terrible crisis for migrant labour – how those who tried to help them reach home, faced state action of different kinds – government officials were suspended, political activists arrested.

Care work in civil disobedience of oppressive laws is Pirate Care, which along with Rewilding or withdrawing from a civilization built by and for capitalism – these can be slogans for our times.

And finally – solidarity.

In the light of all of the above, we are faced with a fresh set of questions on solidarity. What kind of creative thought is possible, what kind of transformative action – globally, locally, as individuals, as communities, as collectives?

How do we, the People of India – who declared ourselves during the electrifying, militantly non-violent, visionary protests against CAA-NPR-NRC – how will we manifest ourselves after lockdown ends, and in the face of massive state repression, in our bid to reclaim the values of the Preamble?

How will we deal with the fractures amongst ourselves, that have since emerged,  in constructive ways that do not further empower authoritarian states and in India, the projects of Hindu chaudhrahat and predatory capitalism?

How do we foreground and reject privilege, how do we talk to one another, while building solidarity? How do we respect difference of opinion among ourselves, both substantively on understanding of issues and on political strategy (escalate or not), recognizing that mistakes can be made, and that positions can change? We should be able to talk through the differences of opinion between an uncompromising anti-NRC position (which I share) and one that sees value for the NRC in Assam.

How do we accept that even in a joint struggle against an unconstitutional law, different sections even within the affected group of people, will find different ways of protesting? That there cannot be a charismatic leader who will declare “this the only way”?The denunciatory mode on social media and “cancel culture” against allies, is self- destructive and counterproductive, as is being widely recognized even by young activists of colour in the USA like Ayishat Akanbi.

At the very  minimum and only as a beginning towards larger goals, we should work to rebuild the  mass civil disobedience against the CAA-NPR-NRC that was disrupted by the lockdown and the pandemic.  And then we must push onwards towards degrowth, pirate care, rewilding and insurgent commoning.

(I would like to thank Urmimala Sarkar for the pairing of lockup with lockdown, and Paresh Hate for introducing me to the Pirate Care site.)

 

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