Ambedkar and the Environmental Tradition

The 125th birth anniversary of Ambedkar was celebrated in April 2016 all around, so much so that the United Nations, for the first time, observed this day with a focus on achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). As we know, the 17 goals along with 169 targets and 304 indicators, adopted in September 2015, aspire to transform our world by balancing the three dimensions of sustainable development: economic, social and environmental. The ‘plan of action for people, planet and prosperity’ has environment at its core, along with poverty and inequality: to ‘protect planet’, create ‘healthy environment’, and ensure equality, dignity and development ‘in harmony with nature’. And Ambedkar is found in this regard to be an apt and inspiring leader.

The world can see traces of Ambedkar’s vision in the SDGs and can find his views relevant for environmental sustainability, but not the Indian environmentalists! Indian environmental movements marginalize Ambedkar. From a historical past, environmental scholars have placed Gandhi at the apex of their inspiration. Recently, Nehru and Indira Gandhi too have been constructed through an ecological lens. However, Ambedkar’s engagement with the environmental question has been relatively unexplored, even when his thoughts and interventions on nature, village, land, agriculture, water, community, industry, technology and science are some of the enduring issues of India’s environmental and political traditions. In comparison with Gandhi, credited with having an intuitive critique of modern civilization, Ambedkar has often been criticized for his modernization vision, which it is argued, drew heavily on the west for inspiration (Nagaraj 2010: 56-7)

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Green and Saffron: Hindu Nationalism and Indian Environmental Politics

Cover - Green and Saffron

My book Green and Saffron is just out. The book details and an interview  are on the blog of Permanent BlackFrom the publishers’ notice:

This book examines contemporary environmental issues and movements in independent India on the one hand, and the development of Hindu conservative ideology and politics on the other. It includes the first thorough investigation of Anna Hazare’s movement in Maharashtra.

Mukul Sharma argues that these two social currents—environmental conservation and Hindu politics—have forged bonds which reveal the hijacking of environmentalism by conservative and retrograde worldviews. This, he says, constitutes a major aspect of hinterland political life which neither academics nor journalists have seriously analysed. Environmentalism and politics cannot be seen as separate from each other, for environmental issues are being defined in new ways by an anti-secular form of Hinduism. In turn, Hindu ideologues are gaining mileage for their ideology by espousing major environmental projects. Continue reading “Green and Saffron: Hindu Nationalism and Indian Environmental Politics”

The Making of an Authority: Anna Hazare in Ralegan Siddhi

(I am posting a much longer version of my previous article that will also respond to some of the queries and comments. This article is based on my research, field work and interviews in Ralegan Sidhi since 1991.)

This article is focussed mainly on understanding how exactly the rural environmental works in the journey of Anna Hazare and Ralegan Sidhi are articulated within a coherent ideological framework, to acquire their legitimacy and authority, which are fed by, and fed into, some dominant political cultures of the state. Any political theory and practice, built on this framework, can open the possibilities of a strengthening of the conservative and nationalist forces. Certainly, the ideology of a rural organisation or a movement and its appeal is not based on a single plank. In the case of Anna Hazare and his programme, though the developmental and the environmental works form the core of its ideological structures, it includes other issues as well. At times it provides a different scale of activities to its audience, but eventually reinforces its principal ideological framework. Some understanding of the ideological DNA of the green villagers and the fellow environmental travellers also gives us an idea as to what elements of this endeavour and ideology motivate villagers and environmentalists.

The Historical Context of Maharashtra
Anna Hazare and Ralegan Siddhi are not a new addition to the social history of the Maharashtra state. Indeed, the movement has borrowed many features from the historical evolution of the region, and the political culture of the state, with which it negotiates at different levels. There are many factors at play, though three are of prime importance in the context of this paper: (i) nativism and regionalism in Maharashtrian culture and politics (ii) structure and nature of caste and class and (iii) agrarian economy and local environmentalism.
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The Making of Anna Hazare

[This piece is based on my extensive field work on Anna Hazare and his movement in Ralegan Sidhi over some years and is also a part of my forthcoming book Green and Saffron: Hindu Nationalism and Indian Environmental Politics. MS]

The anti-corruption movement, spearheaded by Anna Hazare, and the passage of the Lokpal Bill have generated unprecedented interest amongst a wide spectrum of society about the ideas, politics and organisations of civil society in general, and Anna Hazare in particular. Hazare’s anti-corruption crusade merits attention not only for its importance in ensuring a corruption-free society, but also due to its multifaceted nature. Hazare’s politics however has to be seen in a larger framework and in a wider historical context. Howsoever laudable the goals of anti-corruption movement in India today, the movement is not beyond the categories of gender, caste, authority, democracy, nationalism and ultra-nationalism. Far from transcending them, the movement is transforming and being transformed by the implicit deployment of such categories. I wish to place Hazare in the larger context of his environmental journeys, where the elusive but crucial element is one of authority that is exercised due to a large degree of consent and conservatism. Yet, almost all accounts on him, largely celebratory in nature, do not examine the ideology and politics of his works. These are crucial not only to critically assess the present and the future of our anti-corruption movements, but also to interrogate certain brands of civil society activisms and environmentalisms. Continue reading “The Making of Anna Hazare”

Bhopal Disaster, Corporate Responsibility and Peoples’ Rights

2 December 2009 will mark the 25th anniversary of the Bhopal disaster. It was the night of 2nd December 1984 when over 35 tons of toxic gases leaked from a pesticide plant in Bhopal, owned by the US based multinational Union Carbide Corporation (UCC)’s Indian affiliate Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL). In the next 2-3 days more than 7,000 people died and many more were injured. Over the last 25 years at least 15,000 more people have died from illnesses related to the gas exposure. Today, more than 100,000 people continue to suffer from chronic and debilitating illnesses, for which treatment is largely ineffective. The disaster shocked the world and raised fundamental questions about government and corporate responsibility for industrial accidents that devastate human life and local environments. Yet 25 years later, the survivors and various organisations are still fighting for justice. Issues of plant site, toxic wastes and contaminated water have not been resolved. And strikingly, no one has been held to account for the leak and its appalling consequences. Bhopal is not just an incident of industrial disaster and human suffering from the last century. It is very much an issue of the present century of corporate accountability, peoples’ rights and government responsibility. The lack of mandatory laws and norms governing multinationals, legal complexities, and government failures are serious obstacles in ensuring justice for the people of Bhopal, and for the victims of corporate complicity in crimes against environment, peoples’ lives and safety. Continue reading “Bhopal Disaster, Corporate Responsibility and Peoples’ Rights”

Grootboom, Mayawati and Supreme Courts

Mrs Irene Grootboom lived with her and sister’s family in a shack, about 20 meters square in Wallacedene, an informal settlement without water, electricity, sewage or rubbish collection services in the western Cape Town, South Africa. Most of the residents had been on the waiting list for subsidised housing for years. Mrs Grootboom and a few hundred others decided to take matters into their hands in 1998 and occupied a vacant farm that was privately owned and had been earmarked for low-cost housing. They were evicted through a court order, their new-built homes were bulldozed and their possessions burned. When a High Court judgement granted them government shelter, the government appealed to the Constitutional Court. The Court had to interpret article 26 of the new South African Constitution, Republic of South Africa, which provides that a) ‘everyone has the right to have access to adequate housing’; b) ‘the state must take reasonable legislative and other measures (such as policy and programs) to achieve the progressive realisation of this right’; and c) ‘within its available resources. The court decided to test whether the Cape Metropolitan Council’s housing program was ‘reasonable’.
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My Name is Not Khan

Migration is a matter of my life. I first moved to Delhi to pursue my education. Later, I had to often leave my country to work. Immigration grew, and increasingly became tiring for me – various counters, security checks, scanning, and questions began scaring me. I carry a few baggages, but I think my family and I must carry all our rights with them when I move. I am a human being, whether I am documented or not. Immigration systems and detentions need reforms and alternatives to ensure that I am treated with full respect for my rights and human dignity. We need to support each other – tens of thousands of individuals will be harassed and detained tonight, tomorrow, and the next day in the present system.

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