Reflections on Udaan 2013, Bangalore
Disclaimer: This is a personal reflection and not a journalistic or official report.
I do not remember the exact date I saw the invitation mail from 350.org nor am I so active to go check it in my mail-box. For it really doesn’t matter. What matters here is the content of the invitation and the days I spent by accepting the invitation (and 350.org accepting my request in return). I am talking about Udaan: Global Power Shift India, a gathering of “bright” people who want to change the world by focusing primarily on the phenomena of climate change. The event was held in Fireflies Ashram in Bangalore from 15-19 December.
I had registered my e-mail address with 350.org for regular updates on climate change (a major part of my work). I thought 350.org to be just another website on the web trying to cover its share of readers/participants. The very next day I got an invitation for Udaan. I am a skeptic when it comes about the gathering of “youth” for any initiative for social change. For the youth today is a good quality manufactured product of the “culture industry” with its immense capacity of voluntary blindness and apathy. However, I was asked by my Director to write back to the 350 team and show an interest to attend the event. And so I did.
Consciousness on climate-change
I have never had any patience and compassion for the nay-say-er, for it is an obstacle to the movement for a just-change. However, one has to take them along, if not, how can it be called a universal movement? Through our dialogues and presentations on climate change in Udaan we realized that, though there is no immediate and concrete evidence of climate change and its impacts, but a lot of scientific and social perspectives help us draw an analogy between carbon and company versus environmental and social impacts. Concrete evidence and an alternative model has been the biggest challenge for radicals who want to shift the ‘balance of power’.
I am not a person of numbers and natural science. Social science is my forte and here is my insight:
Though there is no concrete evidence on climate change and its impact, doesn’t mean we keep moving in the same direction and pace. Let’s look at the events from a social and humanitarian perspective. The dominance of the Western mind and the emergence of “Thou art not that” philosophy supplemented by mastery over nature and its impact in the form of the industrialization of the world is one way to understand the issue in discussion. The amount of carbon emitted since the industrial revolution by human activity has no parallel in the human history, and unfortunately, we still continue to do so with even a faster rate. Plus, it would be utterly stupid and unethical to avoid the human, non-human and environmental cost of industrialization in measuring the impact of climate change. Someone else is paying the price for our blind consumerism of energy, food and electronics. Where do you think your energy and food resources come from; money? I believe, we have not reached that level of stupidity to credit money as our source of livelihood (and God never was!). It comes from the belly of the earth: primarily the jungles, lands and rivers of the tribals in the naxal belt of India, it comes from the poor peasant who cannot afford to feed himself and finally from the Tatas, Ambanis, Birlas and the carnivorous political animals of India and the world who think of this land as a means to satisfy their animal spirit and in return also making the populace believe through the culture industry that the animal spirit is the right thing!
Since the time India embraced the ‘invisible hand of the market’, millions have been displaced losing their livelihood, culture and their sovereignty as a human. The BJP and company whole heartedly mobilized the entire nation to save its imaginary idea of Hindusim while no peoples are ready to fight for the marginalized. Why? Introspect! Now adding the non-human and environmental cost of industrialization; why in our blindness to sustain ourselves we forget that we also share this planet with animals that have inhibited this planed ages before humans evolved. They were never a threat to the planet’s existence. We humans have become a threat not only to ourselves but to the entire organic life on the planet. And what about the right of the “nature” to exist by itself? In our blind quest to dominate and fill our spiritual emptiness we have created havoc which would end up gulping every living thing in this world. Stop being passive consumers, if not for climate change, then at least for its social and humanitarian repercussions.
So, if you still consider climate change as part of the evolutionary process of earth in which you are a mere spectator, as proposed by many, you still ought to fight for it is about the very existence of the planet and not humans alone who are probably the only perpetrators of “cynicism”.
On the role of youth
Filled with my skeptic ideas on the role of youth and armed with my witty arguments I am always ready to pounce on an opponent. However, five days in Udaan helped me reconstruct my thoughts on the youth and its role in the politics of “change”. In all we were somewhere around 120 out of which 100 were participants and the rest included the facilitators of the event.
We had gathered from all parts of the country, participants not only from the cities but also from places like Chattisgarh and Jharkhand. I was surprised to see people from business, medical and engineering sector at the event and we all had come for one thing: to understand and change the science, politics and economics of climate change. Many being working professionals in this sector had a very good understanding of climate change and for those who didn’t; the sessions helped them understand the matter without any ‘intellectual’ discrimination’.
For a long time I have been planning to start a library in the suburbs of Mumbai (to spread “critical consciousness”) for the suburbs really lacks one good open library for the working class. Like the millions of other ideas, this too stays in my head and waits to be born into reality. Thanks to my meeting with Sahshikant Kaja (fellow participant) who told me about his startup company in Hyderabad. Rewheel is a social entrepreneurship company which manufactures cloth bags (dead cheap!) and for this it hires women from the slums. Thus, helping produce green bags and improving the economic conditions of the women which would automatically improve the Human Development Index and empower women. For more details check: https://www.facebook.com/Rewheel
This put me in shame. Really! Living in the most privileged city in the country (Bombay) and just juggling with ideas and not able to start a library came as a self-check for me. So, any reader from Bombay who would like to be a part of my initiative, please get in touch.
There were many other young fellows with their own green startups and many with just their ideas. Sashikant’s story inspired me for my own initiative and also the hope that the “youth” still has the potential to change the exploitative structure and replace it with a just-system.
Real folks are from Chattisgarh and Jharkhand!
How easy it is to read and talk or what is called the “intellectual” stuff, and how difficult it is to be on the ground of oppression and fight! There were these simple looking and also simply ‘dressed’ people from Chattisgarh and Jharkhand who had come to share their struggle against the MoU wadis (counter parts of Mao wadis). They represent a part of the country which represents and (in fact!) has a history and culture of its own which it is desperately trying to preserve. However, they are finding it extremely difficult to do so because of us city folks who, blinded by consumerism and political apathy are giving an excuse to the rulers of the world to produce more and more to satisfy our “greed” which ironically is manufactured by the rulers! We are forcing another set of peoples to accept what we believe is “right” despite knowing or not ‘wanting’ to know that it is not!
Here is an excerpt of my conversation with Ujiyaar Singh on the mining and Naxal issue in Chattisgarh:
According to Ujiyaar, ‘the companies and government are in cahoots and want to drive them out of their land so that they can mine and mine and mine until the land is stripped off of everything it has. The company is lurking villagers with huge amounts of money in return for their land. Ujjiyar just doesn’t know how to make his fellow villagers understand than the land is more precious and a constant source of livelihood than money. The women are in the forefront of their struggle while men stay drunk and do petty jobs, but not join their struggle. Ujiyaar is disillusioned with the Naxals as well; his justification is the stories of his friends who had joined the Red army and how they and the moment were exploited and also his personal communication with some in the Red army.
However, he did appreciate my point of Naxals not being absolutely corrupt and it is because of their resistance that the mining activities is in a check or without them we would have lost our jungles long time back.
He is so disillusioned with the speed at which their struggle is losing the battle and the speed at which the ‘haves’ are winning theirs, that at times he feels he would better be dead. On the question of what keeps him moving, he said, ‘due to this massive destruction of our land, we villagers will die anyways, so why not better fight than retire and come to the cities to live a life of poverty and filth’.
A message to all from the Chattisgarh team: Please come and join us in our fight to save mother earth.
Violence Vs Non-violence
Nothing more bothers a revolutionary than the question of the means to achieve the end of a revolution i.e. violence or non-violence?
Considering the merits of both, the dialectical principle of Marxism and the non-violent school of Gandhi and Martin Luther, one is just unable to decide which school of thought to go with.
So, I decided to have a talk with Nityanand (Nity) and Vaishali on the same question.
Nity’s answer: I don’t have a problem with violence. If you want to use violence you are free to do so, but one also has to look at its long term effect and also the cost that one would incur on the civilians who may be just forced into violence. And violence gives a chance to the State to retaliate with violence, whereas non-violent direct action is a tool which makes things uneasy and forces the State to mend its ways.
Vaishali’s answer: I identify myself with Left ideology, but when you are dealing with the masses, you have to ensure their safety and livelihood. Civilians won’t be able to deal with violence and it also provides the state to retaliate with violence. So, this way non-violence helps one to mobilize and agitate without losing lives.
This for me was a new perspective on the question of violence Vs non-violence. It helped me solve several questions, but not all.
How to identify a “good” NGO/Civil Society Organisation
In this world driven by money and the vicious circle it generates, its dissenters need money (resources) to fight money. The NGO sector is no longer a sector of dedicated individuals who give up their comfortable lives and chose to fight all their life, but has now become another hand of the market and a big business. For instance, Indian NGO’s get 10,000 crore rupees ‘foreign funding’ every year, and there is no record of under-the-table supply. The more the world is becoming global, the more it is becoming inter-linked. The global financial system and off-shoot companies of giant players are making transparency difficult and almost impossible for an individual to trace the source of funding to any charity/social work institution.
So, I thought I would talk on this issue to Chaitanya Kumar, Global Co-ordinator for 350.org on how does he identify any organization as “good”?
1. It is the issue that the organization is working on. For him ‘climate change’ is the most important issue and so is the reason he is working with 350.org.
2. The level of democracy and acceptance of ideas in an organization also speaks a lot on its functioning and ideals of changing things around.
3. Also the size of the organization. He prefers to work with small organizations as it helps develop personal bonds in the fight for a common cause.
4. Funding is a very crucial issue. One should keep a check on it by researching on its various aspects and also by being aware of the politics of funding.
Five days at Udaan: Constant talking and meeting with people across India and cultures helped me fill a lot of space that is reserved for ‘others’ view in one’s head. Several stories and inspirational talks have filled me with energy and I hope this would be transformed into action which is not just good for the ‘self’ but for all. Not a single minute was spent without reflecting on the consequences of my actions and also of the people around, and I don’t think such reflection would have had been possible in the concrete jungles that cities have become. So, I thank Fireflies ashram for providing such a space. As a friend rightly called the bliss we experienced in the ashram, “the belly of Fireflies”.
‘I came as a skeptic, but I am going as an optimist’ were my last words to a fellow participant at Udaan.