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Monday, November 21, 2016

Did we Demonetise Gandhiana?

As i write this on the 20th night, the announcement is over 10 days  old. the intention, no one in the country challenges, the timing, the unpreparedness and the utter chaos that has resulted, everyone is concerned. more so, if they are people in the margins and have to juggle with the hard work and also getting themselves 'system compliant'.

but, that is not the purpose of this post. what worries me is the change of language in presenting an political - economic decision.

"Surgical Strike" itself sounds like an oxymoron. what is a "strike" about surgery? surgeons don't describe their work as being of "striking" something / someone, their terms tend to be more like plumbing - cutting, pasting, stitching, fixing, removing blocks, joining things, etc., the modern surgery is closest to plumbing in its lexicon than military.

So, "Surgical Strike" seems to be an american invention where they "minimize the damage to other civilian agencies through targeted attack only on the opposition".  so, this is similar to several other terms that are primarily aimed to glorify a particular part of the act while declaring the other act as being as part of the same. it also carries the hidden message that some "strikes" being tried out with precision are far more important in value than the "damage" of the few that are not intended to be struck.

in fact, this term seems to be closely linked to the other term, "collateral damage", it has been well defined -
American culture makes divisions between worthy and worthless lives. This distinction is justified by a cultural logic that deflects the murder of people as the unintended consequences of social and foreign policy. The phrase “collateral damage,” first developed by the United States military to deflect civilian deaths caused by aerial bombing is now seen as metaphor for the larger social policy of the American government both at home and abroad. (source here)
understanding the geneology of these terms is important for us to grasp the hidden value propositions. some lives are worthy of being "targeted" through "surgical strikes", whether they are "struck" or not, others that are worthless may be  hit in the process as "collateral damage".  

so, why should "demonetisation" be called a "surgical strike" on black money? after all, demonetisation has been done before and regardless of what are the multiple aims behind the act, the act itself is a shift in the legal financial tendering. 

in a country of India's magnitude, obviously, it is going to take time. while it is true that it was done thrice earlier, it is also true to recognize that perhaps more people use money now than even perhaps during the last time during which demonetisation was done in 1978. if it was seen as a "shift in processs" rather than a "strike" of some kind or another, then, it would have followed an administrative process whereby there is a clear preparation of the government and financial institutions to administer the shift in a manner that doesn't really impact too many people. no, it had to be "Strike", chest thumping strike, nothing short of it.

and then to insult our ordinary people by calling them as "collateral damage" as though their lives are worthless in the scheme of things for the system. if it was considered that the ordinary citizens are being serviced by the government and the "service" included ensuring that the "least inconvenience" is  felt by the masses in such transition times, they same would result in innovative ways and pro-active measures. but, instead, we have "war footing" initiatives in ATM re-calibration. why war footing? can't our government ever do anything effectively and efficiently during times of peace and as service to people?

in fact, the media is equally to blame for it, ToI heading reads, "people battle it out in banks and netas ready for war in parliament" and they are reporting the inconvenience caused to the common man in the street and the leaders in a democratic state discussing the issue in parliament. the entire effort is being titled as "Mod's War on black money"! we are talking about an administrative process of shifting of legal tender in a democratic country by a leader of a majority party. in fact the words "war" and "battle" have been maximum used in the context of demonetisation. i wonder whether ever before such violent language was used by media for an administrative process in independent India?!

but that is not all, today, the voice of media is further impacted (sometimes even guided through engineered 'trending') by the social media that has the middle class as the most articulate force and they have become even more violent in their moral uprightness in this issue - from calling those who oppose to "go spend a day with the army protecting our borders", to, calling them "anti-nationals" and "maoists", the sheer violence in the matter of financial discourse represents a new language that has been fomented by "re-claiming our kshatriya-hood" project that has been cleverly inserted as a backdoor Americanization initiative of the hindutva brigade. Sanjay Shrivastava has noted this well - 

First, there is remarkable resurgence of anti-poor sentiment. As the idea of citizenship transforms from a political ideal to one defined by the market – the consumer-citizen, as some call it – there is great antipathy for the poor and their everyday lives. They are seen to be bad consumers: stealing electricity, encroaching upon valuable urban spaces with their slums and not allowing corporate conglomerates a free run over their lands for mining and industrial activity. The moral middle class, on the other hand, has achieved its success through sheer hard work and intrinsic merit. (source here)
as he states, this new found violent narrative seems to be a new moral statement for a middle class which has often not encountered more violence than what they see in bollywood movies where their image of themselves as the protagonist always wins with the declaration of good over evil.

this demonetisation has coalesced a new social language of violence, perhaps less heard and dis-aggregated till now in different debates of local and sectoral levels. this is the  disturbing factor, far more disturbing and cause for concern. the middle class is a growing population, the media increasingly caters only to this class, the governments subscribe to their views for poll victories and influencing factors in local levels, and, this middle class has become so violent in a country that still carries Gandhi in its currency. does his views on violence carry any currency at all? i think that has been the real demonetised part of this new "war zone" nation. 

Friday, March 04, 2016

isolated farm sector reforms won't work...

disturbed by the reflections and sharing of the post-budget analysis by friends as much as the budget supposedly 'pro-farmer and pro-poor'. i haven't studied by the budget in depth, but, going by what is being criticized i can see its flaws. but that is not the point i am trying to record here...

the point is that we are missing the point.

rural economy is not managed by a community of farmers 'employed' in agriculture, people who work 9 - 5 in the field and somehow need to be supported, encouraged and motivated to continue to be doing what they are doing.  agriculture as it is practiced in India is more of a community activity. there are farmers, farm labourers, farmer implement makers, blacksmiths, cattle experts, herbal experts, seed savers, transplanting women specialists, harvesting groups, dehusking groups, ploughing bull herders, traders....agriculture is a complex vocation that involves several other skills and knowledge apart from sowing-harvesting and all that is in between.

the important fact to recognize is that agriculture does not prosper in isolation in the rural economy, many other vocations on which agriculture is based on, need to be present and prospering for agriculture to prosper.

one of the reasons why such a large number of knowledge and knowledge practitioners thrive in rural economic condition is that they are sustained by the agriculture community and in turn they support the agriculture activity. these service providers bring in a variety of skills and knowledge that is important for the continuation of agriculture and takes care of the needs of the farming activity. these people are technicians of several trades.  technical knowledge and not specific 'technology' is the requirement of agriculture. most people cannot differentiate between the two. most indigenous farmers know the science of mechanical things. they can bind, combine, build, repair, break, weave, sieve, winnow...and several other skills with materials that are available locally with their bare hands. these are techniques that require several domains of technical knowledge, these techniques being practiced with their hands and not through any devices means they are low - cost and not creating dependency with other people.

often in organic farming programmes we talk about the need for the input cost to be reduced as much as the output cost to be enhanced for the agricultural activity to be viable. this extends further both ways, the more accessible natural resources are to farmers, they more they can benefit, the less they need to spend on other needs for their life, the more they benefit as well. when farmers have money, they can support other service providers, create common assets, build local community and culture. currently, major amount of rural economy is supporting the privatized and usurial education system of this country. the education system as an investment has several high risks and the private entrepreneurs who manage these 'businesses' load all risks of the system on the poor farmers who send their children to these institutions. majority of the land sales of agricultural lands as well as debt of farmers is to provide english education to their children. unless there are high quality education institutions catering to the local people in rural parts of this country, we are not going to be in a position to reduce the main outflow of money from rural economy.

english language education has been seen as a 'solution' to the rural economic 'problems' in an era when economic well being ensured power and english education gave people ready access to economic betterment. it is no longer so. the problems have always been social and not economical in india. and social problems can be only partly resolved if it is to be resolved through economic means, it needs the person to be isolated from the social space for the issue to be resolved. hence, people move from rural to urban centres to resolve earn more and revisit the village to scale higher in the social ladder. however they are no longer part of the society in the first place and any new found scaling of height is meaningless unless they return to the village. this doesn't happen and the social order is torn asunder and never mended again. social problems, if they need to completely resolved, need to be resolved through social means and not economic ones. these social means include process of dialogue and democracy. the platforms and forums for these are available at the village level, however, they are not adequately activated or made relevant as the people who populate these platforms do not have either the vision or the welfare of the community as the primary motive.

the dis-empowerment of the local governing platform and enhanced importance of english language education as a solution are promoted through ideological, philosophical and political formulations that are reductionist in their understanding of the rural economy and its sustainability. the need for a knowledge and orientation of governance, that provides a vision as well as places the community and its economic well being as the main focus, is one of the biggest necessity of rural society today. such a knowledge of governance needs to be placed and function out of the rural community itself.

 <<need to add more here>>

any government policy, social / political initiative, economic empowerment project / activity that may be initiated in the rural space needs to provide for all the above - a strong and substantial village community, a strengthening of the platforms of governance, facilitation and prosperity of diverse economic activity and good quality local educational institutions.

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