When all of us talking about “Going Local”, here we would like to recall some of such movements happened in the past, to get inspired by those true spirit.
One such movement is Mothertongue Theatre Movement 2005, which clearly said, all regional languages theatre (means “Local” theatre) has to be considered as “National Theatre”, decentralize the National cultural Institutes and more, which we must work towards.
During the sunset-years of the 19th century, a radical thought was taking shape in India. The “Swadeshi Movement” which was officially launched in 1905 had its theoretical aspects defined in the late 1800s. Stalwarts such as Naoroji, Tilak, Ghokale, Aurobindo are credited with the thought leadership for the same. History tells us that the Swadeshi movement is a “nationalistic movement”, i.e a political movement. But at its very core, this movement was an economical one, born from the understanding that the oppression of the Indians within India was predicated upon the economic control of the entire Indian populace by a few Englishmen.
Being “nationalistic”, today is not considered good behavior by many; it certainly is not seen as progressive. We now associate it with mostly the right-wing, jingoistic and populist style of politics that has taken roots in most parts of the world that has sailed the democratic and secular oceans to arrive at this point. What happened? One reason could be the mix-up involving “method” and “intent”. Movements like the Swadeshi were born out of the need for human beings to unshackle themselves from an oppressor, “a real adversary” (so to speak). Today’s nationalism is born out of the need to manufacture non-existent enemies or distract us from the real ones or both.
The modus-operandi of the Swadeshi Movemement was to “go local”; to boycott foreign products (very specifically, British) and opt for local produce. Underlying this was the confidence that came from “Atmashakthi” (self-strength) , a term coined by Rabindranath Tagore during the same years, when he was putting together his thoughts on Indian Nationalism. In other words, to even begin thinking about boycotting something, to say a “firm no” to external help or input, one first needed to build the inner strength to be self reliant and be confident enough to endure what comes after.
The Swadeshi movement later paved way to progressively mature and effective movements. With the entry of Gandhiji into the Indian Independence Struggle, “Swadeshi” found new intent, meaning and methods where he combined his success of the Satyagraha (that he conceived while in South Africa) with the good-parts of the Swadeshi movement to come up with the tools and ethos which made possible a national conscience strong enough to put up a non-violent struggle against the British-might.
Our grand experiments with “local”
Colonialism, and India’s tryst with it aside, the need for “going local” has been the need-of-the-hour for long. Every individual who has considered or worked towards an “ecologically viable”, “socially just” and “economically alternative” society knows the importance of “going local”. In fact to understand the benefits of going local, one only has to stare at the disadvantages of a world that went global; to be specific, the disadvantages of “globalization”.
It has been a perpetual struggle between these two forces. One that wanted to establish a global-order and another that resists it by celebrating diversity, “the local” and decentralization. If there is a tiny amount of hope today with some skill and culture left in parts of the world that are not yet completely transformed, it is because of the small victories of the latter group. In India especially, even today, we retain some traditional agricultural methods, weaving practices, skills and products that demand respect for human labour simply because we upheld the notion of local over global; a storyline of struggle that connects movement to movement, generation to generation. But was that enough?
We have deluded ourselves in some cases of “going local”; in most cases, we have celebrated too early. This is because we overestimated our success. The very fact that, as a society, we democratically elected a corporation-friendly, yet traditional-sounding ideological concoction, as our leaders and governments today, should be proof enough that we have completely missed our goals. Our attempts all these years to stay local has been within the perimeters set by the “market”; issue of having to “comply”. We have had so many of our “local” stories that gladly claim to be “Swadeshi” but actually can only be considered local “productions” at best. Even the not-so-nuanced original “Swadeshi Movement” was about “local consumption”. Gandhi’s and Kumarappa’s interpretation and experiments with Swadeshi have been about both consumption and production.
These are strong reasons today to rise above our own petty self-declared victories and march towards what is truly local. If nothing, the collapse our years of “half-baked” local movements in current times when a pandemic has struck the world, should serve us as a reminder that our job is far from complete.
It was only a matter of time before the hyper-nationalistic party, that forms the Indian Government today, decided to use “local” in their vocabulary. It is also very amusing that Tagore’s “Atmashakthi” has been aptly re-purposed into an “Atma Nirbharata” (presumably meaning the same thing but with a twist for the slogan-entertained citizen of the present).
The call to go local is not new even within the short history of the current ruling party. “Make in India” was a campaign that ran before this and regardless of what the “thinkers” thought about it, the average person’s idea of this matter varied from “International companies employing Indian workers” to “Made in a factory that is physically located on Indian soil”; a vague enough cloud of interpretative smoke behind which we can continue to worship the only God we know now; that of Capital.
During the Coronavirus crisis of 2020, the call to “go local” will again have all sorts of interpretations. For some – with an overconfident zeal- it has become a chance to raise some dirt against our behemoth neighbour, China. For others, this is an opportunity to “somehow stay alive and relevant” in the dark-and-dying days of Capitalism. So going local today will only mean one thing for businesses that never came up with the true intent of creating local economies; to extract “whatever is left” in terms of resources and run away with the last few crumbs of the pie.
“Local” is but one word in a dictionary and this word is loaded. Hence it is easy to be used to abused, which it will be. So was “Swadeshi” and so was “Swaraj”. We need to look at all the words involved and truly take them in. Self, friends, family, village, community, nativity, interdependence, social, sacrifice, commons, sustainability, ethics, rootedness, belonging etc. Understanding those terms, seeking out and making changes, starting with the self, is essential for understanding what is meant by “local”. But that is not what the politicians will tell us. We need to be wary.
Striving to be “local
For us to even consider having made a dent by “being local”, we would have to first look at “local consumption”. This is not the same as a city-based-consumer buying a product that has the label “locally produced” (be it food, durable or clothes). It is about actual fuel-miles that the product took to reach the consumer, beginning from raw-material extraction that formed its component parts. Taking an example of unstitched cloth, “How far is the weaver from you?”, “Where is the lady who spun the yarn?” “Where was the cotton grown?” are what defines the product to be classified as local. This works for all products and services. “How far is your kid’s school teacher?”. “Where are my cups and saucers made?”. “Did I make that compost I used for my organic herb-garden, or did I buy it from Thailand from a local community?”.
So when the health conscious consumer in Mumbai buys organically grown fresh vegetables from rural Maharashtra, or the ethnicity and ethics conscious consumer in Bangalore buys hand-crafted products from rural Karnataka, we are barely scratching the surface. This is true when we also find false equivalences between organic and local, ethical and local, environmental-friendly and local, handloom and local etc. Which usually leads to newer forms of markets but never truly addresses the real problem, that of consumerism.
The other larger issue when striving to be local is about mixing up the urge and well-meaning intent to be local with nationalism and regionalism, with complete disregard to areas, sizes, climactic conditions and watersheds that form the basis for defining real “locals”. If we were to exist in the southern-most tip of India and home-order something from Assam, can it be deemed local? In large states (that are the size of some of the world’s countries), does it even make sense to create the food miles necessary to transport goods from one corner to the other? Thinking “local” should be elevated above petty administrative boundaries.
Limiting “local” into “products” is also an issue. There is a lot more to local than that; languages, knowledge, customs, know-how and ways-of-life. We need to be able to re-adapt some and value them for what they are. We should avoid being led into a guilt-trip (a trick often played on us by our own modernity) that all local is automatically barbaric, bad and evil. In fact an objective mind should look at “local” for its spatial, economic and environmental value alone. The evolution of “local” from some ancient-form into a newer-form is not “global” (an easy mistake to make), it is just newer-local, a current-and-improved form, as we individuals and communities learn and move on. Hence understanding local and appreciating it for “concepts” before “products” will actually go a long way in understanding production and consumption itself.
It is very tempting to give ourselves the “local” label very quickly, either because our existing delusions need validation or we are part of the same group that needs to pathologically align with the political conscience of this country. Both are not going to help in the long run. To be local, we need to look at the full circle and begin at consumption and then go towards production. This also means, we have to produce for necessity and not for the sake of production itself (which is one of the pillars holding up Capitalism and all of the monsters it spawned, including the current Coronavirus crisis).
The word “local” itself is not lying to us; the people who use it are. It only has a “space implication”, i.e of distance between us (the consumer) and the site of production. Our ideas and thoughts need to have far-reaching implications and consequences but our resource extraction and consumption should now have short-distance gratification and value. To be “truly local” we need to aim for a diverse and colourful world composed of a plethora of “local economies” of interdependent and small communities that strive to give-and-take locally from each other as well as this planet.
3, Jun’20 in National Webinar in
memory of George Fernandes
Organized by George
Fernandes Foundation & Institute of Social Science
I would like to
point out that there are two
aspects to this problem of unorganized labour or migrant labour. One is finding
an immediate solution to the problem, which most politicians and social
workers are working for: to give some succor to them, provide them with some
relief, distribute food packets to them, arrange some transport for them to
either go home or come back. I believe there is lot of efforts to get them back
to the city so that we can once again put them into the machine, as its nuts
aspect of the problem is that there is a larger issue connected to this.
In the last couple of decades, it is becoming clearer and clearer that we
need a paradigm shift, if we have to save our world. We need a paradigm
shift, if we have to save our environment, our ecology, our social system, our
political system and the moral system. Of course, we are better off than most
other countries, in-terms of the philosophical aspect of the problem. Because
after all, we have tried to introduce this paradigm shift in our Freedom
Movement itself, under the leadership of Gandhi and many, many enlightened
people; including J C Kumarappa and so many others. We tried to actually
imagine a world which will be sustainable, natural and egalitarian. Of course, that
dream did not come true, and we have almost seventy years of politics after
that, in what we call the independent India. However, in Independent India
we just did politics, and completely forgot about the constructive
activity or constructive program or the construction of the society from within
the society itself, by the people themselves.
Today, we have
landed in this deep crisis because of that. The whole world too has done that.
I think the paradigm shift I was talking about which is badly needed,
is centered around, how we look at labour. I would say that we have to make
a complete shift in our attitude towards labour, in our attitude towards
the village people, in our attitude to the peasant, in our attitude to the
weaver, the cobbler, every other, what I call as the handmaking person. We
should treat them as the future, as technicians for a system of production
of the future. Not just as somebody who should be given food, food packets or
who should be taken care of for his travel back to his homeland. I am not
romanticizing, when I say this, I know they have huge problems; I know villages
have huge problems, our villages have become unbearable. But then, there is one
aspect of the village which I call the handmaking aspect of village, which is
still amazingly retained in India as opposed to most of the developed
countries. We should go behind the migrant labour, back to their villages,
and learn the hand skills from them, the handloom from them, the rain-fed
agriculture from them and various other handmaking technologies from them. And
then provide the systems that are developed in the big cities with much
expense, much intellect over the last few decades. The city should provide
the mind – the good mind – not the bad mind. And the village provides the body,
the good body. This way, I think it
can be done.
I belong to an
organization called Gram Seva Sangh, which is an organization of organizations.
Constructive organizations, working and mostly centered in Karnataka, but also
outside of Karnataka. What we are trying to do, is to create an atmosphere for
what I talked above. We have coined the new term called “Sacred Economy”.
Sacred Economy is actually the reformation of the Gandhian model of economy,
or the model dependant on the handmaking systems. Why have we reformed it,
remodeled it, it is because, in the 21st century it will be almost
impossible to go back to the handmaking system suddenly. So we have said,
alright, let us have a labour centric economy, but since we cannot completely
rule out automation, we can have some of that too. So in Sacred Economy we
fixed the proportion not more than 40% of automation, and not less than 60% of
labour. In fact, in this proportion most of our MSME comes into the
picture, which means most of what we call the semi organized labour and the small
industries in cities also come into it. Therefore in the Sacred Economy, the fully
handmaking system, E.g. Khadi becomes completely sacred, but the other systems
progressively become less sacred, but stay within the gamut of sacred. This
way if we have to persuade the Government to adopt Sacred Economy, so they do
not need to break down the other systems of production. But then they need to
give a policy advantage to the Sacred Sectors.
In fact we
firmly believe, Sacred Economy is the solution for all the three ills we
are dealing in this world. It solves theproblem of equity,
because lot of people now coming into the cities, because of loss of jobs in
the villages, will now get sufficient jobs wherever they are living. This
means, we will be creating a decentralized society which will be made of
much smaller units. It solves the climate crisis because energy
intensive industries are disincentivized and thereby a lot of wasteful
consumption of energy comes down.
And thirdly, this
constitutes a better economic model in the post-economic collapse era
after Covid-19. Let us understand that the economy that is ruling the roost
today, which we have termed as the Monster Economy, has died. Monster
Economy is dead! In fact, we are saying that if you try to revive the
monster economy, the only way to do so is to put it into a ventilator. Eventually
it is going to collapse.
The notion of
the sacred Economy is also a solution to the economic crisis facing the world.
So I want to talk to, not just the ordinary people, but economists, and the
business people, and tell them, “You forget about lots of profits! Work for
smaller profits and a better way of life. From you, we seek all your great
systems for production, logistics, distribution, etc. I respect the big
industries for the systems that they have created. We will remodel those
systems and provide them to the village people, to the small sectors, to make
the small sector viable economic model. This is what Sacred Economy is!“
I would like to
push for it as long-term strategy, to solve the problem of migrant labour. I am
not against the short-term policy of giving them succor, even we have done it
to a small extent. But let us not be stuck with short term measures like relief
& succor. You know, then we will be just doing that. Today it will be
Migrant labour, tomorrow it will be some other, third day it may be climate
problem, monsoon coming, or something, Let us therefore actually put our
efforts behind the serious paradigm shift which will make this world a better
Theatre Person, Mentor of Gram Seva Sangh