“Ordinary people, whether in the US, Europe, India or elsewhere, have to struggle for rights and better living conditions, and, while the types of land acquisition and displacement now occurring in India have occurred throughout history in various countries, so has protest, injustice and resistance against it. Unfortunately, as far as India is concerned, those with bulging pockets privilege a certain notion of development at the expense of alternatives then quite literally bulldoze it through over the heads of the downtrodden.” – Colin Todhunter
Some commentators perceive current upheavals in India are merely part of a necessary transition towards an urban based society. Those who resist are accused of being Luddites and of lacking perspective. It is said that the transition takes time and there will be unfortunate casualties along the way. There appears to be an implicit belief that ‘urban is good’, underpinned by a blind faith in the ‘free’ market and a western model of development.
Mainstream thinking implies that shifting to an urban environment to toil in factories, become a domestic servant or work as a security guard improves the human condition. However, according to many surveys carried out in recent years into life satisfaction, happiness has been declining in developed nations since the late 1950s, despite people having moved to cities and gaining access to a greater range of material goods.
Many of these studies indicate that people in wealthy western nations are not much happier, or are indeed less happy, than those who belong to poorer more rural countries that use far fewer resources. This is a damning indictment of a development model that is not only ecologically destructive, but promotes conflict due to grabs for finite resources to fuel the craving for ever more products that have an inbuilt planned obsolescence.
It is easy to fall prey to the belief that the shift to wholesale urbanisation is inevitable and therefore should be forced through. Urbanisation in Britain, for instance, was the result of deliberate policies, the unforeseen outcomes of various struggles and the uprooting of people to get them into factories and help line the pockets of the industrialists who were getting rich on the back of their colonies. It wasn’t a ‘natural’ occurrence. So why blindly ape it?
Perhaps because it’s colonialism merely in a different guise.
In India, clearing farmers from their lands and handing agriculture over to monopoly agribusiness is part of a conscious ploy to drive people to the cities to eventually lead what is ultimately an environmentally unsustainable consumerist lifestyle. The plan is to shape the economy according to the image of transnational corporations.
And once the stage is set, the profiteers can move in. The state abdicates its responsibilities by submitting to the neo-liberal tenets of Wall Street’s ‘structural adjustment’ programme, whereby government reins in spending and adopts a pro-privatisation strategy. The whole notion of governance then changes – exploitation and huge profits are justified on the basis of ‘private investment risk’, and the notion of democracy is usurped by unaccountable cartels who rule the market and beat down labour costs.
The result leads to the type of protests, uprisings and displacements we now witness in various parts of India. One solution of course has been for displaced people to flock to already overcrowded cities with dilapidated infrastructures and water scarcities. Despite the turmoil, however, many regard this as a transitional phase on the way to urbanisation that will eventually work out for the best. The best for whom though?
It’s easy to downgrade ‘the rural’ or ‘the tribal’ by claiming they are barriers to ‘progress’ when priority is given to building flyovers, luxury townships and muscle flexing weapons programmes at the expense of proper investment in rural industry and productive bio-diverse agriculture. And it is easy to portray them as basket cases and thus advocate change and displacement when they have experienced decades of neglect.
Maybe something valuable could be learned from Bhutan, which notes the importance of economic growth, but stresses Buddhist values in its pursuit of modernisation. There, the government through its policies actively promotes psychological well-being, health, community vitality, ecology and culture, heritage and the preservation and sustainable use of the environment.
According to much research into happiness, when decisions are taken to invest heavily in health, education, self-sustaining communities and local economies and work within limits set by the environment, contentedness is boosted. However, elites in India and the West currently work against nature and ‘the local’, not with them. They work against the interests of many, not in favour of them.
The western model of development should not be viewed as a cure-all remedy. Engels documented the horror that urban industrialisation brought to England during the 19th century. For many people, hardship has never gone away. It has been a permanent feature. Poverty, drug use, imprisonment, poor health and a range of other issues blight large sections of the population in ‘developed’ societies. For such people, their struggle continues.
Ordinary people, whether in the US, Europe, India or elsewhere, have and continue to struggle for rights and better living conditions, and, while the types of land acquisition and displacement now occurring in India have occurred throughout history in various countries, so has protest, injustice and resistance against it. Unfortunately, as far as India is concerned, those with bulging pockets privilege a certain notion of development at the expense of alternatives then quite literally bulldoze it through over the heads of the downtrodden. For the victims, it’s planned obsolescence, albeit in a different guise. – Counter Currents, 31 May 2012
» Colin Todhunter: Originally from the northwest of England, writer Colin Todhunter has spent many years in India. He has written extensively for the Deccan Herald (the Bangalore-based broadsheet), New Indian Express and Morning Star (Britain). A former social policy researcher, Colin has been published in the peer-reviewed journals Disability and Society and Social Research Update, and one of his articles appears in the book The A-Z of Social Research (Sage, 2003).
Filed under: agriculture, economy, genetically modified food, globalization, human rights, IMF | WB, india, nehruism, neo-colonialism, science, technology Tagged: | development, employment, environment, FDI, human rights, industrialisation, land aquisition, living conditions, politics, privatisation, science, social unrest, technology, urbanisation