Anarcho-environmentalism allegorised

The name Anaarkali in the present context has many meanings - Anaar symbolises the anarchism of the Bhils and kali which means flower bud in Hindi stands for their traditional environmentalism. Anaar in Hindi can also mean the fruit pomegranate which is said to be a panacea for many ills as in the Hindi idiom - "Ek anar sou bimar - One pomegranate for a hundred ill people"! - which describes a situation in which there is only one remedy available for giving to a hundred ill people and so the problem is who to give it to. Thus this name indicates that anarcho-environmentalism is the only cure for the many diseases of modern development! Similarly kali can also imply a budding anarcho-environmentalist movement. Finally according to a legend that is considered to be apocryphal by historians Anarkali was the lover of Prince Salim who was later to become the Mughal emperor Jehangir. Emperor Akbar did not approve of this romance of his son and ordered Anarkali to be bricked in alive into a wall in Lahore in Pakistan but she escaped. Allegorically this means that anarcho-environmentalists can succeed in bringing about the escape of humankind from the self-destructive love of modern development that it is enamoured of at the moment and they will do this by simultaneously supporting women's struggles for their rights.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Social Capital and Entrepreneurship

I think its time to get some clarity regarding the concepts of social capital and social entrepreneurship that have come to rule the roost in the social sector. The cue for this comes from the airing of a new series on NDTV in which corporate bosses are going to debate various burning social and economic issues with social activists compered by Rohini Nilekani who uses part of the money earned by her husband as Infosys boss in philanthropy (so as to save on income tax). Due to fuzzy understanding many people in the social sector are going ga ga over such an inane thing as a series of television debates between the corporate bosses and social activists which are after all sponsored and interspersed by even more inane and downright dangerous commercials.
Since the 1950s the World Bank has led the foundations set up by various Multi-national corporations in co-opting and so blunting grassroots action through so called philanthropy. Things have become even more sinister since the late 1990s as it began trumpeting the devious and logically circular concept of "social capital" to defuse the radical political challenge that non-party grassroots movements began to pose at that time to modern industrial development. The concept had originally been mooted by the French left leaning sociologist Pierre Bourdieu to describe the phenomenon of smaller social groupings like the family and kinship relations which help in forming a social class and he argued that the more articulated this is the more are the chances of its being converted into economic and political capital and vice versa in a virtuous circle that has worked well for the upper classes but not for the lower classes because of their initial lack of economic and political capital (Bourdieu, P (1993): Sociology in Question, Sage Publications, London.)
The use of the term social capital by Bourdieu for what are basically social connections was itself a dilution of the sharply politico-economic meaning of capital but it still retained some of its political flavour. The American political scientist Robert Putnam winked away this crucial two way linkage between politico-economic capital on the one hand and social capital on the other and posited the circular argument that social associations make economic cooperation possible which in turn strengthens social associations conveniently ignoring the fundamental problem of politico-economic power inequalities that prevent economic cooperation in the first place. Thus Putnam suggested that cross class social formations like Sports Clubs and Birdwatchers Associations were ideal means of building up economic and political cooperation between people across classes (Putnam, R (1993): Making Democracy Work: Civic Traditions in Modern Italy, Princeton University Press, Princeton.)! The World Bank seized on this theory of depoliticised social action and made it the basis of its thrust for apolitical people's participation in development through self help groups, water user associations, forest management committees and what have you (World Bank (2000): World Development Report 2001: Attacking Poverty, Oxford University Press.). "To attack poverty watch birds" was the new slogan!
The basic stratagem adopted here is the sanitisation of politics out of development. Something that runs through "social entrepreneurship" also which is a corollary of social capital. If you have capital then you must have an entrepreneur to handle that capital and earn profit. Similarly to handle social capital and earn a social profit there have to be social entrepreneurs. But since the political aspect of domination of the poor and marginalised by the rich and powerful is elided over the amount of social or individual profit earned by the former is precious little and it all ends up as a cheap publicity gimmick for the latter. There is so much being done on water resources by small unknown people all over the country but suddenly Rohini Nilekani and her sponsored NGO Arghyam with their heavy funding have become masters of water resource management in this country.
However, the sad reality is that the culture of profit making has become so dominant that there is no escaping it. I for one have been forced to put my basic understanding that the poor in this country (seventy five percent are living below the poverty line if one calculates it on the basis of incomes needed for ensuring a decent human living standard) are starved of various kinds of capital and so need to be subsidised into reaching acceptable living standards. I have had to give up my earlier total subsidy approach and have instead begun insisting that the poor adivasis contribute as much as possible to the development projects that I initiate whether in education, health, agriculture or watershed development. But even then there is always a subsidy element involved.
For instance the last winter season I undertook a campaign in the western Madhya Pradesh region for the adoption of a dryland variety of wheat that requires only one watering and no chemical fertilisers after the initial sowing. The yield is less but the costs of electricity, diesel, chemical fertilisers and water which have gone up of late and also are in short supply are saved and so overall it is a better economic and environmental alternative to the Hybrid wheat varieties like Lok1. The campaign was successful to a certain extent and has been reported on here
The tension has gone out of wheat farming as there are no more night long vigils in the cold for the electricity to come and the motor pumps started and then closed when the voltage goes down to prevent them from burning out. So the farmers who adopted this variety of wheat called Amrita have been able to take a good harvest as seen in the picture below.

Under the influence of the credo of social entrepreneurship I had insisted on the poor farmers taking the risk and investing on these seeds from their own pocket by trusting me. However they did not have to bear the expenses of my travel and my time. So to that extent this campaign was subsidised.
The moral of the story is that as long as there is massive corporate profit making going on there will always be need for subsidy for the poor (in fact the profit making by the corporates is also heavily subsidised in many ways). Ideally there should be the organisation of political mass movements of the poor to change the current dominant world order of profit making and all the reprehensible things that go with it. But the reality is that we must content ourselves with being social entrepreneurs instead, albeit reluctant and so unsuccessful ones.


Philanthropic Travel said...

I believe that there is great joy in banding together and creating small steps in the direction of success -working for all involved. Obviously there are no clear answers as you have alluded to in your statement. I found your perspective fascinating and welcome a dialog regarding community centered collaboration centered around a compassionate inclusive approach that first creates a framework of trust which in good time manifests mutually beneficial results.

Learn More:
My First Philanthropic Travel Experience
Come Together

With Gratitude,

Rahul Banerjee said...

In a world where there is rapacity all round philanthropy is welcome for the little relief that it does provide to the poor and marginalised people. However, as i said in the post this is only a kind of first aid applied to the festering sore of poverty without going to the roots of the problem of deprivation which is a direct result of an exploitative world system.

I myself have survived continuously on philanthropic aid throughout my activist career because the poor people themselves cannot bear the expenses involved in improving their condition. Even when in my early days in Alirajpur I was living like the Bhils I had to be subsidised by philanthropic people. Now that I live in considerably better conditions the subsidy is even more.