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.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Technology and its Control

Technological innovation is undoubtedly one of the crucial aspects of the progress of civilisation. From the early use of stone tools and the discovery of fire, the human race has gradually improved its living conditions and countered to some extent the play of chance which rules in nature. Technology is important not only in improving economic and social life but also in the wielding of political power. Technology first created surpluses through agriculture and the domestication of animals which made human life less contingent on natural vagaries and also provided the leisure for further technological and human development. Once surpluses were created, however, private property also came into being and so the benefits of technology began to be differentially accessed in proportion to the individual’s wealth. Also it became necessary to provide security to accumulated private property. Thus, a considerable amount of research effort has thereafter gone into improving the technology of security provision simultaneously with the development of centralised state systems to ensure an oppressive order that could maintain a wealth differentiated socio-economic system. The control of technology, consequently began passing into the hands of a few and this process has been greatly accelerated with the advent of capitalism. Finally, imperialism resulted in further concentration of the control of technology and especially military technology. The imperialism of the Europeans was made possible by their superior naval technology initially and later it spread to other military spheres ending with nuclear and now remote and computer controlled smart warfare.
Another aspect of this control of technology is the neglect of people oriented technology that mostly uses renewable resources in a non-polluting and sustainable manner because such technology does not contribute to profit making in the same way as centralised extractive resource depleting and polluting technologies do. Moreover, technological research takes place to solve problems that affect the rich rather than the poor because the latter are not in a position to pay for the products that may be developed for their benefit. This is most visible in the sphere of pharmaceutical research where cancer, diabetes, heart disease and the like are heavily researched but diseases like malaria are not. No new antibiotic has been developed since the 1980s because there is a fear that the immense funds poured into developing a new antibiotic molecule will not be recovered by a mass prescription drug resulting from it.
It is in this context that we have to think about public control of technology and especially so in a country like India. The agricultural sector especially is hit by falling yields and rising economic and environmental costs due to the unsustainability of chemical external input agriculture including the unavailability of water. Similarly there is a crisis in the energy sector. There is a huge dependence on crude oil and coal which are a burden on the economy and the environment. There are enough simple technologies that can convert biomass into energy viably and the only challenge is to gear the agricultural and natural resource management systems to make this possible. This can provide renewable and comparatively less polluting energy not only for the rural economy but also for the urban industrial economy while completely obviating the need for external chemical fertilisers and pesticides and considerably reducing the need for water. The availability of energy locally would allow post production processing to take place in a decentralised manner tremendously increasing the employability of rural people. However, these decentralised community based technologies are neglected because corporations want to make profits from the centralised production and marketing of chemical inputs of agriculture and power and the centralised processing of rural produce.
The Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath has from the beginning stressed on the use of decentralised technologies for biomass enhancement through community participation. The schools that it runs also incorporate this alternative vision of agriculture and energy production in their teaching. Deshdeep Sahadev, a professor of Physics in Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur, has been associated with the education programme of the KMCS since its inception in the 1980s. His thrust has been always to make education enhance the scientific and technological skills of the students so that they are able to solve problems that they face in real life. This commitment led him to seek to develop high tech instrumentation for nano-science in IIT Kanpur. His logic was that all the great experimental physicists had developed their own instrumentation including Jagdish Bose and C V Raman and so if Indian physicists were to produce cutting edge research then they must control the production of the instruments also. He later formed a company of his own where along with his team he developed at a fraction of the cost of foreign manufacturers such complicated instruments as scanning tunnelling microscopes, gas chromatographs, physical quantity measurement systems and data acquisition systems without compromising on quality.
Deshdeep now wants to see if a composite decentralised community based technology for agriculture, natural resource conservation and renewable energy production can be developed in the area of work of KMCS. It would involve developing the education system locally and also induction of technological talent from outside to tackle the problem of the current unsustainability of agriculture and natural resource management in such a way that the people in rural areas are able to not only run the system but also develop it further in future. The control of technology must come back into the hands of the people and especially the Adivasis if the human race is to survive the challenges posed by environmental destruction resulting from the present control of technology by profit making corporations.

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