Eco Swaraj and Alternative Developments: Towards Rainbow Recovery

Session Report
Aasthaba Jadeja

Understanding the Nuances of Climate Change in the Indian Subcontinent: Impact and Way Forward is an Online International Monsoon School Program, a Six-Week Immersive Online Introductory Certificate Training Course from August-September 2023 by IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute. An informative and interactive panel discussion on“Eco Swaraj and Alternative Developments: Towards Rainbow Recovery” was held by Mr. Ashish Kothari.

Introduction to Eco Swaraj

In the beginning, he provided a concise overview of the multiple crises we currently face, including the climate crisis and the global health pandemic. He pointed out that these crises have created an environment where governments are becoming increasingly authoritarian, and corporations are primarily profit-driven. However, amidst these challenges, there have been instances of remarkable solidarity, innovative solutions, and calls for justice. 

One of the central questions that have emerged from these crises revolves around the very concept of development itself. It questions the traditional notion of development, particularly in the context of relentless economic growth. This inquiry is significant because numerous governments, including the Indian government, have proposed sustainability initiatives that still operate within the framework of economic growth. Essentially, Mr. Kothari highlighted the need to reevaluate and reshape the prevailing idea of development, moving towards more sustainable and equitable alternatives.

The pressing question at hand is whether the alternatives to our current development models should be dictated by industrialized countries or if they can organically emerge from our own nations. Mr. Kothari explores two distinct alternatives. First, there is the avenue of Resistance, where communities come together to voice their opposition to various projects and ecologically harmful initiatives.

This approach has given rise to movements like the Adiwasi movements, the Farmers’ movement, the Youth Art movement, and the Climate Justice movements across South Asian countries. These are not just movements of protest but also movements that propose more sustainable alternative solutions. While these movements are still somewhat marginalized and face significant threats, they represent promising signs of hope for the region. 

One particularly inspiring example comes from India, originating from the most exploited and marginalized segments of society, especially the outcasts, women in heavily patriarchal communities, and small landholders. Over the past 35 years, through women’s collectives in approximately 75 villages and the federation of these collectives, they have revitalized traditional, biologically diverse, and climate-resilient agriculture.

They have actively opposed genetically modified organisms, hybrid seeds, and various chemicals such as pesticides and fertilizers. They have also championed land rights for women and undertaken various actions to achieve food security for households previously plagued by hunger. Moreover, they have achieved what is referred to as food sovereignty, indicating complete control over all aspects of food production, including seeds, land, water, knowledge, and more. This model of climate-resilient agriculture stands as an ideal example, one that is not promoted by the Indian government or the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization).

In Maharashtra, India, there’s another remarkable example in a different context. The Adivasis or indigenous people initiated a noteworthy single-village rebellion in the late 1970s and 1980s. They coined the slogan, “While we elect the government at Mumbai and New Delhi, in the village we are the government.” This slogan was crafted to promote the implementation of organic farming, the empowerment of women, the revival of local culture and language, all while embracing knowledge from external sources. 

Across the South Asian continent, there are instances of community conserved areas or territories where communities actively sustain the traditional protection of ecosystems or develop new methods to safeguard them.

These areas encompass diverse ecosystems, including wetlands, rivers, mountains, forests, deserts, and coastlines. They are protected not only because they are essential for our survival but also due to ethical beliefs regarding the preservation of nature. In the village of Kunariya, Gujarat, located in the driest region of India, the community has achieved water self-security and sovereignty.

Additionally, they have implemented fantastic initiatives to address the COVID-19 pandemic through community health systems and have sustained their economic livelihoods, even during the challenging economic lockdown period.

We have real examples of genuine energy alternatives that go beyond large-scale solar and wind projects. In Delhi, many schools, including government institutions, are installing solar rooftops, making them self-reliant in energy while saving money.

This approach not only reduces the need to generate ever-increasing amounts of energy, recognizing that India’s rising power consumption cannot be sustained solely through renewable sources. It also calls for a reimagining of our architectural designs to be more energy-efficient. Current buildings consume excessive amounts of energy and lack sustainability. In both traditional and modern architecture, there exist energy-efficient alternatives worth exploring. 

Examining resilient communities, including those mentioned earlier, reveals a plethora of lessons applicable not only to health crises like the COVID-19 pandemic but also to other challenges. These lessons include fostering and sustaining a sense of community spirit, fostering solidarity, and addressing local inequalities such as patriarchy and class disparities. Additionally, it involves recognizing the rights of communities over their productive ecosystems and means of production, independent of government agencies and private corporations.

These communities also emphasize the importance of self-determination in decision-making, advocating for direct democracy. They highlight the significance of local self-reliance in basic needs like food, housing, and energy, rather than depending on distant systems. Moreover, they underscore the value of localized economic exchanges and relationships, particularly direct connections between producers and consumers, which enhance resilience. Lastly, these examples underscore the pivotal role of government in providing support for adaptation and mitigation in the face of climate crises.

The paradigm shift and systemic transformation encompass five essential spheres: Political, Economic, Social, Cultural, and Ecological. It involves seizing control of our communities, both rural and urban, and collective actions. This shift centers on establishing economies based on sharing and caring, recognizing and valuing all roles contributing to the economy, addressing social inequalities, and ensuring equitable access to decision-making and benefits for everyone. 

It also entails preserving our rich cultural and knowledge diversity. Moreover, it necessitates transcending political boundaries to consider natural resources that span across these man-made divisions. It goes beyond human rights to encompass the rights of all aspects of nature. Emerging within this framework is the concept of Ecoswaraj or Radical Ecological Democracy. It advocates for local autonomy, decision-making power, and freedom, coupled with the responsibility for safeguarding the autonomy and freedom of other people and the entire natural world. 

Mr. Kothari then delves into the strategy for achieving scale in any movement. According to him, the key lies in connecting resistance movements that oppose destructive development practices with constructive alternatives. This involves uniting the voices of those most marginalized and vulnerable to the effects of climate crises. A collective vision should be established, and these movements should collaborate to work toward that vision.

They should advocate for policy changes within government structures and establish a horizontal network to achieve scale. One critical aspect is demanding a substantial budget for climate adaptation while also supporting self-reliance initiatives. These efforts should focus on creating livelihoods not in heavy industrial sectors but in small, decentralized production units that revive India’s rich diversity of traditional crafts. This approach has the potential to sustain a significant portion of the population.

Conclusion

Furthermore, there should be a push for greater direct democracy at the local assembly level, empowering communities to have a more significant say in decision-making. Creating local exchange systems that are more resilient to crises and shocks is crucial. Lastly, regenerating and conserving nature should be at the core of all policies, emphasizing the importance of environmental sustainability in all aspects of governance

Acknowledgement: Aasthaba Jadeja is a research intern at IMPRI.

Read more event reports of IMPRI here

Climate Justice and Equity: Realities in India

Climate Change on Water Resources in Sri Lanka