Other worlds are possible: Sainath @ St. Xaviers
Attended a powerful talk by veteran journalist P. Sainath at the St. Xavier's college yesterday. The talk tried to scan the large body of literature surrounding the acute rural crisis in today's India albeit in a fast forward mode. Sainath indeed pioneered and developed a school of journalism that has as its chief concern the well-being of our poorest and the most deprived. There's perhaps nothing in the talk that he hasn't written about. Still listening to Sainath was a remarkable experience. Such was his passion, his clarity of thought and his sense of humour.
Vikrum has a nice post covering a lot of yesterday's talk. Let me also direct you to Sainath's webpage @ India Together, where a lot of his articles are listed. In particular, you may want to check out excerpts from a talk that Sainath had given at an AID meeting in 2001.
The best part of Sainath's talk (and this applies to his writings too), to my mind, is the degree of optimism that it reflects though the subject matter is one that's very distressing and disheartening. Sainath gets the pulse of the 'real' India and he does report the "incredible churning [that] is under-way in India". As he writes in a 1999 Seminar essay:
We live in an age far more radical than many imagine. Hundreds of millions in this country are asserting their rights as never before. The last 15 years have seen tribal and Dalit assertion on a scale yet to be gauged, let alone understood. The Dalit upsurge has altered the politics of Uttar Pradesh irreversibly. And perhaps that of Tamil Nadu also. It is making dents elsewhere as well. In Andhra, the state assembly had its first debate on untouchability in decades. That, after a powerful movement against casteism forced the government on the defensive.
Tremendous new social energies are on the loose. They are chaotic but they are there. Fierce power battles are emerging at the panchayat level. Even this mere form of democracy has set off a backlash from the entrenched privilege of centuries. Still, millions seek human dignity against awesome odds. Struggles over common property resources are rocking the countryside. Battles over land are on in over three-quarters of the country. That these are poorly reported does not mean they are not on. But it does mean that forums which could once have discussed their implications are not doing so. They are busy making themselves irrelevant to mass aspirations.
Millions are not merely refusing to play the game by the old rules. They are simply not playing the old game at all. There is no institution that is not under challenge. Many are actually in the process of meltdown. This panics those who see no ‘solutions’. (Which means that the Beautiful People are finding their solutions tossed aside with contempt). Consequently, large chunks of the country are getting harder to govern. With all the negatives these processes entail, they also mean that rights and freedoms are being not only asserted but debated and redefined.
There are huge energies now unleashed in the global arena. From anti-war to social justice movements. The protestors at Seattle and Cancun can in fact be seen as real globalisers. Only, they seek to globalise not greed but social justice movements. To globalise people’s cooperation against the exploitation of people. From political reform movements and minority rights platforms to basic struggles for democracy and human rights, it’s happening. All those concerns you have heard addressed earlier. Major battles are on for a radical redistribution of resources in several societies. All these are in the global arena. The challenge is how to marry these energies. Another world is possible. Other worlds are possible.
... for me, Sainath's most telling point that evening was not so much the figures and anecdotes that flowed like a breached dam. Instead, it was a point he has made before: about Nero's guests.
What I do find remarkable is Sainath's enduring optimism - in spite of the statistics, in spite of the reality, he believes that things can change. That they must change.