Life is larger than all Arts, Sciences, Religions, Philosophies, trade, techs, States... through times and places.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Food for Work or Work for Food

Taxing Survival in Mumbai | Photo by Remigius de Souza
 About 60 percent people in Mumbai are slums-dwellers and squatters. 
They are displaced and marginalized mainly due to so-called development projects.

(The strike by the wholesale traders was going on a couple of months ago, when I met two friends who are highly educated professionals. One was visitor from other state. The strike was a major event then. The commodities were in short-supply. My friends are interested in ecology. Their input mainly comes from workshops, seminars, books etc. They, hoever, did not mention the strike during our talk. So I asked, “Do you know what 'Food for Work' is?” No, they didn't know. This incident made me write this post.)

Food for Work

'Food for Work': I heard this benevolent concept a few decades back. I was in contact with some NGOs working in the villages. The work involved 'Conservation of Water' in drought stricken rural areas for peasants. It was bunding the farms, deepening the silted village water tanks etc. so that the rain water is retained in the scanty rainfall regions.

The 'bunding' and ‘de-silting’ of wells and village tanks is an ancient skill, still practiced by peasants by 'Community Participation' in many parts of the country. Since the Industrialization infiltrated it is getting lost. Or is it already lost?

The Concept, 'Food for Work' originated in the West; it is anybody's guess. It, perhaps, came from some foreign Funding NGOs / Agencies.

I found something amiss in their activities. Plants — grasses, shrubs, trees — also help water conservation, besides they stop soil erosion, add mulch / fertilizer to the soil. But it was not on their agenda. This aspect was either ignored, forgotten, or was unknown to NGOs or the concerned departments.

Plants, however, were a part of another programme for ‘Reforestation’, in another package, in other regions. Perhaps they did not see that plants also conserve water… hence they did not combine it with ‘Conservation of Water’.

Work for Food

Paddy Farming in Konkan | Photo by Pooja Rani

Peasants 'Work for Food' all their life to 'produce food' for self and others. It is most unfortunate they are now 'Beneficiaries' in the times of Development. In 65 years the conditions have worsened. Incidentally the term ‘Beneficiaries’, also, is imported.

I recall a conversation from a novel by Sharat Chandra Chatarji: “First you cut the limbs of a person, and then carry him on your shoulder; that is your idea of charity”. 

None of the so-called leaders thought of taking them along on the path of inclusive development, from the beginning of Independence.

On the contrary they – the peasants – being Unorganized Sector of the Indian society, became a soft target of exploitation, in the name of development, in creating and accelerating economic disparity, in depriving social services - healthcare, literacy, appropriate education, communications… this is a long list.

Ghettos of Development

They targeted peasants’ lands for creating the “Ghettos of Development” in the rural areas; they were displaced and marginalized, without their justified Rehabilitation. It took sixty five years for India to change, not scrap, the draconian law: The Land Acquisition Act. That too is an amendment, with loopholes and ambiguities that will be revealed when it is implemented.

Unfortunately, the managers – the elite ruling minority – of the country's affairs are shining with reflected light. They, in the heat of the powers in hands, conveniently forget the majority of 900 plus million peasants are actually running (feeding) this nation.

Otherwise why the ‘Rupee’ should fall in International Market? All efforts by RBI, FM have failed, so far! Actually it has been sliding down for decades, if any of the senior citizens do remember! I don't see any other rationale for the 'fall' of the Rupee.
In his recent article in The New York Times, 'Why India Trails China', Amartya Sen says, 'China, which during the Mao era made advances in land reform and basic education and health care, embarked on market reforms in early 1980s; its huge success changed the shape of the world economy. India has paid inadequate attention to these lessons.'

He ends the article, 'For India to match China... It needs a better-educated and healthier labor-force at all levels of society. What it needs most is more knowledge and public discussion about the nature and the huge extent of inequality and its damaging consequences, including for economic growth.'

I do not compare India with other nations like Amartya Sen or others. India, as well as each of her regions, is unique, because of the natural and cultural biodiversity. Each region, within country or each state, is capable of solving its problems with cooperation of the people, they having deep perceptions of land-water-life. Government is merely a tool to provide facilities, not a ruler to coerce people to drive economic growth for a few.

Each Place is Unique

Once I had spent almost a decade to motivate someone in a NGO to dig pond of about 20 ft x 40 ft size, in their land in the dry-arid region. During monsoon it was full with water; it attracted water-loving wildlife. Even if it dries after a few months, it will get refilled.

In another barren land, in the same region, I had suggested to dig a large tank to take advantage of its natural slope of the land. I advised not to go deeper than 5-6 ft. as there was possibility of salinity in the subsoil. I also advised them to plant thick cuttings of banyan branches in the land! In the first monsoon (15-20 inches annual rainfall) some of them had roots and leaves sprouting. In this land the NGO had started a Vocational Training Institute.

Could this example of conservation/ restoration of Land–Water–Plants be a part of curriculum in villages, in schools, colleges, or vocational schools? It never occurred to the people who were running the NGO.

Each place is unique. Here, in the realms of Nature, regimentation and compartmentalization as in the civilized societies doesn't work. It needs unique corrective measures in harmony with Nature.
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© Remigius de Souza. All Rights Reserved.


  1. I agree with you completely on the front that there is no point comparing India with China or other countries, and indeed different regions of India too. But if Amartya Sen says that Chinese social scene has advanced due to steps taken in '80s, that probably is true. During my visit to one of its new emerging cities in 2010, I saw first hand that, they have paid a heavy price for that too in terms of their environment and the same social advancement made is slowly coming to naught.
    Our Draconian laws definitely need a revamp. To that effect, I am somehow pleased and optimistic that since 2000 India is moving slowly but steadily in the right direction. A case in point are the new 2-3 laws passed in the spate of coming elections. The average tax payer has lambasted the Government for its ill-timing and opportunist zeal. But I tend to look at it like this - better late than never. When all developed countries have elaborate social security policies, India still lags behind. The problem of correct implementation of these laws, be it the land acquisition bill, food security bill or the street vending bill, will always be there, but the point is to get these laws passed. Once the law is in place implementation effectiveness takes some time, but does take place eventually.
    For the average tax payer, these laws look mere populist measures, probably they are in part, but their introduction was long overdue. Most tax payers feel that they pay taxes only for better civil infrastructure, better roads for their cars. Whatsapp has sadly become the new forum open and free for all to vent their ire left right and centre against the government. For most tax payers, happiness and stability comes alone from a 20000+ sensex score....

    1. Thank you for your insightful comment, which adds some more dimensions to the post. My views are mostly based on what I have witnessed at ground level, since childhood, and later my travels across India; I am not a scholar. Since you have eye witnessed conditions in China, your views are worth consideration.
      I have been following news about China, on and off… Pollution in China’s urban areas is of great concern; I am sure they are aware about it. Their advances in science and technology seem tremendous. Is it the result of (failed) ‘Great Leap Forward’ – Furness in every village or something? The failure may have proved stepping stone in long run.
      What we fundamentally lack is Right Education for the large majority. Take Laws for example: We are law-loving people. Corruption, rape and atrocities on women… one and all issues call for more laws. But who shall implement them? Who can read and understand laws, except a small fraction of society? Majority citizens are not even aware of what laws are there, besides defunct laws.
      Your end of the comment, "...happiness and stability comes alone from a 20000+ sensex score...", is remarkable, about the blinkered view of the tax payers!