As human exploitation towards the environment increases rapidly, leading to revolt by the Nature in form of disasters, epidemics and pandemics, it is important to discuss how human activity has led us here. The ongoing pandemic has bought to light that it is important to rebuild a relationship where Nature and humans exist in harmony and peace, helping each other in progressive development.
Keeping this in mind, the Center for Human Dignity and Development (CHDD), Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI), Counterview and Centre for Development, Communication and Studies (CDECS), Jaipur, organised an online discussion on May 21, 2021.
Dr Arjun Kumar, Director at IMPRI, began by briefly introducing the moderator, speaker and discussants, and the work they are involved in, after which the discussion was handed over to moderator Prof Sunil Ray.
Prof Sunil Ray, Former Director, AN Sinha Institute of Social Studies, Patna, began the discussion by introducing the speaker, Dr Bharat Patankar, Leading Activist, Left Wing Shramik Mukti Dal, Peasant Movement, South Maharashtra; and Architect, Equitable Water Distribution Movement, Maharashtra.
He also briefed the audience on Dr Patankar’s work on cohesive development diplomacy, highlighting the disturbance in the gap between human beings and Nature, and how human civilization can be saved by re-establishing this relationship, especially in the context of an ongoing pandemic. He quoted from one of Dr Patankar’s books:
“The most intractable challenge that human civilization confronts today is how to reverse contemporary development narratives that reiterate a catastrophic life situation.”
Dr Patankar began the discussion by bringing into light the fact that the start of a disturbing relationship between humans and Nature began with humans getting separated from the rest of Nature in a way that they wanted to create their own world. He said:
“A new relation started with misusing humans from Nature.”
Dr Patankar talked about human intervention in Nature without disruption, up to the point till agriculture was not stable. Devastation between humans and Nature started with the advent of industrial development, more specifically with industrial development based on fossil fuels and amassing natural resources in people’s hands. According to Dr Patankar:
In the present scenario, no natural resources are free of ownership.
Among the factors contributing to the lack of cohesive development are urbanisation (with more population moving to the cities, and a much higher concentration of people in the cities) and disturbance in exchange of matter between humans and Nature. The extent of human intervention is at such a large extent that humans are unable to give to Nature as much as they take from it; renewability is decreasing.
The pandemic shows that there has been reverse migration from industrial areas to village areas. It has revealed that the role of agrarian activities is of utmost importance in sustaining the economy. For re-establishing the cohesiveness, a 100% renewable-based economy is required. Dr Patankar pointed out that there are plenty of sustainable replacements available around the world, but they are not being implemented in the larger context.
In highlighting the importance of renewable energy, Dr Patankar said, “What India needs is not atomic energy research, but research on wind energy, solar energy, sustainable agriculture and a new kind of forest management.” The reestablishment of cohesiveness should be on a scientific basis.
Dr Nagamani Rao, Retired Associate Professor, Karve Institute of Social Service, Pune, shifted the conversation to mention examples of the Chipko Movement and the role of women in making the movement successful. She also discussed that despite playing a large role in saving Nature and historically being closer to Nature, women are usually excluded from the development picture. She believes that equity and gender are at the centre of searching for alternatives for cohesive development.
She pointed out that capitalism involves technological fixes for everything, including the pandemic, with profit-making as its ultimate aim, leading to inequalities inaccessibility of resources.
“There is a requirement to focus on value-added needs for sustainability.”
Dr Patankar agreed with her and explained that all natural resources need to be collectively controlled. He also pointed out that since it was women who gave birth to agricultural practices, historically, their knowledge and participation are required to reinstate sustainable agriculture. He further clarified that the focus should be on ecological and renewable-based production and not simply sustainability, which aims to limit the usage of resources instead of growing them.
The discussion was taken over by Prof G Sridevi, Associate Professor, Central University of Hyderabad, Hyderabad, who focused the conversation on agricultural and common resources. She mentioned that more performers and scientists are seen focusing on agriculture practices that are sustainable environmentally, economically, and socially.
Since the 1950s, the emphasis has been on growing industrial crops in large amounts using large amounts of resources and fertilisers, which are damaging the soil, water and overall climate, and further influencing nutrition security. There is a need to adopt natural methods. However, anything produced naturally is expensive, and thus common people are unable to afford organically grown products. She said:
“If we look into richly endowed natural resources, it becomes a site of catastrophic exploitation, and threatening many of livelihoods through practices such as mining.”
She then requested Dr Patankar to comment on the existing inequalities in accessing equal and natural resources. To this, he replied that movements of women’s and caste liberation can only be attained when they are allowed to make decisions, share natural resources and access alternative job opportunities that are free of the caste system. He also conveyed that in regards to natural resources, there are no natural resources that are not controlled by companies and agencies. He said:
“People with more land get more water for agricultural use. If water is a public resource it should be accessible to everyone equally.”
The water rights movement is the movement to establish collective rights over the water. According to him, the only solution to equitable distribution of natural resources is:
There are experiments happening in organic agriculture, however, to replicate those experiments, resources need to be provided to experiment more and build a scientific basis for those experiments. There should also be a change in government policies for its generalisation. People need to be interested in re-establishing cohesive development.
Prof Sridevi brought out examples of NRIs taking place around the villages in Andhra Pradesh who are growing organic products and selling them at huge prices. She then proceeded to ask Dr Patankar how common people can access organic products. He suggested that people should share any thoughts or ideas to increase production and accessibility to naturally grown products, thereby increasing their availability.
Dr Anamika Priya Darshini, Lead, Research, Sakshamaa: Initiative for What Works, Centre for Catalyzing Change, then took over to point out that the unhealthy gap between Nature and humans is only increasing, inviting more natural calamities. The Nature-exploitation model can’t work and the pandemic has only increased the gap between the rich and poor.
She questioned Dr Patankar on how the process of humans reconnecting with Nature can be initiated in a neo-liberal world like today. To this, Dr Patankar replied that there is no shortcut to reconnecting humans and Nature, and that exploitation and deprivation should be reduced; for this, people need to come together from different levels of fields such as theoretical and practical levels.
Dr Simi Mehta came forward with Sunderlal Bahuguna’s emphasis on the gift of human life, the benefits of an enlightened mind, and the importance of being empathetic towards Nature. People are trying to misuse their skills and abilities to assert power on Nature, and Nature is responding in form of disasters. Thus, it is imperative to go beyond material gains and focus on the collective development of humans and Nature for the betterment of the world.
The session was concluded by Prof Ray, who summarised the learnings of the session that illuminated the effects of the distorted relationship between humans and Nature leading to the pandemic, and which can further lead to more severe consequences. He pointed out that sustainability is a vague concept and the focus needs to be more on ecological development, particularly in the agriculture sector. He emphasised the need for women’s leaders to re-establish the cohesion between humans and Nature.
There is a need for more scientific experimentation on organic farming, and to make it affordable and accessible to the general population. People need to be motivated to work towards restoring the relationship between humans and Nature, and stop its exploitation and degradation in order to avoid the many upcoming calamities and disasters, and also to promote a more peaceful living for the people. The session then ended with Dr Arjun Kumar, thanking the guest speaker, discussants, the moderator and the audience.
Acknowledgement: Mahi Dugar is an intern at IMPRI.
YouTube link for The Global Pandemic and Cohesive Development of Humans and Nature
Simi Mehta, Anshula Mehta, Sunidhi Agarwal, Ritika Gupta