As the world hurtles towards greater ecological devastation, inequalities, and social conflicts, the biggest question facing us is: are there alternative ways of meeting human needs and aspirations, without trashing the earth and without leaving half of humanity behind?
Across India (as in the rest of the world), this question is being answered by a multitude of grassroots and policy initiatives: from meeting basic needs in ecologically sensitive ways to decentralised governance and producer-consumer movements, from rethinking urban and rural spaces towards sustainability to struggles for social and economic equity.
Unfortunately, documentation, public awareness, and networking of such initiatives in India is poor. Kalpavriksh has initiated a few small steps in this direction, including:
- Conducting case studies of grassroots initiatives on a range of themes.
- Initiating a website (www.vikalpsangam.org or www.alternativesindia.org), co-hosted with Shikshantar, Bhoomi College and Deccan Development Society.
- Organising regional Vikalp Sangams or Alternatives Confluences (Hindi / Telegu) where people from various initiatives can come together to celebrate, learn, and synergise, especially across thematic and interest boundaries.
- Public outreach through means other than the website, including popular articles, reports, and photographs.
- Linking with similar efforts in other parts of the world, through Peoples’ Sustainability Treaties (e.g. see www.radicalecologicaldemocracy.wordpress.com), and collaborative activities with other organizations.
- Evolving a conceptual framework on alternatives
What is an Alternative?
By alternatives is meant initiatives (practical activities, policies, processes, technologies, and concepts/frameworks), that are practiced or proposed by communities, government, civil society organizations, individuals, with the following key features:
- Ecological sustainability, including the conservation of nature (ecosystems, species, functions, cycles) and its resilience.
- Social well-being and justice, including lives that are physically, socially, culturally, and spiritually fulfilling, and where there is equity (including gender equity) in socio-economic and political entitlements, benefits, rights and responsibilities.
- Direct democracy, where decision-making starts at the smallest unit of human settlement, in which every human has the right, capacity and opportunity to take part, and builds up from this to larger levels of governance that are downwardly accountable.
- Economic democracy, in which local communities (including producers and consumers, often combined in one) have control over the means of production, distribution, exchange, markets; where localization is a key principle, and larger trade and exchange are built on it.
No single initiative may have all these features, but even if they have one, they are worth featuring here, so long as they are not seriously threatening the others. We may not include a new green technology that is so expensive it will be usable only for the rich. Or a greening initiative by a communally fundamentalist organization or one that further marginalizes women. Or a radical political experiment that is bent on clearfelling a forest to make its point. There will always be greys in the spectrum of alternatives, but we will learn as we proceed how to distinguish genuine attempts from superficial or counterproductive ones.