Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Happy Independence Day, India and Pakistan!

Today and yesterday, sixty years ago, India and Pakistan became free of two centuries of British rule. Yay! I wish I were in New Delhi over-indulging in milk-sweets like everyone else. But celebrations aside, there is also need for reflection. India is home to an increasingly affluent middle class (a tiny percentage of the total population) capitalizing on the liberalization of the economy, while that same liberalization has farmer suicides on the rise in village India. What is the state of the environment? What news from the front lines of women’s movements? The struggle for freedom is not history but current events for India’s dispossessed. And the decolonization of the mind takes far longer than the decolonization of the country.

I remember assuming long ago that feminism and the idea of equality for women was the West’s gift to the world. This was back when I was a teenager. I had studied Indian history and knew all about how Indian women participated in the freedom movement, filling jails in the tens of thousands. Yet this notion persisted until my teens, when I went up into the Himalayas with an environment group to study a grassroots environment movement called Chipko. Seeing village women in remote valleys of the Himalayas making speeches at gatherings, hearing about their peaceful resistance against loggers who threatened their lives and livelihoods, I saw for the first time an indigenous, homegrown feminism. Many years later I heard about the way women in rural Andhra Pradesh, inspired by a literacy movement, spontaneously organized a campaign against government-sponsored alcoholism.

One of the disappointments I have with modern India is that we have not brought to the forefront an alternative, sustainable socio-economic system based on social justice and equity for all. Instead we seem to be determined to ape the West in its excesses and follies. With out-of-the-box thinkers like Gandhi we had a chance, but Gandhi is mostly given lip-service now by those who control the shots. But my experiences of the past as well as current struggles around India tell of a quiet, beneath-the-radar persistence of a variety of alternate ways of being in the world. To get a quick glimpse of some of the issues, here is a link for interested readers. The organization is a mostly student-run body based broadly on a Gandhian grassroots approach.

So here’s to the continuing freedom movement!

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