Monday, September 25, 2017

GST and its implications for Lokavidya Samaj

GST has been introduced in the country from July 1st 2017 and has more-or-less become effective all over the country. What are the stated aims and objectives of GST? This has been summarised as follows:
GST is one indirect tax for the whole nation, which will make India one unified common market. GST is a single tax on the supply of goods and services, right from the manufacturer to the consumer. Credits of input taxes paid at each stage will be available in the subsequent stage of value addition, which makes GST essentially a tax only on value addition at each stage. The final consumer will thus bear only the GST charged by the last dealer in the supply chain, with set-off benefits at all the previous stage.”
As can be seen, the main aim is to make India one unified market with one set of tax rules governing all transactions within this unified market. All producers and consumers are to be included in this unified market (which includes the entire Lokavidya Samaj consituting about 85 crore people; who are both producers and consumers). A majority of goods produced and services provided by Lokavdiya Samaj, pertain to daily life and livelihood necessities. There are hardly any ‘luxury’ goods or services provided by Lokavidya Samaj. Most of the goods and services are locally produced and consumed. So what does a national or all-India market mean to Lokavidya Samaj ? Will GST have any effect on the activities/transactions of and within Lokavidya Samaj? Will Lokavidya Samaj or its livelihoods gain any benefit from GST?

The first response of Lokavidya Samaj to GST

In response to the imposition of GST on handmade products, the Graama Seva Sangha, Bengaluru announced a nationwide movement to Free Hand Made Products from GST by launching a Tax Denial Satyagraha on 27-Aug-2017 at Bangalore. The Satyagraha was inaugurated by Theater Director and Social Activist Prasanna Heggodu, well known for his efforts to build co-operatives such as Charaka and Desi that promote a sustainable livelihood for handloom workers. Following the clarion call given by the Graama Seva Sangha, “Don’t collect and don’t pay tax,” the rally witnessed a sale of handmade footwear, fabric, mats and pots without tax.

A second Satyagraha was observed in Hyderabad on September 9, spearheaded by the All-India Federation of Handloom Organizations and Dastkar Andhra, demanding the withdrawal of tax by the GST Council which had its meeting in the Telangana capital on the day. These organisations have appealed to likeminded organizations and movements across the country to come together to fight for the abolition of tax on handmade goods as well as  for the creation of policy initiatives that recognize handmade products as the foundation of true Swadeshi manufacture in the country. The Satyagraha will be observed in other parts of the country too, including Chennai, Kolkata and Jaipur from September 11 to 24. A padayatra will begin from Junjappana Gudde in Sira taluk in Tumkur district of Karnataka on September 24 and the march will reach Kasturba Gandhi Ashram at Arasikere on October 2, after covering 120 km by foot. A hunger Satyagraha will begin at Arasikere on October 2, on the occasion of Gandhi Jayanti.

The argument for Satyagraha

For the first time since independence, a tax has been imposed on all handmade products in India( which are sought to be sold in this all-India market i.e outside the local market area) As a result, Khadi, handloom, handicrafts and the like are taxed under the GST regime. Under GST, luxury products have become cheaper, while handmade products have become expensive. Cars and cigarettes cost less, while a Khadi saree, a handloom kurta, a mat, pot and plough will cost more. Across India, producers of handmade goods who are already in distress will face even more hardship as a consequence of the imposition of the tax.

With this tax the rural enterprise, already in distress, is going to be hit further. We had fought the British against an inhuman tax on salt nearly a century ago through a Tax Denial Satyagraha. It has become necessary to wage another Satyagraha, and that too against our own government, because GST has dealt a death blow to rural enterprise. “

The aims and objectives of the Satyagraha

The organisers believe that this Satyagraha will restore the moral leadership of India as well. For, “morality is made by toiling hands. Sant Sabhyata the saintly civilization of India is handmade. Sant Ravidas, Sant Kabir, Sant Kanakadasa and Vachanakara Sants were all handcrafting people. Handmade production, equitable society and spirituality of simple living formed the three tenets of that Sabhyata. Today the Sabhyata is in danger. This campaign, for making handmade products tax free is a major step towards the rejuvenation of that Sabhyata.”
The British enslaved India not so much through the gun as through capitalist industry; not so much through politics as through commerce. They came as merchants. Remained as merchants. Plundered natural resources, brought machine made products, and managed to sell the millmade. They did so through tax manipulations. Handmade was taxed heavily while the British machine was given concessions. The same policy is being used by our governments now. GST, created jointly by all state governments and the central government is wrong in many other ways. The machine made that is spreading death across the globe and destroying nature environment and society is made cheaper while the rural product, which is nearly carbon neutral, is made dearer by this regime.”
This struggle involves radical changes to the organization, ethos and economics of the society and cannot be undertaken without support from all sections of the society across India.”

The all-India market and GST

The idea of GST is to establish a single all-India market with a single set of ‘market taxes’. So every producer/service-provider, who wishes to participate in this single market, must register and then, hopefully, derive the ‘benefits’ of this single tax regime; while the consumer ( who does not need to register) can get the ‘benefit’ of this single tax regime at any place or time within this single market area.

Industrial (large scale) producers and service-providers will obviously benefit from this ‘no-boundaries’ market system; where buying and selling has been freed from the ‘limitations and vagaries of localities and geographies’. With the widespread decrease in margins/surpluses, small producers/service-providers have been forced to participate in this market system, most often on very adverse terms of trade. In order to avail of the ‘benefits’ of this GST regime , they find that, rather than proving to be a boon it is actually proving to be a bane and a curse on their lives and livelihoods; thus the Satyagraha! The demand for no-tax/zero-tax on handmade produce and services (which permits for inclusion in the all-India market system), arises from this situation. The legitimacy of this demand cannot be questioned on any economic or moral ground!

Challenging the market ‘dharma’

Market activity involves buying and selling, and the aim is to make (or increase) profits for the producer/service-provider. This is the sole aim of (modern) market activity the world over, that is, this is the globalised ‘dharma’ of the modern market system. Producers and service-providers of Lokavidya Samaj have for long been localised and served the needs and necessities of local producers and consumers through a sustained local-market system. This system seemed to have survived (through the ages) through a now-forgotten ‘dharma’ ; of meeting the needs and necessities of the local producers and service-providers through a relatively fair system of exchange rather than one based on ‘cut-throat’ , competitive, profit-oriented buying and selling activity; devoid of any humanity or environmental-friendliness.

How can the State (or local body) seek revenue, through taxation, on hand-made goods and services? The only capital involved, in such productive or service activity, is human labour and Lokavidya. What tax can one legitimately levy on produce based on such capital? What Economics and/or morality supports such taxation?

The Sant Sabhyata, that the current Satyagraha avers to, probably paraphrases this now-forgotten ‘dharma’. Can the Satyagraha rekindle this ‘dharma’ within the rank and file of Lokavidya Samaj hand-makers? The sustenance of the opposition to the tax, on hand-made goods and services in the current GST regime, will largely depend on this internal strength that the Satyagraha is able to infuse in the rank and file of Lokavidya Samaj .

Krishnarajulu, September 2017

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Prasanna in Vidya Ashram

             Just a few days back we had a very creative and pleasant time at Vidya Ashram as Prasanna was with us for three days discussing and deliberating over art, philosophy and our outlook towards change.  Prasanna, from Bengaluru, is a well known theater personality and a social activist. He was with us in the Ashram during 7-9 August 2017. Other than the long, leisurely and informal discussions at the Ashram, he participated in the meetings of social activists in the city organized by . Sajha Sanskriti Manch. On the last day he told us about how to look at theater. One of these days he also made first class upma for our breakfast. Given below are some details that are worth paying attention to.

Prasanna and Sunil in a discussion at Vidya Ashram

            On 7th August there was a meeting of activists of Varanasi at the Bharat Mata Mandir, to welcome a yatra being undertaken in Eastern Uttar Pradesh to commemorate the occasion of the August Kranti 1942. In this meeting Prasanna spoke about how it would make great sense to organize opposition to GST on Khadi, handloom, and all products and services made by hands. He told that such an idea was under serious consideration of the Federation of Handloom Worker's Societies in Hyderabad and other places. The proposal was that they sell their products and services without paying GST and make an open statement about it and court arrest if the government so intended. His ideas were well received. There were persons from different organizations who said that further steps taken in this regard may be shared with the activists of Varanasi through Vidya Ashram. 
             On 8th August, there was a day time fast in front of District Court to express solidarity with the agitation and fast by Narmada Bachao activists on the bank of Narmada against huge submergence of adivasi population without proper rehabilitation. It was also to express peaceful opposition to the arrest of Medha Patkar, the leader of the agitation, and destruction of the samadhi sthala of Mahatma Gandhi by the government of Madhya Pradesh. The organisers of the fast at Varanasi also contended that they were against purohits of Varanasi participating in the Bhoomi Poojan of the temporary tin shades made for the oustees. Prasanna joined this public expression with Laxman Prasad and Mohammad Aleem of Vidya Ashram.
             On 9th August, we sat down to hear him on what is theater and what is the idea of representation. He talked about how theater is a community phenomena and how in Indian tradition of theater the actor continuously moves in and out of the character. He explained how Indian theater is different from that in the West. Our theater is very close to ordinary life and it does not have individualistic approach. Also it is not performance oriented but rehearsal oriented, meaning that the process of arrival has greater significance than the arrival itself. Vidya Ashram has all along had a reasonable engagement with philosophy and art in trying to see how these endeavors deserve to occupy central places in thinking about a new world and the interventions for the same. These discussions and ideas of art will, hopefully, give a further impetus to such of our efforts. We hope that this is just the beginning and our interactions will scale new heights.
              Prasanna had joined IIT Kanpur for Ph.D. in Chemistry in 1971, but did not stay there for long and left to join National School for Drama at Delhi. After that he went back to Karnataka and founded Samudayam, a theater movement. He wrote novels and plays,  directed them and performed many shows. He was a Marxist then. Later he was attracted towards Gandhi, built an organization called Charakha, a women's cooperative society.  In April 2015, there was a month long Satyagraha spearheaded by All India Handloom Organizations through out Karnataka to highlight the plight of weavers. Large yatras were organized and indefinite fasts were observed in many places. Prasanna had meetings, workshops, street performances and visual art campaigns during the Satyagraha and organized a large convention on 19th April on Sustainable Living at the Gandhi Ashram in Badanwal near Mysore. This is known as Badanwal Satyagraha ( LJA post on 27 April 2015). A large number of social activists and artists participated in it. Vidya Ashram associates, JK Suresh and GSR Krishnan from Bengaluru and Krishnarajulu from Hyderabad also took part in this Satyagraha. In the Summer this year we from Varanasi had opportunity to talk with him at his wonderful Desi Santhe at Ragi Kana in Bengaluru. In this Santhe (bazar) held on every Sunday, a large number of associations participate for sale of their craft products and a large number of people come to buy handloom and handicraft products, food products and organic agricultural produce. Generally also a meeting is held on some social issue. The call is : Come as a Consumer and go back as an Activist.  

Vidya Ashram

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Lokavidya Vedike: A Bengaluru Initiative

The lokavidya group in Bengaluru comprising of J.K. Suresh, G.S.R. Krishnan, Amit Basole, Chitra Sahasrabudhey, and Sunil Sahasrabudhey (the last two from Vidya Ashram, Varanasi) met a cross-section of scholars and activists from the world of knowledge in Bengaluru last week. We met those from the Social Sciences and social thought (at Azim Premji Univ.), art (at Ragi Kanna organized by Prasanna's Desi), and science research (JNCASR). We will be uploading audio recordings of these lectures here soon. In the coming weeks we expect to have dialogues with those in the information sciences. 

The main question around which the discussions were aimed was development of a constructive dialectic of equal and fraternal relationship between the world of lokavidya and the world of organized knowledge, the university. The dialogues were initiated by Sunil Sahasrabudhey with presentation on the idea of lokavidya and the nature of changes that the world of knowledge was undergoing. He stressed the point that an active collaborative domain inaugurated together by lokavidya and organized knowledge is expected to hold great promise of a new world whose bottom line is absence of poverty and disparity. 

Most participants in these dialogues were thinking young men and women, below 40 years of age. They asked clarificatory questions and also put forth their views on the subject matter. What has been tried in these dialogues is loud thinking on the idea of a new knowledge domain which has in it lokavidya on an equal footing. This is expected to liberate the world of knowledge from its analytic trappings. Then we can expect radically new ideas about societal and political structures and a new strategy to build a new world without poverty and social disparity. 

A meeting has been called on Saturday, 10th June at 11AM to further explore how a lokavidya standpoint may initiate a process of reflections on the world of knowledge. We expect to work with the name Lokavidya Vedike (Lokavidya Platform) from a location in Thyagaraja Nagar, Basavanagudi.Bangalore

Sunday, March 19, 2017

वाराणसी परिचर्चा-1 : परिवर्तन के कार्यकर्ताओं की नई ज़िम्मेदारी

शनिवार 18 मार्च 2017 की दोपहर 4  बजे वाराणसी के परिवर्तन के कार्यकर्त्ता विद्या आश्रम, सारनाथ में बैठे और नई परिस्थितियों पर आपस में बात किये। नई परिस्थिति यानि उत्तर प्रदेश के चुनावों में चुनकर आये विधायकों में अधिकांश भारतीय जनता पार्टी के हैं और उनकी बहुमत की सरकार बन रही है।  बैठक विद्या आश्रम ने बुलाई थी और यह कह कर बुलाई थी कि अब परिवर्तन के कार्यकर्ताओं पर एक बड़ी वैचारिक ज़िम्मेदारी आ पड़ी है।  मौजूदा विचार सामाजिक ध्रुवीकरण के इस चरण से मुकाबला करने में नाकाम साबित हो रहे हैं और जनता से जुड़े तथा लोकदृष्टि का सम्मान करने वाले कार्यकर्ताओं को उस नई बहस को आकार देना है जो समय की चुनौतियों पर खरी उतरे।  महात्मा गाँधी का सन्दर्भ लेने का भी आग्रह रहा।

बैठक में लगभग 30 कार्यकर्त्ता शामिल रहे। अधिकांश किसी चल रही राजनैतिक विचारधारा से सम्बद्ध नहीं थे।  सभी ने बैठक में अपने विचार रखे।  मोटे तौर पर चुनाव प्रक्रिया की खामियों, लोकतंत्र की सीमाओं, धनतंत्र और मीडिया के जन विरोधी हस्तक्षेप, नई तकनीकी 'स्मार्ट ' दुनिया के एकतरफा आकर्षण, ध्रुवीकरण के आतंकित करने वाले परिणामों व गाँधी जी द्वारा बताये गये सात सामाजिक पापों तथा स्वराज के अर्थों पर  बातें हुईं। लोकचेतना समिति  के नीति भाई, साझा संस्कृति मंच के वल्लभाचार्य, सर्वोदय की जागृती राही , गाँधी विद्या संस्था की डा. मुनीज़ा खान, भारतीय किसान यूनियन के लक्ष्मण प्रसाद और कृष्ण कुमार क्रांति, कारीगर नजरिया के एहसान अली और आलम अंसारी, लोकविद्या जन आंदोलन की प्रेमलता सिंह, बबलू कुमार और मोहम्मद अलीम, आर. आई. डी. एम. के  डॉ. अनूप श्रमिक, विद्या आश्रम के फ़िरोज़, प्रभावती, अंजू और कमलेश, चित्रा जी और सुनील, तथा सतीश सिंह, संतलाल, मक़बूल, बशीर, शिवमूरत राजभर, टेनी मौर्या , दीनानाथ , पंचम प्रसाद, मुन्नू प्रसाद , प्रवाल कुमार , संजय, राजेंद्र प्रसाद , प्रमेश यादव, व अन्य उपस्थित थे.
आपस में बातचीत का यह सिलसिला जारी रखने  पर सहमति बनी।
अगली बैठक राजघाट के सर्वोदय परिसर में करना तय हुआ। यह बैठक रविवार 2 अप्रैल को दोपहर 2 बजे होगी।
इसका आयोजन सर्वोदय की जागृति राही,  आशा ट्रस्ट के वल्लभाचार्य पाण्डेय और गाँधी विद्या संस्थान की डा. मुनीज़ा खान करेंगे।

विद्या आश्रम