Monday, August 3, 2015

Kisan-Karigar (Farmer-Artisan) Panchayat on occasion of Vidya Ashram's foundation day

On August 1st, 2004 Vidya Ashram was founded at Sarnath, Varanasi with the purpose of re-imagining a new politics for the Knowledge Age, from the standpoint of the lokavidyadhar samaj (the society of lokavidya-holders), that vast majority which has been excluded, dispossessed, and exploited in the name of “development”.

On occasion of the 11th anniversary of the founding of the Ashram, a Kisan-Karigar Panchayat was held on the Ashram premises. Around 50 people participated in a 3-hour long spirited discussion on the proposition "Everybody Must Have A Regular Income Equal At Least To The Pay Of A Government Employee" (click here for Hindi version of this booklet). There was strong participation from farmers of the surrounding areas as well as from artisans of the city, mainly weavers. Also present were small shopkeepers, women, and university employees.

Those assembled deliberated on a wide range of issues in depth. It was noted that through the slogan of Regular Incomes for All, Lokavidya Jan Andolan calls for an end to hierarchies in the world of knowledge. The distinctions between skill and knowledge, as well as between formal education and lokavidya were debated and discussed with several participants bringing in their own experiences as well as making general points of the status of their knowledge in society.

A central question was, why are incomes of the lokavidyadhar samaj, of farmers, artisans, small shopkeepers, so low? Even as the 7th pay commission recommendations are soon to come into force and as incomes in the public sector have steadily grown, and corporate India has reaped the benefits of economic growth, the rest of the people have had to face stagnant incomes and falling standards of living. It emerged from the discussions that we should no longer accept the commonly advanced argument that lack of education leads to low incomes. Rather the key roles played by government policy and the organization of the market in determining incomes, were stressed.

Just as doctors and lawyers earn a good return for their specific skills, so to should weavers and farmers. Their years of training, their extensive skills that feed and clothe the nation are invisible in public discourse that is shaped by the values of modern education. This will have to be challenged.

One principal point that was stressed by many present was that lokavidya-holders themselves do not rate their own knowledge highly. First they must prepare themselves mentally to have faith in lokavidya, in its ability to organize society and in its capacity to stand equal to any other knowledge. Once they truly believe in its value, they will be able to construct a political challenge to the present dispensation that creates second-class citizens of the vast majority.

Overall there was a clear indication of a new consciousness taking shape. In fact the message sharpened over the discussion itself. Towards the end, the general feeling was that a public program on this question needs to be organized in a apace that symbolizes the formal education order, for example a university or a government office. An organizing committee was formed to pursue this line of action.

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