Thursday, October 15, 2015

Social Exclusion

A Lokavidya Perspective


Social exclusion is the process by which individuals or entire communities of people are systematically blocked from (or denied full access to) various rights, opportunities and resources that are normally available to members of a society, and which are fundamental to social integration within that particular society (e.g., housing, employment, healthcare, civic engagement, democratic participation and due process).

Alienation or disenfranchisement resulting from social exclusion is often connected to a person's social class, educational status, childhood relationships, living standards or personal choices in lifestyle. The result of social exclusion is that affected individuals or communities are prevented from participating fully in the economic, social and political life of the society in which they live.

Many communities experience social exclusion; such as racial (e.g., Black in America) and economic (e.g., Dalits and tribals in India, tribals in latin America). Another example is the Aboriginal community in Australia and the indigenous 'Indians' of the American continent. Externalisation of native communities is a product of colonisation. As a result of colonialism, these native communities lost their land and were forced into destitute areas, lost their sources of livelihood and were excluded from the labour market. Importantly, native communities lost their culture and values through forced assimilation and lost their rights in society. Today various native communities continue to be externalised from mainstream society due to the pursuit of (capitalist market)practices, policies and programmes that meet the 'development' needs of mainstream society and, often wilfully, ignore the needs of these marginalized groups themselves.

In India, jati (caste) has been the dominant mode of expression of social segregation. The rights/privilages accruing to a particular jati, within the aggregate social society (village or panchayat) began, it is said, to be hierarchically determined about 300 BC and this hierarchy became oppressive and cast into a rigid mould during the next 1000 years as depicted in the later smritis, shutras etc. The panchamas or dalits became “untouchables” and were socially ostracised and made to live separate from other jatis with severe restrictions on their social interaction with other jatis( The 'origin' of the dalits is still an open question). Inter-dining and inter-marriage across jatis was utterly taboo.

One of the most pressing problems , of Indian society today, in its march towards 'equality' and an egalitarian social order, is the dismantling of the opressive hierarchy of the caste-system. There have been many “social reform” movements, all aimed at negating this hierarchy and heralding a more humane and equal social order, during the past two millenia. However, caste barriers and taboos of all kinds persist even to this day in the subconsciousness of the polity and affect, many times adversely, the effort of many soci-economic programmes designed to ameliorate the condition of dalits, tribals and other oppressed communities.

Lokavidya and externalisation

We can look at the history of 'social reform' movements(revolutions) as a continuing flux in Lokavidya(knowledge in and with society) . Every time a certain knowledge thread came into ascendency and sought to radically alter Lokavidya Samaj(the society that lived by Lokavidya) there was a movement within Lokavidya Samaj to relegitimise or redefine a 'relegated' thread of Lokavidya and ensure inclusion of those sections that were(being) 'excluded' from Lokavidya Samaj.

As examples:

  1. The ascendency of (what we know as)Vedic thought around 1500BC while reinforcing the hierarchy in the extant social organisation (varna-jati system – a system that sought to 'preserve' nascent productive knowledge and practice and the inherent equality bewteen such threads of knowledge); led to the exclusion of large sections of these productive sections from mainstream society. This process 'resulted' in the Buddhist and Jaina movements for re-legitimisation of a knowledge thread(in Lokavidya) that promoted inclusion and served as a basis for a more egalitarian and less-hierarchical social organisation. This phase of social inclusion, of the hitherto excluded sections, lasted upto about 700 AD.

  1. The infusion of ideas(knowledge) from Christianity(33 AD onward) and Islam(6th century post Nalanda) resulted in the externalisation of various segments of the Samaj(especially Dalits and tribals) from 'mainstream' Hinduism largely through 'conversion', with the 'promise' of providing such sections a more egalitarian social status. This process gave rise to movements during the period between the 8th and 12th century to restablish the supremacy of Vedic thought in Lokavidya(through AdiSankara, Madhava, Ramanuja etc) and sought to resestablish the primacy of the 'Vedic thread' in Lokavidya while attempting to include those sections that had been 'excluded' through conversion during the Buddhist, Christian and Islamic periods.

  1. The ascendency of this 'Vedic' thread, which once again led to an increasing exclusion of the productive castes/jatis from the centre stage, led to a widespread Bhakti movement, (12th to 14th century) all over the country(probably for the first time), initially in South India( Nayannars, Alvars etc)which spread rapidly northward throughout this period and upto about the 17th century, and established a very visible presence through verse and music (Dnyāneshwar, Namdev, Tukaram, Eknath, Kabir, Meerabai, Annamacharya, Purandara, Ramadasu,Tygaraja etc). [The rise of Sufism through Nizamuddin Auliya , Kwaja Bande Nawaz and others, also paralleled this movement]The Bhakti movement, among other things, attemped, through music and verse, to re-include the productive Sudra jatis including the dalits and tribals, into the mainstream Samaj while emphasising the inherent unity of the Samaj. Among the 'worshipped heroes' were Krishna a Yadava(sudra) god- included as an avatar of Vishnu .

  1.  With the advent of British rule ,in the 18th century, a system of production and governance came into being, that proved ruinous to the Samaj. Livelihoods based on Lokavidya were systematically destroyed and there was a concerted attack on Lokavidya with a view to delegitimizing it. Every member of the Samaj was made to feel inadequate and incapable of a productive role in society. The focus (of localised movements) shifted to the productive activities of the Samaj and attempts were made to preserve the livelihoods and strengthen Lokavidya Tana-bana(the idioms used in the early wars against British rule were all rooted in various aspects of the culture and traditions of the Samaj). The incursion of modern science and technology(19th century onwards) and the development of capitalist modes of production and distribution led to the exclusion of these jatis(Bahiskrit Samaj) and, importantly, vastly altered the mode and relations of prodcution and market. Gandhiji spearheaded the movement to relegitimise that thread within Lokavidya that was based in the ordinary life of the productive jatis and bring it to the fore- as providing the guiding principle of regeneration and rebuilding of society(sarvodaya); restablishing the pre-Vedic period 'equality' between the varnas
Gandhiji wrote a classic essay called “The Ideal Bhangi”: in which he said

The Brahmin’s duty is to look after the sanitation o f the soul, the
Bhangi’s that o f the body o f society ... and yet our woebegone
Indian society has branded the Bhangi as a social pariah, set him
d own at the b o t tom o f the scale, held him fit only to receive kicks
and abuse, a creature who must subsist on the leavings o f the caste
people and dwell on the dung heap.
If only we had given due recognition to the status o f the Bhangi as
equal to that o f the Brahmin, our villages, no less their inhabitants
would have looked a picture o f cleanliness and order. I therefore
make bold to state without any manner of hesitation or doubt that
not till the invidious distinction between Brahmin and Bhangi is
removed will our society enjoy health, prosperity and peace and be happy.

and firmly believed that only this would 'recast and reorient' productive activity and help release the true creative potential of the people (swaraj).

  1. The economic disruption in productive activity, caused by British rule, brought inter-caste rivalry based on a seeming heirarchy of 'forward' and 'backward' castes to the fore, while the dalits(untouchables) were 'urged' to circumvent this conflict through conversion and achieve a 'favoured' status in the emergent modern social setup. Lokavidya Tana-bana and the unity of the Samaj were, then, cast in the mould of an opposition to caste-based social hierarchy and untouchability(Jyothiba Phule, Gandhi, Ambedkar etc) and symbolised through a focus on the productive activity of the (Satyashodak)Samaj: the charkha and khadi (Gandhi). The 'backward class' movements of the late 19th and early 20th centuries sought to preserve and protect the Lokavidya identity of these sections of the Samaj while demanding a prominant role for the Samaj in the new productive order.

  1. The Vaikom Satyagraha(1924–25) in Travancore led by TK Madhavan, KM Pannikar, Periyar Naranaswamy Naicker and others, was the first systematically organized agitation in Kerala against orthodoxy to secure the rights of the 'depressed' classes and against untouchability. The movement was centered at the Shiva temple at Vaikom near Kottayam.The Satyagraha aimed at securing freedom of movement for all sections of society through the public roads leading to the Sri Mahadevar Temple at Vaikom. The agitation brought forward the question of civil rights of the 'low caste' people into the forefront of Indian politics. No mass agitation in Kerala acquired so much all-India attention and significance in the twentieth century as the Vaikom Satyagraha. [Vaikom is a small temple town famous for its Shiva temple, which in the early twentieth century was the citadel of orthodoxy and casteism. As was the custom prevalent in those days, the Avarnas were not allowed to enter the temples. But at Vaikom, they were not permitted even to use the public roads around the temple. Notice boards were put up at different spots prohibiting the entry of Avarnas reminding them of their social inferiority. All the more unbearable to them were the fact that a Christian or Muslim was freely allowed on these roads. An Avarna had to walk through a circuitous route, two to three miles longer to avoid the road beside the temple. [There is an acecdote that when Ayyankali, a dalit leader of the pulaya caste, had to travel through this road, he was asked to get down from his bullock cart, and walk through the circuitous route and his bullock cart without him was allowed to pass through the road!]

The colonial phase of the knowledge movement

With the advent of direct British rule from the mid-18th century and the introduction of the 'modern' school system (which got a filip with Macaulay's minute) the infusion of 'western' knowledge including 'modern' science and technology into society began to sharpen the heirarchy and gave rise to intense caste rivalry in Lokavidya Samaj. A new definition of 'literacy' or 'learnedness' came into being and the process of delegitimising Lokavidya began in earnest. The advent of the capitalist mode of production and the consequent expansion of the capitalist market (at the cost of decentralised production and the local market) greatly added fuel to this fire. The establishment of (centralised) government bodies of authority spanning every aspect of public and social life introduced a new element of alienation among the constituents of Lokavidya Samaj. The new education, based and nutured by science and technology, developed a new class of 'skilled' labour in all areas of production and service. The class was comprised mostly of those members of the upper castes who had access to these educational institutions-schools and who believed that a capitalist path of development was 'progressive' and desirable for an independent India and would lead to an egalitarian society divested of the ills of caste-based discrimination where a new-found fraternity would emerge(pan-Indian nationalism) to replace localised community-based fraternities(Dr B.R. Ambedkar's position).The late 19th and early 20th century was witness to the 'Backward class' and 'Non-Brahmin' movements in South India and a Dalit movement led by Dr Ambedkar all over India- the disruption of the tenuous bonds of mutual cooperation and coexistence within Lokavidya Samaj was complete.

Gandhiji observed that these devlopments would actually lead to large scale deprivation of Lokavidya Samaj. He spearheaded a movement for relegitimising Lokavidya and regeneration of Lokavidya Samaj while attempting to rid the Samaj of many discriminatory social ills that plagued it (such as untouchability, oppression of women, uncleanliness, detestation of manual labour, destruction of the natural environment etc). In other words, Gandhiji led the first inclusion movement as a necessary corollary of the Independence movement so that, in Independent India, Lokavidya Samaj would have a voice and control over its productive and service activities and a re-invigorated local market served by these activities.

The current phase of the knowledge movement

In 67 years after Independence, we see that the plight of Lokavidya Samaj has, in every aspect, become more precarious. This society, which once had the wherewithal of meeting the basic needs of its members- food, clothing, shelter and livelihood; now finds itself completely at the mercy of the knowledge(centralised planning for development) that guides the ruling urban industrialised section of society. Even the provision of access to 'modern' education has not significantly altered the soci-economic status of the Samaj and large sections of its population are forced to live on earnings amounting to much less than Rs.50 per day per family. The wanton acquisition of lands and forests have forced vast farming and tribal communities into the ranks of landless and homeless(beggars). The weavers and artisans of all types, who possessed knowledge and skills of cloth and fabric production, utensils and implements/machinery, service activities of all types- have also been forced to join the ranks of 'uneducated skill-less' labour. The children of the Samaj see no salvation in pursuing the 'trades' of their fathers and , having spent their childhood and youth in attempting to acquire new found knowledge and skills in schools and colleges now find themselves holding Lokavidya in contempt and nowhere to go in the modern industrialised world. The local markets have all but been destroyed so much so that even those sections of Lokavidya Samaj, who can only pursue the 'traditional' livelihoods, find no means of obtaining a 'remunerative price' for the products of their knowledge, skills and labour.

The way forward

The real( and remaining) strength of Lokavidya Samaj lies in Lokavidya. It is Lokavidya that has sustained 'traditional' society and livelihoods and has, against all odds, helped the Samaj to survive and continue to contribute to the productive and service activities of Indian society as a whole. In this strength lies the basis for the unity of the Samaj and the motive force for the rebuilding of the Samaj; with a new dispensation, commensurate with the changed times and environment. The inter-relationships between different sections(jatis, communities) of the Samaj also need to be recast in a new and more robust manner that will perpetuate and enhance the mutual cooperation and fraternity that appears to have sustained them for so long.

In the post 1990 'knowledge era'-where University knowledge, based on Science and Technology, has assumed commanding heights and in the era of the Internet where the potential of 'knowledge management' has come to the fore; there has been a renewed attempt to de-legitimise Lokavidya and decimate the knowledge-basis of Lokavidya Samaj. This is a sort of reverse-exclusion. The knowledge-basis of livelihoods of Lokavidya Samaj and the material basis of these livelihoods-land, water, forests etc have been encroached upon. The acquistion of natural resources for the purposes of intensifying capitalist development has led to a great knowledge-divide. Lokavidya Samaj is being deprived of its fundamental right to a life of dignity based on its inherent knowledge and skills and because it has no knowledge-certification from the dominant sections of society it is being excluded from the 'development' paradigm!

In the age of the Internet and 'Information revolution' , Lokavidya Jan Andolan represents the current phase of the knowledge movement for re-legitimising Lokavidya and including all movements for the assertion of peoples' knowledge and fundamental rights thereof.

The 'revival' of Lokavidya Jan Andolan in 2011 by Vidya Ashram, Varanasi started with attempting to relegitimise Lokavidya in Lokavidya Samaj and appealing to the westernised sections of Indian society to recognise the need to allow space for (ever-dynamic) Lokavidya Samaj to assert itself and re-cast Lokavidya to help it counter the onslaught of centralised industrial production and market.
LJA carried out campaigns to re-establish the local market for Lokavidya-based products so that fraternal and more equal relationships between different sections of the Samaj could find their contemporary moorings. The role of women in the productive and social life of the Samaj has to be reasserted and this was sought to be achieved through a concerted campaign for Women's empowerment through recognition of her knowledge, skills and labour. The belief in the fundmental right of every individual to live a life of dignity based on his/her knowledge led to the movement for a demand of equal basic pay for all sections of workers(Multai, 2014)- be they members of urban indutrialised society or Lokavidya Samaj. This would , we believe, lead to an appreciation of the knowledge, latent strength and contribution of every section of Lokavdiya Samaj and lead to better fraternal relationships between them. In the realm of education, the ongoing attempt is to incorporate the teaching/learning of Lokavidya-based skills in schools and recognition of mastercraftsmen and farmers, formally, by institutions of higher learning. Local self-government is the connerstone to the establishment of a truly democratic polity and we believe that the restablishment of a Panchayat Raj (based on a Gyan Panchayat i.e a local collective of knowledge-represenatatives)system of planning and government alone would help the amelioration of Lokavidya Samaj while providing the modern centralised system with a new knowledge paradigm to face the challenges of socio-economic and environmental degeneracy. This local self-government system would also moderate the relationships between different jatis of Lokavidya Samaj and help them recast the inter-relationships in a new mould capable of sustaining
their existence as dignified members of a more egalitarian society.

Written May 2015 Posted October 2015

No comments:

Post a Comment