Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Question of Rationality : The Scientific and Lokavidya Perspectives

Asoke Chattopadhyay

Professor of Chemistry,

Kalyani University (West Bengal)

My post is partly a reaction to Prof. Sayeed's post, and I shall keep referring to the one following it (viz. Dr. Ritu Priya's). How health and medicines are treated in the two systems ("modern" vis a vis "lokvidya") is quite instructive.

Modern medical system is based on a physico(-chemico)-biological paradigm which relies heavily on the "scientific" discoveries of the last 200-250 years: mainly arising from dissection of human and animal bodies, understanding various systems (circulatory, nervous etc.), tissues and how they function, leading to smaller and smaller units to cells, chromosomes and the nucleic acids. Near about this stage (about 100 years ago), "drug development" meant "making" (i.e. synthesizing/extracting) some compound and just introducing it in the market. That is how many analgesics and other drugs came to be known to us. No one knew of "side effects" or "after effects", and bothered about them. I am not talking of "underdeveloped" countries. I am talking of Great Britain and the USA.

Once antibiotics became known, a lot of lives could be saved. Experiments were still conducted – on prisoners in the USA or in Nazi Germany, on aliens and on poor people of Africa or Asia, usually without their knowledge or consent. That is certainly an advancement of human knowledge base and ultimately for a more dignified life! But limitations of this knowledge base becomes known when we see that the first "designed" analgesic (refecoxib / celecoxib), which led to its discoverer Philip Needleman becoming Senior Vice President of Monsanto (1989), developing unwanted side effects on heart patients – leading to banning of the drug (2004).

The same story pertains to neurological research. A lot of experiments are done with today PET (positron emission tomography) or fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging), which are supposed to tell us which areas of our brain become active during certain activities e.g. when we are speaking English / Chinese, when we are singing, even for thinking of specific images. This is expected to lead to "controlling computers by thought" or maybe to "identify what a person is thinking of" (and nabbing him as a would-be terrorist?).

Much of the data is of the form of correlations. Just because a North American male may have particular thoughts when seeing a particular picture for example does not mean that every human being on the earth would also have the same emotion. Also, just because deep brain stimulation may generate "out of body" feelings in some people may not mean that all such feelings must be generated by the same means. They can also be generated by meditation, or by some drugs (under controlled conditions, of course). Therefore what causes such feelings? Any comments?

I shall come to the point: today's medical science is dependent on a dissective analytical protocol, and is heavily supported by the blind acceptance of some hypothetical physico-chemical mechanism going on at cellular (or sub-cellular) level. The lokvidya way is totally opposite to this. Examples ---

We take tulsi (and basaka) leaves when we have cough and cold, often mixed with honey, ginger etc. If these fail, we take homeopathic or biochemic medicines. In extremely rare cases do we resort to anti-histaminics or antibiotics. Indigenous people in different regions rely on various things like this. For example, people in the upper / middle Himalayas have access to aconite and other herbs.

Even today, there are chiropractors and such people in rural areas who can set bones and fix broken limbs. Many of us have experienced this ourselves. These are documented, and even in the West there are such people who have a career as chiropractors.

If these people are able to cure a single disease without having to study Gray's Anatomy or Guyton's Mecical Physiology, then there must be some truth in their knowledge base. That is what is called lokvidya in our parlance. It is for others to find the "truth" and "logic" in their knowledge.

What happens when modernity "discovers" such wonderful new entities? They immediately dispossess the original owners of such knowledge and start marketing the products under new brands. Hence Ayush and Aloe Vera lotions etc. Unfortunately, the potential buyers of Ayush products know better and make (or get) the stuff themselves, without bothering to pay up market prices.

Those of us who have had University education (or IIT or whatever) think that modern science came out of the West from Copernicus, Galileo, Newton etc. etc. and the European powers "liberated" or "enlightened" poor people of the (erstwhile) third world countries by giving educating them in these thoughts (and certainly with western democracy). We neglect the necromancy of Newton or the astrology of Copernicus because we "believe" that part is extraneous to these personalities. Thus modernity and modern science is culture independent, ideal i.e. of "absolute value". Prof Sayeed's arguments smack of such a viewpoint. Once you accept these ideas in toto, you will talk of rationality of indigenous thoughts, or of logical fallacies in such thoughts. You forget that logic as we know today is a very specific entity whose necessity at a particular time in history was to explain (or justify) the Newtonian-Maxwellian world view (of modern science), and relate the entire mathematical (or at least arithmetic) apparatus with it. Maybe there was a need to justify the then societal structure in terms of "modern" science as well.

There is a growing body of evidence telling us that the people of India actually became poorer and educationally backward during the British Rule. These are new results and may seem startling to people holding the view stated above (that we were the "white man's burden"). But these facts correlate nicely with some older findings at least e.g. of R. C. Dutta regarding transfer of resources from India to England.

What really needs to be done is, as has been stated by others before me, to find links between lokvidyas of various peoples, their current status, their history, their struggles, everything we can know about them. Then we can look for similarities and attempt to forge stronger ties with these peoples. I deliberately use the plural to ensure the stress on plurality, because indigenous peoples in various parts of the world are poorer because of their isolation, and hence suffer from discrimination or tyranny, whether in the capitalist USA or Australia, or in socialist Venezuela or Brazil (or even in China). But facts and documents are what are needed the most right now.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

लोक विद्या जन आन्दोलन-सभ्य और असभ्य समाज के बीच का संगर्ष

ललित के कौल

लोकविद्या लोकविध्याधर समाज की पहचान है . लोक विद्या जनांदोलन केवल लोकविद्या से दूसरे समाजों को परिचित कराने तक सीमित नहीं, बल्कि मानो तो ऐसा करना भी कोई जरूरी नहीं . लोकविद्या आज के ज़माने में संगत है कि नहीं यह बेमतलब की बहस है . क्योंकि इस विद्या से जुडा समाज शोषित है इसलिए यह चिंतन का विषय है . इस शोषित वर्ग की दास्ताँ चिंतन का विषय है क्योंकि आधुनिक भारत की सभ्यता पे यह ऐसा अनमिट गहरा दाग है जिसे अनदेखा नहीं किया जा सकता . हजारों सालों की सभ्यता की दुहाई देने वाला आधुनिक भारत इसे अनदेखा नहीं कर सकता . यह आधुनिक भारत में बसे बसाये कुम्भकरण को जगाने का संगर्ष है . यह कुम्भकरण भी आधुनिक है क्योंकि यह जागते हुए भी देखी अनदेखी कर देता है . जब प्रकट वस्तु , स्तिथि , या फिर वस्तुस्तिथि न दिखे तो संगर्ष ज़ायज है . यह आधुनिक और प्राचीन के बीच का संगर्ष नहीं बल्कि आधुनिक और कल की कल्पना के बीच का संगर्ष है . कल के समाज की कल्पना का संगर्ष है जिसमे महत्वपूर्ण भूमिका लोकविध्याधर समाज की निश्चित है तो जायज है कि उसमे लोक विध्या की अपनी एक गतिविधि रहेगी .

आधुनिक विज्ञान की दुनिया के बारे में समज उसकी परिभाषा और उसके अपनाये गए तौर तरीकों की कसौटी पे लोकविद्या में निहित लोक विज्ञान का दुनियायी नजरिया और उससे जुडे तौर तरीके कितने खरे उतरते हैं यह सवाल स्थिर सोच और बंद नजरिया को दर्शाता है . इसमें एक प्रकार का अहंकार भी है जिसने यह तै कर लिया है कि जीवन से जुडी कोई भी प्रक्रिया जिसपे 'आधुनिक ' का पट्टा लगा हो सिर्फ वही सही है क्योंकि इनके मुताबिक यह केवल विवेक के जागीरदार हैं और इनके दायरे से बाहर की कोई भी जीवन संगत प्रक्रिया अविवेक पे आधारित हैं . इनके नज़रिये का सार यह है कि कोपेर्निकुस से पहले का सारा विश्व अंधकारमय था और हजारों सालों पुराणी अन्य सभ्यतायें विवेकहीनता पे आधारित थी .

सत्य की खोज’ में इस आधुनिक विज्ञान का यह मानना है कि जो आंखों को दिखता है जरूरी नहीं कि वह सत्य हो जैसे कि सूर्य का धरती के इर्ध गिर्ध घूमना लेकिन हर प्रकार की स्तिथि के लिए ऐसा मानना सही नहीं है . जैसे कि जब हर तारा सूर्य समेत गोल आकार का दिखता है तो साधारण समझ यही कहती है कि प्रथ्वी चकोर नहीं हो सकती और इसके लिए किसी कोपेर्निकुस का होना ज़रूरी नहीं . जैसे कि भारत में ९० से ९५ करोड़ की जनसँख्या जो गरीबी भुखमारी और नंगेपन से जूज रही है यह आखों को दिखता है और यही सत्य है . इस तथ्य और सत्य को प्रमाणित करने के लिए किसी प्रयोगशाला या फिर किसी गणित विद्वान की जरूरत नहीं .

ऐसे उन्नति और विकास के मार्ग जो दशकों से एक बढती जनसँख्या को निरंतर असक्रिय करते चले आ रहे हैं मूल रूप से सभ्यता सभ्य देश और समाज पर कलंक हैं . इनके मार्गदर्शक कितना भी वैज्ञानिक सोच का वास्ता क्यों न दें लेकिन जिन तरीकों से करोड़ों बेकार और बेरोजगार हो जाएँ वह तो असभ्यता के वाहन चालक ही कहलायेंगे . इस सन्दर्भ में जब देश की उन्नति और विकास की बात होती है तो प्रश्न यह उठता है कि देश की परिभाषा क्या है ? यदि देश को उसके बुगोलिक विस्तार प्राकृतिक सुन्दरता और संसाधनों से परिभाषित करें तो जायज है कि प्रकृति का विकास देश के चालकों के आधीन नहीं क्योंकि वह तो खुद विकसित होती रहेगी यदि कोई स्वयं घोषित वैज्ञानिक सोच से लेस उसका विनाश न करे तो . पर अगर देश की परिभाषा में उसकी जनसँख्या भी शामिल है तो उन्नति और विकास की परिभाषा केवल एक ही हो सकती है: प्रकृति के संसाधनों का इस्तेमाल जनसँख्या के हित में करना. देश की जनसँख्या को विभाजित करके केवल किसी विशेष वर्ग के हित में सोचना अवैज्ञानिक और असभ्य व्यवहार है .

इस घोर अन्याय की पकड़ विकास के दायरे से बहार की जनसँख्या की कभी न बने इसके लिए भेद भाव और अलगाववादी राजनीति का नियोजन करके लोगों को धर्म और जाती के नाम पे भिड़ाना इंसानियत की तौहीन है और एक सभ्य समाज में किसी भी जुर्म से कम नहीं .

भारत की बड्ती आबादी को हर धर्म और जाति के लोगों में बढती हुई गरीबी का कारण बताया गया और यह ऐलान किया गया कि प्राकृतिक और भारतीय संसाधन इस बढती हुई आबादी की उन्नति और विकास के लिए उपलब्ध नहीं . इस विकास के दायरे से बहार के वर्ग का ध्यान कभी उनकी गरीबी के असली कारण पे केन्द्रित न हो इसके लिए एक और बेईमानी की राजनीति का जन्म हुआ : गरीबी की रेखा का नामकरण . सार्वजानिक स्थर पर जातिवाद की आलोचना करने वाले आधुनिक वर्ग ने अब समाज के बटवारे का ऐलान आर्थिक कुशलता और मुफलसी के आधार पे किया . मुफलसी में जी रही बहुत बड़ी जनसँख्या को आधुनिक भारत पे एक भोज करार देकर उन्हें लूट की व्यवस्था में उत्पन हुई धन दौलत में से कुछ टुकड़े फैंकने वाली योजनओं का ऐलान किया गया और इनको निर्मित किया गया. यह और बात है कि बड़ते हुआ भ्रष्टाचार ने इनके टुकडों को भी जनता तक पहुचने न दिया .

करीब दो दशक पहले आधुनिक विज्ञान और उसके तरीकों की परिपूर्ण समझ पे दावा करने वाले आधुनिक भारतीय वर्ग ने यह तय किया कि जब तक भारतीय आर्थिक व्यवस्था विकसित देशों की आर्थिक व्यवस्थओँ के साथ संगठित न होगी तब तक बेरोजगारी और मुफलसी का कोई समाधान संभव नहीं . बहार के देशों के उद्योगपतिओं और पूंजीपतियों के लिए भारत के बाज़ार खोल दिए गए और अपने देश में सब कुछ विदेशी छा गया . संस्कृति तहज़ीब रहन सहन का ढंग रोज्मरा की चीजें यानी कि जीवन के हर दायरे में बाहरी प्रभाव से ऐसा अभूतपूर्व बदलाव आया कि गयी पीड़ी के लोग अपने ही देश में अजनबी से हो गए .यह ऐसे लोग थे जो आधुनिक भारत में पूर्णरूप से अपनी पहचान बना लिए थे . प्रगति के नाम पर भ्रष्टाचार और

भारत में उपलब्ध संसाधनों के लूट की कोई इन्तहा न रही . आधुनिक भारतीय समाज में मध्यवर्तीय वर्ग का पतन हुआ और धन सम्पति और प्राकृतिक संसाधनों के हकदारों की गिनती में और भी कमी नज़र आयी

विस्थापन का दौर ऐसा शुरू हुआ कि उद्योगपतिओं पूंजीपतियों और सरकारी गठबंधन को मानो किसी की भी निजी सम्पति पे पहला और असीम अधिकार हो . किसानों की ज़मीनें आदिवासियों के रोजगार के साधन इनसे छिन गए . रोज्मरा की चीजों में व्यापर करने के पारंपरिक तरीके कहीं खो गए और इनके स्थान बड़े बड़े एक जगह केन्द्रित बाज़ारों ने ली . खाने पीने और रोज्मरा की इस्तमाल की चीजों के धाम बे-इन्तहा बढते गए लेकिन दो और चार पहिये के वाहनों और फ्रिज टी व् आदि जैसी वस्तुओं के धाम या तो घटते गए या फिर कहीं कम धर से बड़े. एक तरफ से व्यवसाय के साधन घटते गए और इनके विपरीत अत्यंत जरूरी चीजों के धाम बढते गए . इन सब शर्मनाक और दर्दनाक गतिविधियों को देश की उन्नति के लिए जरूरी बताया गया . प्रश्न फिर से वही : किसका कोनसा और किनके लिए देश ?

लोकविध्याधर समाज की भूमिका :

यह आज की व्यवस्था जो झूठ धोखा भ्रष्टाचार और प्राकृतिक व मानव संसाधनों के लूट पर निर्धारित है इसे बदलने की योग्यता कौन रखते हैं ? आधुनिक भारतीय समाज का मध्यवर्तीय या और कोई वर्ग तो नहीं क्योंकि यह समकालीन व्यवस्था मे ही अपना भविष्य देखते है .

इस व्यवस्था के खिलाफ यदि बहुसंखित शोषित वर्ग आवाज़ नहीं उठायेगा तो इसे चुनौती कोई न दे पायेगा . यह आवाज़ असभ्यता झूठ और शोषण के विस्थापन और सभ्यता सत्य और मानव विकास के स्थापन के लिए जरूरी है . यह संगर्ष एक ऐसे कल की कल्पना के लिए जरूरी है

  • जिनकी व्यवस्थओँ में हर एक को न केवल अपने तरीके से ज़िन्दगी जीने का हक नसीब होगा अपने हुनर और विद्या के मुताबिक सामाजिक विकास में योगदान का बे-रोक-टोक अवसर भी प्रधान होगा.

  • धर्म और जाति के नाम पर अलगाववादी राजनीति कार्यान्वित न होगी बल्कि हर जाति और धर्म के बाशिंदे के हुनर और योग्यता को सार्वजानिक प्रतिष्ठा प्राप्त होगी .

  • हर क्षेत्र में उपलब्ध प्राकृतिक संसाधनों पे पहला अधिकार वहां की स्थानीय आबादी का होगा और उनके इस्तमाल के तरीके भी वही तय करेंगे .

  • हर क्षेत्र का विकास वहां के वातावरण प्राकृतिक संसाधनों और इंसानी योग्यताओं के अनुसार होगा और ऐसी संस्थाओं का निर्माण होगा जिनसे पूरी आबादी विकास के कार्यों में सक्रिय हो पायेगी.

  • पुरुष के समान नारी जाति को दर्जा ' इस प्रकार की नारेबाज़िओं से नारियों का अपमान न होगा

बल्कि विकास की योजनाओं को कार्यान्वित करने के लिए उनकी एक कुदरती भूमिका रहेगी क्योंकि केवल मर्द या नारी से जीवन अग्रसर नहीं होता . जीवन की अग्रसरता के लिए दोनों का योगदान कुदरती है और इसके विरुद्ध कोई भी विचार असभ्य है .

  • नारी जाति का दर्दनाक अपमान जिस्म की सौदागिरी में है . कल के समाज में नारी केवल एक चीज़ की तरह नहीं मानी जाएगी कि जिसका जब जी चाहे खरीद फ़रोक्थ हो .

  • शारीरिक परिश्रम को उतनी ही मान्यता प्राप्त होगी जितना कि दिमागी काम को.

  • किसी भी प्रकार का श्रम इज्ज़त का हकदार होगा और कोई भी काम नीचा न समझा जायेगा .

  • हर एक गाँव कस्बे या क्षेत्र में बसी जनता को स्वयं अपना एक ऐसा प्रितिनिधि चुनने का अवसर मिलेगा जो उनमे से ही एक हो और उनकी रोजमरा की जिंदगी की गतिविध्योँ से झुडा हो. जो उनका मार्गदर्शन करने की योग्यता रखता हो नाकि किसी राजनीतिक दल का बहार से थोपा गया अजनबी.

  • .........

लोक विद्या जन आन्दोलन असत्य से सत्य और असभ्य से सभ्य तक की परवाज़ है . यह समझने की बात है केवल बहस करने की नहीं .

Thursday, July 21, 2011

With Lokavidya Lies the Solution

Sunil Sahasrabudhey

A great fact about lokavidya is that it is located in society. Take it away from there and it ceases to be lokavidya. Entered into knowledge registers, stored in computers, patented, privatized and reoriented for export or for up market, it turns into a body of information and/or artifacts to be pressed into the advantage of those who are not part of lokavidya world, who do not share the logic, ethics and aesthetics of the world of lokavidya, on the contrary, very often look down upon it as something base, primitive, uncivilized. The fish in water when taken out is either eaten away or is kept in an aquarium. The agaria, the preservers of the world famous ferrous technology of India, are taken away from the hills of Surguja or the forests of Mandla, either to be turned into the cheapest labor on earth or to be housed with their living art as a show piece in the Indira Gandhi Rashtriya Manav Sangrahalaya in Bhopal. Nothing does greater damage to lokavidya than documentation.

Foundations of imperialism and colonialism were laid by the mapping of resources across the world, science providing the knowledge basis to make it possible. It destroyed the economics, politics and society of the people the world over. Now the maps of knowledge. Mapping the knowledge with the people is to provide the foundations of the New Empire, this time based on the knowledge basis provided by the science of information, computers and communication. This is to rob people of the last bastion of strength they still command, namely lokavidya. First time as tragedy and second time as farce! Little do they know that this time they have embarked on an enterprise that is doomed to failure.

Lokavidya can not be alienated from the people. There were workers in the city because there were peasants in the country side, there is the adivasi cheap labor on construction sites, because there are adivasi communities in the remote areas. The state and the university, the corporations, politicians and the managers of knowledge are up against a mountain which they do not know how to scale, because they do not understand what is lokavidya. They see it as traditional knowledge, indigenous knowledge, ethnic knowledge or as community practice. Little do they know that the depth and the variety of the genius of lokavidya has kept the world going from day one and shall live as long as the humanity does. The new assault is just about two decades old. And we already have the resistances tuned to derive strength from lokavidya. The farmers movement that had started as a movement to secure price for the farm produce has now moved on to struggles against displacement, to save lands of the farmers and creating new ideas like ‘food sovereignty’. The environment movement has moved on to the question of people’s control over natural resources and is generating new ideas like Rights of Mother Earth and Rights of Nature. The celebration of the demise of the trade union movement was barely over when a student movement started taking shape against the ‘dead knowledge’ of the university and in favor of the ‘living knowledge’ with the people, their autonomous organizations and the practice of self education. Lokavidya is where all knowledge starts and to which all knowledge must return. Universities may come and go, corporations may come and go, the state may rise and fall.

Lokavidya Jan Andolan is the recognition of the fraternity of such struggles across the world. It is to reshape the relations of property, the relations of power and the public discourse, so that people are heard, their initiatives are respected, their knowledge finds a new legitimization to reshape the world. Gandhi is reborn to assure that the struggles for and by lokavidya are indeed the struggles that can deliver the mankind from the traps it is in.

Sunil Sahasrabudhey

Vidya Ashram, Sarnath, Varanasi

Wednesday, July 20, 2011


Every society, community, family and individual attempts to understand and grapple with its health problems to minimize them. All attempt to maximize their own health and wellbeing. Historically, expertise in health emerged with persons who keenly observed the experience of health and ill health in their own body and of those around them, whether humans, other animal species or even plants. Birthing processes have been one of the natural phenomena requiring support of others and therefore are one of the commonest sites of skill and knowledge accumulation. Childcare, food and nutrition are other similar areas of knowledge development.

As the expertise grows in one area, and expert knowledge gains credence and trust by evidence of its effectiveness, both the expert and the knowledge become seats of special power and dominance. However, the people, who now become ‘lay people’ in relation to the expert, do retain their own rationality and agency. Besides being socialised into a certain way of life (which includes health related practices) by their family and community, people add to or modify the practices and knowledge they were socialized into as a result of their own experience and their interaction with the expert system(s). Thereby a third body of knowledge and practice arises that is in consonance with their prevailing social, economic, environmental and cultural context. This is Lok Vidya about health. It is passed on across generations, through oral communication and practice, but is not a static entity. Remaining responsive to the changing context and addition or modifications in available and accessible resources for health, Lok Vidya is a dynamic body of knowledge and practice.

Thus, Lok Vidya about health develops from multiple roots. It is pluralistic in its epistemology and practice. Starting with the traditional or conventional practice in the family or community, people add on new practices according to their perceived needs which the conventional system fails to fulfill. These could be through personal experience of ones own body at individual level, as in modifications of diets and daily routines. On the other hand comes new knowledge from sharing of the collective experience and various systems of expert knowledge.

In India, we have textual knowledge and expertise of Allopathy and seven officially recognized other systems--Ayurveda, Yoga & naturopathy, Unani, Siddha, Sowa Rigpa and Homeopathy (AYUSH being the official acronym in present use). There is a clear dominance of Allopathy over the AYUSH in official policy of knowledge generation, knowledge transmission and service delivery. However, informal providers abound, both traditional practitioners and modern forms of them-- the dai, the bone-setter, the snake-bite healer, herbalist, the shamans and faith healers, the 'bengali daktar' or Rural Medical Practitioner (RMP). Then there are the traditional home remedies and self-care using modern medication. Finally, there is the din charya and rtu charya, that are designed and adopted for promotion of health and wellbeing, prevention of disease at collective and individual levels. All these practices have an explanatory knowledge base. So there arises the question--Where is the boundary of Lok Vidya?

Social stratification based on caste, class and gender leads to a wide variation in the nature and context across social and economic sections in any society. While the conventional roots differ because of historical disparities, a body of common knowledge that is similar across the sections is also evident. For instance, the medicinal value of certain plants is found to be widely prevalent across the length and breadth of the country even today. However, the discriminatory caste based norms have led to differences in health related knowledge and practice among the dalit and other castes. The extent of exposure to modern medicine, through public health programmes at a mass level and through personal doctors services being availed, has led to new knowledge and practices reaching even the non-literate, non-school going populations. Some extent of demystification of modern medicine and its diffusion has also happened through paramedical personnel who come from lower socio-economic and rural backgrounds. All this makes the task of defining Lok Vidya in health even more complex.

Lok Vidya Jan Andolan

Social movements have historically, addressed issues of health and healing. Gandhiji, subsequent Gandhian organizations, the women’s movement both internationally and nationally, have introduced the notion of ‘control over ones own body’. Environment related movements have highlighted the relevance of local ecology and health-related practices. Workers’ organizations have raised issues of occupational hazards, safety and healthcare, though not in the same way or to the extent that the worker’s own experience and knowledge, i.e. Lok Vidya, require them to. People’s science movements tend to ‘take science to the people’ but not take people’s knowledge as legitimate in its own right. However, the People’s Health Movement-India chapter (Jan Swasthya Abhiyan) does recognize the value of traditional medicine due to its wider base of political ideologies and because the practice of traditional medicine is so pervasive in our society and has so many textual forms.

The dominant knowledge systems of medicine and public health are beginning to get sensitized to the significance of Lok Vidya as legitimate knowledge, rather than viewing it only as a negative force based on ignorance and superstition, as has been the conventional medical perspective over the past century. This holds true for the industrialized societies, as much as to those such as ours. Modern medicine and public health has two faces, the authoritarian and coercive as well as the progressive, liberative one. So do all the other expert based systems, as evident by the observation that AYUSH officials genrally tend to undermine the LHT (local health traditions). Relevance of Lok Vidya is recognised by the liberative stream of all systems, being viewed as mutually supportive and inter-linked, while it tends to be denied by the authoritiarian stream.

Therefore, there is at this juncture, great value in recognizing, strengthening and promoting the health related dimensions of Lok Vidya. From ensuring agency in the framework of ‘personal is political’, to rights based campaigns, to generation of context specific, decentralised forms of knowledge, Lok Vidya is today of greater significance than ever before.

18th July 2011

Ritu Priya
Centre of Social Medicine and Community Health
Jawaharlal Nehru University
New Delhi-110067

Phone: +91-11-26704615 (off), 26742102 (res), 9313350186 (m)

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Response to ‘Inductive Knowledge Reasoning and Lokavidya' - Syed Sayeed

I am sorry but the difference in method of reasoning between scientific knowledge and lokavidya (folk knowledge?) is not clear to me. What is the conception of scientific knowledge employed here? I think this is a derivative notion. There is only scientific method and it is purely validatory in function (This might be unregenerate Popperism but what exactly is the alternative we are positing?). It is of course possible to argue that there are indigenous knowledge systems whose elements may not be amenable to existing protcols of scientific procedure. But that can only be an argument for an expansion/reform of scientific method. Whether it would justify a classification and whether such a classification would be of great practical value, I am doubtful.

I have problems also with the idea of rationality or method of reasoning used here. It is true that a completely contingent content has been given to rationality, making it conform to certain western forms of life. What we need to do in this context is to insist on a less substantive, more rigorously formal notion of rationality. I myself prefer to insist on defining rationality in terms of being in possession of good reasons for one’s behaviour, grounding what constitutes ‘good reasons’ in diverse ways of life without necessarily lapsing into arbitrary relativism.

The second paragraph I find frankly poetic in the sense of being suggestive and evocative but full of hermeneutic pitfalls. The underlying idea seems to be draw an analogy with or extend the idea of instinct to human behavior in certain situations. This seems to me to be bristling with dangers. The invocation of instinct in human contexts can entail all sorts of bizarre consequences. Moreover, why should we take the confessedly atypical behaviour exhibited in extreme or abnormal situations as constituting the norm even for those group of people? Are we not risking reducing lokavidya to survival oriented unreflexive responses?

I have not understood the specific way in which the contrast between inductive and deductive reasoning is sought here. I must confess that I find the third paragraph even more problematic. It is one thing to say – using my own paradigm – that agents may not be conscious of the good reasons that prompt their action, and quite another to equate that action with unreflective behaviour that may not be in any way rationally or ethically justifiable according to the norms of that very group of people.

It is all right to use of the context of diplacement to understand the rationale of a certain behaviour but beyond that I do not see how we can relate the question of such action with the issue of displacement per se, the latter being an issue for a debate on models of development. Here my position is that it is simplistic and counterproductive to declare development as evil. We have to unpack the notion of developoment and return its various strands to where they belong – such as some vested interests and some thoughtless and insensitive policies originating in a certain kind of governmentality.

I must also say that the rhetoric of the concluding statement makes me uneasy. It is not clear to me what it is supposed to entail. It is possible that in saying all this I have been guilty of precisely the way of thinking implicitly under criticism in the lokavidya approach. But it would be useful to have a more explicit criticism.

I am sure that those who have been thinking about the idea of lokavidya and related issues have clarity on all these questions and have good answers. But I am also sure that there are a lot of people who are not clear on these questions and a debate on them will help them understand and join this movement with greater conviction and enthusiasm.

Please treat these remarks only as an attempt to initiate such a debate. This may not be the most important debate in this context but it will certainly help many others like me.

Syed Sayeed

Professor, Art Aesthetics and Comparative Philosophy,

English and Foreign Languages University,


Sunday, July 17, 2011

Inductive Knowledge Reasoning and Lokavidya

Surendran K. Karippadath
It is necessary to reflect on the existence of any fundamental differences in the method of reasoning / rationality between lokavidya and scientific knowledge ( university knowledge / organized knowledge ). Why? Is the template of 'the rational human being' somehow useless for understanding the specter that is haunting our people?

It is clear that an individual anywhere, in any group and economic stratum, use the brain ( think) as a human being - may be like a leopard or crocodile when trying to be a predator and like the harmless beautiful swan or gazelle, free or ready to fly if left in peace. Now, recent research on animal behavior has come out with, long suspected, another type of thinking, group think - such as exhibited by a school of millions of small fish swimming together in the shape of a very monstrous fish to scare the big predator, extending the group think of ants and honeybees and their tribes known still earlier. So, can it be that such group think is generally present also in human beings to a smaller or larger extent depending on how they experience their situation in the society? Moreover, is it that, this aspect is limited to the refined art of bargaining as in the case of the political class, business class, government service class and so on? May be not. An extreme form of this reasoning appears to manifest when the existential condition of the owners of lokavidya is reduced to mere survival, when the group resorts to something like purely inductive reasoning, as deductive reasoning does not lead to any actionable solution , as no rational explanation seem possible.

That is, members of the samaj (group) instinctively make the group choice , often as one person, and only subsequently try to 'understand the reason' behind the choice! An observer would say - as if to justify to themselves, or for propaganda purpose, or to convince members of their family! That was almost obvious when the people are forced to leave an area of a disaster, holocaust, ethnic violence, and so on. But, it is much more acute when forced to give up their village for some huge project for 'development of the country', which kept them asking to themselves the question - whose country? who are we? Often it goes like this : All the able bodied from one village have fled by the morning fearing police reprisal, fearing reprisal from those who are higher up in the hierarchy of the village. For, in a fit of anger at the inaction after the rape and murder of one of the community at the police station, the community vent their anger on the policemen directly. Elsewhere, today is the continuation of the same yesterday as it happens in Bundelkhand these days. At night the head of the family announces : 'Listen, X is leaving the village with his family at 3.30AM passenger to Nizamuddin ;...we should also leave along with them. Pack everything into two bundles, one will go with you and children; one will be in the cart and Y will come along with me in it, etc'. X had spoken the same words at home to his anxious wife and children.

We are trying to imagine the thinking of people suffering certainty of impending displacement. It is not rational, it is not for X, Y individually to decide - they see very little scope for individual action here! We thought we knew why there was no scope of individual rational decision making in some villages in Pakistan and India during Partition, Jews in Hitler's Europe, Gujaratis in Idi Amin's Uganda, the Hutus in a dominantly Tutsi land in Africa, the families from Bangladesh in Sealdah station in 1972 or those from Bundelkhand in Jhansi station in 2011, and other railway stations in India, may be in other countries of Asia, Africa or Latin America. But to experience the same because you are cultivating some land in the plain and is given only the choice less prospect of ignominy and sudden loss of self respect, to be picked up, as some unknown, unreliable contractor's wage labor in some unknown town - like the cattle at the weekly fair in his village!

We are interested in knowing how much of lokavidya knowledge is inductive. We are interested in knowing how much of the Truth for Ordinary man is Above all Ideas!- ideas formally argued out, deduced from existences for rational explanations, from evidence ( gathered even beyond the span of his own life ) in law for deciding the crime and punishment, .... May be for the social scientist or philosopher this march is not really new; it has just touched the exponential head. Then, the question arises : Is a large part of the Human Knowledge simply generated inductively in time, like the spread of a religion, by the inevitable sufferings of the lokavidya samaj ? And in raising the question thus are we getting enlightened about nature of religion and nature of truth simultaneously - through lokavidya? It appears that the life cycle of lokavidya is either incomprehensible like life itself or it is comprehensible like the conflicts of human life, wherein lokavidya is in eternal conflict with exploitative wage labor?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Lokavidya and Livelihood

The crises of Lokavidyadhar Samaj ( that vast section of Indian society which bases its life and livelihood on Lokavidya )is that the (traditional) livelihoods have all but collapsed and the members of this Samaj(largely small and medium farmers, argicultural workers, artisans, tribals, small shopkeepers and home-maker women) are forced to live a life sans basic human dignity. They feel completely 'left out' and are at a loss to comprehend life and the future. This 'loss of identity and self respect' is being marked by a great groundswell of agitation (many times violent) by the members of this Samaj all over the country.

In the era of globalisation (post 1990) the agitations of farmers all over the country for remunerative prices and against acquisition and displacement , the agitation of traders and small shop-keepers against monopoly and entry of big houses into retail trade, the agitation of weavers demanding supply of yarn and market protection , the agitation of artisans of all types for protection of their livelihoods and market, the agitation of tribals against displacement and appropriation and exploitation of forest wealth to the detriment of their lives and livelihoods ; are all pointers to the growing alienation this vast section of Indian society experiences and the continuing exploitation of rampant financial, informational and industrial capitalism. The agitations also find expression against the erosion of societal norms and values, fuelled by crass comsumptive culture of urban India, in agitations for protection of 'culture' and 'identity'. Some of these agitations have led to demands for autonomy, linguistic and regional separatism with the apparent hope that a shared local-identity- based polity could deliver economically, socially and politically.

All members of Lokavidyadhar Samaj share something in common, namely, all they can claim to be truly their own and within their grasp is Lokavidya. Their lives and livelihoods are largely based on Lokavidya. Employability is now almost entirely dependent on acquired 'modern' skills and/or practices alone. As Lokavidya-based livelihoods have ceased to be capable of meeting basic life requirements, it is imperative that livelihoods based on Lokavidya be given a constitutional guarantee much like the fundamental right to life, liberty, school education, information, food and reservations in education and employment . This should take the form of a fundamental Right to Livelihood based on Lokavidya so that Lokavidyadhar Samaj can regain its lost momentum and impoversished men, women and children of the Samaj rebuild their lives with dignity.

This fundamental right could take the form of an ACT that constitutionally guarantees The Right to Livelihood based on Lokavidya and incorporates appropriate provisions to ensure that it is implemented in letter and spirit by making the State accountable as much as it is in case of Life and Liberty.

Lokavidya Jan Andolan: Inaugurating a dialog

With this post we are starting an online dialog which, it is hoped, will prepare the ground for the first international conference of the Lokavidya Jan Andolan to be held in Varanasi from 12-14 November, 2011. During the course of the dialog we look forward to hearing from many different people and perspectives. This is not a discussion that is intended to come to a conclusion. Rather, it aims to broaden the voices within the movement and create new avenues for a politics based on lokavidya. It is undertaken in the spirit that at this stage of movement-building, breadth of views is to be preferred to cut-and-dry formulations.

In this first post, I address the following questions in brief. What does it mean to stake a claim for lokavidya in the public discourse? What could be the content of this claim and why is it a contemporary political statement? The tone of my remarks is assertive but this is only a strategy adopted to make the focus clear. The points made below should be taken as points of debate and departure.

The majority of the people in India and across the world have been told that they are ignorant and in need of education before they can participate fully in society. Politically, even when they constituted the mass-base, they have been sidelined in intellectual terms. And often they ended up fighting someone else's battle. But the people know that they are knowledgeable and that they can construct a new world based on their knowledge. Peasants, adivasis, artisans, shopkeepers, students, women, ordinary people are on the move everywhere in struggles and movements across the world. They form not just the mass base of these movements, but also the intellectual base, they supply not only the bodies but also the brains. Gandhiji claimed that before we begin a struggle, we must examine our own sources of strength, which form our starting position. We cannot begin a struggle that moves in our favor if we base it on a foundation which is not ours and that we do not understand. This is Marx's claim also.  The lokavidya position is that the people's own knowledge is the source of their strength. The Lokavidya Jan Andolan (LJA) consists of people rising up to say so. 

The various people's struggles against displacement from lands, forest, and livelihoods, struggles for environmental justice and food sovereignty, and many more, are all fraternal struggles which are unified in the yet unspoken claim that across class, caste, tribal, religious and gender divisions, the majority society is coming together to shed the stigma of being "uneducated." LJA is the realization that only if politics is based on the people's own knowledge can it be on their initiative, can it serve their interests. This does not mean that gender, caste or class struggles are unimportant. But it does mean that these struggles must also be based on lokavidya, that is they must be driven by peoples’ perspectives on what oppresses them and what the solutions of that oppression are. No longer can “educated” women claim to speak for all women or “educated” workers for all workers.

The time is ripe to put forth such a knowledge claim because the hegemony of Science and the University are being challenged everywhere, creating new opportunities. Disillusionment with capitalism and with the Science-society which have together brought unprecedented suffering to the majority world is strong today. So is disillusionment with the old politics of change. We make no grand claims for a new politics, but we do strive to bring such a politics into existence. No longer is it possible to have the faith in Science and the University that characterized 20th century political thought across the political spectrum. This loss of faith has tangible political manifestations today. Across Europe students have risen to liberate knowledge from the University. Declarations such as the Right of Mother Earth (Bolivia) openly state that the solutions to ecological problems lie not with Science, but with the indigenous peoples of the world.

But the politics of lokavidya is not a repetition of the 20th Century battle of tradition versus modernity. That battle was lost by tradition and resulted in a pyrrhic victory for modernity. Lokavidya is ever-contemporary knowledge of contemporary communities who create and sustain life today. Until the political position is staked that peasants and artisans lay claim to knowledge traditions in no way inferior to any other, struggles against displacement will appear to be resistance to “development.” A Lokavidya Jan Andolan is born when a peoples’ movement declares that the peoples’ knowledge and way of life is not inferior to those in the cities or in the corporate world. That it does not only fight to save livelihoods, it fights to build a new society.

Finally, does speaking of lokavidya mean being “against education” or conspiring to keep the majority out of colleges and universities? No. The lokavidya claim is that as long as education is synonymous with the system currently in place, this education can only grant a small number of people a government or corporate job. The others, the vast majority, will forever be kept "in the waiting room of history." But if the claim is staked that knowledge exists with the people too, they too can design education systems, run schools and universities, and absorb any knowledge that benefits them, on their own terms, then the basis of the present system will collapse as will its monopoly on the good life.

The foregoing is intended to stake a few claims, perhaps in provocative and controversial terms, to get a dialog going. The lokavidya perspective eschews political blueprints or general prescriptions. A lokavidya-based struggle in Bolivia can and should take shape very differently from one in India. There is no insistence on a single party, movement or institution.

In the next ten weeks or so, we hope to discuss:
-        what is understood by the terms lokavidya and lokavidya jan andolan,
-       what is the significance of taking a knowledge perspective on the struggles presently going on,
-       have there been such things as people's knowledge movements in the past,
-       can movements over issues of language, identity, caste, be thought of as knowledge movements,
-       how do the international struggles over production of knowledge relate to the people’s struggles against displacement, etc.
-       what should be the strategies of the LJA

And this is by no means an exhaustive list. We invite you to participate in the dialog either my commenting on the scheduled posts or contributing your own post.

Amit Basole