Tuesday, August 5, 2014


This article was published in Lokavidya Prapancham issue of 1st August 2014


We have argued for the necessity of unity among the different sections of Lokavidya Samaj as a necessary condition for its survival. We have also stated that the basis of this unity rests wholly on (the faith in ) Lokavidya- this is practically the only strength of the Samaj apart from its sheer numbers. How do we re-inculcate this faith in Lokavidya within the Samaj ? This is pertinent because there have been arguments that have been put forth that state that the farmers have , for a very long time now, got 'integrated' with the capitalist market and have, to great measure, shifted production to industry-required inputs rather than those of the Samaj. Thus, their ability and willingness to lead the Samaj to a new path for survival is therefore in question.The inter-dependency between the artisanal & service sections(jatis) and the farmers has been greatly weakened or broken with the intervention of industry. For example, agricultural implements which were produced to meet the (local) requirements of the farming community by blacksmiths and carpenters have been 'replaced' by those produced and supplied by industry. Services rendered by tailors, potters, cobblers etc have also been displaced through those 'offered' by industry. Cotton produced by farmers to meet the requirements of handloom weavers has given way to cotton required by the yarn-making industry. The farmers are now being made to grow GM cotton to suit the needs of large mills and textile factories. Through all these methods the organic link between the different sections(jatis) of Lokavidya Samaj have been greatly weakened or even broken. This organic link was based on a strong sense of mutual interdependence and formed the basis for the culture of Lokavidya Samaj. Even the very existence of a real Lokavidya Samaj is in question- in other words, do the various sections of the Samaj relate to themselves as members of a coherent Samaj,[ which is generally referred to as Indian society(characterised by a unique way of life and inter-relationships)] or are they separate entities (jatis) that see their future only in the kind of relationship they build with capitalism and the capitalist market?

Local Market and its role in strengthening mutual inter-dependence

A key arena of constant interaction between different jatis comprising Lokavidya Samaj was the local market; where goods and services were exchanged/traded. This interaction was, upto about 150 years ago, based on a shared and accepted concept of 'value' that formed the basis for exchange/trade in that market. In fact, this concept of 'value' was an intrinsic part of Lokavidya. The value of goods and services that were outside the domain of the local market were influenced by supply, demand and logistics of procurement & delivery. [It is very interesting to note that, in large parts of India upto the early 19th century, a significant part of this non-local market commerce was carried out by tribals(Lambadas,Agiaries etc of central India) and it is appropriate to assume that these tribal communities had a healthy, mutually satisfying relationship with other jatis of Lokavidya Samaj]. The local market was the local area, comprising a few panchayats, which in turn were comprised of about 5-10 villages. [Apart from these common panchayats there were specific communal(jati or varna) panchayats where social issues of and within the community/jati were discussed and deliberated upon and specialized markets, such as cattle and livestock markets, where the trade was of specified articles and thus confined to some specific jatis].The relationship between different producing and service jatis was greatly influenced by the terms of trade in the local market. Labour was not stratified as such and it appears that each jati performed its labour (productive or service activity) as part of its 'dharma' and the value assigned to every and any form of such labour seems to have been based on the necessity/life-need it satisfied and not on supply/ demand or on whether it was 'manual/mental-based'. This is evident from the fact that every jati performed its socially-required function as and when socially required and there was an inherent equality in the value of different forms of labour, manifested in the exchange-value of produce/labour; which sustained a relatively cordial relationship between different jatis. The market-place (weekly market) was a venue for trade/exchange of goods, articles etc that were meant for near immediate use/consumption and not for trade or re-sale.

The captitalist market and its role in the disruption of Lokavidya Samaj

The advent of an expanding (capitalist) market, for trade in manufactured goods, in colonial India created a 'value' hierarchy that was alien to Lokavidya. 'Value' in this capitalist driven market was based on the 'socially necessary labour required to produce the goods' and, with the advent of machines in manufacture, the 'value' of common goods such as food grains, cloth, cooking oil, food articles, utensils etc was determined by the hierarchy of labour value that underlay the capitalist market. So a mill worker in Manchester would get much more for his labour(to produce the same amout of cloth) as would a handloom weaver in an Indian village. This market logic caused Khadi to become more expensive than mill cloth! In other words the labour/skills of the handloom weaver were devalued by the external market forces. This soon led to a hierarchy in the value of goods traded in the local market i.e lack of parity in prices of commonly-needed goods. This had a bearing on the service industry and those sections of society(jatis) engaged in providing (non-goods producing) services found themselves in the lower rungs of a new social hierarchy. This is NOT to state that caste-hierarchy did not exist prior to the advent of colonialism and the capitalist market. It did exist in social, cultural and to an extent, in economic contexts. There is no evidence to suggest that this hierarchy was so debilitating as to disrupt the entire fabric of social relationships of mutual inter-dependency, at least in pre-colonial India, for an extended period of time. However, this hierarchy is neither to be ignored nor dispensed with lightly. This hierarchy has to be transcended on the basis of a new-found consciousness of equality and fraternity based on new relationships between the various jatis that comprise Lokavidya Samaj. This alone will lead to its unity and resurgence and provide it with an impetus to survive the onslaught of capitalism and capitalist market forces.

The role of local market in fostering equality-based unity

If the farmers, who comprise the largest section of Lokavidya Samaj, are to lead the Samaj through a social transformation based on a new socio-political imagination, what would they and the other sections of the Samaj, have to do? It is obvious that the farmers will have to 'rewrite' their relationships with the other sections of the Samaj such that it is able to transcend the hierarchical caste system and the exploitation of the capitalist market. The farmers have to redefine their relationship with the other jatis by 'revaluing the labour' of the other sections from one of dominance to one of equality. This can be done if the farmers reorganize their production activity to be more food-centric and use local seeds, fertilizer, local services and labour. They would also have to take the lead in redefining the 'terms of trade ' in a local market . Every other section of the Samaj is in one way or other economically connected to the farmers and so it is also necessary that these other sections(jatis) respond to the call of the farmers to setup and sustain a local market in the spirit of total equality and fraternity. This alone will allow the farmers to lead the Samaj to a new horizon.

Dry land farmers, who constitute about 70% of the entrire farming community, can take the lead in pursuing and promoting eco-friendly agricultural practices, revive and help sustain a healthy diet based on millets, coarse grain and non-GM vegetables and fruits. The farmers of the irrigated areas should look inward at the Samaj rather than take leads from industry-propelled agriculture. These measure will help promote the much needed unity of Lokavidya Samaj.


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