Wednesday, January 6, 2021

A Civilizational Perspective on the Farmers' Movement

(Hindi Facebook post on 4th January 2021,        

 Sunil Sahasrabudhey )

The very serious and locked situation between the present Farmers’ Movement and the Government of India draws ones attention to questions of civilizational importance - what constitutes humanity and how should we reconstruct and relate again to the philosophies of life in the present century?

It is said that where there is no village, there is no civilization. We had heard this from Rin Po Che, a Buddhist scholar-philosopher many years ago in a discussion at the Gandhian Institute of Studies in Varanasi, when he was the Director of The Tibetan Institute of Higher Studies at Sarnath. It appears that some such thought was the backdrop of Gandhi’s insistence on village being the primary unit in swaraj. The supporters of the present farmers’ movement have again and again called the farmers ‘annadata’ meaning those who feed the world. It may be said that those who are not simply a tail-piece of the market or the state see the farmer as annadata, women as annapoorna (those who provide a square meal) and the village as both an existential and an epistemic condition of civilization. If we look at the tradition of wholesome thought , we are likely to find that no distinction is made between the concrete and the abstract, between the physical and the spiritual, between the body and the soul and between being and knowledge. Just as the Gandhian movement has given the slogan that ‘Khadi is not just a cloth, it is a way of thinking’, similarly his insistence on the village may allow us to say that village is as much a spiritual entity as a physical one. Gandhi did believe also that there is no difference of level between the evening prayer of a peasant and the most abstract philosophies. In different words it may be said that truth lies in the fusion of the concrete and the abstract.

It is not just that the BJP government and Adani/Ambani are the issues or hurdles, they are of course that, however the practice and policy of the farmers’ movement appears to say that we need to learn from the wholesome traditions of thought (sant parampara) and in accordance with that develop the human code of conduct. Will ‘food’ occupy the centre stage then? Is food then both physical and spiritual? Handling of food in the movement appears to point to that. Dialogues on the concerned laws are necessary but let this not circumscribe our present thinking. Appropriate respect ought to be paid to representative institutions, legislatures, but let us not take them to be everything. Peoples’ ways and thought should ultimately hold the sway. It is humans who will build the future of humanity. Capital and market need to be brought down from the high seat they have been given. The farmers’ movement is saying that this is possible.