Authors

Understanding dissent

PEOPLE’S VOICE Women participating in the Chipko movement

PEOPLE’S VOICE Women participating in the Chipko movement   | Photo Credit: The Hindu Archives

Through six case studies, Dr. Subhash Sharma highlights the issues involved in ecological movements and how they affect the communities

Over the past several decades, there has been a surge in mass movements focussing on environmental degradation with impact on life and sustainable livelihood. Aware of them only through media reports, one hardly knows how these came into being, the people behind them, their aims and what they achieved. Filling this gap is Dr. Subhash Sharma’s book “Why People Protest: An Analysis of Ecological Movements” (Publications Division). In a comprehensive account, he deals extensively and intensively with six ecological movements in India, Brazil, Malaysia and the Philippines. These are Chipko, Silent Valley, Narmada, anti-Chico dam, Sarawak and Amazonia Rubber Tappers’ movements. “The aim is to underscore that masses in these countries have been protesting for some major ecological issues which are inter-connected with their livelihood.”

What catches the eye, is the demographics of campaign participants. “The study shows that while in developed countries the upper and upper-middle classes have been on the forefront for green issues like climate change, green house gas emission, acid rain, pollution, in many developing countries lower-middle class and lower class have been struggling for social ecological issues like deforestation causing floods, shortage of fuel wood as well as vanishing of small forest produces (fruits, food, flower, fibre, fertiliser etc.), and construction of large dams causing displacement of rural people and destruction of their livelihood resources.”

Colonial exploitation

To familiarise readers, Sharma provides the historical background, theory and practice of the movements and their evolution and achievements. Remarkably, the genesis of these man-nature conflict stem from colonial past and continued exploitation by developed countries. India was ruled by the British, Sarawak (Malaysia) by Brunei and Britain, The Philippines by Spain and US and Brazil by Portugal. The colonial powers took upon themselves to introduce what they claimed “scientific management” of forests and condemned the traditional forest management as “irrational and backward”. “They usurped the community control over, and customary access to, natural resources and the state became the real and ultimate owner of forests and other natural resources,” observes Sharma.

Given the dilemma faced by these countries of satisfying the growing aspirations of their increasing population, how is balance between development and conservation possible? “There is a need for harmony. In 1987 Brundlandt Commission of United Nations published its report ‘Our Common Future’ wherein it defined sustainable development as to meet the needs of present generation without compromising the needs of future generations.” Taking a dig against consumerism, he adds, “Today necessity is no more the mother of invention, rather invention and production have become mother of superficial necessities and demands of the consumers, especially the rising middle class. Due to massive advertisement, which is a ‘hidden persuader’, the younger generation is attracted and emotionally persuaded to buy more, as ‘more is considered better’.”

Sharma covers these pertinent points in his final chapter. Providing a critique of mainstream development paradigm, he has included an alternative development paradigm and what needs to be done at the policy level to ensure sustainable progress and its fair distribution. He points out that it costs ₹12000 to irrigate one hectare of land with a tank or tubewell while it is more than ₹50000 through a dam or canal. “We need to emphasise on decentralised planning from below, sustainability and prudence in use of natural resources as well as collective self-empowerment and self-reliance.”

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Printable version | Aug 4, 2020 8:29:16 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/books/books-authors/understanding-dissent/article24011675.ece

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