‘Everything is connected’

Gandhian Ela Bhatt presents the idea of building holistic, mutually beneficial communities in her new book ‘Anubandh’

Updated - October 18, 2016 12:49 pm IST

Published - May 07, 2016 04:25 pm IST

Anubandh by Ela R. Bhatt

Anubandh by Ela R. Bhatt

In her latest book Anubandh , noted Gandhian and the force behind the Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), Ela Bhatt, makes an appeal to build holistic and mutually beneficial communities to cater to the basic needs of daily life: food (including water), clothing, education, health, housing, education and banking.

Bhatt presents the idea of creating local communities within a 100-mile radius to cater to livelihoods and sustainable living. In a way, this originates from Gandhi’s belief of self-sustaining communities.

According to her, if mutually beneficial communities are organised and built to take care of local needs, many issues related to poverty, exploitation and environmental degradation can be solved to a large extent. “It was the lack of local resources to meet the primary needs of life… that rendered rural communities vulnerable to poverty, exploitation and migration. If we could meet local needs with locally generated resources, we could benefit the local economy, the local ecology, and the local community,” says the book.

The book is based on Bhatt’s experience in building networks of poor women in villages in India and elsewhere through SEWA, making more than a million women self-reliant and self-employed. It draws from the day-to-day experiences of women who were brought together to create ‘water communities’ or ‘tool libraries’ or to build cooperative societies of producers and sellers of vegetables or forest produce.

“I am aware that ‘anubandh’ and the building of 100-mile communities may sound impractical or just a little simplistic to counter the problems the world faces today. Problems of food security, violence, starvation and ecological imbalance that governments and august international bodies grapple with are overwhelming to the people who experience them day after day,” says the octogenarian author, who is a member of The Elders, founded by Nelson Mandela. Interestingly, the term ‘anubandh’ was first used by two leading Gandhians, Vinoba Bhave and Kaka Kalelkar, but apparently, Gandhi himself never used it.

In an interview, the author explains the idea behind ‘anubandh’ and how it can be implemented. Excerpts:

What is ‘anubandh’ and how did the concept come into being?

‘Anubandh’ is an ancient Indian word. It is also found in the Bhagavad Gita. It has been used in ‘Nai Talim’ or new education as a follow-up to Gandhiji’s idea of Swaraj. In a larger sense, to me, what it means is that everything is connected. I am connected to you and you to me and we to our air and our air to our water and plants and plastic and chemicals and pollution, and so on. In modern science, we call it an ecosystem. Over five decades of organising poor women of SEWA, I have realised how this endless web of connection exists, what potential it offers for promoting mutuality and how we neglect it more and more in our so-called development process as we strive to ‘remove’ poverty and grab prosperity.

Tell us about your experiences while forging communities or networks through SEWA.

This realisation grew from my work with almost two million poor women members of SEWA over the decades. Their struggle for minimum wages was related to the spread of global capitalism and their need for credit was related to new emerging international markets.

Their access to the market was related to their level of education or, more recently, to computer skills, and so on. Credit matched with insurance had more impact. Income matched with asset-building removed poverty faster. Beyond SEWA, recently, youth in colleges in Delhi have called me to discuss this concept and its implementation. There is so much energy in our youth!

Is building 100-mile communities a solution for basic issues like availability of drinking water or affordable healthcare?

‘Anubandh’ is not a solution. It is a way for us to think about what we do and plan ahead. It is not for me or the poor or women, but for all — including the youth — to think before acting; what will be the impact of my action or decision on another person, the community, ecology and natural resources. We may think about ‘anubandh’ while buying our vegetables.

When we buy vegetables from a street vendor, what is the impact on his life; or the impact on a mall owner on buying vegetables from his mall? We may think of ‘anubandh’ while deciding where to invest our savings; or even when we hear of national programmes such as Smart Cities or Start up India, water harvesting, recycling, afforestation or solar energy.

In ‘anubandh’, have you seen any role for the private sector since the government’s role is shrinking in critical social sector areas such as education and health?

‘Anubandh’ is for all. ‘Anubandh’ has no sides, it is a circle — sprawling, touching everything. The big corporate private sector has a big role. Small private businesses have an even bigger role in using ‘anubandh’ as an idea. Social impact investors, chief executive officers and heads of corporate social responsibility in national and international firms have read this book and organised discussions to find out what they can do. The private sector can think about where its natural resources come from.

What is the impact of its product or service on the lives and environment of local communities? The banking sector can think about how their lending can add to the well-being of the people and the environment around their branch offices, and so on. The more thoughtful the decisions, the more shared the prosperity, and shared prosperity sustains longer.

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