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Towards A Unitive Life: An Interview with Shyam Balakrishnan

One World University 

Shyam Balakrishnan is the coordinator of One-World University, a collective dedicated to the study of dialectics and geopolitics. He lives at an organic farm in Wayanad, Kerala, which is also envisioned as one of the campuses of One-World University. 

On May 20, 2014, Balakrishnan was arrested by the state police on charges of being a Maoist. This May, the Kerala High Court ruled in Balakrishnan’s favour, ordering the state government to compensate him. The judgment also stated that being a Maoist is not a crime and that a person cannot be arrested merely because he is one, and was hailed as a landmark by civil rights activists. 

However, far from being a Maoist sympathiser, Balakrishnan is in fact critical of their ideology. In this interview with Sharath & Jayan P.M., Balakrishnan not only recounts the events surrounding his arrest, but also comments extensively on a broad range of topics, offering incisive insights on contemporary society while exploring the possibilities of moving towards a more just and sustainable mode of living .      

Shyam, can you describe the incident in which you were taken into custody as a suspected Maoist by the Kerala police?

The incident happened on May 20th, 2014. I was on my way to the local stationery shop on a bike at around 4.30 pm. Two policemen in civil clothes came on bikes, stopped me and told me that they were taking me into custody. I asked for the reason, but they did not respond. They rode their bikes in front and behind me till we reached the town. A Sub-Inspector and five/six Thunderbolt (the anti-Naxal wing of the state police) personnel with automatic rifles were waiting for us. They forced me into their jeep in the presence of hundreds of people. They did all this without responding to my repeated queries as to why I was being arrested. They prevented me from calling home. Then they took me to the police station, a constable removed my clothes and searched me in front of around twenty policemen. This was followed by interrogation by a senior police officer for around one hour. After this, I was taken home by an armed group of around 25 people. We reached there around 6.30 pm. They immediately started searching my house and premises. Again, there was no response to my demands for the reason for searching my house, and the justification for doing this without any legal procedures. The search went on till 12.30 in the night.

The interrogation continued. Other than me, my companion and two friends who had come to visit us were questioned. Later, a policeman from the cyber cell came and started examining our laptops. He asked for my e-mail ID. When I asked why he needed it, he said he would read only those mails of interest to him. When I refused to disclose my e-mail ID on the ground of Right to Privacy, the senior official said that an e-mail ID is like a name and if the police ask for it one is bound to give it. They stopped insisting only when I refused them again on the basis of the Right to Disobey. Following this, the cyber cell officials entertained other policemen sharing the private files in our laptops. When they left later, they took away our laptops and my mobile phone.

Did the police intervention stop after that night?

We thought that the police had realised the truth that day and that the issue was over. But the next day, on May 21st, two senior officials of the Special Branch and a few constables came again in civil dress. One of them photographed us without our consent and we questioned this. They told us that people like us were suspect because of the unnecessary concern we show in such matters like right to privacy. The police even had the audacity to tell the local press that I had tried to escape when I saw the police at the first instance, and that the police team had arrested me very daringly. The surveillance still continues and the police even harass even our neighbours with all sorts of questions about us.

Wasn’t the laptop examined at your home?

Yes. Actually it was very interesting to observe how the policeman examined the  laptop. He was trying to capture certain words like a search engine. I could hear him speaking over the phone to a senior police official that there are words like capitalism, politics of agriculture etc. in my laptop. When I asked him later, I understood that what provoked them was an article by Arundhati Roy, named Capitalism – A Ghost Story, and some notes I had prepared for taking a class on the politics of agriculture, for students on the request of a local school authority. In another instance, on my query as to how they differentiate between a Maoist and a political researcher, the senior-most official present responded that it is almost impossible.

Isn’t it a serious situation; that we don’t have freedom even to think? The act of framing charges against even the most democratic disagreements as sedition and convicting people accordingly, is becoming routine. If the police had been successful in manufacturing false evidence against you, the situation would have been different. Isn’t the state giving us only two options; either to live in complete obedience or to be a terrorist?      

Yes, such is the situation now. It is as though there are no possibilities other than either of these options. The answer to this absurd situation is to boldly develop diverse kinds of democratic spaces.

In fact, we could understand this situation from two angles. From the first position, all these incidents are part of a larger process through which the world is swiftly heading towards militant capitalism. In that process, it is inevitable that mainstream politicians turn managers of private capital; the police and other forces its goons; and the people, its slaves. Seeing from the other angle, we are reminded of the question Rousseau raises in his Social Contract: when does the state oppress its citizens? He himself answers that the state becomes oppressive in proportion to the selfish life style of the citizens. Only when we integrate these two perspectives into a unitive understanding, would we be realizing freedom.

Do you mean that the individual cannot be understood as different from the state or the power structure?

There are many possibilities of error when we consider the state as an entity outside us. Just look at the bill boards of ‘different’ political parties around us; they are full of hatred and violence against their opponents. How can we ask for justice from the police when we ourselves are very undemocratic and oppressive to each other?

To be a truly democratic society, each one of us has to be consistently attentive to the democratization of oneself and the society and to the self-reflective process it necessitates. There are no options in this. Narayana Guru once asked T.K. Madhavan, a follower who was also a Congress leader, how Indians could demand freedom from British rule when they themselves are brutally oppressing fellow humans in the name of the caste system. Madhavan raised this question in the central committee meeting of the Congress which subsequently resulted in the first meeting of Gandhiji and Narayana Guru and the inclusion of the removal of untouchability as one of the aims of the Indian Nation Congress.

In Kerala, we are growing almost every food item with killer pesticides to serve our private interests. Then how can we rightfully oppose the Government that sprayed Endosulfan on our living premises? We need too many institutions to protect democracy because we ourselves are very undemocratic. And we are always complaining that these institutions are not protecting democracy.

It seems that, usually there is a lop-sided assertion on the societal process while neglecting the importance of individual orientation.

This happens — may be because this is easier. Genuine self-reflection is not a pleasant, comfortable process; it necessitates self-sacrifice and calls for immense responsibility. Though it is worthy and better, we generally choose what is easy and does not demand any effort on our part. To make things worse, modern politics is largely devoid of any unitive vision that would enable us to understand both the personal and the social life together.

Can you elaborate?

We all live for happiness and that urge has two necessary aspects. Each individual has a vision of happiness according to one’s unique nature. In other words, happiness could mean anything for a person from food, security, comfort, respect, to the wisdom understanding of life itself. At the same time, as social beings, we are also required to have a collective understanding of happiness or betterment in order to function together. Wholesome contentment of life comes from the synthesis of these two natural counterparts called the individual and the society.

How does such integration take place?

The core of such integration is the personal understanding and common agreement on the inherent value of a human being or life itself. Since life includes both the individual and the society, the understanding of the same would give us certain norms that are valid for both aspects. It is this idea that is reflected in the saying: Man is the measure of all things. If based on such an understanding, people would also have a common vision about the Better (development) or about what they live for. This would serve as the essential norm and the broadest basis on which people evaluate and comprehend all other relative values and events of their daily life. All our philosophic-political visions or ideologies, through their attempts to address human life, necessarily define the primal value of the same in one way or other, consciously or unconsciously, in order to serve the necessity of integration.

So, what is the vision of today’s globalized capitalist society?

For capitalism,  hutheman being has no inherent value but obtains one’s value in proportion to one’s ability to consume. And capitalism assumes happiness as an exclusive, private state without any reference to the collective. This reductive, hedonistic, divisive vision of life is the source of all the contradictions we experience today. Many of us know this. But to get out of the chaos, simple denial of it won’t be enough. We need a unitive vision that is valuable for the entire humanity and at the same is fully inclusive of the uniqueness of individuals as well as cultures. Through such a vision, we will be able to transcend even dualities like the individual and the society.

But it seems we are going completely in the wrong direction. Earlier, you mentioned about our progression towards militant capitalism…

Yes. To understand this process we must understand the different gathering-production systems that have been formulated by humanity so far. We also need to know about the fundamental relationship between the capitalist mode of production and the nation-state.

The food-gathering system is the first and most practiced mode of survival in the history of humanity. Then, around ten thousand years ago, as a response to situations like climate change, there emerged production systems like pastoralism and settled agriculture. Among these, the first two systems (food-gathering and pastoral life) are nomadic in nature. Then the capitalist mode of production, the very recent one, evolved in the middle of the 1700s in Europe.

The modern nation state is a political system that was formed parallel to this capitalist mode of production to contain its unprecedented need for capital and natural resources and the consequent centralization, urbanization, colonization etc. Later, through colonization, the nation-state system got exported all over the world. The famous historian Eric Hobsbawm once noted that the dictionaries before 1884 explained the word nation very differently from what we understand of it today.

The most critical feature of the nation state system is its extreme dependence on the capitalist mode of production for its own survival. And this dependency grows consistently. For instance, the agriculture sector in India contributes just 16% of the total GDP (Gross Domestic Production). Even this share comes from highly centralized, post Green Revolution, pro-market, intense farming; not from local farming. From the meagre contribution of this sector, the Indian state cannot maintain its huge structural expenses like the salaries of its employees, military expenses etc. It might not even be enough to pay interest on the loans it has availed. If this is the case with the farming sector, it is obvious that the surplus value created by the tribal people and nomads would be completely irrelevant to the nation state. What we say about India is all the more true to the so called developed countries. In the US, the total contribution of the farming sector to the GDP is just 1%. In France it is 2 % and in Germany just 0.8 %.

Every institution or body carries the instinct of self-preservation. Thus the nation- state, out of its own structural instinct or necessity to sustain, more or less identifies with capitalism and its need for ever increasing production and centralisation. This is the core reason for the constant cry of the State for increasing the GDP. And they resort to military enforcement if there is any serious threat to the growth of private capital. Thus, people are continuously persuaded to follow the market system through propaganda as well as brutal force. When this process of identification between the state and capitalism passes a certain stage, they merge to become one. The US state is a classic example for this and all the wars they design are for the interests of private capital. The revelations of Edward Snowden about the surveillance carried out by the US state may be analysed in this context. It is because of the same mutual identification that the protest against the Koodamkulam nuclear plant becomes sedition in India.

Isn’t capitalism dependent on the state as much as the state is dependent on capitalism?

Of course. There is a general assumption that though there are some problems with the market economy it continues to exist because of its natural goodness and the consequent mass support. But nothing could be further from truth. Without the support of the state, capitalism could never survive. That is the real story and examples could be seen from the Enclosures movement in Europe to the bail-outs of the 2008 economic depression. Or take the process of Green Revolution that has made India a graveyard. If there hadn’t been the absolute support of the state through its agriculture department, subsidies, bank loans, media, paid-intellectuals etc., and if the farmers had been directly evaluating the effects of chemical farming on their farms, the Green Revolution would have never occurred. Capitalism is not sustained by the state but by the public capital commanded by the state.

Do you think that capitalism and democracy can go together?

No; it is absolutely impossible. Between these two there are irreconcilable contradictions. If democracy means considering the (non)other as oneself, in capitalism there is no other but only the private individual and his/her exclusive interests. If democracy is cooperative, capitalism is inevitably competitive. Either gain for both parties or loss for both parties is the thumb rule in all the transactions among human beings. But private interests or capitalism believes that there could be gain for one person and loss for the other who is part of the same situation. Thus, it divides everyone by constantly producing the sense of otherness required for its survival.

On the other hand, in all other gathering-production modes, a human being is sustained by his/her unitive relationship with nature as well as with fellow people. It is impossible to be otherwise. In such systems one’s inter-relationship with nature and others is self-evident to a person. But the cornerstone of capitalism, as we said, is the private individual absorbed in his private world, thus alienated both from nature and fellow human beings. If we look at advertisements; we can see this. The private person has only a utilitarian relationship with everything. And s/he is the source of all violence.

Is the private person a product of the capitalist system?

No. Actually, there is always a possibility in one’s nature to be exclusive and alienated by private interests. The tendency comes from the one-sided identification with the body or matter that has a unique time and space. When one unilaterally identifies the value dynamism called self with one’s unique body, one ignores the universality of the same. In fact, this person who is engulfed in his private world is the devil mentioned in many religions. The devil’s materialistic offers to Jesus are an example of this.

All the masters and educational-spiritual traditions tell us to grow out from the animal instinct of self-preservation to an all-inclusive self-understanding through self-reflection. Even the word homo in homo sapiens comes from the recognition of the species’ ability for self-reflection. But capitalism has been consistently producing and glorifying these private interests and private individuals, considered dangerous for humanity from time immemorial. That’s why now the world is a hell for so many of us.

It seems that the market economy is consciously generating fear in the individual. Isn’t this meant to push the individual more and more into the private world?

Yes. All our fear comes from the alienation caused by private interests. When one is alienated and comprehends oneself as just a short-living body which could be hurt or even dead at any time, fear, insecurity, and short-sightedness would be the default features of the individual. Such a person would always be trying to forget or overcome this fate by indulging more and more in consumption and wealth creation. This leads to even more alienation. This is a vicious circle.

In the pyramid structure of capitalism, when all the individuals from all levels are trying to acquire wealth according to their ability, the centralization of power and wealth is inevitable. Even otherwise, unlimited material growth in a world with limited resources means nothing but war. And monetary economy is worsening the situation.

What you have said about monetary economy is interesting. Generally the world of money is accepted as something god-given, and hence unquestionable.

Unlike in other production systems, money enables one to live without any meaningful relationship with others. Money makes the private person a concrete actuality. A rich man doesn’t need his neighbour but only the super market. In pre-modern communities it was clear that money did not have any inherent value and was just a medium that made transactions easier. That was why lending money for interest was forbidden in many societies. They knew that creating wealth just by lending something that has no natural value was equivalent to looting society.

The centralization of power and market economy fuelled by the industrial revolution, nation-states, urbanization, colonization,  the two world-wars, and the demand for goods which have only speculative value has greatly contributed to the expansion of the monetary system. Earlier, money had been used as a medium for the integration of values of different goods. The exchange of values previously followed the sequence commodity-money-commodity. Now, it has changed to money-commodity-money, in which the value of a commodity is understood not in terms of its inherent value but by its monetary value.

But the problem here is, who decides the value of money? Today, the value of all the goods in the world including labour is determined in terms of the US Dollar. And the value of the dollar is determined by a host of gamblers including international bankers. They collect money from society and transfer it to a few monopolists. The official casinos called share markets also participate in the game.

Today, the main source of income for the developed countries is finance capital lent at interest, especially to the third world countries. The loans which are given by developed countries or bodies like World Bank can never be repaid by an agricultural or tribal economy. This must have been the core reason for the pro-capitalist structural adjustments initiated by the lending bodies on borrowing countries.

Can we avoid these problems by disregarding the dollar?

Of course not. The problem is not just that of the Dollar; the money system by itself leads to centralization of wealth and power. In other words, money itself is a product and those who decide the value of money control the entire situation. The Indian Reserve Bank’s project to make every citizen part of the banking system has to be understood in this context.

Monopolization enabled by money has other aspects too. Wealth transactions in any community need to be local, transparent and easy to understand. But the world economy of today is such a complex system that its inner processes cannot be understood even by the so called wizards of economics. At the time of the economic depression in 2008, the Nobel laureate Paul Krugman observed that the value of some mutual bonds that had severely contributed to the depression couldn’t be assessed later even by their creators.

Ideally, we must opt for a gift economy. As a first step, we must localize money — not at the national level, but at more local levels.

As you said, it is through colonization that the idea of the nation-state took roots in India. Then the British empire really destroyed the self-sufficiency of all communities here. Isn’t the same process continuing under the regime after Independence?

Yes. To understand this concretely, we could consider the state of public land here. All pre-modern political systems recognized vast areas of land including most of the forests as belonging to the local community. This was the case not just in India, but all over the world. This couldn’t be questioned even by the most powerful kings. Contradictory to this, the nation-state only accepts two types of properties — private property and the property of the state. One of the primary reasons for the destruction of the threads of community in India was the acquisition of forests by the British regime.

Before colonization, our local economies had been based on our forests. When a community depends on forests for its survival, the healthy sustenance of the same would be of prime concern for the community. In India, the destruction of forests began during the British rule. They considered the ever-green forests as a resource that strengthened their imperialism by providing for railway lines, ships etc. As a continuation of the same approach, the forest department of independent India, cut down even rainforests to plant Acacia and Eucalyptus for industrial purposes. Tribal communities are being eliminated today, and their land is being taken over to be gifted to corporates like Vedanta. The sources of water and even rivers are being seized in the name of dams and roads. And now even the sea is largely a property of big trawling and mining industries. In this process of invasion, there is no difference between capitalist nations and the so-called socialist nations. The Left oriented government in Brazil has been mining the Amazon forest for oil and they are helped by the public sector company of another Leftist government in Venezuela.

The market and the state continue to develop by destroying the self-sufficiency of both individuals and communities. A journalist once asked the then Indian minister of finance, who had previously been a World Bank employee, his vision about the future of India. His immediate answer was that, he dreams of an India where 85 % of people live in cities. City means dependence on the market. For the first time in history from 2012 onwards more than half of the world population have been living in cities and this is growing explosively.

Doesn’t the state manufacture people who are inert and stupid? It seems that the state provides people with several comfort zones that shield them from facing the real situation even when they are gross victims of the same.

Of course. Akira Kurasawa’s Ikru is an excellent movie that illustrates this aspect. To understand how the state re-orients human beings, we just have to look at how military personnel are trained. The fundamental expectation of a military person is his obedience to orders without questions. This means that one must discharge any murderous act wished for by one’s superior officer. The need to distinguish whether the action is good or bad becomes irrelevant. Another aspect is the consistent humiliation inflicted upon the military personnel as part of their training. This is how the system desensitises human beings to make them capable of killing other human beings. And why does the Indian state supply free liquor to all army personnel including the retired ones? The survival of the state depends on the retardation of these people.

All this is contrary to what would happen in a true educative process. In India, if a person enters military service after short term training, he or she has to work there for a minimum period of 15 years. To quit within this period would be almost impossible. If someone tries to escape, there are provisions to prosecute and imprison him. Is this characteristic of democracy? Why do such provisions exist? If the people had real choice, there wouldn’t be many left in the military.

We spoke of military since it is the most concrete and visible face of the state. What we have spoken is true of the entire citizenry as well, though in different proportions, especially for those who are part of the bureaucracy.

It seems, whoever breaks this conditioning will be declared as enemies and hunted down by the state.

It happens everywhere. Take the cases of Bradley Manning, Julian Assange and Edward Snowden. They took positions on behalf of entire humanity and they are now being hunted by the state. These are classic cases illustrating the conflict between the state and humanity. The 24 year old Bradley has now been convicted for 35 years. Assange has been staying in the Ecuador embassy in London for the last two years. And Snowden is far away from his family, friends and native land.

What about the media? They also depend on capitalism for their survival and are ideologically dedicated to the nation-state. So, they are equally responsible for spreading both fear and insensitivity among people…

No wonder. As you said, it’s their institutional necessity. Take the instance of the Delhi gangrape. The mainstream media made such a great fuss about it. It produced tons of material analyzing the habitual insult and abuse of women. But not even a single column talked about capitalism that commodifies everything. Shouting against commodification of women without problematising capitalism that commodifies everything, is nothing but third rate dishonesty.

Mainstream media won’t touch the structural contradictions of the system. Instead it always presents things as specific events and the causes for all problems are attributed to some bad people. It’s like in the James Bond movies. They make sure that the people are distracted, that their attention is not on the real issues.

Though what you were elaborating about the nation-state is true, can we negate the positive intentions behind its formation? It did emerge as a positive force negating feudalism and colonization.

We never meant that the nation state is formed exclusively out of ill will. In fact, many nation states are indeed the result of the greatest aspirations of people. But since they (the nation-states) contradict the natural and basic principles of life, they must fall. The sense of otherness and territory are the prime capital of nationhood. We must fully accept that every community has its own culture and unique characteristics but this doesn’t make it necessary to have a territory guarded by armed human beings.

One of the greatest political challenges of our generation is to creatively overcome the historical blunder called the nation state.

How can we do this when we live within the framework of the nation state?

To understand how to overcome the nation-state, we must first understand capitalism. One of the primary reasons for the formation of capitalism is the dualism found in both the theology of Catholic Church, that ruled the Europe from AD 5th century to the 15th century, and the epistemology of modern science that started to shape the imagination of European intelligentsia from the 12th Century.

By dividing man and god and asserting that man is a born sinner and through unscientific divisions like existence and essence, the Catholic Church was actually alienating human beings from their own non-dual reality. And this duality or alienation continues in the epistemology of modern science as well. Science practically deals with the entire universe and all its wonders as a reality outside human beings. That’s why all the knowledge it acquires becomes just objective information to us instead of being value experience. According to science, truth belongs not to human beings but to some expensive laboratories. They look for truth as if it is something to be invented on a linear time scale while ignoring the here and now absoluteness of reality/ourselves. This duality itself is the womb of the private individual.

What the philosophy of modern science indirectly says is that man lives by bread alone. And this diverts our natural urge for happiness towards material pleasures of the market. Thus, the reductive notions of both religion and modern science could be seen as the ideological basis of capitalism. And as a counterpart of this dualistic approach, there is also a human-centred approach to life, which is as disastrous as the other.

Instead of such a dualistic approach, if we have a unitive philosophy that integrates man and the universe or the empirical science and contemplative wisdom with a proper epistemology, methodology and axiology (science of values), the result would be human beings with understanding and love as deep and vast as the universe — not those who sell themselves. There needs to be detailed study, and the works of Nataraja Guru, are of great importance in this regard. The end of capitalism would start when we bring forth such a science of life.

Could you clarify this further?

We are in terrible need of some norms of life that are valid for the entire humanity. In all the areas including education, justice, development, religion, health, etc. what we are facing is the absence of such norms or the presence of too many self-contradictory norms.

The essential truth about us is the oneness of us. When we say we it includes everything. Global warming proves to us that even the slightest action of a person has an impact on the entire nature. To this reality of oneness, one has to integrate one’s unique life.

One who sees all beings in one-self

And one-self in all beings, does not turn away from that (truth)

So says the Isa Upanishad. Such a human being must be the goal of all educative processes. It doesn’t mean that all of us immediately have to be Buddhas. Such distinctions like Buddha and ordinary person are made by society and hence superficial. The only thing that matters is whether one could live a unitive life that integrates the truth and one’s neighbour together, according to one’s ability. When one can live like that consciously or unconsciously, one experiences eternity; one overcomes death. This is the source of inspiration and strength for all those human beings who have lived and is living for the Common Good. On the other hand, those who are living in the delusion of private life are in fact missing the greatest beauty that Nature holds within.

We need to understand unitive science in detail. Through that understanding one would be able to discriminate between what is lasting and non-lasting and to discover a middle path that unites one with the other. We need to remember that when we speak about living a unitive life we are not speaking of any missionary charity which is essentially dualistic in nature and in which one is living for the other. We are talking about a neutral possibility that includes everything.

The contradictions between capitalism and state on the one hand, and democracy on the other, are clear enough. But all of us live and make interventions within the space provided by one or the other nation-state. Whoever challenges the authority of such power centres could be prosecuted as anti-nationals. In fact, such power centres have the constitutional authority to do so. Don’t we need practical interventions from within the system? Don’t we need to expand the scope of existing democratic institutions?

Of course we have to; but this needs vision and we were talking about that. Practically, one of the most important interventions would be to reduce GDP or GWP (gross world production). Because the most critical feature with capitalism is its need to grow continuously. That’s why the capitalists and governments are always preoccupied with the GDP. And if we can reverse this process, that is, reduce production or consumption continuously, after a certain point the system will collapse organically. The beauty of this approach is that, we could do it with minimum energy compared to that of the strength of the system and it could be done in a decentralized manner, democratically. It is like moving a large rock with a small iron bar.

All the individuals and collectives of the world who seek a paradigm shift in the developmental vision of the system could unite in this master goal of reducing GWP without dropping any of their own programmes of action. When we talk about reducing GDP we are not saying that one must starve for the purpose. We are talking about a reorientation. For example, a collective for organic food could make sure that the exchange of produce happens directly between farmers and consumers so that no goods reach the market.

But we must not forget that capitalism is essentially nothing but the inert, alienated and pleasure-seeking human mind without any universal norms and value orientation. Both the re-orientation of this inner dynamism and the actual reduction in production must go hand in hand. Otherwise, the action of consumption reduction would become another nauseating ritual.

We must also explore the grand possibilities of civil disobedience, and we must also expand the vision of law and justice. The forests and rivers must belong to the local communities. The big trawlers must not enter the sea. Land monopolization must end. Instead of blood-related families, diverse self-sufficient communities of like-minded people have to be envisioned. Typical jobs must be renounced at least gradually because we must regain the authority of our time and mobility. There are endless possibilities to elaborate…

The governments would resist this…

Sure. But, the Government is not an alien entity. It’s a composition of human beings in a particular manner. Understanding could penetrate into anything and people could change. We must acknowledge the essential innocence and the helplessness of every human being. Nataraja Guru speaks of inclusively transcending; we are here not to destroy but to fulfill.

Till now, we were talking about capitalism, democracy, state, science etc. There are many other institutions like family, religion…

It is self-evident that human beings are social beings. Therefore, the daily life of couples and children is necessarily interwoven with community life. In other words, collective living is our natural context. Since the modern nuclear family contradicts this natural setting, it turns into a huge burden for both parents and children.

When one is pursuing one’s private interests in all other arenas, one cannot be a loving husband or parent within the family alone. One has to choose between these two options since the private person cannot love, but only utilize. Thus, the modern nuclear family is just an interface in the evolution from community or joint-family system to single parent system. The growing divorce rate clearly reflects this process.

The general assumption about the family is that it is a place of love. But when one brings up one’s child to be a slave of the market, can we call it love? Love could be called so only when it is entailed with a proper vision of life. For instance, if parents had the commitment not to give their children genetically modified (GM) and chemically mediated food, the world would have been a much better place. The gravest harm the family does to its members is that it confuses selfishness with love.

Isn’t religion very similar to family? They seem to nourish each other.

In fact, capitalism is good for religious setups, unlike the family, since religions are instruments of capitalism facilitating the divide and rule policy. In reality, all such sectarianisms are remnants of the past. Earlier, people had been isolated by external factors like the sea, mountains, deserts etc. and by their instinctive tribalism; hence the exclusiveness of their religions. But in the era of modernity and globalization, we have the opportunity to study all the contemplative-religious traditions of the world. In this changed scenario, we now know that, all the traditions have very similar intentions and goals and their differences are only incidental owing to variation in time and space. This is something which had always been evident to the serious pursuers of such traditions. But the priests and institutions negate this common sense for petty interests and their followers are those sloppy ones who never go into the subtle aspects of even their own religion. All the masters and their words are the common property of entire humanity and their privatization and marketing must end.

Each spiritual tradition has a unique epistemological frame of reference in approaching wisdom. One must understand that frame in order to study a particular religion. Only then would the similarity between seemingly different traditions be understood. All religions have their own incidental limitations. When one thinks that only one’s religion is right, all the errors of that religion would become part of the person. The advantage of studying all religions with an equal sense of discretion and respect frees you from a lopsided understanding.

You are being harassed by the police since you are suspected to be a Maoist. Do you in fact have any inclination towards Maoism? How do you see the Maoist movement in India?

The tribal people in India who have been oppressed for centuries are waging a war against the state. I don’t think, they are doing it because of the inspiration they got from understanding Maoism thoroughly. It is a grand, natural response to the severe oppression and exploitation they are facing through. To call this movement Maoism is a very reductive approach given its great historical and cultural depth, beauty and originality.

Likewise, any armed resistance in any place could be understood only as a limited and immediate response to a specific situation. In the long run, the situation has to be changed through visionary, democratic and creative political interventions. But this doesn’t seem to be happening in the case of this movement. It is not raising any discourse that could inspire the imagination of the people in other parts of India including those in cities under different social and political situations. In this sense, the movement is very apolitical.

But still, the issues they raise are of utmost importance to all of us. The forest must belong to the tribal people and local communities. Land distribution must happen. We must have lot of places owned commonly by the public. The farming of cash crops has to be systematically reduced. Chemical – GM farming must be completely abandoned.

In short we have to integrate all the values ranging from food to freedom scientifically and we must live that through infinite diversities. After all, Nature does it.

(This interview was published first in Malayalam by Keraleeyam, a magazine for Green Politics—and translated into English by Shyam Balakrishnan.)  

Shyam Balakrishnan’s Facebook response following the High Court verdict:

When I got a favourable verdict from the Kerala high court in my case against police atrocities, one of my journalist-friends asked whether I consider the verdict as enlivening for human right movements in India. The following is my response to that and similar questions…

Though the judgement genuinely upholds the democratic principles and human rights, the global context of ever increasing state violence against citizens necessitates us to face deeper, broader questions… One of the most important among them is that, whether we could really serve capitalism and democracy, together.

The question is relevant because… An economic system that envisions unlimited growth on earth where the resources are in fact limited must be a system that is inherently and structurally violent. Such a system which incessantly monopolizes and centralizes resources can be nothing but invasive and continuously militarizing. This situation is a global experience, which doesn’t require further explanation.

On the other hand, the principles of oneness and fraternity among human beings are the basis of all democratic ideals including equality. Every member of a democratic society is expected to understand and practice those fundamentals. But in a diametrically opposite approach, the ideal being of a market economy is a person indulging in exclusive private interests with scant regard to the common good, someone alienated from nature as well as fellow beings. If cooperation is the living rule of democracy, the sense of otherness and competition are the fuel that sustains the capitalist system. It favours a divide and rule policy and stresses on specific-exclusive identities.

The problem lies here… the modern nation-state or the representative democratic systems all over the world, is structurally dependent on this divisive capitalist system for its own practical survival. For example, the contribution of the agriculture sector in the gross domestic income (GDI) of India is just 20% of the total income. The contribution to the GDI from tribal economies is far more negligible in this regard. That means, the so called democratic governments and all its paraphernalia like military, bureaucracy etc. cannot be maintained by economies other than the market-capitalist system.

Every body or institution has an instinct for its own survival; from the representative leaders who always stress on more and more GDP growth to the police who fire against the tribal people, it is simply different manifestations of that basic instinct.

Hence, the fundamental question is this: Could a political system that is structurally dependent on an inherently anti-democratic system called market economy, be a real protector of democracy? In other words, even if the system seems to be the protector of democratic values occasionally, how long it can it carry such genuine intentions before succumbing to its own structural necessities?

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