Bookshelf: Alternative Futures: India Unshackled

A remarkable, first-ever collection of essays on India’s future, by a diverse set of authors – activists, researchers, media practitioners – those who have influenced policies and those working at the grassroots. It presents scenarios of an India that is politically and socially egalitarian, radically democratic, ecologically sustainable and economically equitable, and socio-culturally diverse and harmonious.

Envisioning India’s Future (Introductory summary)

Ashish Kothari and K.J. Joy

This opening essay of the book provides an overview of the collection, clubbing the essays into four key spheres of human existence: political, socio-cultural, economic, and ecological. Though the division of the 32 thematic essays in this volume into the four spheres is necessarily imperfect, we believe this framework provides us a basis for analysis, as also for envisioning of the future.

Ecological futures

The essays under this theme engage with biodiversity conservation, environment, water and energy. Kartik Shanker, Meera Anna Oommen and Nitin Rai argue for a holistic approach to biodiversity conservation that integrates conservation ideals with social and environmental justice. Sharachchandra Lele and Geetanjoy Sahu point out that the future of environmental governance has to start with embracing environmentalism as a way of life, that is, quality of life, sustainability, and environmental justice. Shripad Dharmadhikary and Himanshu Thakkar visualises water as an ecosystem resource. Similarly in the case of energy, Harish Hande, Vivek Shastry and Rachita Misra argue for the availability of affordable clean energy technology primarily through decentralized renewable energy.

Political futures

The essays in this section outline what the future should look like in areas like power, democracy, legal regimes, ideologies, and the world order. Pallav Das proposes that peoples’ movements forge a ‘New Power Alliance’ that can challenge the existing power structure. Aruna Roy, Nikhil Dey and Praavita Kashyap, propose the idea of direct democracy, through a ‘rainbow coalition of grassroots social movements’. Arpitha Kodiveri argues for a legal future that engages with decentralization, equality and innovation in justice delivery. Aditya Nigam is for radical social democracy that provides space for the plurality of visions for the imagined future. Bharat Patankar argues for a multilinear critical theory that emerges from the multilinearity of exploitation, evolution of struggles and dreams of a future society. Muchkund Dubey emphasises on the crucial role of the UN in creating a peaceful world in which people of all nations could prosper and calls for a democratic multilateral governance of the future world order.

Economic futures

The essays under this theme cover pastoralism, agriculture and food, biomass based agro-industrial development, crafts, industry, energy, localization, transportation and markets. Ilse Köhler-Rollefson and Hanwant Singh Rathore argue for integration of pastoral production with nature conservation. Bharat Mansata, Kavitha Kuruganti, Vijay Jardhari and Vasant Futane argue for a future which assures Anna Swaraj, dignified livelihoods to farmers and ecological sustainability. According to Uzramma, craft industries provide an opportunity to by-pass high-energy industrialization in favour of low-energy, dispersed craft industries, which could usher in democracy in production. Dunu Roy says that the future of industrial work lies in a radical change of two crucial determinants of capitalist society – competition and profit. Aseem Shrivastava and Elango Rangasamy argue for localisation and regionalisation of economies taking the form a ‘Network Growth Economy’. K. J. Joy draws the attention on how the biomass can regenerate the rural economy and ecology, opening up a sustainable and equitable developmental pathway. M.P. Parameswaran dreams of a vibrant, self-reliant village – more of a “rurban” space – in the Kerala of 2047. Rajni Bakshi visualizes a village level economy, which will be self-sustaining for essentials and capable of expanding space for a non-monetised exchange. Rakesh Kapoor suggests an urban plus rural India, built around the ideas of dispersed urbanization, decentralized governance and low carbon pathways. Sujit Patwardhan proposes people-centric, sustainable transport that can make a city pleasant and safe. Dinesh Abrol argues for technological alternatives that can trigger a radical transformation in socio-technical systems.

Socio-cultural futures

This section deals with language, art, media, knowledge, health, sexuality, dalits, caste, gender, adivasis and minorities. Ganesh Devy argues for support to “non-mainstream” languages and cautions that language diversity in India is possible only by embracing its multi-linguistic and multi-cultural identity. Tultul Biswas and Rajesh Khindri visualises a future education that can unleash the potential towards the development of a balanced, just, and responsive students and teachers. Sudha Gopalakrishnan is of the opinion that the future of art has to balance the context-specific significance with relevance to the larger world. For Paranjoy Guha Thakurta an ideal scenario for the media is when concerned citizens of the country collect and disseminate information regulated by an independent body. According to Rajeshwari Raina the future of knowledge should be community-based, diverse, democratic, decentralised and inclusive. Abhay Shukla and Rakhal Gaitonde argue for a Health Systems Approach and a Universal Health Care System. Arvind Narrain visualises love at two levels – love for one person and love in a wider sense, essentially the love of justice or empathy for the suffering other. Anand Teltumbde argues for the abolishment of caste and communal consciousness from the public spaces. Manisha Gupte envisions a future without gender inequities and patriarchy with an intersectional approach of class, caste, patriarchy and ethnicity. Irfan Engineer emphasises the need for intra-inter struggle of communities and deconstruction of identities to make the differentiation of the majority and minority irrelevant. For adivasis Gladson Dungdung paints an alternative future consisting of territorial autonomy, development paths built on their own worldviews and aspirations, self-reliance and self-rule.

To conclude

We fully understand that on each of these subjects the book deals with there can be diverse perspectives, even more so when we are talking about possible visions of the future. However, our hope is that this set of 35 essays provides some elements of a coherent, collective vision based on the common elements of justice, equity, and sustainability, and stimulates more such reflection and thinking and dialogue, to make such a vision more robust, inspiring and actionable.

Alternative Futures: India Unshackled
Edited by Ashish Kothari and K.J. Joy
Rs. 995



Looking Back into the Future (Concluding summary)

Ashish Kothari and K.J. Joy

The concluding essay of the book Alternative Futures is an account of one Meera Gond-Vankar addressing mass assemblies across South Asia in the (Gregorian) year 2100. She recounts the difficult period of the early 2000s, when global conflict, ecological destruction, inequality and deprivation along with overconsumption were at their height. Slowly, though, peoples’ movements along with some enlightened policies began to turn things around. From then to 2100, significant transformations took place.

On the political front, decision-making is no longer concentrated in the hands of centralized governments, and the state has been transformed. Learning from some early 21st century explorations in indigenous self-determination, autonomous political regions, and accountable governance, and building on mass mobilisations against authoritarian regimes including in so-called democratic nations, radical democracy was established across many parts of the world. In these, people, where-ever they are, take decisions by consensus in face-to-face assemblies. For larger scales where such gatherings are not possible, delegates sent by these units of direct democracy take collective decisions, taking their mandate from the ground, and reporting back.

There has been a simultaneous transformation of the economy. This entailed a change from being controlled by a handful of corporations and governments to the increasing take-over by workers and producers (in agriculture, industry, services, etc). It also meant new economic theory and practice, placing it squarely within ecological limits and social considerations rather than being its own empire as it had become in the few centuries preceding this. Not only capitalism, but also state-dominated economic systems are on their way out. Yet another big shift was from globalization to localization, with stress on local self-sufficiency or self-reliance at least for basic needs; the ‘local’ here meant clusters of settlements within a limited region, often defined by ecosystems like river sub-basins. Global trade remains, but it is not allowed to undermine localized self-reliance.

A third sphere of transformations over this century was socio-cultural. Struggles for gender equality and the recognition of multiple genders and sexualities were pathbreakers. Patriarchy and casteism were stubbornly resistant, but eventually gave way to the general notions of equality, equity and justice. Other hierarchies and divisive binaries of religion and faith, race, class, age, ability-disability, and so on also waned. By no means is society now completely egalitarian, but compared to what it was a hundred years back, things in 2100 are markedly better, most people are able to hold their heads up with dignity.

Socio-cultural change has also meant the flowering of diversities of language, cuisine, worldviews, lifeways, faiths, and spiritualities, with mutual respect and exchange. It has meant that people are now envious of simple lifestyles, rather than of the conspicuous consumption that characterized the height of capitalist (and some pre-capitalist) societies. Slowly, even languages and ways of life that had nearly vanished, were revived, if felt to be relevant. This happened for instance with nature-based livelihoods like farming, pastoralism, crafts, fishing, as also with oral traditions of knowledge transmission and learning. Everyone has had the opportunity to dive deep into themselves, realize their ethical and spiritual selves, and see themselves as part of the non-violent collective of life. All sectors of the economy flourish in both villages and cities (the distinction between them having blurred considerably), albeit at differing levels.

The democratization of knowledge has been a crucial part of transformation. S&T’s domination over other forms of knowledge ended as society realized the importance of other (including oral) forms of knowledge. Mechanisms of public assessments of technology, to determine which were appropriate to the search for justice and sustainability, were put into place. One of the most exciting movements was that of knowledge commons, which undermined corporate monopolies.

None of the above would have meant much, in the face of humanity’s biggest challenge: making peace with the earth. Biodiversity loss, climate crisis, pollution, and other ecological disasters were already upon us, and their impacts could not be entirely avoided. But 2020s onwards we started clawing our way back, with mass movements supported by cultural and spiritual leaders and scientists and other knowledge-holders, driving the move towards healing ecosystems, removing sources of pollution and damage, and re-inserting humanity within nature.

Perhaps the greatest transformation has been in South Asian and global relations. A series of people-to-people peace processes, and assertion by communities for ecologically defined governance in the Himalaya, the western desert, the Sundarbans and so on, helped to slowly reverse the militarization of the borders. Globally, peoples of the world set up assemblies that were more democratic and respectful of diversity than the United Nations (the latter’s dependence on nation-states made it subject to governmental whims and fancies). This too was crucial in the mature handling of global crises such as of the climate, and geo-conflicts.

None of this is to state that life is all hunky-dory in 2100. Many of the changes mentioned above are in transition. For instance, ‘crime’ and conflict continue, but with clear signs of being on the way out. Crime itself is not about being ‘different’ or ‘anomalous’, but about deliberately harming someone else, and is dealt with through counseling and dialogue rather than coercive punishment.

Overall, as human beings we are more confident that we may finally be playing our role as a responsible steward of this planet, facilitating the true flowering of our own potential and the well-being of all life.

Editor’s journeys

K.J. Joy: When Ashish invited me to be part of this book, I very happily accepted. I saw the theme of the book as a natural progression to what I have been doing over the last 30-35 years as an activist-researcher. My days with Mukti Sangharsh Movement (MSM), an anti-drought mass movement in South Maharashtra, taught me that along with resistance, people need to mobilise themselves around a positive agenda. Baliraja dam, born out of the struggle against indiscriminate sand excavation from the river Yerala, became the mascot of equitable water distribution. My journey got politically sharpened because of my association with Shramik Mukti Dal (SMD), which believes in involving toiling people in developing alternatives as part of radical social transformation. Since 1990-91, Society for Participative Ecosystem Management (SOPPECOM) provided the institutional space to come up with an alternative water paradigm, characterized by integration of sources, sustainable water and land use, equitable access and participatory management. The Kalpavriksh-initiated Vikalp Sangam process gave me wider exposure to alternatives in various sectors.

This book is a very significant milestone in my journey. The diversity of sectors, perspectives and authors the book could string together have been mindboggling. Collectively they can help us to break the shackles of the cynical `there is no alternative’ (TINA) syndrome, and provide the contours for a better tomorrow.

Ashish Kothari: Since high school, I’ve been protesting and resisting. Critiquing development policies and projects that destroy the environment and displace people. But constant fire-fighting is exhausting, and envelops us in a haze of negativity. In contrast, as part of the environmental group Kalpavriksh, I frequently came across initiatives that were positive, searching for solutions; such as community-led conservation, organic farming, and decentralized water harvesting.

As part of exploring these initiatives, around 2011-12 I wrote about ‘radical ecological democracy’ (RED); then Aseem Shrivastava and I consolidated this as an alternative to the devastation of economic globalisation, in Churning the Earth: The Making of Global India. Soon after, Kalpavriksh initiated the Vikalp Sangam process. This aims to document and network movements and individuals working on alternatives in the entire range of human endeavour. Our understanding of the common threads became an evolving document ‘In Search of Alternatives’.

Around this time, I began ask prominent activists and scholars what their vision of the future was. What could India in 2047 or 2100, look like, if one were to let one’s imagination and hopes run free? How could we get there, were there already some relevant initiatives to learn from? And so this book. This journey of discovery has been exciting, not least because it has provide opportunity to visit and get connected to alternative initiatives across parts of the world.


The search for radical alternatives – key elements and principles
Ashish Kothari
Can there be a collective search for paradigms and pathways towards a world that is sustainable, equitable and just? How can such frameworks and visions build on an existing heritage of ideas and worldviews and cultures, and on past or new grassroots practice? This note attempts to layout a few thoughts towards such a process.

Is there a way out? Announcing the new Radical Ecological Democracy website
Ashish Kothari & Pallav Das
Genuine alternatives to the destructive juggernaut of corporate and finance capital are emerging as much from contemporary progressive resistance as from the wisdom of indigenous peoples’ and other traditional community world-views. “Radical Ecological Democracy” (RED) is one such emerging paradigm based on which we can fashion a meaningful future.

The 2017 movements and victories that give us reason to hope
The Transnational Institute
The bad news streaming through our media in 2017 has been relentless. However it doesn’t tell the full story. Beyond the headlines, there have countless amazing social movement struggles in different regions of the world that deserve to be celebrated. Here are ten stories showing that people power works, courtesy the Transnational Institute‘s 2017 recap.

How to form a global counter-economy
Open Democracy
Open cooperativism is an effort to infuse cooperatives with the basic principles of commons based peer production. Here are six interrelated strategies for post-corporate entrepreneurial coalitions. The aim is to go beyond the classical corporate paradigm, and its extractive profit-maximizing practices, toward the establishment of open cooperatives that cultivate a commons-oriented economy.


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