2014年8月28日星期四

Alternatives for the Village and Rural Revival: India and China

Rural and urban divide in China and India are increasing not only in terms of material wealth but also cultural standing. In grotesque simplifications, villages signify what is "backward" or under-developed. But one should understand that this is the result of current modes of development, which disrupt village social fabric and family structures at the expense of developing cities. Many villages in both China and India experiences drops in income from farmland and a loss of village youth to city migration. Recent efforts to help the village become self-sustainable include Barefoot College, started by husband and wife Bunker Roy and Aruna Roy. This college trains villagers to become experts in their own right and resist the fetishization of credentials. As The Hindu reports,
Rajasthan’s Ajmer and Rajsamand districts have been the sites of their work for enabling the self-respecting to become self-reliant as well, the self-abnegating to become self-assured too, and the self-denying to become inspirationally self-affirming.

Aruna and Bunker Roy

I first learned about Aruna Roy and her dedication to villages and the MKSS (Mazdoor Kisan Shakhti Sangathan —the Organisation for the Empowerment of Workers and Peasants) that aims to secure the rights villagers through British journalist Edward Luce's 2006 book In Spite of the Gods--
Ms. Roy is a Gandhian to the tips of her fingers: her saris are always made of cotton; she is a vegetarian; she lives ascetically among the villagers; she uses the occasional hunger strike, and more frequently the dharna, or sit-down protest, to pressurise the authorities — both tactics Gandhi pioneered against the British. And, although she concedes that escaping your caste identity is much more difficult in the village than in the town, she sees the former as the key to India's future. 
...
Each meal was a nutritious vegetarian mix of rice,  roti (Indian bread),  dhal (lentils), and a variation of potatoes, aubergine and okra, with a glass of buttermilk.

Nikhil Dey, when interviewed by Luce, resists being labeled as Gandhian or Marxist, claiming to inherit the heritage of both schools of thought. "We can make the village work through better farming and cottage industries. If people leave the villages then they also lose the rootedness that comes with living where you are from and the strength you draw from your natural surroundings."

While Luce's account focuses on Aruna's collaboration with Nikhil Dey, I read about other inspiring efforts of the Roys again from a detailed 2013 Chinese report on the Barefoot College by Hong Kong journalist Susanna Chui-Yung Cheung. She also commented on the simple food and was amazed by the college's success in training of age-old grannies how to create solar panels. She interpreted the Barefoot College as Gandhian.


 
Solar panels and its engineers


Still, the lack of of respectable employment opportunities in the typical Rajasthani villages pose a serious problem for similar villages in developing countries. As Luce holds skepticism for Roy and Dey's efforts, he reported on the desire for migration out of the village--
(Peasants) stood up and announced their profession. It was a roll-call of agricultural failure. The first was a well-digger who travels from village to village. Another worked as a security guard for Reliance Industries, one of India's largest companies, in Delhi. The next was a cloth worker who had lost his job in the city. The fourth had been trying for years without success to join the army. The next two were both menial workers at a hotel in the city of Ahmedabad in the neighbouring state of Gujarat. And so on.  Barely any of the men remain in the village because farming is not enough to make ends meet. 
In China, many hail back to 20th century thinkers such as philosopher Liang Shuming (梁漱溟) for ideas on village reconstruction. More recently intellectuals such as Ou Ning have also tried experimenting with cultural revivals in the countryside as well. Xiong Peiyun's Seeing China Through a Village (《一个村庄里的中国) also documents social issues in an elegiac tone as a writer who left his village for the city. PhD student Yige Dong's gender analysis (《女权视角下的碧山计划》) also sheds light on how we understand the contribution of women to the village economy. India also produced many intellectual discussions surrounding the question of village economies, which I learned from reading Age of Entanglement: German and Indian Intellectuals across Empire.



During roughly the same era as Liang Shuming, economist and social thinker Radhakamal Mukerjee studied the issue of village development in the 1925. He suggested that the German model of small scale industries could be emulated by India. Radhakamal argued for the power of the Indian village economy, and "the strenuous diffusion of production factors" as an alternative to "Western, city-centered, and finance-driven capitalism." Mukherjee "praised the village and handicraft economies... as well as the benefits it would bring to Indian society." This is distinctly different than a state capital-intensive model proposed by some socialists at the time.
"Radhakamal spoke of 'rurbanization' and the 'cityward drift' that would instigate 'the improvement of the technical conditions of the village, which will satisfy the more intellectual and ambitious of the village youth,'" quotes Kris Manjapura, author of Age of Entanglement. The "co-operative credit" movements in Germany also inspired Radhakamal. He regarded the Germany's model of agricultural reconstruction through decentralized network of expertise and finances was appropriate for India.
In my opinion, Radhakamal would certainly hope to see more initiatives similar to those of Bunker Roy, Aruna Roy, and Nikhil Dey's rural revival projects. In face of globalization, some people find trouble "catching up" with rising costs and standards levels of living. Migrant laborers around the world accept their dismal and disenfranchised conditions of living despite the lack of legal protection. However, one should also reflect on alternative methods, especially when current models of development exploit migrant labor and resources in atrocious ways.

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