Ashish Kothari and K. J. Joy



nvisioning the future is a perilous task. However good one’s understanding of history, and strong one’s faith in the lessons it teaches us, however robust our systems of modelling using the best methodologies and technologies available to us, we could still be horribly, embarrassingly wrong. But then, the vision could also turn out to be correct; more important, it could actually even influence the course of current events such that at least elements of it come true. Look at science fiction: how often has it turned out to be science fact!

Our brief to the exciting galaxy of authors in this volume was to indulge in some such vision-setting, for a moment letting the imagination run riot, not get caught in the shackles of what is ‘realistic’ and ‘feasible’. But since we did not want this to be an exercise only in imagination, we also requested authors to build on the current context, and to provide actual examples and instances from the past or present that point to the real possibility of such visions coming true. The essays in this collection range from the somewhat cautious to the adventurously imaginative, and we believe they all have value in providing us direction, hope, and an inkling of what may yet be.

In this opening essay we mainly provide an overview of the collection, clubbing the essays into four key spheres of human existence: political, socio-cultural, economic, and ecological. In the concluding essay we elaborate more on these arenas, sketching a futuristic vision of justice, equity, and ecological wisdom. We acknowledge here that the framework of four spheres we are using for both the opening and the concluding essays, is based on an ongoing process of dialogue and sharing of experiences that we are involved with, the Vikalp Sangam or Alternatives Confluence,2 as also on some of our previous work on an alternative paradigm called radical ecological democracy or ‘ecoswaraj’ (see, for instance, Kothari, 2014).

The division of the 32 thematic essays in this volume into the four spheres is necessarily imperfect, for the essays and the topics they cover do not neatly fit into any one arena, and the spheres themselves overlap with each other (a bit like the Olympics symbol!). We would like to avoid the academic trap of neat categorization. Nevertheless, we believe this framework provides us a basis for analysis, as also for envisioning of the future.

Key Elements of the Future
Ecological futures

India’s imperilled environment has been the subject of much research, activism, and action. The staggering loss of ecosystems and biodiversity, the toxification of our water, air, and soil, the erosion of productive soils, and a host of other problems are evidence of the unsustainability of human activity in India (as indeed in the world as a whole, as shown by recent studies on how we have crossed several planetary boundaries, notably Rockstrom et al., 2009). In such a situation, what futures can be envisioned that rescue us from the steep decline into ecological collapse?

Safeguarding the ecosystems and biodiversity that sustain us is clearly a crucial part of what needs to be done. Over the last few decades there have been many initiatives, both within and outside government, towards this. These include protected areas and legal protection to particular species, ‘reserving’ forests for restricted use, and other governmental measures; they also include widespread community initiatives that sustain either ancient practices like sacred ecosystems or enable new ones as a response to scarcity, wildlife decline, or other situations. Unfortunately, the former in particular, have mostly been within an exclusionary conservation paradigm that attempts to separate people from nature; and simultaneously the state has been rather generous in giving over critical ecosystems to ‘development’ projects such as mining and dams.

In this volume, Kartik Shanker, Meera Anna Oommen and Nitin Rai point to the problems of such paradigms and to how neo-liberalism has promoted commodification in several forms. They argue for a holistic approach that integrates conservation ideals with social and environmental justice. They propose a reconciliation ecology that aims for greater conservation values for the countryside and recognizes that ethnic and linguistic influences have resulted in heterogeneous, multi-use landscapes with an amazing array of bio-cultural diversity. Any conservation approach has to embrace community and traditional knowledge as an ethical and moral imperative to distributive justice so that it can address a variety of issues ranging from inequalities to oppression.

Clearly such an approach calls into question also the overall model of environmental governance in India. Sharachchandra Lele and Geetanjoy Sahu point out that though the country has very many laws for protecting the environment, aided by a pro-active judiciary (which has even interpreted the Constitutional right to life as including the right to a clean environment), the current state of the environment is deplorable. Presently, environmental governance has four major issues: regulatory failure, limits to judicial activism, domination of neo-liberal growth ideas and the assumption that conservatism is environmentalism. They argue 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. Second, institutional design has to be re-worked, such that it can encompass biophysical and social justice goals. Better environmental governance requires a change in value systems, concern for social justice and a belief in the democratic process.

One specific aspect of India’s natural resources that is under severe and increasing crisis is water. We have this strangely contradictory situation in which all cultures in the country have revered water as sacred, have considered rivers or the sea as the birthplace of life, and yet everywhere we have allowed their degradation into polluted, encroached, overexploited or drained out ecosystems. There is also significant inequality in access to water for various purposes. With water crises looming large across many parts of India, paradigm shifts are needed in how we manage this crucial element of nature. This is what Shripad Dharmadhikary and Himanshu Thakkar write about, pointing to the need to move away from the extreme anthropocentrism and inequity of current water use to one where water is seen as an integral part of ecosystems, and its multifaceted values (cultural, sustenance, and economic) are considered. A fundamental shift towards the core values of sustainability, equity, efficiency, and democratization is needed. The authors provide some examples of seeds of hope, both from official sources as well non-governmental actors, and suggest elements of a future vision as also its achievement through institutional changes, creating successful examples, and replicating them at a larger level.

Basic to an ecologically just and sustainable future, and to social and economic equity that we deal with below, is the issue of energy. Access to sufficient quantities of energy is an important determinant of human well-being. With climate change, the sources of energy and mode of generation have become very critical. Harish Hande, Vivek Shastry, and Rachita Misra argue for the availability of affordable clean energy technology that can meet both development goals and environment quality. Central to this is the promotion of Decentralized Renewable Energy (DRE), which provides an opportunity to improve access to modern energy services for the poorest members in society. This essay lays out possibilities for the future by engaging with various policy levels, and the financial and technological changes that are required to promote sustainable development and equitable distribution of resources. To ensure energy access for differentiated populations of rural and urban centres, the authors highlight initiatives such as DRE extension and integration, policy convergence for low carbon village development, energy entrepreneurship as a livelihood, and community resource centres. India’s energy future lies in creating a collaborative economy where changes in consumption patterns are promoted, and access to energy services is deemed higher than ownership.

Political futures

Relations of power are integral to all interactions in society, from interpersonal and family life to global governance. These relations are contained within a complex web of hierarchies, inequities, and complementarities. For this volume we use the term ‘political’ to include collective processes and institutions of decision-making at various levels from village and city (or collectives within these) to state, nation, and the globe.

In many ways India is an intensely hierarchical society, with inequities in power manifested in all spheres of life from the family to the nation. Traditional inequities based on caste, ethnicities, gender, wealth, and status in the ruling hierarchy have been added to in recent times by one’s position in the state’s hierarchy and the increasing dominance of capitalism in the market. The interplay amongst all these is complex and at times contradictory, but the predominant reality is one of a society with intense inequities in power. The representative form of democracy India has adopted has not managed to achieve a fundamental change in this situation, despite the potential advantage that marginalized communities with large populations have in an electoral set-up where majority votes can be made to count. In such a situation, what changes are needed to achieve a society with greater political equity and access?

M. P. Parameswaran envisions a rural unit that is politically, economically and in other ways self-governing; we describe this in greater detail in the ‘Economic Futures’ section below.

Pallav Das, in his essay on power, lays out the contours of inequities, traditional and new, and notes that in response to attempts to change the status quo, the state or entrenched forces are responding increasingly with violence. He then investigates the organic attempts at resistance rooted in the traditions of communities, and asks whether these show us the way to an egalitarian power structure based on the ‘commons’? He proposes that peoples’ movements and progressive forces forge a ‘New Power Alliance’ that has the experience and the motivation to challenge the existing power structure and its economically exploitative and environmentally ruinous agenda.

Aruna Roy, Nikhil Dey and Praavita Kashyap, using their vast grassroots experience in making governance more accountable, examine what changes are needed in India’s democratic framework. The emergence and spread of mass movements demanding transparency, accountability, wages, and community rights, have pressed the nerve centres of the entire neoliberal structure. Campaigns such as those for Right to Information, and Guaranteed Employment have increased our understanding of the nature and challenges of participatory democracy. They have shown that despite a neoliberal economy and polity, what seems impossible can be achieved. They propose the idea of direct democracy, through a ‘rainbow coalition of grassroots social movements’, somewhat akin to what Das has proposed. Such a coalition would allow cross-fertilization of ideas and bring out intricate connections between economic, social, and political rights with ecological rights.

One specific aspect of political structure is law. India has a complex Constitution, one of the world’s largest bodies of law, and a large repertoire of judicial interpretations of law, in themselves path-breaking. In this context Arpitha Kodiveri examines the opportunities and limitations of law, describes the range of factors (social, political, economic, and cultural) that influences it, and lists three major daunting challenges: access to justice, social acceptance of law, and multiple forms of injustice. She then argues for a legal future that strives for a social democracy, by engaging with the principles of decentralization, equality and innovation in justice delivery. She proposes opening up of the legislature and the judiciary to the participation of citizens in making law as well as resolving legal disputes. Central to this, is the creation of mediation centres that can play a crucial role in establishing a constant connection between law and society, to bring out layers and complex notions of identity.

A recurrent theme in India, especially in the debates that take place within civil society regarding various aspects of society, is the relationship between different political ideologies, or different ideological and philosophical traditions that have political ramifications. The debate is often divisive, as orthodox and rigid positions are taken leading to a Gandhi vs. Ambedkar vs. Marx vs. whomever else or a religion and spirituality vs. rationalist, or a traditional vs. modern schism. Are there ways to overcome these divides, can something be found in all or many of these ideologies to arrive at either a grand synthesis, or some sort of unity in diversity that assists in realizing an equitable, just, and sustainable society?

Aditya Nigam and Bharat Patankar address this challenge in different ways. The former draws on some important early to mid-twentieth century Indian thinkers to propose the concept of radical social democracy, an idea for the future that appeals for a change in what Ambedkar called the social conscience of the people. In its practice, it would
institutionalize the ethics of sharing, so that resources become part of the commons. Radical social democracy will strive for systems that do not fall prey to powerful oligarchies, and instead enable institutional forms that can provide space for the plurality of visions for the imagined future. It will, at the very least, give people the opportunity to make informed choices when problematic questions arise that may not lend themselves to easy resolutions. It will be a socialism freed of the state, ‘deeply connected to actual lived practices on the ground and drawing its principles and norms from them’. In this, and other ways, such a system, liberated from historical contestations, could integrate many ideals of Gandhi, Ambedkar, M.N. Roy, Iqbal, Tagore, and other critical thinkers who may otherwise be seen as contradicting each other.

Patankar approaches the issue from the standpoint of theory. He argues for a multilinear critical theory, one that recognizes human existence as the combination of various social, political, economic and cultural relations, and emerges from the multilinearity3 of exploitation, the evolution of struggles and the evolution of dreams of a future society. In his effort in developing this multilinear critical theory, Patankar draws insights from writings of Ambedkar, Phule, Marx and Kosambi. A society of liberated humanity is a dream that can come true, says the author, if the approach for total transformation has the base of such a theory.

Finally, relevant to political futures is a crucial question: what is India’s role in the global order? Muchkund Dubey deals with this question through a focus on the United Nations (UN), which has a crucial role in creating a peaceful world in which people of all nations could prosper. He points out that the 1960s’ and 70s’ were a golden era of international cooperation; however, by the 1990s’, the major powers succeeded in weakening this by dismantling the UN’s capacity to deliver public goods to the international community. Dubey argues for a new, dynamic and democratic multilateral governance of the future world order. Central to this will be to restore and revamp the essential functions and enhance the capacity of the UN. It should become a voice for people through effective participation of all countries and civil society organizations. This would also require democratization of the decision making process in the IMF and the World Bank, and bringing WTO under the UN framework, ensuring accountability of multinational corporations, global surveillance, and regulation of international financial markets. India’s role should be an initiative for restructuring the world order, by building a global coalition for a new dynamic and democratic multilateralism, including trying to bring on board countries like China (and other BRICs nations).

Economic futures

While the origin of the word ‘economy’ refers to the management of oikos (our home/family in Greek), here we are referring to it mostly as the management of materials and finances. India’s economy, building on a long history of primary production (farming, pastoralism, fisheries, forestry) as also secondary (textiles, crafts, metalwork, and much else), has shifted after Independence from a predominantly state-led (‘socialist’, at least in part) to a predominantly corporate or corporate state-led (increasingly ‘capitalist’) character. Using conventional parameters it is today one of the world’s largest economies. But it is also clear that this model of economic development that India has adopted has not led to well-being and prosperity for all and also appears to be unsustainable, given the natural and human resources we have. This is all the more so with the globalized economy that we have gone in for, especially after 1991 (Shrivastava and Kothari, 2012). Can a different economic future be envisioned in which the problems of gross inequality, marginalization of hundreds of millions, and ecological unsustainability are tackled and there is sustainable well-being for all?

Under this theme we have essays covering pastoralism, agriculture and food, biomass based agro-industrial development, crafts, industry, energy, localization, transportation and markets. Together they unfold crucial aspects of a future that can be economically and ecologically regenerative and democratic.

Pastoralism, as a way of life and livelihood activity, predates settled agriculture. Ilse Köhler-Rollefson and Hanwant Singh Rathore, the latter himself a pastoralist, bring out the contribution it makes to both the economy and ecological systems in India, though very often it goes unnoticed. It is an insightful food production system developed by livestock keepers through observation and knowledge, over many generations. Despite a natural nexus with the green economy, these people are not strongly organized and superseded by industrial production. The authors argue for an enabling environment that can integrate pastoral production with nature conservation, ensure space for pastoralists in the landscape, and develop combined livestock production and environmental protection as an attractive ‘career’ option for young people. According to them the future of pastoralist production will be a decentralized form of livestock keeping and optimal use of local biomass. They also propose pathways – such as documentation of indigenous livestock production, alternate livestock development framework and development of value chains – to promote and support pastoralism.

Agriculture (cultivation), another primary sector of production, is intimately connected to nutritional security, livelihoods and ecology, though since the introduction of green revolution agriculture this relationship is increasingly under threat because of commercialization and high external input based agriculture. Bharat Mansata, Kavitha Kuruganti, Vijay Jardhari and Vasant Futane, (three of them part or full-time farmers) briefly outline the history of ancient forests’ roots of food and farming and its nutritional security to forest dependent communities. Government policy paradigms have ignored the traditional knowledge systems and skill sets of farmers, especially women, and adivasis. These authors argue for a future which assures Anna Swaraj (food sovereignty) and food security to all, dignified livelihoods to farmers, ecological sustainability, and co-evolution. Central to this is biodiverse, ecological farming – a path of agro-ecology, based on careful management of natural resources by small-scale farmers – several examples of this are presented. Such a path will reduce vulnerability to fluctuations and extremes of climate and weather conditions, and increase self-reliance towards food sovereignty.

Crafts offer us a transition from the primary sectors to the secondary sectors of the economy. There are two essays on secondary sectors – crafts and industries. According to Uzramma, craft industries in India have retained their relevance throughout the Industrial Age, in spite of the domination of high-energy industrial production. This provides an opportunity for India to by-pass the option of high-energy industrialization which benefits only a few, in favour of low-energy, dispersed craft industries, which could usher in democracy in production, a basic building block for true social equity. Craft industries use low-cost infrastructure and need small capital investment, which make it possible for ownership of production to be widely held. With the looming threat of climate change, India’s low-energy craft industries will gain in viability. Traditional Indian craft products, like the heritage craft practices of other civilizations, embody specific cultural traits that give them a distinctive identity, highly valued in contemporary markets. In recognition of all these aspects, democratic rights of producers to raw material, institutional finance, and the legal ownership of their specific product identities must be guaranteed by the State.

Dunu Roy begins his essay on industry and industrial workers with a brief history of industrialization in the world and the parallel patterns in India. In the organized, formal sector of Indian industry, labour laws are somewhat functional, primarily because of the organised strength of the work-force. Workers in the informal sector are self-employed – there is the absence of an employer to negotiate with, lack of access to credit, transportation, markets, skills, and space to carry on livelihoods. Then there is the ‘illegal’ sector, in which working people do not have even the minimum protection of the law as they are deemed illegal. Workers in all these sectors have been creatively registering their opposition to disinvestment and restructuring, privatization and foreign investment, denial of organizing rights and fair wages, contractual labour and labour law reforms, demolitions and evictions. This has fuelled resistance to the state-corporate strategy of division and consolidation. However, according to Roy, the future of industrial work lies in a radical change of two crucial determinants of capitalist society,that is, competition and profit. The essay provides a few examples of movements that have been trying to challenge these determinants, but the real problem lies in the absence of a politics and theorization that can go beyond these attempts by workers, and challenge and change all structures of exploitation, inequality, and injustice.

The discourse around economic reforms – liberalisation, privatization and globalization – in the country has moved beyond mere critique to articulation as well as grounding of alternative ideas and approaches. There are several essays that deal with this important issue, discussing possibilities for regional and local economies, and conceptualising bazaars for local exchanges.

According to Aseem Shrivastava and Elango Rangasamy, the corporate market economy has equated development with economic growth and that has led to huge ecological damage and destruction of human communities. Globalisation has resulted in the centralisation of power with a few nations and companies, who regulate the tightly networked business economy. The essay argues for localisation and regionalisation of economies that are ecologically stable and renewable. It would mean clusters of 20-30 villages, with a town as a hub, which are collectively self-sufficient; and a panchayat academy as a crucial institution of learning. Such an economy will be a ‘Network Growth Economy’. The essay lists out strategies to achieve a new, decentralised, economic architecture, which will challenge the industrial and globalised economy. An example is given of Kuthambakkam village in Tamil Nadu, which anchored itself in the vision of Gram Swaraj when Elango, one of the authors of this essay, was sarpanch (village head). The village now enjoys good concrete roads, an effective drainage system, safe drinking water, manufacture-based livelihoods, and energy-efficient street lighting, in addition to having pucca houses. This village is an example of decentralized, ecologically more sensitive and renewable economy.

Related to this is the essay by K. J. Joy, on how the biomass based strategy can revitalize or regenerate the rural economy and ecology, opening up a sustainable and equitable developmental pathway. If a typical family of five persons can either produce or get access to about 18 tons of biomass then it can meet all needs like food, fodder and fuel, and still have enough left for a decentralised, energy efficient agro-industrial development in rural areas. The essay details how bulk biomass can be used in infrastructure sectors like water, buildings, roads, etc., with already available technologies that have significant cost, energy saving, employment, and participatory advantages over conventional technologies. If renewable energy sources can also be brought in then the energy required for processing biomass also becomes available in a dispersed manner. The author proposes a concept of integrated production-cum-energy generation units (IPEUs) for all this.

P. Parameswaran takes the above possibilities further with a far-reaching vision of a vibrant, self-reliant village in the Kerala of 2047. Based on peoples’ movements and the combined inspiration of Gandhi, Jaiprakash Narayan, and Marx, the village has aimed at increasing longevity free of morbidity till a balance is reached between birth rate and death rate and the population stabilizes, increasing freedom from dependence on alienated work, and increasing equality, diversity and tolerance. This was achieved by enhancing the decentralized planning process already experimented with in Kerala, people choosing their own candidates rather than allowing political parties to do so. This process was supported by significant stress on alternative education through a set of dedicated teachers, social security for children and the elderly, a cyclical agricultural system enabling food security, local manufacturing of a range of products (exchanged with other products in neighbouring panchayats), and redistribution of unoccupied homes to those with inadequate housing, and decentralized water and energy self-sufficiency. The combination of a rural base with some urban amenities converted the area into a rurban one. Various hurdles along the way were resolved through strong democratic dialogue and knowledge generation.

Rajni Bakshi briefly traces 2500 years of history to map the characteristics of the Indian market culture. According to her, contemporary notions of growth and technological advancement have changed both modes and relations of production. In a market culture of limitless accumulation, there is need to explore the possibility of a culture based on the notion of sufficiency and common good. The essay visualizes a village level economy, which will be self-sustaining for essentials and capable of expanding space for a non-monetised exchange. Such an economy will have community-based systems of protection and revitalisation of natural resources. The starting point of such a bazaar is to change the aspiration of accumulation into the ethics of commons and public goods.

The Indian city is facing multiple crises, including the abysmal living conditions of most of its residents, especially the poor. It also causes multiple crises outside of its limits, in its parasitic relationship with the village. How can these be changed?

Rakesh Kapoor looks at the major challenges that urban India faces in the next three decades and beyond, including poor infrastructure, highly inadequate water and electricity supply, slums, waste disposal, and poor public transport. Amongst the underlying causes of these is poor governance, financial weakness, the lack of innovation and populist
schemes. Arguing that a better quality of life for Indians – urban and rural – requires fundamental departures from current approaches, mindsets and institutions, Kapoor suggests a radically different vision for urban plus rural India 2047, built around the ideas of dispersed urbanization with small towns as development and skilling hubs, innovative mechanisms for financing, public authorities at multiple levels to regulate the uses of land and water, empowering urban local bodies (ULBs) or urban local governments (ULGs) for decentralized governance, innovation in sustainable resource use and solutions for urban areas to create ‘regenerative’ and ‘smart’ cities, and low carbon pathways. This suggested future will be based on extensive use of renewable energy sources, minimal waste generation, minimum ecological footprint, provision of decent housing to all citizens and resilience to disasters. Kapoor notes that the ultimate challenge for Indians, including political leaders, is to first of all envision another future for urban plus rural India, and then to take along all constituents of our population to achieve that vision.

One of the crucial sectors of urban India is transportation. Although most cities have extensive urban planning, despite all flyovers, road widening, and other road infrastructure projects, the problem of traffic is intensifying with each passing year. Sujit Patwardhan explores the contemporary scene, and details out the vision for the future of transport in urban India. According to him, transport planning in India has been predominantly car centred, resulting in edging out of the bicycle, carriages, and other modes of public transport. It has also resulted in greater rate of increase in levels of pollution. The essay proposes people-centric sustainable transport that can make a city pleasant and safe, where people can walk, cycle and reach destinations without dependence on automobiles. Central to this is the environment-centric city planning that will promote compact forms of residential development, reduced dependence on automobile transport, mixed land use planning, protection of natural assets of the city and effective waste management.

Sustainable and equitable futures are closely linked to technology choices that society makes, amongst other things. Dinesh Abrol engages with the question of technology within a broader frame of political economy. The contemporary technological systems are guided by the dominant neo-liberal knowledge production, which is extremely extractive in nature and results in increasing inequality. The research and development institutions are centralized and have closed their doors to alternate forms of science and technology. For example, the agro-ecosystems and landscapes have drastically degraded due to current models of monoculture and chemical-intensive agriculture. Today, India is facing a growing reliance on the capitalist mode of production and consumption. The essay explores technological alternatives in agriculture and rural industrialization programmes, sustainable transportation, energy sector and housing or habitat development. It urges strategies that prioritize the process of development of changes in the dominant structures and the existing cultural norms of consumption, by protagonists committed to pursuing peoples’ democracies and socialist democracies. The basic needs of peasantry and working class are their priority. The essay argues for technological alternatives that can play a significant role in the above, and that can trigger a radical transformation in socio-technical systems, guided by social equity driven ecological transformation with alternate social carriers of innovation and development.

Socio-cultural futures

India’s ancient civilizational features are rapidly changing under the influence of modernization, but they nevertheless provide a foundation and continue to be a factor in social and cultural life. Contradictions and complementarities abound in the relations of caste, class, gender, age, ethnicity, ability, geography, kinship, demographics, sexuality, and in the interplay of tradition and modernity. Profound inequities and exploitation are found alongside with equally strong solidarity and harmony. In what may appear to be an increasingly confusing complexity, what futures can be envisioned that minimize the conflicts and maximize the complementarity, in which diversity is more a source of strength than of divisiveness?

The section on socio-cultural futures has essays dealing with language, art, media, knowledge, health, sexuality, dalits and caste, gender, adivasis, and minorities. Most of these also straddle the economic, political and socio-cultural spheres.

One crucial aspect of culture is language. India is a land of at least 780 living languages – one out of every eight languages in the world. According to Ganesh Devy, languages are worldviews rather than just modes of communication and lack of this recognition along with stress on economic viability, have resulted in the disappearance of many indigenous languages. The technological revolution in terms of communication has profoundly affected the way the modern world communicates and several ethnic and cultural groups are facing the threat of elimination. The essay argues that we need to support languages that are not popular or in the mainstream or have not reached the cities. This would mean harnessing initiatives to protect languages to a much greater extent, such as maintaining e-libraries, literary societies and initiating magazines of and for indigenous languages. India will be able to face the challenge of securing its great language diversity only by embracing its multi-linguistic and multi-cultural identity.

Learning and education opportunities are at the heart of culture (and much else of what is contained in this book). Tultul Biswas and Rajesh Khindri point out education plays a crucial role in the transmission of ideas, life experiences, culture, knowledge, language, and so on, from one generation to the other. The school, as an agency of imparting education, becomes a vital site of these transmissions. However, school systems are also responsible for reinforcing inequalities and prejudices that are already prevalent in the society. The dysfunctional government school system in India is populated by students from the most marginalised sections of the society. On the other hand, private schools reflect the highly class stratified Indian society, and do not even engage with the students from the marginalized sections. Such stratification is further amplified with caste, religion, and gender inequalities that are deeply embedded in the Indian society. Education has been reduced to business and there is no space for the creative and holistic development of a child. Inspired by the ideas of Avijit Pathak, this essay argues for the vision of future education that can open up opportunities and unleash the potential towards the development of a balanced, just, and responsive students and teachers. Examples of a few initiatives that have moved away from the conventional school structure and opened new ways of creating interactive, inclusive, open-ended learning environment show that such a future, even though challenging, is possible.

Sudha Gopalakrishnan explores the inheritance and contemporary representation of art (limited to the performing arts) in India. India has been a land of various traditional art forms like arts, theatre, dance, and music; these have also been sites of resistance to and ridicule of the dominant establishment. However, market-oriented approach to performing arts has degraded the legacy of art forms, and reduced them to mere economic ends. The essay argues that the future of art has to balance the context-specific significance with relevance to the larger world. This type of a ‘balance’ can be struck by creating public spaces, collectives, and organisations that work on exploring and preserving local cultures. Art also has to transgress beyond established/conventional boundaries to enable the cultural flow. It can also be systematically archived and preserved. A new possibility of art would entail recognising its renewable potential or something that creates value.

Paranjoy Guha Thakurta looks for what alternative media should strive to bring to the public sphere, as also how to make it more responsive to the segments of the population and issues often shut out by the profit-driven corporate media. The emergence of oligopoly in the Indian media has resulted in the loss of heterogeneity and plurality. It has become unresponsive and has squeezed its coverage of issues like agriculture, Dalits, marginalized farmers, and environment. The digitisation of media has resulted in a transformed flow of information in spite of the access divide around the world, and gives hope for a democratic future. An ideal scenario would be that aggregation and dissemination of the information in the digital world is not controlled by a powerful few; rather ordinary concerned citizens of the country collect and disseminate information regulated by an independent body, which can deter errant journalists. The essay suggests the need for people of different backgrounds, yet of the same persuasion, to come together. Media practitioners should collaborate with whistle blowers, representatives of civil society and political activists to bring out unpleasant truths and deliver greater transparency.

According to Rajeshwari Raina, in the era of neo-liberalism, knowledge has been reduced to mere achievement of economic ends. A highly centralised science and technology establishment serves only the state and the private sector corporations. Policymaking, higher education, scientific research, production of commodities, all the knowledge enterprises, accept knowledge’s monetised version. The essay envisions the future of knowledge in India based on democratic values and community-based knowledge systems. Such a system will integrate and decentralise the inter-linkages between diverse natural, social, physical, and financial assets. Central to this is the creation of institutional arrangements that integrate diverse knowledge systems and abide by the principles of equality and justice. The scientific community has to mobilise itself to do the right kind of science in democratised, decentralised ways with the capacity of inclusion and deliberation. This relates closely to Abrol’s essay on technology.

Abhay Shukla and Rakhal Gaitonde say that the history of the development of the health system in India is marked by consistent gaps between the rhetoric expressed in policy documents, and the actual resources allocated for the realization of these policies. India has a policy like National Rural Health Mission (NRHM), based on a model of participatory planning and community-based governance, but the implementation is swayed by the logic of commodification of the health sector under the neo-liberal framework. The essay argues for a Health Systems Approach, to move towards the democratization of the public health system and socialization of the private health care system. Central to this approach is a Universal Health Care (UHC) System that will bring in the vast majority of public and private health care providers under a single integrated system, including multiple systems of health. This system will be publicly managed and funded. UHC will require radical changes in provisioning, governance and financing, such that it can ensure free access to quality health care for the entire population, along with ensuring a decent and secure income and professional satisfaction for health care professionals.

One of the questions philosophy has always wrestled with is: what is it that makes our lives meaningful? Arvind Narrain looks at this from the perspective of multiple sexualities, noting that the answer provided by late capitalism is consumption, which claims to satisfy various (created) human needs. The deeply unsatisfactory nature of this claim is best gestured to by the anti-hero in Brett Easton Ellis’s ‘American Psycho’, who finds out that an existence in which ‘to consume’ is the very definition of what it is to be human, kills the human within you. This essay is written in the spirit of trying to decipher how one derives meaning in life in the contemporary era. While there are many possible answers, this essay argues that at least two concepts are deeply meaningful to human existence. The first is the notion of love for one person and the second is the notion of love in a wider sense, which can be characterized as the love of justice or empathy for the suffering other. These two concepts are explored biographically by going to three queer lives lived on the margins of the societal consensus, namely, the lives of Swapna and Sucheta as well as Chelsea Manning.

Dalits have lived in the most inhuman conditions through history. According to Anand Teltumbde, the Dalit movement has failed to recognise class consciousness, such that, even policies like reservations, has only benefitted better off sections of the Dalits. The majority of Dalits still do not have access to elementary education, health, employment, democratic rights and modern values, as caste identities continue to dominate the Indian public sphere. Central to his vision is the abolishment of caste and communal consciousness from the public spaces so that humanity can march towards a society based on the principles of liberty, equality and fraternity. He also offers a ten-point agenda for this transformation, including outlawing castes, abolition of political reservations, separation of politics and religion, freezing reservation to the present population and revamping it, keeping distributive justice as its core, and adoption of proportional representation system.

If we can envision a caste-free India, can we also envision a future without gender inequities and patriarchy? Yes, it is possible, says Manisha Gupte. The notions of patriarchy that legitimise the control of men over women’s production, reproduction, and sexuality dominate the present world. The author brings out glimpses of India without gender binaries and patriarchy. A society without gender binaries will refute sexual interactions as power-laden transactions; people will have reproductive and sexual rights; women will have open and safe access to private and public spaces and inequalities related to caste, class and religion would be abolished. The essay argues for intersectional approach (of class, caste, patriarchy, ethnicity,) and re-visioning of politics through lived realities of the subordinated, to fight the issues of inequality and injustice. This will force the removal of any kind of hierarchies related to caste, gender, class, ethnicity, and sexuality and will strengthen the values of equality, democratic participation by centre-staging the knowledge and the wisdom of people who witness and experience discrimination.

Another marginalized group in India are ethnic (including religious) minorities. Irfan Engineer looks at the evolution of religious identities in colonial and post-colonial India and the consequent dilution of community living. Due to the deepening of communal consciousness by cultural entrepreneurs, stronger prejudices and contests have emerged. The Constitution of India has granted stronger privileges to minorities without recognizing the differentiated intensity with which they experience discrimination and marginalisation. On the other hand, ‘fundamentalists’ have used these loopholes to create communal ripples. Taking the example of a Mohalla (neighbourhood) committee in Bhiwandi, the essay proposes the building of local social networks and groups of diverse communities to tackle communal tensions. According to him, it is rather difficult to envisage the future of minorities under the present political regime and a society dominated by the capitalist notions of development. However, alongside the struggle for social justice, inclusion, and livelihoods, the essay envisions a struggle for democratization of culture. This would mean an intra-inter struggle of communities and deconstruction of identities by the marginalized, such that the differentiation of the majority and minority becomes irrelevant.

Adivasis have been amongst the most marginalized in India, variously persecuted, dispossessed, neglected, vilified, and looked down upon. Gladson Dungdung brings out this reality in his essay, showing the multiple ways in which adivasis have never been treated as equal citizens, and their history has rarely been part of the dominant narrative of what India is. In recent times the alienation of adivasis from their lands by the globalized development process has become even more acute. It is not surprising that many of them wonder if they ever gained independence. Even the welfare approach of the state towards adivasis has been inappropriate and violative of their culture (including their languages), ecological connections, governance systems, and autonomy. In such a context, Dungdung paints an alternative future that would consist of territorial autonomy, well-being or development paths built on their own worldviews and aspirations, action on urgent problems of health and education, communities regaining their lost lands, territories and resources, and full rights to self-determination, self-reliance and self-rule. Through this, Dungdung says that perhaps adivasis ‘can also help the rest of Indian society to become more equitable, just, and ecologically sustainable.’

Is a Coherent Vision Emerging?

Given the very wide range of themes being dealt with, and the diverse backgrounds of the authors, it is not expected that there will be a single common vision emerging in this volume. Indeed this may not even be desirable, for there is no reason to prioritise a single vision over a plurality. Nevertheless, we do think that some broad common trends, such as the quest for ecological sustainability and socio-economic justice and equity, the exploration of a more accountable and deep democracy, and the celebration of diversity of various kinds (without allowing this to degrade into divisiveness), do show themselves as threads through the volume. Admittedly, this is partly due to the choice of authors that we as editors made, but only partly, for in many cases we were not fully aware of the kinds of positions they would take. The complex and complicating factors are, however, in the detail of what people have said about sustainability and equity and justice, not only the broad strokes.

We deal with this finer grained analysis, including in it our own perspectives, in the concluding essay. We elaborate there what India in 2100 could be,4 as told by a woman addressing a large gathering taking place simultaneously in many sites. She tells of a civilization based on five crucial intersecting spheres: direct political democracy in which all people have the right, capacity, and forums to take part in decision-making; economic democracy in which the means of production and the forms of consumption are publicly controlled (‘public’ here meaning collectivities of people, not the state), local self-reliance takes precedence over larger scale economic relations, and relations of caring and sharing are brought back centre-stage in place of monetary or commodified ones; social justice which strives towards equity and mutual respect amongst various sections of people as also the abolition of divisive categories like caste; cultural and knowledge diversity in which all forms of knowing and being are respected; and all these built on a base of ecological sustainability, resilience and wisdom that includes rebuilding a relationship of respect and oneness with the rest of nature. She provides a number of examples from the early 21st century that already provided an inkling of what transformations were possible. It is not a picture of everything being rosy and positive, but of one where the processes of equity, justice, and ecological wisdom have been firmly set into place, and much transformation already achieved.

Impossible Utopias?

Some readers of this volume are likely to be critical of the often ‘utopian’ nature of the visions expressed by authors. Those who posit such futures are charged of being dreamy-eyed, unrealistic, living in their own worlds. This is understandable, for we are constantly made aware of how serious a situation we are in, how difficult it is to make even small changes and then to sustain them… and for those with historical knowledge, how many revolutions have started with similar visions but failed to achieve them.

Understandable, yes, but not, we contend, justified. Movements based on ideals of equity, justice, ecological sustainability, fairness, peace, and so on, may have failed to achieve ideal states, but they have pushed open spaces for significant transformations. One has to only look at the women’s movements, or the struggles of indigenous peoples or of those labelled as ‘disabled’, or of those fighting for democratic reforms, or those shaking off colonial shackles, to realize how much they have achieved. If the pioneers of these movements had given up on their dreams as soon as they hit the first hurdle, or even before that, by heeding the sceptics around them, we would have seen no such transformations.

Several international agreements, and the Constitutions of many countries, contain utopian elements in them. Yet we do not dismiss them outright. On the contrary, they become guiding documents for action and policy to move towards, or to hold up when human rights and ecological violations take place. Vision documents can be like beacon lights we can see in the distance when struggling through a fog or a dark night, since at least they provide us some hope and a direction to head towards. We have, for too long, been suppressed by notions of what is ‘practical’ and ‘realistic’, stripping us of the power to dream. We contend that this act of dreaming, of envisioning, is an entirely legitimate and necessary exercise particularly in the current context of despair and cynicism stuck in the quagmire of material reality.

As stated by Argentinian movie director Fernando Birri, cited by Eduardo Galeano:

‘Utopia is on the horizon. I move two steps closer; it moves two steps further away.

I walk another ten steps, and utopia runs ten steps further away.

As much as I may walk, I never reach it.

So what’s the point of utopia? The point is this: it makes us continually advance.’5

In any case, those who are selling us the quintessential American dream, where each of us will have immense economic wealth and the latest cars and automated house and so on, are proving to be selling us not only impossibilities but also insane greediness for material acquisitions as providing the ‘good life’. It is a nightmare, not a dream: the planet can simply not sustain such promises, and the gross inequities being created in trying to achieve them are leading us to perilous social conflicts. And so, as one of us has written previously in association with another colleague: ‘Between the seemingly ‘impossible’ path (of a radical ecological democracy) and the manifestly insane one, we prefer the former’ (Shrivastava and Kothari, 2012).

What the Book Does Not Cover
Diverse and wide-ranging as the essays in this volume are, there are still major gaps and limitations in coverage. We were aware of some even as we were requesting this set of essays, and identified some more along the way. Subjects like spirituality, religion, and other aspects of culture (other than language), are either missing or dealt with indirectly. Of the primary occupations, fisheries are absent altogether. Human rights,6 and within that the specific element of child rights or of ‘differently abled’ people, is another thematic gap, as is the issue of rights to land and the commons. Minorities in areas other than religion have not been dealt with. There is no specific focus on youth. An essay on macro-economics would have been a useful addition, as would have been one on the future of work. And sports and recreation remains neglected – somehow it was never part of our field of vision till too late! Finally, several essays cover a part of the themes they take up, not necessarily comprehensively, partly due to restrictions of space, partly depending on the expertise of the author(s).

Though the essays are not focused on particular regions, it is apparent that in their collective geographical coverage there are gaps, such as north-eastern India, and the island communities.

Readers will undoubtedly find other such gaps, which the editors take sole responsibility for. We realise also that covering the entire range of themes and sectors would need several volumes. Hopefully this volume can stimulate more such writing and dialogue, covering missing themes and regions, in an ongoing process of visioning India’s future.

Finally, it should be clear but nonetheless worth stating, that neither this volume nor any of the authors in it are claiming to be the definitive vision or voice on the subjects dealt with. On each of these subjects, there can be diverse perspectives, even more so when we are talking about possible visions of the future, not only analysis of what has gone past and what is present. Also, there is no claim that all the perspectives and visions presented here are consistent with each other. However, our hope is that this set of 30-odd 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 ultimately, actionable.


1.  We acknowledge the contribution of Shrishtee Bajpai of Kalpavriksh, who drafted the summaries of essays that we have used as a base for describing the key points of each author.
2.See http://kalpavriksh.org/index.php/alternatives/alternatives-knowledge-center/353-vikalp-sangam-coverage; see especially ‘The Search for Alternatives: Key Aspects and Principles’, http://kalpavriksh.org/images/alternatives/Articles/Alternativesframework3rddraftVSprocess20mar2015Eng.pdf. In this note the arenas are referred to as pillars, and the social and cultural are dealt with separately, which we have merged in this essay.
3.The author has adapted this algebraic concept to engage with social theory from a multipronged and eclectic perspective.
4.It is worth pointing out here that there is an inconsistency in the time frame that different authors have taken; many have spoken about India in 2100, but a couple have considered scenarios for 2047 (100 years after India’s independence). This is partly due to unclear communication by the editors to the authors, and partly due to the authors wanting to provide either an extended (2100) or a shortened (2047) scenario.
6.A promised essay on this did not come in on time.

Kothari, A., 2014, ‘Radical Ecological Democracy: Way forward for India and beyond’, Development, 57(1), pp. 36–45.
Rockstrom, Johan, Will Steffen, Kevin Noone, Åsa Persson, F. Stuart Chapin, Eric Lambin, Timothy M. Lenton, Marten Scheffer, Carl Folke, Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, Björn Nykvist, Cynthia A. de Wit, Terry Hughes, Sander van der Leeuw, Henning Rodhe, Sverker Sörlin, Peter K. Snyder, Robert Costanza, Uno Svedin, Malin Falkenmark, Louise Karlberg, Robert W. Corell, Victoria J. Fabry, James Hansen, Brian Walker, Diana Liverman, Katherine Richardson, Paul Crutzen and Jonathan Foley, 2009, ‘Planetary Boundaries: Exploring the safe operating space for humanity’, Ecology and Society 14(2): Art. 32, Available at http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol14/iss2/art32/ (accessed on 15 January, 2017).
Shrivastava, A. and A. Kothari, 2012, Churning the Earth: The Making of Global India, New Delhi: Viking and Penguin Books India.
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Excerpt from: Alternative Futures: India Unshackled. Edited by Ashish
Kothari and KJ Joy, Authors Upfront, Delhi, 2017.
Reproduced with kind permission of Kothari and Joy.

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