Social activists express hope for the future in webinar series on “Reimagining the Future”
Press Release | Sept 15, 2020
“The lockdown worked like a chemical experiment where hidden injustices were brought to the surface, and we saw the scale of migration which we hadn’t seen during the partition”, activist and writer Arundhati Roy said in explaining the injustices embedded in India’s response to COVID. Roy was addressing the valedictory session of the webinar series: “Re-imagining the Future: An Agenda for Post Covid Economy” organised on 15th Sept 2020. Other speakers who came together wot close this four month long webinar series were Prof. Arun Kumar, Economist and Ashok Chowdhury (All India Union of Forest Working People). The session was moderated by Ashish Kothari, Vikalp Sangam/Kalpavriksh.
“We are in a condition much worse than World War or the 2008 financial recession” said Prof. Arun Kumar, highlighting the current state of economy post-COVID. “Demand has fallen drastically and supply has frozen” he said explaining how unemployment, failed business, failed banks, spiralling NPAs which were systemic to India’s economic crisis have now been accentuated due to the pandemic. Dismissing the Government’s claim of economic recovery Prof. Arun Kumar said, “even if we agree with the Government’s claim that we will have “V” shaped recovery by January 21, we will still have a growth rate of -10%”. Predicting the future of India’s economy, Prof. Arun Kumar said the unruly economic policy of the Government will result in massive unemployment. Due to constraints of resource availability, the Modi administration will choose to cut heavily on social sector expenditures, which means less spending on education, child development, and women’s health care and so on. As a consequence increase in social and economic inequality will be inevitable.
“Liberation of the working class will be the beginning of a new India”, said Ashok Choudhary talking about empowerment of the marginalised community. To secure that beginning, Choudhary argued, the prevailing power structure needs to be dismantled. “Until and unless the working class are the beholders of power, we cannot reach a just society” he said. He encouraged peoples movements to work to mitigate hegemony of private capitalists over the government, and for which the strengthening of local government institutions is key, he said. “Gram Sabha need to influence policy making decisions. We need to strengthen federalism in our country. We need to save the soul of the Constitution. For all this to happen, political parties, civil societies and solidarity groups have to work together” he underscored.
Commending the idea and the effort invested in ensuring the webinar series was successful, Roy said “One of the best things about this session and sessions like these in the past is the return of the idea of ‘peoples’ movement” which was dumped after the 2011 anti-corruption movement led by Anna Hazara and what later became the Aam Aadmi Party.” She highlighted how “television presenters have become demagogues” and had no hesitation saying they are now “criminals who are heading lynch mobs in TV studios.” She also drew attention to how there have been active efforts to seal of alternative media to homogenize the narrative.
In proposing solutions for the economic crisis Prof. Arun Kumar asserted the need for the development of a survival package. “Borrowing funds, raising wealth taxes, printing of notes will all be necessary steps” he said.
In her concluding remarks, Roy warned about the critical need to resist the fascist regime, for which many who are now in the minority, in the face of the silence of the majority, will have to suffer extraordinary suffering at the hands of the fascist State, whilst also being alet to the deep psychological and hallucinating games employed to misdirect the majority. “Until we imagine what is coming we cannot build alternatives for it”.
In a very prescient remark Arundhati said, “We have become like people who are finding our way through forest, but the trees are also moving, but ultimately the rubber will meet the road.”
“Re-imagining the Future: An Agenda for Post Covid Economy” webinar series was initiated on May 15th 2020 when the country was into the third month of the lockdown imposed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi as a means to tackle the COVID Pandemic. It was getting clearer then that the Indian government was not approaching the pandemic with the seriousness it needed to, in order to protect the majority of India’s population which is highly vulnerable to hunger, starvation, infection and deaths. What has been largely held as a lockdown without a plane pushed the poor further into a state of perpetual impoverishment, and besides forcing upon them starvation, has possibly resulted in an epidemic of suicides that the State refuses to accept.
Instead of making securing the lives and livelihoods of the people a priority during the pandemic, the government used it as an opportunity to aggressively push its anti-people, anti-labour, anti-farmer and anti-environment reforms. From arresting activists, changing environment laws, labour laws, introducing surveillance apps in the garb of health apps, cancelling trains for stranded migrants – treating them like slaves, not stepping up to support farmers and pastoralists in distress and also trying in vain to cover up innumerable industrial accidents in which scores were killed and thousands left debilitated, all of which pointed to the Government’s singular interest in protecting interest of big corporates. Clearly, there has been no intent whatsoever on the part of the Indian administration to be accountable to the people in parliamentary and democratic terms. All of which indicates how the Indian Government is now a classic victim of the framework of neoliberalism. This is particularly the case for a generation of youth who now form the majority of India’s population, who are being brainwashed into thinking poor means lazy; private means efficient; development means big projects; SEZs, roads, industrial corridors, malls, and airports mean smart living and development. There is now, therefore, a critical need to unlearn and reimagine all of these aspects of what is now termed as ‘good governance’, a contradiction to real good governance that is repeatedly thrust on people through complicit media, especially a majority of the electronic media.
This webinar series was co-organised by All India Union of Forest Working People, BIRSA, DASAM , Delhi Forum , Environics Trust , Environment Support Group , MAUSAM , National Alliance of Peoples Movements, Financial Accountability Network India, Focus on the Global South, Indian Social Action Forum, Institute for Democracy and Sustainability , Jan Swasthya Abhiyan , Kalpavriksh, Let India Breathe , Mahalir Association for Literacy Awareness and Rights , mines, minerals & People , Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan, National Confederation of Officers Associations, New Trade Union Initiative, People’s First, People’s Resource Centre, Pakistan-India Peoples Forum for Peace and Democracy, The Research Collective, Vikalp Sangam and YUVA.
The series was inaugurated by Kerala Finance Minister Dr. Thomas Isaac mid-May, and had experts, practitioners, community leaders and activists from various walks of life. Some of them include Prof. Prabhat Patnaik, Prof. Jayati Ghosh, Dr. Vandana Shiva, Medha Patkar, Aruna Roy, Ashish Kothari, Anil Sadgopal, EAS Sarma, Nitin Sethi, Dr. Abhay Shukla, Usha Ramanathan and many others. Together they addressed issues relating to public health, economy, banking, education, PSUs, livelihood, labour rights, etc.
In an attempt to initiate conversations of a paradigm shift that would envision a more inclusive, sustainable and equitable economy, the series covered a range of themes including public health, economy, banking and financial institutions, education, PSUs, livelihood, labour rights, urban sustainability, employment, infrastructure, people with disability, energy, agriculture, fisheries, tourism, natural resource based economies, Kashmir, local governance, environment, food sovereignty in the 31 sectoral sessions, and three concluding panel discussions.
(More details about the series, including video recordings and reports of all sessions, can be accessed at: www.cenfa.org/rtf)
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