Vision for the future
A collection of essays mapping out viable sustainable alternatives to capitalist modernity.
WAS skeptical when I
reading Alternative Futures: India Unshackled edited by Ashish Kothari and K.J. Joy. In the early 1990s when I worked at the Centre for Science and Environment, New Delhi, the Centre actively publicised and promoted the “alternative” decentralised communitybased natural resource management model practised in places such as Sukhomajri, Haryana, and Ralegaon Siddhi, Maharashtra as being ecologically sustainable and socially equitable.
Unfortunately, as years went by, there was no sign that such experiments were on the rise. Moreover, while critiques of capitalist modernity and neoliberal development were a dime a dozen, there were few, if any, detailed macro visions of a different path to sustainable and equitable development and also rigorous critiques of these micro-level “success” stories.
Despondency set in as neoliberal development gained pace and spread far and wide, making India an even more polarised society than it had always been.
The book under review is, however, different. Kothari and Joy, both being actively involved in sociopolitical and environmental movements for the past few decades, have assembled a group of activist scholars and scholar activists to imagine a future that offers a viable sustainable alternative to capitalist modernity.
What ties together an apparently disparate set of 32 essays covering a breadth of topics on ecological, political, economic and sociocultural themes is a critique of India’s current development path and a vision for a future grounded in real-life examples of sustainable alternatives emerging from state policies and/or civil society initiatives.
The writers have followed the brief given by the editors who say in their introduction: “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, and 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” (page 3).
The first couple of essays in the book deal with the building blocks of such a vision—namely a sustainable and equitable ecological future, a theme that in fact runs through most of the essays in the volume. Kartik Shanker, Nitin Rai and Meera Anna Oommen set the stage by arguing for a reconciliation ecology that emphasises diverse, multi-use landscapes where humans and nonhumans can coexist. The importance of this cannot be overemphasised, given the current conservation paradigm that imagines largely a network of wildlife protected areas and reserved forests free of humans and human use without caring much for what happens outside them.
Conservation and social justice are inextricably linked in a densely populated country like India, and hence alternatives to fortress conservation must be explored along with local communities who depend on natural resources.
Sharachchandra Lele and Geetanjoy Sahu build on this call for a more equitable ecological future by arguing that environmental governance must embrace environmentalism as a way of life through a reworked institutional framework that emphasises social justice and democracy. They argue that translating such principles into practice will require much more decentralised nodes of environmental decisionmaking and more downward accountability and
Alternative Futures India Unshackled Edited by Ashish Kothari and K.J. Joy Authorsupfront Publishing Services Private Limited, New Delhi, 2017 Pages: 683