THiNK 2013 was witness to a fiery and inspiring session on Day 3, ‘Two Faces of Determination: Why We Need to Honour the People’s Prostest’, featuring veteran activist Medha Patkar and individuals such as Subhashree Panda and Thimbu Oraon who abandoned the path of armed struggle to be a part of the democratic process. The discussion saw Patkar emphasizing on the need to adopt a more humane vision of development, and Oraon and Panda talking about why they chose democracy over armed struggle.
During the panel discussion, Patkar highlighted how the existing paradigm of development was dispossessing people of their livelihoods and destroying the environment. Borrowing from Nehru, she derided policy-makers and corporations for suffering from the ‘disease of gigantism’. She emphasised that despite the poor and marginalised building and producing most of what we consume, they are the ones who are most neglected and exploited. She felt that the State was failing its people by not following its duty and standing up for them. She opined, that there is no dichotomy between environment and development. Quick to clarify that she was not anti-development, Patkar implored society to ask itself what sort of development it wanted. She stressed on the need to adopt alternative paths of development and elaborated on her own vision of social progress. Patkar said she endorsed Gandhi’s ‘trusteeship’ system and felt that co-operatives and community based ownership of resources should be promoted. In her words, “Co-operatives can do the same job that business corporations are performing”. She reaffirmed her belief in non-violent means of protest which, in her opinion, is becoming even more relevant at a time when the State and Maoists are fighting each other gun to gun. According to Patkar, “Human-to-human and human-to-nature relationships need to be brought back to the fore”.
Panda, wife of influential Maoist commander Sabyasachi Panda, talked about how she was imprisoned by the police for being the wife of a Maoist. In jail, she witnessed how many people were falsely incarcerated and exploited by the system. Her time in jail convinced her to study law. But despite the flaws prevalent in the existing democratic system, she joined politics and now hopes to change the system by being a part of it.
Oraon, a tribal from Jharkhand, talked about his frustration regarding the plight of his community and how it spurred him to write a strongly-worded pamphlet demanding rights from the State. But instead of generating government concern or attention of any kind, the State chose to paint him in the Maoist light too. This eventually led him to join the Maoist movement. But while behind bars, Oraon realised the need for a path to justice that even the common man could take while being within the system at the same time. He left the armed struggle and became an activist for his community. He now runs a school for his community and aspires to contest the upcoming elections.
By Shashank Shah