Discussions on Alternatives over Cups of Ragi Malt

By Rashi MishraonJan. 14, 2015inSociety, Culture and Peace

Written specially for Vikalp Sangam website

If you tell them in advance, the drivers of buses plying between Hyderabad and Bengaluru along NH 47 would stop near a village called Chennakothapalli (a.k.a. C.K.Palli). From there you head for – Timbaktu.

Timbaktu was the place where the first Vikalp Sangam (Alternative Confluence) was co-organized and hosted by Timabaktu Collective in October 2014. It is a picturesque location in Andhra Pradesh in the lap of wonderfully regenerated nature and the heart of rich culture.

The idea of Alternative(s) stems out when one disturbed by the cry against injustices and the deceptive ‘development’ stories, struggles to challenge the status quo and move towards a more just and equitable society where the idea is not to win the race and accumulate more wealth and power but to live at peace with fellow beings, with nature and with oneself.

The framework of the Vikalp Sangam and the ambience of the venue, in essence, were in cohesive adherence to such a way of life. The Sangam throughout the three days was buzzing with revolutionary ideas, some sharing, discussions and dialogue, laughing, singing, dancing and a few cultural performances.

Food was one of the centers of attraction, and rightly so. The organically grown food was a treat to the pallet; simple yet scrumptious. The variety of dishes, each with its own enticing fresh aroma, was a delight well cherished by all.

It was a gathering of people, all engaged in similar struggles, with an understanding that challenges of the dominant mainstream paradigm could only be faced by coming forth of alternatives of all kinds. Being at the Sangam, one was sure to be inspired by the stories and experiences that were shared. These contributed to a wide range of alternatives, working on issues such as – challenging traditional gender roles and hierarchy, participative decision making and decentralization, water conservation, organic farming, strengthening local economies and communities, and so on.

A very interesting set of ‘self-portraits’ evolved over the 3 days, with many of the participants creatively expressing aspects about themselves through drawings and short write ups.

Some very remarkable initiatives were shared in the process, such as Stan’s initiative called Just Change which is based on an alternative trade model. It is an endeavor to facilitate the tribal people in attaining a more equitable standing in the process of production and consumption of goods. The initiative employs the concept of participative capital wherein individuals need to be involved in at least two of the activities in the distribution chain, i.e. investment, production and consumption. This allows for a balance to be maintained between the investors, producers and consumers so that all are equally benefitted as well as have control over the means of production.

The highlights of most of these alternative initiatives are that they are working towards a system which provides creative spaces to people to rebuild more humane relationships on a basis of trust; moving away from the commercial jungle and the mechanical relations that it fosters. And, creating a framework, economically and socially more equitable, for agriculture and techniques which allow for good quality food to be grown without harming the earth and distributed justly. A number of initiatives were also focused on social issues, endeavoring to break through the regressive social norms of our society.

Discussions in the smaller group sessions on specific themes of Alternatives

The smaller group sessions focused on some very relevant issues in specific sectors and led to intense brainstorming by the participants. One of these discussions was on Revitalizing the Village Economy. The discussion began with an understanding that villages cannot be romanticized and seen as a homogenous unit. Villages too practice certain forms of discrimination and prejudices ingrained in the system. The functioning of village systems differs throughout India. It was shared how the Tribal systems are altogether different from the common understanding about villages. Moving forward from this, the discussion focused on the economic aspect of villages and how the village economy is impinged upon by the urban economy, also reinstating that villages cannot be seen in isolation. For revitalisation of villages, protecting the village economy becomes vital. Collectivization of money / resources, alternative currencies, local production for local consumption, reciprocity as a value instead of exchange, were some of the ideas discussed in the group. There was a sense of agreement attached to the idea of rethinking the concept of money. Money in its current form denotes power. The need to reduce its functionality to merely a means of measurement was strongly felt.

The need for villages to be more self reliant than self sufficient was pointed out; the relationship between local and outside needs to be worked out so as to have a system in which there can be exchange of resources / energy / finance between the centre and the local communities. Local communities should have a right to demand these from the centre.

The concluding sessions of the Sangam were focussed on the feedbacks and follow up actions which were as intense as the rest of the sessions. A number of valuable follow up actions were suggested to carry forward the discourse of the alternatives beyond the Sangam to reach out to a larger audience and also to translate these discussions and ideas into meaningful actions.

Vikalp Sangam meeting at Timbaktu. Pic: Ashish Kothari

After the overwhelming notes of goodbyes, good wishes and hugs, the same NH 47 was taken to head back from the lush green surroundings of Timbaktu to the concrete of our cities. This was a journey immersing one’s mind in reflecting on and reminiscing the eventful three days at the Sangam, along with gearing up for the tasks that lay ahead, as brought up during the Sangam process.

Photos: Ashish Kothari

Contact the Author

Read a report on the Vikalp Sangam gathering at Timbaktu.

Read this report in Telugu, translated by Shri Mallikarjuna Rao, Laya, Visakapatanam

Watch the proceedings at the Vikalp Sangam gathering on video clips by Centre for Education and Documentation.

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