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Covid-19 crisis and long-term transformations: alternatives from India

A social and political response from India

On March 28, a Forum of about 60 organizations and networks of civil society, working across India, submitted a statement to the Government of India and for public consideration. This Forum is the Core Group of a process called Vikalp Sangam or ‘Alternatives Confluence’, which since 2014 has attempted to bring together movements, groups and individuals working on just, equitable and sustainable pathways to human and ecological well-being. It rejects the current model of development and the structures of inequality and injustice underlying it (including patriarchy, capitalism, statism, casteism, and anthropocentrism), and searches for alternatives in practice and vision.

The statement stressed the need for measures that will “(a) significantly reduce the possibility of more such disastrous spread of diseases, and (b) significantly enhance the ability of communities to deal with such eventualities.” It further stated that “the survival and sustainability of this planet lies in the adoption of values of dignity, equality and justice for all species, genders and social categories. This should reflect in the rejection of all policies and practices that cause destruction, exploitation and discrimination and injustice against any living being.”

While the Vikalp Sangam statement is specific to India, it has relevance to many other parts of the world, since the issues of inequalities, injustice and unsustainability have many commonalities in their origin and nature, if not in the specifics of how they are manifested.

Recommendations and political paths: towards localization

The Vikalp Sangam statement starts with urging a “moratorium on all diversion of natural ecosystems for infrastructure, mining, and commercial purposes.” Given the increasing evidence from around the world of how the clearing of forests and the devastation of other natural ecosystems, also the commercial scale exploitation of wild animals, has been the source of many pathogens or the cause of them becoming virulent and given that India continues a pathway of ‘development’ that entails continued clearance of natural habitats, this is a crucial demand.

This would however raise the immediate question: but how then do we meet the needs of development, jobs, poverty eradication, and so on? For this, the Vikalp Sangam process has for many years already suggested a host of alternatives (hundreds documented on its website). In the statement, they include many.

Most importantly, the statement recommends that we “strengthen local, self-reliant economies.” Economic globalization has not only significantly enabled the spread of disease vectors and pathogens like Covid-19, but it has also devastated ecosystems and ecosystem-based livelihoods, unleashed abysmal levels of inequality, and created fragility in the economies of nearly all countries. This fragility is even more evident now than in the 2008 financial collapse. Instead of this, the Vikalp Sangam members suggest a shift to localization, a growing movement across the world. This will not happen or succeed on its own, local institutions in villages and cities will need to be facilitated with resources, technical assistance and other inputs “to grow their own local, self-reliant economies, using local and new skills and resources, catering first and foremost to local needs.”

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