Who has become free?
From whose forehead has slavery’s stain been removed?
My heart still pains of oppression
Mother India’s face is still sad…
Who has become free?
Ali Sardar Jafri wrote this poem a few years after independence. But these lines accurately describe the current situation in our country too! Who has become free, is indeed the real question. This country now belongs to the rich; development is now only for them. Giant-sized malls, ultra-modern cars, express highways, imported luxury goods, five-star hospitals….and, on the other hand, the few crumbs given to the poor after independence are also being snatched away.
Under the sweet-sounding but deceptive name of Globalisation, huge and voracious Multinational Corporations (MNCs) are being invited into the country. To exploit the resources of our country, make super-profits, and take the profits back to their country. Even our laws are being changed, to facilitate this plunder! In the name of Privatisation, public sector corporations and, very soon, public sector banks and insurance companies, built out of the savings and by the sweat and toil of the common people, are being handed over at throwaway prices to these MNCs and their Indian collaborators – the big private Indian corporations. Even Indian agriculture, on which 60% of the Indian people still depend for their livelihoods, is being deliberately destroyed – so that it can be taken over by giant agribusiness corporations. The consequence: thousands of farmers are committing suicides; over 60 crore people are slowly being driven out from the villages into city slums. Basic necessities, like education, health, transportation, electricity, even drinking water, are being privatized and transformed into instruments for naked profiteering. Electricity prices are being hiked. Bus fares are rising. Price controls on essential medicines are being eliminated and govt. hospitals are being privatized. College fees have gone through the roof. The public distribution system created to check speculation in prices of foodgrains and other essential commodities is on its way to being scrapped altogether. The first steps have been taken to hand over drinking water supplies in cities to giant western water multinationals who will then hike water rates five-ten-fifteen times. Tens of thousands of small businesses have downed their shutters. There are simply no decent jobs for the youth, and if one uses the standards of the developed countries, probably nearly half the population is unemployed or underemployed. The imperialists want to control what we eat, drink, see, think, read. And so along with MNC capital, imperialist culture is also flowing in. All Central and State Governments are implementing these policies. Today, there is no need for foreigners to rule over us directly. By seizing control of our country’s economic pulse, they have brought back colonialism in a new form.
As the economic system becomes more and more sick, the social and political system is also becoming more and more degenerate. All-pervasive corruption, an educational system that makes us think that we are incompetent fools, a caste-based social system which is exploited by politicians to make the upper caste youth believe that the reservation system is responsible for lack of jobs, a communal political system that divides people in the name of religion and fills them with hatred against each other, a value system that promotes crass selfishness and unconcern and apathy for others, a society where cynicism and moral bankruptcy permeate every nook and cranny this is the reality of today.
The common people have not been silent spectators to this sordid drama being enacted by the MNCs and their Indian collaborators. All over the country, people are coming together, getting organized, forming small-small groups, and raising their voices in protest. Many different struggles are being fought. But there is a need to involve more and more people in these struggles, and widen their scope. There are a very large number of people who have given up hope of change and are passively accepting this assault on their lives. There are also not a few people who, instead of fighting the real enemy, are fighting amongst themselves. Then, there are many who, accepting the propaganda of the rich, blame their own incapability for their poverty. And so, in order to unite and mobilise people against the real enemy, this forum, ‘Lokayat’.
Lokayat is actually a thought process that has existed in India since Vedic times. Lokayat is a vision of life that rejects fatalism, is uncompromisingly rationalist, realist. Life must be lived to the full, in the best possible way. All problems are man-made; one should face them, and not run away from them. This is the inspiration that Lokayati thought gives us. We accept this tradition. Hence the name of this forum, Lokayat.
The aim of Lokayat is to bring together like-minded people, ordinary people who wish to take some initiative, who wish to do their bit for transforming society for the better, and to take up various activities with their co-operation. Some of the activities that we have initiated so far are:
We publish books that discuss and analyse current questions, and attempt to find solutions to them. For example: why prices rise; is population a problem; why umemployment; US invasion of Iraq; GATT agreement; globalisation; privatization; etc.
We screen films & documentaries on various social problems such as the destruction of people’s livelihoods in the name of progress, communalism, consumerism, American imperialism, etc. The screenings are followed by a discussion. Such film clubs have also been started in various city colleges.
We try to raise awareness on various issues of deep concern to common people, such as privatisation of electricity, rise in petrol and diesel prices, transportation problem in cities, etc. by making use of various art forms like street plays and poster exhibitions.
Currently, as a symbol of the fight against MNCs, we have undertaken a ‘Pepsi-Coke Quit India’ campaign. Like all MNCs, Pepsi and Coke are also destroying our health, environment and livelihoods.
We have also launched a NO MORE BHOPALS campaign in association with other progressive groups against environmental destruction.
Another campaign is a movement to involve people to improve the public transport system in the city, which is crumbling and the government is promoting the use of private vehicles because of which pollution and traffic congestion in the city is reaching terrible levels.
Another focus issue is a campaign to expose the so-called WAR ON TERROR, which is being used by America and Indian fundamentalists to target Muslims. The aim is to unite people across communities to fight the true causes of terrorism. Terrorism is actually a social issue, and to fight it one will have to understand the social roots of terrorism. Related to this is a campaign to fight the growing communal divide in India, on which we have organised numerous programs.
A new campaign is against nuclear energy which the Indian government is beginning to push in a big way, which is focused on making people aware about the hazards of nuclear energy and expose the intense propaganda going on in the mainstream media in support of this.. The construction of one such plant is going to begin very soon in the Konkan Region of Maharashtra, and the people there are fighting it. Through our campaign we also hope to build some support for the struggle of people of Konkan.
In order to reach out to the youth and establish a dialogue with them, we organize many thought-provoking intellectual and cultural programmes in schools and colleges.
A latest very important project is :we have begun to educate slum children who have dropped out of school due to poverty, by mobilising college students to teach such children. At present we have begun such classes in two slums of Pune.
Dear friends, this is a small attempt to reach you. Many of you do not know us. Nevertheless, we believe that you will agree with the thoughts expressed above. But your agreement is not enough, your active participation is of the utmost importance. We must act; only through small actions will the seeds for a mass movement to transform society be sown.