Climate Change and Adaptation
Farmers usually understand seasons not just in terms of the rhythm and regularity of these, but also dramatically in terms of what is required of them, when the world changes. This often means that when rain fall patterns change, but then also regularise over a decade, the adaptation is more than a habit. It is self conscious. It means that the farmer has accepted the natural disaster when it first occurred, calculated the costs of its destruction, made sense of fate and mortalities, and now needs to think of the next step, which is recovery.
This recovery is often painful, as the families of cotton suicidees in Maharashtra, or rice farmers in Palakkad communicated, when they could not repay bank loans. In the villages around Leh city, Ladakh, the farmers were more resilient. They showed that their losses, personal and collective were part of the way in which they understand the Buddhist fate. Muslim farmers communicated that they were indeed well looked after by the local council and by neighbours and the army, though one widow said no one came to help her, which would be in keeping with census information that rural widows are often left to fend on their own.
The integrated nature of the village, the support of neighbourhood, monasteries, army and Kashmir government were recognised by the cloud burst flood victims of 2010. As the nation watched aghast on their television screens, houses crumbled and fields and forests were flooded. The memory of that terrible time, a consequence of climate change is thus entrenched in the minds of their inhabitants. They remember how they had to run to the mountains with the little that they had, how cold it was and how they waited all night before the army arrived. They saw the work of the years demolished, and the pile up of silt, and worse, the large rocks and boulders which the water brought in its path from the hillsides. The question of primeval river beds being revived through the ravages of the flood were known or told to them by visiting Scientists, but they did not consider it to be repetition or a pattern of events. They sincerely believed it was a one time event, a freak event, relating to their karma. The role of geologists has been to educate the farmers, and to communicate the seriousness of the event, as falling into a sequence of natural events. However, to the consternation of the visiting Social Scientists, nobody really believes that they can get hit twice. This seems an anomaly, but Indians zone in on their religious beliefs to be cotton wooled from disaster. Maya, destiny, fate: all of this seems to be the way in which they continue to live in seismic zones and tempt fate. This is where they were born, this is where they may die, should there be a cloudburst, an earthquake, war, flood, famine.
More complex however is that the State builds dams across rivers which are sacred, ecologically sensitive or supportive of agriculture and communities in the name of a progressive rationality. Kashmir is punctured by dams which have created the kind of problems that we associate with the third world, where the Greens Movement faces the obstacle of State silence over people’s needs. There is no consensus over what is a democratic principle in nation building.
Since politicians have varied opinions on what they see as a primary right of citizenship, the people are integrated only by the love of their land. This is not an unusual state of being, and it comes with local responsibilities, legends and affections. In Kerala, naad or country refers to the way in which local principalities, much after Merger with the Indian State in 1947, still appear as worldviews in themselves. Naad can mean home, country, village: each of these resonates with the individual,with the sense of belonging. Medieval though it’s connotation may be, we have to understand that memories, affections, longings, nostalgia and rights are all inherent to the understanding of what naad may mean.
In parts of the Himalayas, people are waging lonely battles against the State, which regardless of political affiliation of it’s incumbent members, moves towards industrialisation as a world view. Industrialisation requires generation of power, and so when rivers are dammed, the water outflow is controlled by the needs of the dam, not the communities who have for generations lived by the river. The net out put is considered to be the gains of development. Development in the 21st century means the fulfilling of the hedonistic requirements of city dwellers. The promise that the cities will fulfill all human needs, makes the demographic momentum transform into an artificial machinery that draws workers in to the city. However, the post modern city does not provide for the needs of these new urbanites. It shifts away from the idea that people produce food or artisan goods for the local market, and to fulfil their own needs; to a new space, unknown in the history of the third world, though Weber describes it as the escape from feudal tyranny in medievalism, where people arrive in the city with no thought about where they will live and how they will work. What are these jobs they may procure? This is a curious circumstance of the new postmodern metropolis, which is devoid of an agricultural hinterland.
As a result, a lumpen proletariat emerges which sees rape and murder as common ways of expressing its collective dehumanisation. The contexts in which the land mafia, or the nouvea riche also represents the pathological symptoms of its excessive and lurid desires becomes the moral landscape in which people live and work. Genocide of the peasantry is not a long drawn out process. The people are first drawn out from the countryside, as they are led to believe that climate change and dearth of water have made agriculture impossible. If there is dearth of water, then why is there no dearth of dams for generating electricity? The electricity that is harnessed goes to decorate the streets and hotels and shops of the cities, and the profligate nature of consumption is more than visible. It is necessary in this context to understand that artificial economies built on the rapacious desires of the ever growing middle class in India, which represents itself as a bourgeois without capital, but imitative of it’s tastes, is dependent on the State’s urge to be like the West. Sociology grew out of the demeaning contexts of industrialisation and the problems associated with it. The early history of Capitalism may have been based in the regulation of desires, but it splayed itself in India through the rampant desires of people who had been led to belief that crass consumption was the only stake in the short run, and in the long run everyone dies.
Agriculture has it’s seasons and it’s modes of production. Yet canal systems of irrigation can change the way communities think about irrigation has Jyothi Krishnan has so powerfully shown in her book Enclosed Waters, which is a study of pond irrigation in Palakkad and it’s enhancement by canal irrigation supplemented by water pumps. We may presume that water from artificial glaciers may bring about revolutionary modes of irrigating a cold desert. Potato farmers in Sabu village, near Leh understand that the hard work involved in agricultural production can no longer limit itself to family labour, and has to employ local or migrant labourers, since the productivity of first generation farmers is very high. Since the Army is a ready procurer, there is no difficulty in transportation. For those who do not sell to the Army, they have to take their produce to Leh town. Part of the problem of growing things is making out the difference between the costs of production, and the value that is put on a commodity.
Climate change has brought in a new occupation in the last two decades, in Ladakh, yet we know that farming is related to tourism in very specific ways, for organic foods are the key index to the discerning customer of what is most desirable in the exotica of travel. In Kerala, the state provides agriculture several kinds of support: rice lands may not be sold for construction, organic farming is supported, terrace gardening and intensive gardening will be given every possible support. Agricultural societies are the spine of the tourist industry, including dependent artisanal and fishing and sea related activities receiving the same kind of assurance of state attention. In mountain regions, the problem that Chhering Tandup has always asserted is that of movement of goods. How do we ascertain that the farm produce from Leh reaches its metropolitan outlets, such as Chandigarh and Delhi?
There is a problem here. As many as the trucks that arrive in Leh, the greater the degree of pollution. The greater the loss of the natural habitat, and the extent of damage will be difficult to assess. If geologists say that whatever glacial damage or melt is due to activities that occurred 7 million years ago, then we may rest assured that the sending in of trucks to Leh from Chandigarh and Delhi would mean the erosion of these very new and constantly developing mountains faster than 7 years. When the Coimbatore-Palakkad pass, developed into a conduit for vegetable marketing, a consequence of the market gardening from Tamil Nadu reaching Kerala, the forests in that area disappeared in a short period of time. The Tamils, because of colonial intervention and the splicing of rivers in their favour became excellent farmers. The Malayalis who were dependent on slave castes to irrigate and sow and harvest lost their motivation to farm because of professionalization and the Gulf migration, since that was more lucrative than growing pepper or rice, plantains or areca nut. With the shift to information technology, in cities like Cochin and Trivandrum, Kerala has become cosmopolitanised to the extent of rampantly overbuilding for new workers and their automobile needs. With the promised coach factory, the low profile town of Palakkad will become even busier and noisier.
In 2006, Palakkad had verdant woods, visible from the highway, but by 2014, the snaking chain of lorries made the road barren and impossible to commute, so a second road for those travelling to the Coimbatore airport was built, which cut through paddy fields, and country houses, with sporadic signboards of Arrack on the way, since it was customary for workers to be alcohol - dependent on toddy between spells of work. What industrialisation can mean is that local consumption of food and beverages is replaced by alcohol and drug abuse, which is always blamed on migrant labour, or on tourists. The work of a new generation of scholars, such as Sumera Shafi and Tashi Lundup for Leh show how increased wealth from tourism has brought about substantial changes in world view of the youth.
Why agricultural practise in the surrounding villages of Leh is extremely interesting is because it is new, and instinctive, since with the planting of trees by the Army precipitation is conclusive a symptom of new world policies. The soil is alluvial and very rich. Interior colonialism, including constantly, the emphatic presence of the Army, since 60 percent of the army is stationed here, is not seen to be a cultural colonialism. Protection from China, and assimilation into China is not desired by Ladakhis. Unlike Kashmir, where the Army is deeply resented for it’s very visible coercive arm, Ladakhis have a tolerant and supportive relation to the presence of the Indian army of which they too are a part. Employment in the Army is a definitive occupation for Ladakhis.
Agriculture sustains the Army, whether it is apricots, potatoes, beans, asparagus, grapes, apples, tomatoes or leeks. Tourism and the Army are two of the stable institutions of the Ladakh region. Kashmiri merchants now face the inherent space of competition from Ladakhi craftspeople and merchants. That pashmina is manufactured in Leh was in doubt, until a new generation of scholars from Jammu University brought to collective attention the presence of local boutiques and pashmina wool curing factory. Surely, climate change is part of the way in which new processes are brought into focus with regard to the dangers and losses that climate change present, where equally, new avenues present themselves. The pashmina sheep died after the 2010 cloud burst because of the loss of pastoral grounds. Yet, the supply of Pashmina did not abate according to the manager of the factory, because the supply of wool continued to come from other areas in Ladakh, who was very confident that he could get his sources come what may. This is the curious aspect of Agriculture and related artisan activities: whatever the nature of loss, the beneficence continues. How do we deal with redistribution of goods is what industrial systems have not dealt with. The industrial imagination is so bereft of the sense of the future, that they do not have the way of dealing with the bonus of nature. Crop destruction is part of capitalism, by letting grains to rot, the industrial system makes sure that prices are inflated. By buying up from the farmer without ensuring redistribution, it leaves the farmer with cost price, and a rupee’s profit on every kilo, while ensuring that granaries burst and the prime minister and the Reserve Bank congratulate the farmers. Surplus crops means a stable economy, since post office and SBI keep the peasant earnings in sync with subsistence agriculture which is generally against Conspicuous Consumption. However, the capitalists look to conspicuous consumption for an active market, and the circulation of money, so they do all they can to disrupt the basic socialist (a constitutional term) practise of the Indian economy, which is in the very nature of social relations. Since no redistribution takes place, after goods are cornered by the Government the food rots. Establishment social scientists believe that two and a half acres is impractical and that industrialised farming to feed the billions is possible only after the farmers are dispossessed, brought to the city to build smart cities which do not include them. Here they are kept in poverty, below the minimum wage, as the contractors subtract the costs of bringing them to the city. The Leh district farmers have shown that farming is enjoyable and that they eat well and have enough for others, if the Army is not the only buyer. In Tiruvannamalai, Tamil Nadu pilgrimage and tourism has been supported through the interlinkage of local cafes with the rural markets of the hinterland hill stations in the Nilgiris.
Sociologists do not have a solution for climate change. They cannot tell the victims of flood that this has nothing to do with good governance or bad, or with ritual purity, or Allah’s grace, or Siva’s wrath. This has to do with geological timings of catastrophes, which does not match human or historical time. While Leh survived the flash flood, it’s town and village councils have a lot to do with the rehabilitation measures. Its autonomous hill councils’ functioning helped the villagers because of the level of trust, and the close and personal regulation of water in the villages helped for further development of its agriculture techniques. Each family sends a representative in turn to sleep by the village pond to control water utilization and possible theft at night.
There is a lot that we can learn from the Ladakh experience of organisation and technique, made possible too from the lessons which the local intelligentsia brings to us through intimacy and translation. Such a grass roots intelligentsia is yet to develop in Kashmir to reckon with its own needs. Painful though this period is, the velocity of distress has its anodyne, the creation of institutional dialogue, which is community inclusive, rather than separatist. Just as Ahmedabad burned in 2002, without any administrative attention, and Delhi too, during the Sikh genocide, both of which were humanly created disasters, three days, after the 2014 September floods, the people in Kashmir waited for the Administration and for Government help, including the Army. The Government said, “We can do nothing.” Why was that? Should they not be accountable for what they do or do not do? People’s governance and people’s autonomy must mean that villages and towns must have an immediately recognisable task force to generate support during disasters. It must also mean that the State and the World Bank, is implicated in the disasters, (which called Natural are usually exaggerated by human culpability,) when it supports dam construction, against the wishes of the local people. They must work with the resource materials garnered by the local intelligentsia, recognise local expertise for its ability to warn capitalism and capitalists of its implication in these massive disasters in seismic zones.
Rajinder Singh in his letter of July 16th 2013, ( attached with this paper) asked that the wishes of the people be attended to. Fault becomes allocated when there are tribunals of enquiry. However, in the case of large scale development, the Gandhians constantly assert that poverty alleviation is not possible with mass scale destruction of people’s livelihoods. Rather than flight from the State, the struggle against interior colonialisms has been protracted. The alternative view to modernism, is post modernism, which has its freedom to choice, and to resistance of oppression. The so called subsistence societies of pre-modern contexts made sure that it’s people were fed, and provided for in times of stress. Central Rule often excludes the domination of those societies which are intrinsically, self sustaining. James C Scott writes that “I emphasise the term political order to avoid conveying the mistaken impression that outside the realm of the state lay mere disorder. Depending on the location and date, such units might range from nuclear families to segmentary lineages, bilateral kindreds, hamlets, larger villages, towns and their immediate hinterlands, and confederations of such towns. Confederations appear to constitute the most complex level of integration that had any stability at all.” (Scott 2010:36)
In Federal societies, the States are each given autonomy regarding the choices they make about those decisions pertaining to local communities. Kerala for instance has a Fisheries Ministry, and also supports organic farming as a specific instance of this motivation. When certain States are oil rich or mineral rich, then they become the colonized space of political intentions. “State power, in this conception, is the state’s monopoly of coercive force that must, in principle, be fully projected to the very edge of it’s territory, where it meets, again in principle, another sovereign power, projecting it’s command to it’s own adjacent frontier. ….As a practical matter, most nation-states have tried, insofar as they had the means, to give substance to this vision, establishing armed border posts, moving loyal populations to the frontier and relocating or driving away ‘disloyal’ populations , clearing frontier lands for sedentary agriculture, building roads to the borders, and registering hitherto fugitive peoples.” ( ibid 11) Quite often, Scott argues, the populations at the borders are culturally syncretistic, and they are then forced to conform with the homogeneity of the political order in the plains. “Where they could, however, all states in the region have tried to bring such peoples under their routine administration, to encourage and more rarely, to insist upon linguistic, cultural, and religious alignment with the majority population at the state core.” (ibid 12)
When there is a dramatic contrast between subsistence societies, located in proximity to market towns, with the industrializing motif of traditional development politics, which aggrandizes and hierarchises, we find that local communities survive through varieties of camaflouge. Tradition persists in customs of food, dress and ritual, but there is a segmental aspect, so the coding in of plural forms of identity are implicit. People become home in many different cultures simultaneously. They take on the colours of their environment, merging effortlessly into the work world, and into the recreational structures of multiple societies. This multi causality is represented through coincidental forms of association and unionization both at work, and in leisure, so whether it is the club or the association, individuals know how to fit in the rural milieu as well as the urban one. This is not oscillation but a dialectic. In transition societies this is made possible by the dual languages which are learnt, but when industrialization is complete, then these skills of language and technique are lost. It is this which makes people truly homeless.
In this last part of the paper, I will discuss the plea from Prof Bharat Jhunjhunwala, on behalf of the villagers of Chamoli, where the World Bank is making its loan available, against the wishes of the people, for damming the Ganga, for purposes of electricity generation for the cities.
The game, for the manipulations between agriculturists and the colonial state in the formative years of sedentarisation of agriculture in British ruled India continues. The rules are not laid down by the colonists, but by the way in which the people demarcate their own borders and territories. “Naturally, therefore, most of the actions of the players in the “game” were largely predictable since the players had trained each other over a long period of time. Not only were the actions of the players anticipated, but each contestant had prepared himself (most of these players were men) psychically for the outcome as well.” (Irschick 1994:46)
To be represented in Kashmir, by the village councils of Ladakh is a task in itself, requiring the notation of religion, race, locality, occupation, community and its common subjectivities. In other parts of the Himalayas, the people orient themselves to petitions, law court cases and hope in citizenship. With the recent floods in Kashmir, the equation between the people and the Centre will change, primarily because the devastation is so huge that the orientations will be to everyday survival. The balance of power rests with the ability to withstand neglect and philanthrophy, both of which are deemed to be ways of hierarchizing the free. Why India is substantially free inspite of it’s poverty and it’s corruption is because land held in agriculture is on an average two and a half acres, and the industrialising state would love to club it together to facilitate the growing of gmt products under the guise that the farmer with small landholdings is an anomaly.
Traditional small acreage and production of bumper crops annually is substantially different from Pakistan, where twenty two families controlled the country through their agricultural landlordship. The damming of the Indus was for industrial purposes and the travails of Pakistan have come from protracted militarisation, tribal revolt and non-democratic practise regarding the fate of peasants and local communities. The gap between the rich and the poor has led to substantial distress, which includes the mobilisation of religious fundamentalists to repress freedom of citizens.
TK Oommen’s work “From Mobilisation to Institutionalisation” showed the success of the land distribution Act in the 1950s to be partially successful since the land given away was usually rocky. In contrast, what the farmers in the environment of Leh have shown however, is that the resilience that they have as farmers with small landholdings, has depended on their hard work in tilling and watering in tightly regulated circumstances. The village councils have a say in how the water is allocated around the clock. In Palakkad, which became known as the rice belt of Kerala, the water from the local small dam, Mallapuram Dam becomes readily available to farmers in the winter months, not so in the summer, when the primary objective is to provide drinking water to a fast expanding city. The fluctuations of production are obvious to farmers, whose one, two or three crops of paddy are dependent on irrigation, since the ponds become neglected, and with climate change can run dry.
Emile Durkheim writes, in his comparison of Communism and Socialism, that the former has a moral principle, which abstracts private property to be a lapse of conduct arising from selfishness and immorality, but Socialism is a functional principle of the division of labour and practical economic interests.
“The two problems are entirely different. On one side, you set out to judge the moral value of wealth in the abstract, and deny it; on the other, one asks whether a kind of commerce and industry harmonizes with the conditions of existence of the peoples practising it, and if it is normal or unhealthy. Thus while communism concerns itself only accessorily with so-called economic arrangements and modifies them only to the degree necessary to place them in keeping with its principle (the abolition of individual ownership), socialism, inversely, touches private property the degree required to change it so that it may harmonize with the economic arrangement – the essential objects of its demands.” (Durkheim 1962:73)
Socialism is inherent in what Marcel Mauss showed to be forms of tribalism, or more generally the collective life of communities. However, in the case of the “Seasonal Variations Among the Eskimo” or the pastoral practises of the Nuer in the 1930s, as studied by Evans Pritchard, we do have interesting views of how social exchange takes place during nomadism, and when people congregate during winter, in the first case, and heavy rains in the second. Hunting and fishing are typical activities during nomadism, and with seasonal shifts, there is a dependence on local activities which are centred around storage and rituals. In the Ladakh region, the storage of fruit and tubers and the dried meats allow people to engage in a very sustained ceremonial and ritual life when the borders and roads shut down. The effervescence of collective life is more than evident. Climate change has to take into account increased melting of glaciers as the way in which the Spring may come earlier, but the long term effects on local habitation are yet to be understood. People do not live in fear of the future, they adapt to the present, and in a democratic system, agriculturists should be protected not left to the vagaries of industrial imaginations, which nullify them by the habit of four hundred years. Coexistence of the agricultural and industrial worlds is provided by the Constitution, which has its Gandhian undertones in citizen rights.
I close with a summary of the plea to the World Bank, from Prof Jhunjhuwala who with other signatories, has claimed that the continual damming of the Ganga will influence the fate of the Himalayas in general. They write to the Executive Secretary of the Inspection Panel of the World Bank, that the Pipalkoti project will change their lives because the “joys of a free flowing river” cannot be estimated. Further, the river does not flow past boulders in the case of damming, and will lose its medicinal and therapeutic qualities. According to the petitioners, the people living in Chamoli district, on the banks of the Alaknanda Ganga will not have access to fish and sand, as resources for their livelihood. The Cheer Pheasant, an endangered bird will go extinct. The release of water at odd times during the day for generation of electricity will affect the lives of people who belong to a riverine civilisation and are dependent on nature for their livelihood. Houses which are near the dam develop cracks because of the force of construction and water flow in the tunnels and pipes. Accumulation of silt affects the lives of communities who are dependent on the river such as fishers and pastoralists. The collection of silt can affect the social and religious life of people who can no longer bathe or pray, or collect water. The aquatic life, both plants and animals becomes disturbed. Very often, the rivers run dry. The dust from construction pollutes every thing. Workers live in terrible conditions. Disease becomes rampant. Women and children lose their freedoms. The earthquakes further damage the hollowed out mountains, causing landslides and death. The 2013 floods in Uttarakhand were a consequence of ravaged hillsides for short term gains, in a seismic zone. Water sources are drying up, rivers are degraded to the point of becoming extinct. Heat from construction sends up the indexes of global warming. The increase in populations due to construction and deforestation leads to the mass loss of habitat for animal populations which begin to wander causing threat, in turn, to local communities and habitats. Worst of all, there is silence on the part of bureaucrats, and the people are kept out of information and discussion. (Jhunjhunwala 2013, petititon to World Bank)
As the contents of the letter show, the real questions we need to ask are about the management of our rivers as commons. The Indus is dammed substantially in Pakistan, where it flows in India, it has become both a ritual site for Hindus asserting identity politics, as well as for the urbane leisured class who looks forward to playing golf in the highest reaches of the Himalayas. How do we understand these cultural uses. Do we have a say in the right to life, and the right to traditional grazing grounds. As Scientists and Social Scientists, may we presume that people’s liberties are of the most importance, and by writing about them we delay their extinction or forced assimilation.
Acknowledgements: Cherring Tandup, Tashi Lundup, Sumera Shafi, Suresh Babu, Renoj Theyyan, Devinder Singh and the entire student team from Jammu University, for their hospitality and kindness and friendship, many thanks!
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