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  • Writer's pictureSwarnima Kriti

Developmental Democracy

The modern phrase ‘rule by the people, of the people and for the people’ defines democracy as largely independent individualism, rather than interdependent subjects in communities. This structure appears to be essentially motivated by what Marx calls ‘selfishness, the gain and the private interests of each’ negating notions of the commons and common good. Is then modern democracy (and the ‘women and development’ space) grappling with an absence of the commons and the deliberative demos of the commons? Even self-help groups (SHGs)—so paradigmatic of the development sector—which look to be a work with commons, are, in the last instance, driven by personal financial interest and the ‘will to rule’ (kratos), where ‘each looks to [her]self only, and no one troubles [her]self about the rest, and just because they do so, do they all, in accordance with the pre-established harmony of [developmentalism], or under the auspices of an all-shrewd [capitalocentric] providence, work together to their mutual advantage, for the common weal and in the interest of all”. Chinhari remains torn between Gond and developmental cultures; pulled in both directions it had to chart a third path for the difficult praxis of democracy — democracy in relationships between men and women, amongst women, between adult and young, in the household, in the workplace, in surplus appropriation, in the market, in relationships with nature, etc. Are then considerations of commons, of being-in-common, of being a collective (as also thinking and reflecting together) absent in our deliberations (what is present instead is the known and predetermined collective: nation, or SHGs, as also sectarian or partisan or identitarian units)? Marx traces this capitalocentric culture of the self: This sphere that we are deserting, within whose boundaries the sale and purchase of labour-power goes on, is in fact a very Eden of the innate rights of man. There alone rule Freedom, Equality, Property and Bentham. Freedom, because both buyer and seller of a commodity, say of labour-power, are constrained only by their own free will. They contract as free agents, and the agreement they come to, is but the form in which they give legal expression to their common will. Equality, because each enters into relation with the other, as with a simple owner of commodities, and they exchange equivalent for equivalent. Property, because each disposes only of what is his own. And Bentham, because each looks only to himself. The only force that brings them together and puts them in relation with each other, is the selfishness, the gain and the private interests of each. Each looks to himself only, and no one troubles himself about the rest, and just because they do so, do they all, in accordance with the pre-established harmony of

things, or under the auspices of an all-shrewd providence, work together to their mutual advantage, for the common weal and in the interest of all. Given that development is the substitute signifier for ‘industrialism-modernism-capitalism’ in the global South, it is important to rethink democracy in development practice as also development in the context of democracy; how the two are related; and how the overdetermination of the rethought contours of each could take us to an enriched understanding of both democracy and development. Sen makes this connection explicit in his redefinition of ‘development as freedom’ [emphasis mine], as the expansion of real and substantive freedoms which would take care of the ‘persistence of poverty and unfulfilled elementary needs, occurrence of famines and widespread hunger, violation of elementary political freedoms as well as of basic

liberties, extensive neglect of the interests and agency of women, and worsening threats to our environment and to the sustainability of our economic and social lives’. Chakrabarti and Dhar disaggregate the forms of development into: a) hegemonic forms of development that focus on poverty alleviation, income generation, growth, shift to modern capitalist economy, etc. (contemporary developmentalism in Chhattisgarh largely takes this form), b) alternative forms of development that include the human development approach and work towards better quality of life and well-being etc., c) alternatives to development that build on a cultural critique of colonialism, unbridled modernism and Orientalism, and d) ‘a fourth position that

problematizes both modernism and capitalism . . . not just modernism and capitalism but Orientalism (i.e., the hierarchical division of the world into the [developed] West and the [underdeveloped] ‘rest’) and capitalo-centrism (i.e., the description of world and experience

from the standpoint of only capital and the consequent division of the world into the capitalist/developed and the precapitalist/not yet-capitalist/underdeveloped remainder)’. Mardapoti too, marked by the discourse of development, has been constructed in the image of lack/lag. This image slowly becomes a self-image. It is in this light that an issue of ‘paani laane ke samasya’ (the problem of women fetching water) was perceived as ‘pani ke samasya’ (the problem of water scarcity in the village). Mardapoti, in tune with ‘third worldism’ and the ‘third worldist subject of lack/lag’ presenced itself as lacking in infrastructural facilities to receive clean drinking water; an internal problem—a problem within the household, a problem of the democratic division of labour between men and women—was displaced into a general lack of bijli, sadak, pani (the war-cry of the developmental movement) in the village. The hegemonic imagery of the third world, or the rural or the adivasi as lacking initiated a ‘short circuit’ in Mardapoti. This in turn, displaced a fundamental gender issue, the sexual division of labour, into an infrastructural problem, one that does not challenge the androcentric structures in the village or the Gond samaj’s internal normalizations of work and care against its own women. Chinhari had to hence work through the androcentrism of both hegemonic forms of development (designated [a] earlier) and hegemonic Gond sociality. It had to carve out a space between and beyond developmental alternatives (designated [b] earlier) and alternatives to development (designated [c] and [d] earlier).

A section taken from - Kriti, S. (forthcoming 2021). Chinhari: The Young India - Feminizing the Praxis of Democracy. In Manas Ray (Ed.) State of Democracy in India: essays on life and politics in contemporary times (pp. 375-400). Primus.  

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