22 November 2013

"Does Buddhism have anything special to contribute to our understanding of poverty, and how to alleviate it? This article (see attachment below) is an excerpt from David Loy's 2003 book Great Awakening: a Buddhist Social Theory. Loy sheds light on the root causes of poverty and how we can help reduce it. 



20 November 2013


"Dreams are made out of the impossibles. We cannot reach the impossible by using the analytical minds trained to deal with hard information that is currently available. These minds are fitted with flashing red lights to warn us about obstacles we may face. We’ll have to put our minds in a different mode when we think about our future, will have to dare to make bold leaps to make the impossible possible. As soon as one impossible becomes possible, it shakes up the structure and create a domino effect, preparing the ground for making many other impossible possible." —Muhammed Yunus (2010), Building Social Business: The New Kind of Capitalism That Serves Humanity’s Pressing Need, p. 206

Introduction and Invitation

Professor Sakti Padhi had a passion for a life of beauty, dignity, dialogue and creativity. In a seminar on inclusive growth in Ahmedabad in September 2009, Sakti Bhai, while talking about the predicament of growth and deprivation in contemporary Odisha, challenged us to under-stand the historical, especially colonial, roots of Odisha’s underdevelopment. Sadly, development planning and discourse in contemporary Odisha lacks a critical sense of history, what to speak of creativity, especially people’s creativity.

The tragedy of development planning in contemporary Odisha, as much of India and the world, is that not only has it a narrow vision, discourse and planning of development, for example, focusing primarily on industrial development to the exclusion of other forms of development such as agriculture and horti-culture; it lacks a critical sense of history and a spirit of transformative dialogue. In Odisha, right from Madhu Babu to Nabin Babu via Biju Babu and Janaki Babu, the sole vision of Odisha’s development has been focused on industrial development. To understand this we need to have a critical sense of history. In debates on this in the colonial Legislative Assembly in the beginning of the last century, Utkala Gouraba Madhusudan Das had argued for rapid industrialisation as a means for allround development of Odisha while Utkalamani Gopabandhu Das was for the development of agriculture. The tragedy of Odisha has been a systematic neglect of agriculture which is also linked to feudalism in land relations, an issue to which Professor Sakti Padhi drew our attention.

Beyond the Chains of Illusions of Inclusive Development: History, Culture and Language

IN Odisha, as in much of India, we did not have land reforms worth the name. But at present this lack is being supplemented by gifting land to the multinational corporations and industrial houses taking it from the poor and the marginalised. The Government of Odisha is giving so much of land to industrial corporations that if a fraction of this was given to our landless and marginalised brothers and sisters, who are mostly Dalits and Adivasis, then it could have created broadbased social development and prosperity in Odisha. But while the present government can give hundreds of acres of land to corporate houses for mining and building universities such as Vedanta, not a single decimal is given to the landless. What kind of society is this, what kind of state do we have?

Lack of critical historical knowledge in case of Odisha’s dialectic of development and underdevelopment is also linked to the other vital issues of culture and language. The culture of social and religious feudalism in the name of Lord Jagannatha continues to live happily unchallenged in contemporary Odisha. The cultural ethos of Odisha is one of feudalism and contemporary Odisha is a victim of continued dangerous and destructive bureaucratic, cultural and political feudalism. For Chitta Ranjan Das (1923-2011), a creative thinker and experimenter, the tragedy of Odisha is that neither had we a radical political, spiritual and social mobilisation against feudalism nor did we have leaders who can walk and work with people as grassroots visionaries and activists. Lack of leadership continues to haunt Odisha. We only have feudal lords. These lords, as depicted in Fakir Mohan Senapati’s Cha Mana Athaguntha, are not only usurping the tiny land of Saria and Bhagia but, like the other character in another Fakir Mohan story, are speaking only in English. (See Senapati 2005)1 These perpetually young sons and now daughters of colonial modernity, which continues to be feudal even in contemporary Odisha where modernisation has not been able to change the all-pervasive feudal ethos, are giving an English bhusi (beating) to those who cannot speak English.2

This brings us to the issue of language. Odia has been the official language of Odisha for sometime now but many in positions of power, authority and knowledge in Odisha neither speak nor write in Odia. Documents of planning and development are not available in Odia. But the people of Odisha do not speak only Odia. There are many tribes in Odisha who speak their own languages. Do planners and policy-makers ever speak to tribals in their own languages? It must be noted here that when a mining project gets opened in a tribal area there is no discussion and dissemination of information as to the details of the project, for example, how much land is going to be acquired and how many people are going to be displaced. Even if it takes place after decades of struggle and martyrdom of people as it happened in Kashipur and Kalingamagar where protesting people were shot dead, the discussion rarely takes place in the languages of the people, for example, in tribal languages. Moreover, it is also not conducted in a language of dignity.

In Kashipur, once a so-called dialogue took place in the office of the District Collector, Rayagada, in which Bhagaban Majhi, the President of the Prakutika Surakha Parishad, Kucheipadar, a group fighting against mining and displacement in Kashipur, asked: “Kashipur is full of green fields. Why are you here only talking about mining? Why not make arrange-ments for irrigation? What are your plans for agricultural development?” But instead of replying to these questions, the Collector asked him to shut up. When people joined him in asking these questions, the police said: “Haire Sale! [Oh brothers-in-laws!] Did we bring you here to raise slogans against us? Did we give you lunch to make noise?”3 Is this a language of dignity? People were shot dead not only in Kalinganagar and Kashipur but also in Raigarh around the issue of land which points to the structural absence of dialogue in Odisha’s feudal culture and politics of development.

Towards a Critique of the Discourse of Inclusive Development

IT is against this background that we should address the discourse of inclusive development. Inclusive development is an illusion as it lacks a critical sense of history and is not linked with trans-formation—structural, discursive and transfor-mation of consciousness. Where is the talk of and steps towards transformation of land relations in our current discourse of inclusive development in India?

We need to understand the limits of the discourse of inclusive development in the context of limits of the very language and discourse of inclusion. Let us critically look into the discourse of inclusive politics or what Habermas (1998) calls “Inclusion of the Other”. But without the simultaneous transformation of self, the other and the institutional field, is inclusion of the other possible? Similarly we are talking about inclusive education, for example, including the Dalit and tribal children and their cultural experience in our schools. But without transformation of the culture and practice of the classroom, school and the teachers, are inclusive education and classroom possible? So, instead of mere inclusion we need to envision and move towards transformative inclusion which should supplant the current illusive and acquiescent discourse of inclusive development.

Transformation is a long process and here to talk of transformation is not to be imprisoned in, what Amartya Sen (2009) calls, “transcendental institutionalism”, but to take a comparative-historical approach and make concrete beginnings at the present towards transformation. Our familiar institutions of society are full of “problematic justice” but we can always make a new beginning. Along with structural transfor-mation we also need discursive transformation and transformation of consciousness.

Challenges of Discursive Transformation and Transformation of Consciousness: Poverty and Creativity

POVERTY is as much a discourse as it is a reality. The reality of material deprivation is made into a discourse of poverty. But this is a discourse of humiliation. The poor are targets of developmental interventions. The poor are also considered backward. The discourse of development after the Second World War originated with a primal focus on the discourse of poverty. But both the discourses of development and poverty produced materially deprived people as helpless and a bundle of lacks.

But the so-called poor are not only poor, they are also creative subjects individually as well as in varieties of relations of solidarity. For example, in extreme conditions of hunger, people in their families and circles of relationships share whatever they have in the midst of pangs and difficulties and this helps them to sustain. It is their social and self-creativity that has sustained them in situations of extreme vulnerabilities. Social and self-creativity is not only a coping mechanism, it also involves efforts to ameliorate conditions of material and cultural deprivation and create wealth and beauty. In our talk of poverty, which is mainly a top-down discourse, we never realise the inherent and manifest creativity of our brothers and sisters in conditions of material and cultural deprivation.

In order to transform conditions of depriva-tion, we need to transform the existing discourse of poverty and poverty alleviation and realise the work of creativity. In formulating anti-poverty programmes, it is the creativity of people—their art, music, craft and skills of production and reproduction—which should be at the centre of our vision and practice. But this is conspicuous by its absence.

Currently micro-finance and self-help groups are considered panaceas of development but the very language and practice of self-groups are limiting. Instead of self-help groups we need to nurture mutual help groups. In group meetings of SHGs, participants are only talking of money, borrowing and lending. No SHG does have either a study circle or a library and I do not know whether the much talked about Grameen Bank in Bangladesh has libraries and study circles among its group members. In no SHG meeting does one find the reading of the consciousness-raising works of such moving thinkers as Paulo Friere and Chitta Ranjan Das.4  It is no wonder then that without education and works in critical consciousness, self-help groups have become servile to money-making machines and recently some borrowers have also committed suicide.

This calls for not only the transformation of discourse but also the transformation of con-sciousness. Realising the creativity in our lives, we also need to practice voluntary poverty and learn to live with less. This is different from structurally imposed conditions of deprivation which belittle our beings and obstruct the realisation of our potential. This also calls for a new ethics and aesthetics of sharing, beginning with the sharing of food and knowledge. In this creative individuals and groups in the middle classes have to play an important role mobilising themselves into what my friend, Korean sociologist Sang-Jin Han (2009), calls “middling grassroots”.

Beyond Inclusive Development: Land, Dignity and Realisation of a New Life

LAND is critical to transformative inclusion and we need to know the histories and contemporary dynamics of struggle for land while talking about inclusive development. In Odisha in the early 1950s, Biswanatha Patnaik led a land satyagraha among the tribals of Koraput. (See Das 2009) The  Ekta Parishad, nurtured by P.V. Rajagopal and many Gandhians and sympathetic supporters from India and around the world which organised a month-long foot march from Gwalior to Delhi in October 2007, is continuing the tradition of land satyagraha and is demanding the grant of some minimum amount of land to all the landless people of India. People are also fighting for land in many ways. Naxalites and Maoists are also fighting for it. During my fieldwork with the socio-spiritual movement of Swadhyaya in Veraval, Gujarat, I found in several villages Dalits occupying the village gochara (grazing) land and cultivating there though in many cases they were subjected to brutal attack (cf. Giri 2008). In Brazil, the MST (movement of landless people) is also fighting for land and has built communities in occupied lands.

The Challenge of Creativity

IN Odisha, India and the world, not only is there lack of recognition of creativity in conditions of deprivation there is also the entrenched condition of poverty of creativity. Here we do not have social spaces, institutional resources and self-resources for cultivation of creativity. Creativity is the worst casualty everywhere starting from family life to school to organisations of politics and economy.

We need not only creativity among the materially and culturally deprived, we also need creativity among those who have money, power and the decision-making authority for transfor-ming the contemporary condition of deprivation and social suffering. But this is not sufficiently recognised even by the leading proponents of human development. A case in point is the work of Amartya Sen. (1999) Sen talks about the need for enhancing “functioning” and “capabilities” of individuals but does not link these to the vision, practice and cultivation of creativity. Though there is a suggestion towards this in Sen’s collaborator, Martha Nussbaum, but one does not find reference to this in Nussbaum’s ten-point agenda of global capability (cf. Giri 2001; Nussbaum 2006). Simultaneously cultivation of capability and creativity and realisation of capability through creativity is an urgent task and it needs the creation of appropriate institutional, mobilisational and self-awakening conditions.

Transformative Inclusion and Development as Transformation

INCLUSION is not possible without transformation and we need to cultivate the visions and practices of transformative inclusion. We also need to cultivate development as many-sided practices of structural, discursive and transformation of consciousness.

We have earlier talked about structural transformation vis-à-vis transformation of land relations and discursive transformation in terms of transformation of discourses of development and poverty. Let us understand the challenge of transformation of consciousness with a concrete issue such as the provisioning of bread for our body and soul. Muhammed Iqbal had written on May 28, 1937 to Muhammed Ali Jinnah, both then animated by the dream of Pakistan, a separate homeland for the Muslims of India: “The problem of bread is becoming more and more acute.” (Quoted in Jalal 2008: 467) But bread is still an acute problem in his dreamland of Pakistan as it is in Hindustan and around the world. But is bread made only of wheat? Bread is also made of millets, and tribals and many other people around the world cultivate millets and eat varieties of millet breads. But millets are not available in the public distribution system of India.

The politics of agricultural subsidy in India has made huge resources available for rice and wheat but not for millet which grows in dryland and does not need that much of water. In the context of climate change, especially in Odisha (which is predicted to be worst hit), we need to create support processes for the cultivation of millet. This calls for the transformation of the food policy as well as consciousness.

All these bring us to a companion challenge of fate and destiny. While the discourse of poverty and underdevelopment has been presented as a fate to us, we need to understand the distinction between fate and destiny and need to be part of the transformative efforts to create a new shared destiny for us. It is in this context that Chittaranjan Das’ distinction between bhagyabanta (those who consider themselves blessed with luck) and bhagyabadi (fatalist) is helpful. For Das, only a small minority of people in Odisha consider themselves blessed with the luck of education, knowledge and power that they have and are ruling over the many who do not have these making them feel that is it their fate that they do not have these enabling and enriching conditions of life.

Development as transformation challenges us to interrogate the fatalism of both traditional feudalism and modern developmentalism and in doing this we can draw inspiration from both Sri Aurobindo and Muhammed Iqbal. As Sri Auronbindo sings in his epic Savitree,

A lonely freedom cannot satisfy
A heart that has grown together
With every other heart
I am a deputy of an aspiring world
My spirit’s liberty
I ask for all.
And as Muhammed Iqbal challenges us,
Khudi Ko kar Buland Itna
       Ke Har Taqdir se Pehle
Khuda Khud Bande se Pooche
Bata Teri Raza Kya Hai7

[A free rendering of the above lines would mean: Man should strive in such a way that God would ask before deciding: Oh Man! Tell me what do you want.5]

In striving for creativity and transforming fate to shared destiny in whatever ways we can in our various fields of action and imaginations, we would help each other to go beyond the chains of illusions of our times such as inclusive development.

[This is based on my presentation in Professor Sakti Padhi Memorial National Seminar on “Issues of Inclusive Development in Contemporary India”, NKC Centre for Development Studies, Bhubaneswar, April 29-30, 2011. I thank Mr Anirudha Rout, Director of the Centre and Dr Rajakishore Meher for their kind invitation and my classmate and NKC faculty Dr Rashmi Mishra and other                        colleagues for their warm hospitality.]


Das, Chitta Ranjan, 2002 [1960], Jeevana Vidyalaya [The School of Life]. Bhubaneswar: Sikshasandhan.

2004, Brahma Tatilani Para [The Brahma has got heated up], Bhubaneswar: Agragamee.

2009, Jangala Bhitaru Rasta [Roads from the Forest], Bhubaneswar: Sikshasandhana.

Giri, Ananta Kumar, 2008, Self-Development and Social Transformations? The Vision and Practice of the Self-Study Mobilisation of Swadhyaya, Jaipur: Rawat Publications.

2011, “Global Justice and the Calling of Peace”, in idem, Sociology and Beyond: Windows and Horizons, Jaipur: Rawat Publications.

Habermas, Jurgen, 1998, Inclusion of the Other: Studies in Political Theory. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Han, Sang-Jin. 2009, “Social Transformation in Contemporary Korea: Three Prime Movers in a Contested Civil Society” in The Modern Prince and the Modern Sage: Transforming Power and Freedom (ed.), Ananta Kumar Giri, Delhi: Sage pp. 222-248.

Jalal, Ayesha. 2008, “Freedom and Equality: From Iqbal’s Philosophy to Sen’s Ethical Concerns” in Arguments for a Better World: Essays in Honor of Amartya Sen (eds.), Kaushik Basu and Ravi Kanbur, Delhi: Oxford, University Press, pp. 452-469.

Nussbaum, Martha, 2006. Frontiers of Justice, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Sen, Amartya, 2009, The Idea of Justice. Cambridge: Polity Press. 1999, Development as Freedom, Delhi: Oxford University Press.

Senapati, Fakir Mohan, 2005 [1902], Chha Mana Atha Guntha [Six Acres and a Third], Delhi: Penguin.

Yunus, Muhammed, with K. Weber, 2010, Building Social Business: The New Kind of Capitalism That Serves Humanity’s Most Pressing Need.


1. In this novel which is the first modern novel in India, Fakir Mohan is describing how the village landlord Ramachandra Mangaraj is taking away the land of the weaver-couple Saria and Bhagia.

2. Fakir Mohan describes this tragic story with humour and compassion in his short story Daka Munshi. (See Senapati 2008)

3. This builds on the ongoing doctoral research of my student Rajakishore Mahana on this issue.

4. Paulo Friere’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed has been read in many circles as a means of critical consciousness-raising and his method of critical pedagogy has been applied in many circles around the world. Similarly, in Odisha Chitta Ranjan Das challenged the existing condition of exploitation, helplessness through many of his challenging writings such as Jeevana Vidyalaya (Das 2002), Brahma Tatilani Para (Das 2004) and Jangalu Bhitaur Rasta (Das 2009) which can be read in group meetings of SHGs.

5. I thank my dear friend and an inspiring Sufi, Salman Chisty, for so kindly helping me with these lines of Iqbal and sending them from his road with Blackberry.

Ananta Kumar Giri, Ph.D, is on the faculty of the Madras Institute of Development Studies, Chennai.