chapter
14 Pages

Introduction

I began writing this book in the autumn of 2001, when I was living at the International House in Berkeley. I used to sit in the I-House café every evening and watch, and sometimes play chess with a group of wonderful people of diff erent ages, who became my great friends. Usually, aft er the chess game, we would indulge in discussions on worldly matters, ranging from antioxidants in foods to xenophobia in Western cultures. One of these friends, Bob, a doctorate in economics, was a great conversationist. One day, when I was rallying against the unsustainability of industrial development that is unmindful of the environmental resources, Bob was astonished. Aft er a brief exchange of arguments, he gave me this punch: ‘So you want that people of your own country should not own cars and live in modern houses that provide all comforts? You don’t want children of your country to study in schools with computers? You don’t want your countrymen to be affl uent? You want the Indian peasants to remain bound to their farms, submerged in poverty and deprived of life’s opportunities, huh?’ I had little idea then that exactly the same questions would be reiterated by the ministers of the communist party-led Government of West Bengal to legitimize forcible eviction of farmers from their lands in Nandigram for promoting petro-industry. I tried in vain to convince Bob that my idea of development was based on the urgent need for improvement of environmental, social and material well-being of all the people of all countries. I failed to make him see that I did not want a fraction of the population to wallow in islands of affl uence, while the rest lived in poverty; that I did not want any people to be deprived of the joy of life, which was actually robbed by development as measured by GNP; and that I did

not want the privilege of a few people to ride air-conditioned cars and live in palaces to preclude other people’s right to inherit a world rich in biological and cultural diversity, eat healthy square meals, breathe unpolluted air, enjoy the fruits of their own labour. Bob remained unconvinced and unhappy. It was not a point of winning an argument, it was a matter of communicating, sharing a viewpoint. Bob left me wondering how diffi cult it must be to talk about the negative connotations of development to people not so intelligent or amiable as he. Indeed, it’s even risky in the globalizing South – in West Bengal, for instance – where the traditional Left is promoting big industry as the revolutionary path toward progress. Where anyone questioning the legitimacy of development, or anyone opposing farmers’ eviction from their land is branded a ‘terrorist,’ and is likely to invite vengeance from the state.