‘How can a country which talks so much about freedom lock up a larger proportion of its people than any other in the world? On all the social indices, the US pays a heavy social price for its supremacy. How can a society so wracked by violence claim to bring peace to the world? They also need to be liberated.’ For Bharat Dogra, an Indian writer, journalist and activist with deep links to many of the sub-continent’s most inspiring social movements, it seems inevitable that a country like the US, tormented by violence within, will express aggression in the wider world.
Bharat Dogra is one of those rare individuals who has retained his independence in the presence of corporate global media, refusing to compromise with the orthodoxies of the moment or changes in the ideological climate. He has helped keep alive a tradition that has often seemed in danger of being overwhelmed – a Gandhian non-violent, secular commitment to social justice and equitable development.
‘Since 1990, after the end of the Soviet Union and the beginning of “liberalization” in India, the English-language publications became, not more open, but narrower in their ideological scope. Many years ago I made up my mind that I would also publish books and pamphlets privately, so I was subject neither to censorship nor to self-censoring. It was difficult at times, but we have been sustained by the support of countless peoples’ movements and grassroots organizations – nomads, hill-people, adivasis, dalits, minorities, women’s groups, subsistence farmers, anti-communalists all over India. It was not easy to distribute my writings in the early years but, over time, we have become part of a rich network of resistance, in India and beyond. And there is much to resist – the biopiracy of multinationals, the cultural onslaught of Western junk culture, consumerism, as well as the polarization of communalism.
‘The great majority of people in India want only security and sufficiency – the certainty that their basic needs will be answered. They don’t want “development” as it is being imposed by the development industry. The middle class, which depends on the Western model, claims to speak for India. But they don’t speak for the poor, who remain the majority, no matter how big a market for imported goods the West may see in the middle class. Traditional and sustainable ways of life, simplicity and plain living, modest pleasures and joy in what is freely available, reclaiming our heritage of the natural world, the forests and rivers – this is the core of our thinking. The title of one of my books is There is Another Path. It doesn’t have to be invented by think-tanks and experts – it exists in the daily lives of hundreds of millions of people in this country; and it is for this some of us have been creating alternative channels so that their voice may also be heard.’
Bharat Dogra has published hundreds of pamphlets and books. He has never taken foreign funding, nor dealt with mainstream publishing houses. A glance at the subject-matter gives an idea of the range of his interests: released bonded labourers; linking the environment to people’s livelihoods; the Red-Green movement in Chattisgarh; children and TV violence; coastal Orissa after the cyclone.
‘Everything is connected. You have to see the relationship between the local and the global and be able to interpret how decisions taken in Washington or Tokyo impact upon the lives of villagers in Uttarkhand or Karnataka. For 25 years I have enriched my understanding but have not changed my commitment or my ideals.’
What makes him a truly radical figure is his belief that social justice is inseparable from environmental integrity. This immediately set him at odds with the growth-as-an-answer-to-poverty paradigm. ‘The view that only a vast increase in the wealth of the world can help the poor is ruinous, both to the poor and to the resource-base of the earth that must sustain future generations indefinitely.’
The global-justice movement is a vindication of Bharat Dogra’s long years of tenacity and persistence. He remains optimistic and hopeful; his greatest pleasure is to go with his wife and daughter to Rishikesh, where the Ganges brings its clear waters between white sandbanks down to the plains.
He has always stayed close to the poor and marginalized, who speak for themselves through his writing. For many years he has published News from Fields and Slums, which began as a cyclostyled monthly magazine. Even now, he is still up in the early morning, marking all the significant articles in the Hindi and English-language press.
Bharat Dogra’s independence, his adherence to what may at times have appeared an old-fashioned, high-minded morality, has gained him a wide readership in India. As such, he also offers a rich source of instruction to people in the ‘developed’ world. If he has laboured for so long with minimal resources this is because, as he says, ‘our greatest resources lie within’.