These are excerpts form three articles on (new) Social Movements.


The New People's Movements in India by Sanjay Sangvai


The movements have reiterated that development must also envisage equality, the exercise of democratic rights and ecological sanity.
The movements aim at the basic restructuring of the production and distribution system, and to revise paradigms of technology, science, modernity and development. Without changing these structures the outcome of the development process cannot be transformed. These movements have brought out the integrated nature of the various aspects of development.
The environmentalism in India reflected through people's movements is undoubtedly concerned with the continuous degradation of resources and the need to protect them; but has insisted on the right of the communities over natural resources and their equitable distribution and sustainable use.
Along with class and caste based equality of rights and dignity, the new movements have added distributive justice like right over resources- land, forest and water bodies- as a major criterion for equality.
The crux of equality lies in the top-down and hegemonic power relations and decision-making processes. Through decentalisation, the new groups have been trying to promote bottom-up decision making and empowerment at the local or basti levels.
Thousands of affordable and sustainable alternatives based on people's knowledge, initiative and participation are being developed in many parts of country- regarding water harvesting, irrigation, seeds, food and food making, alternative health-systems, alternative education (nai talim), employment generation, alternative industries like the Tiny Tech industries of Rajkot, alternative marketing like Apna Bazaar in Mumbai, and alternative lifestyle, etc.
The movements in 1980s avoided both the extremes of either debunking the political parties or making them sole repositories of political action, and tried to interact them, producing them on the pressing issues of people's struggles, to use their role in the parliament or state legislative assemblies, Many of them presented their issues on the party platform also sought support for their cause.
Whenever and wherever the movements find it necessary and helpful for their purpose, they have participated in electoral politics at various levels and in different ways. The NBA has been holding the 'lok-manch' in every election, where people confront all the candidates and it has also contested the panchayat elections in one state. The MKSS has been campaigning for clean elections and took up collection of electoral rolls along with supporting candidates at the panchayat level. The CMM has been influencing elections and Niyogi and Janaklal Thakur contested elections at different times. Tribal activists, Kaluram Dodhade and Vaharu Sonawane also contested elections. However, unlike the parties, election has never been their sole purpose or motivation for political action.

There have been other national forums based upon the issues of forest-dwellers, right to food, right to information, construction labour, fishworkers, the mine-affected, etc. There is a need to unite all these forums for a concerted political action. There have been attempts by people's movements to influence and intervene in party and electoral politics.


New Social Movements by Nivedita Menon


Post-JP Movement:

A new kind of social and political action emerged in the 1980s, that we might call citizens initiatives. These non-funded and non-party forums came into being out of a sense of the inefficacy of mainstream political parties and their lack of concern regarding vital issues of democracy, freedom and civil rights.

Citizens initiatives have been more involved in a watchdog kind of activity and are not generally characterized by mass support. While some are small, self-sufficient groups of long standing, others are broad coalitions formed around specific issues, that bring together parties and trade unions of the far left, Gandhian, Dalit and feminist groups, some of which may be funded NGOs, as well as non-affiliated individuals.

Since the late 1980s, non-party movements and citizens initiatives have grown and functioned in a complicated relationship with NGOs. The apprehension of being driven by funder agendas, becoming depoliticized and being co-opted by funding has kept most movements and citizens initiatives consciously non-funded. At the same time many NGOs often provide movements with vital support in terms of infrastructure, campaigns and educational materials. Thus, while the peoples movements fight their battles in faraway rural or forest areas, with little access to the media, it is these NGOs that set up and house the various metropolitan support groups whose task it is to approach friendly and influential people in the media, bureaucracy and academia to advocate the cause of the movement concerned. Such NGOs have often also provided critical research inputs on technical details, environmental impact and other information required to conduct a credible campaign. A striking example of such a symbiosis is the Narmada Bachao Andolan.

Women's Movement

Coming now to the women's movement, it has functioned more or less in the form of citizens initiatives of the kind I have described, with occasional mass mobilization by political parties. In the 1980s, the autonomous women's movement emerged from the patriarchy and control of left-wing political parties. The first national-level autonomous women's conferences were thus attended by non-funded, non-party, self-defined feminist groups. Over the 1990s, very few of these survived as non-funded organizations, and the seventh conference in 2006, held in Kolkata, referred to above, was almost entirely attended by funded NGOs. It is also important to note that many non governmental organizations receive funding from the government for specific projects. Thus, the only groups that were finally excluded were non-funded left wing and radical women's organizations, which seemed to many feminists to be a strange paradox. Increasingly however, in the last few years, coalitions around issues such as sexual violence and the rights of LGBT people, include political parties of the Left. Feminists also perceive the close link between movements around livelihood and ecological sustainability, and the women's movement – Nalini Nayak, who works with fisher- peoples movements on these issues, terms ecological movements the resource base of our feminism.

On the 'Left'

It is the logic of the development of a mass movement in all its messiness that we should seek to understand, rather than look for that pure, 22-carat revolution where everything will proceed according to the programme laid down by the Left elite. From this perspective, nothing less than our maximum agenda is acceptable  from SEZs to farmers suicides, from AFSPA in the Northeast to the murder of democracy in Kashmir. If you will not accept even one of these points, youre out – we will have nothing to do with you. It is not they who say if you are not with us you are against us, this arrogant divisive slogan has always been ours, on the Left.


Tahrir not twitterati: the future of middle-class movements in India, Siddharthya Swapan Roy


But then again to win the trust of the larger masses it must be willing to take note of the distresses which the new order has brought upon them: like the unbridled rise of corporates, their crass profiteering and the resulting loot of public resources; the unrelenting commodification of human beings and natural resources; the rapidly widening chasm between the rich and the poor; imperialism and its wars; the havoc which speculative markets wreak on food, fuel and other essential goods and services; and a myriad other issues that have cropped up in the post liberalisation era. Unless cognisance is taken of the truth that we live in a system that incentivises corruption and cronyism the dream of corruption free-India is foredoomed. The willingness to see the larger picture and bravely accept and contest the systemic issues of modern capitalism is inescapable.

Besides, a real movement must necessarily espouse real causes, giving up the luxury of being merely emotive and skimming the surface. It is not enough to vaguely posture against some faceless villain called ‘the corrupt politician’. If, for example, kickbacks taken by politicians when placing orders to private corporations irk the middle class, then they must be willing to ask if the role of private corporations in public matters needs to be reassessed. If profiteering by those in power is deemed unacceptable then there is a need to ask if a social order based solely on the pursuit of profits is sustainable? If the amassing of money by politicians in personal accounts is unacceptable, then it must be willing to take on a system that celebrates money at any cost and treats the fatness of a bank account as the sole yardstick of success.

The young members of the movement must steel themselves into becoming a worthy force in real politics because once in the electoral arena, tags like apolitical, neutral, young, even if genuine, are of little use. Without a concrete agenda which is sincere to its slogans and the will to follow through with it, the use of new technology will not maintain the ‘edge of the young’. Yes every new technology from emails to social networking must be used to the hilt. But the technologies by themselves are no guarantee of success. If one group can blog or tweet so can the other. The only thing that could set them apart is the message they convey. The young urban Indians who wield these technologies will have to decide what they choose to do with it. They must decide whether to go the glossy Twitterati way or take the road to Tahrir.


The second and the third article above have a case study/example of practicing social action.
This Pink Chaddi Campaign: In 2009, men of a hitherto little known Hindu right-wing organization called Sri Ram Sene, physically attacked young women in pubs in the city of Mangalore. These attacks, supposedly an attempt to protect Indian culture from defilement by western values, were met with protests and solidarity campaigns all over the country, but the most imaginative one came to be called the Pink Chaddi campaign. A cheeky Facebook group was launched by Delhi journalist Nisha Susan, with the name of Consortium of Pubgoing, Loose and Forward Women, which called upon women to send pink chaddis (underwear) to the leader of the Ram Sene, Pramod Muthalik, as a gift on Valentines Day, in a non-violent gesture of ridicule and protest. Over 2000 chaddis were in fact delivered to the Ram Sene office, and the organization was a butt of ridicule all over the world. It is striking that the campaign used the word chaddi rather than panty, simultaneously desexualizing the piece of clothing, ungendering it (chaddi refers to underwear in general, not just to womens panties), and playing on the pejorative slang for Hindu right-wingers, after the uniform of their parent organization, the RSS, whose members wear khaki shorts. At one level an undoubtedly successful campaign, it faced criticism from conservative opinion for obvious reasons, and also from the left of the political spectrum.
Talk Must Lead to Action: But the movement which stands against this corruption and insularity must necessarily get down on to the ground and dirty itself in the process of cleaning. The idea is to be the alternative and not merely pose the alternative. Recent local self-government elections in Maharashtra’s cities, especially Pune which was one of the nerve centres of the anti-corruption movement, throw up a telling irony. Despite ‘huge’ support for the cause of anti-corruption and spontaneous response to calls for rallies, the voter turn-out was dismal and half the city didn’t bother voting. This clearly indicates the political lethargy and superficiality of the movement in its present form. The movement must be willing to step out of the comfortable environs of media debates and TV studios and enter the arena of ground level politics. If it has to actually challenge the powers that be, the movement must move to real grassroots work and not canvass on astroturf!
The New People's Movements in India by Sanjay Sangvai published in EPW, Dec 15, 2007.
New Social Movemnts by Nivedita Menon published in Idnia Resists.
The Future of middle-class movements in India by Siddharthya Roy published in Open Democracy, March 14, 2012.