South Asian Dialogues On Ecological Democracy
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What is SADED?

South Asian Dialogues on Ecological Democracy (SADED) was born in 2002, out of work undertaken cooperatively by Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), and Lokayan in India; Kepa and Siemenpuu Foundation in Finland. However, the practical work of SADED is the outcome of an even wider collaborative and creative involvement by many individuals and organisations forming a network or web of efforts, which does not have one epicenter.

SADED encompasses democratic control of natural resources and looks upon it as integral to the expansion and deepening of democracy and to the survival of humankind. In this respect the Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development (2002), disappointed all those who had any sensibility towards issues of ecological sustainability and equitable development of the humankind as a whole. Modern science, social and economic processes and policies tend to fragment life, issues and people's ways of looking at them.

Democracy today has come to mean merely representing political structures. Despite this dominant thrust of institutionalisation over the past 200-500 years, which has culminated in the present processes of monopolistic, hegemonic, and humanly disempowering globalization, there is another perspective on democracy which is still widely espoused, intellectually and intuitively. It is an idea about relationships based on equality, mutuality and respect for individual interaction – between family members, between communities, between human beings and the rest of nature, between genders, interaction in the market and the nation-state, and between peoples across nations.

No one organisation can aspire to fulfill the need for all the various types of interventions required to realise democratic values in all walks of life. What is needed is not a structure for unifying or homogenising the diverse, but rather a way for us to relate to each other, an attempt to 'own' each other and nurture each other's democratic interventions despite differences. A space is required for enabling ideas or concerns about democracy and a platform for diverse interventions; a forum where people from diverse backgrounds can come and share their work and create new coalitions, without necessarily merging their respective institutional/organisational identities. SADED looks into the challenges for all of us, i.e., to build politics around this perspective, and to channel all institutions towards ever expanding and deepening democratisation.

The concept of ‘Ecological Democracy’ (ED) is central to the work undertaken in the SADED framework. All the dimensions of life, also of democracy within them, are inter-linked and so focusing on any one leads to the others. Since the ecological crisis is a special one for our times, and yet is inadequately recognised, SADED envisages strengthening the idea of comprehensive democracy through 'Ecological Democracy'. The notion of ‘Ecological Democracy’ incorporates a democratic relationship between human beings and nature, as well as an equitable distribution of nature's resources among human beings within a nation and between nations. We interchangeably use 'Ecological Swaraaj' with ED, but actually view it as a deeper concept that incorporates a belief in the oceanic concentric circles of life symbolising just, symbiotic and sustainable relationships in all dimensions of life  that are ever widening, encompassing the entire world as a family.

SADED's Mission

To identify ways of articulation of ecological democracy in a manner that it can capture the imagination as a desirable worldview of all sections in India, South Asia and globally in the present times. This is possible only when there is comprehensive understanding of democracy, i.e., democracy expressed in all dimensions of life.

The Perspective

There has to be a theoretical articulation of the linkages of ecological issues with all other dimensions of life within a framework of ‘democracy’.
Simultaneously, it has to be in a way that it conveys the idea to as many sections of society as possible, and can influence their day-to-day actions. Thirdly, the articulation could be politically meaningful when people who understand, and have been involved in mainstream politics, were part of the deliberations on these issues. Fourthly, the ideas have to be articulated and based upon the concrete reality of people's lives in diverse settings. Fifthly, the idea will have to find articulation in diverse forms if they are to be communicated to all – from theoretical and ideological writings and discussions, to concrete manifestation of these ideas in action however fragile – in economic activities, social relationships, organizational structures and processes, cultural forms that convey shared meanings, and in political campaigns.

SADED’s Goal

The goal of SADED is that it prepares strategies and thematic, theoretical, administrative and practical models on ecological democracy approach for the following purposes:

  • To bring to the public debate the need for ecological democracy approach in diverse fields of life as an essential part of the comprehensive democracy of life.

  • To show how ecological concerns and other dimensions of democratic urges empower each other in general and in a broad variety of crucial issues.

  • To engage with local communities'/citizens movements' initiatives, media & grassroots views on ecological democracy to bring them and their issues for local-to-global dialogues through platforms such as provided by the Indian Social Forum, Asian Social Forum, Euro-Asian forums, Afro-Asian dialogues, and the World Social Forum.

SADED's Objectives

  • To explore the possibility of articulating the idea of ecological democracy by various modes, understand the strengths and limitations of each one; learn about threats and barriers to successful communication through each and draw lessons for future engagement.

  • To deepen the understanding of ecological democracy and its practice through concrete issues in real life situations.

  • To strengthen/generate resources (knowledge, committed persons, literature, cultural activities, networks, etc.) that can continue the efforts towards ecological democracy.

The SADED Methodology

SADED is not a formal entity, neither a closed circle. SADED is a knowledge network on ecological Swaraaj and sustainability - formed by several activists, organisations and people’s movements and is constantly open for engagement with new initiatives and partners. The support reaches a variety of actors and organisations through the SADED network.

SADED, in its nomenclature itself conveys an open-endedness because the whole intellectual political project of moving towards ecological democracy hinges on the dialogic method. The rationale of this form of intervention will be clearer if we understand the basics of the context in which SADED is operating.

The reality of South Asia is not only complex, varied and multi-layered but is also fast changing. Different actors at various levels are using the same terms with different meanings. Even within South Asia, for example socialism in India has a far deeper impact and incorporation of the non-Marxist ideas of people like Gandhi and Ambedkar. In other parts of the world, Gandhi will not be considered as integral to socialist ideology. Paradoxically, in India, activists inspired by the two extremes of Gandhi & Mao end up struggling on the same issues of natural resource and justice together. Synergies and alliances are created out of local situations, contingencies of oppression and struggle on the ground, rather than based on ideological conditioning of liberalism, Marxism, Gandhian and Ambedkarite ideas. 

SADED has realised that if the interventionist enterprise for justice and sustainability issues confines itself to the normal ideological divides, it may not be easy to explore sustainability perspectives. To make any substantive contribution for the emergence of ecological democratic views, it is important that various dimensions of ecology and democracy are understood in a participatory mode.

SADED’s understanding is that a widely shared meaning of ecological issues is a pre-requisite for making an effective response and a meaningful contribution to mitigating the present ecological crisis, which demands immediate and comprehensive responses. With ever-increasing emphasis on growth-based models, ever-increasing wasteful consumption of clean water and its conversion into unclean water, rupture of natural water cycles, oil peak, increasing conflict among various stakeholders on minerals, water, fossil fuel, coal, forests, inland and sea-fisheries, increasing salinity and degradation of soils, industrial and other pollutions in cities of the South, expanding steel-cement and electricity based “modernisation” and urbanisation are various factors and elements of the ecological scenario today in the Global South, including South Asia.

The tragedy is that across South Asia there is a lack of political response to this crisis. Individuals or sub-streams raising these issues in an integrated fashion are few and marginal to the provincial and national polity.

To evolve an integrated ecological-political response to the pervasive ecological crisis, a low-key effort is needed to expiate the links between various single-issue movements. This would require, in the first place, recognising and owning the political and conceptual worth of these diverse social movements.

Then while recognising the differences in emphasis and detail, there is a need to engage with their underlying approach to fundamentals, and thereby emphasise their complementarities to expand areas of convergence and organisational vision. Thereby, these civil society efforts can offer a coherent alternative view of development which is feasible, ecologically sound and sustainable.

Although many groups, both NGOs and social movements are raising these issues, most of them are working on specified single issues and outcomes. Whereas, since ecological crisis is multi-dimensional, it requires not a piece-meal issue based solution but a widely shared view on what constitutes the ecological crisis and how different stakeholders should relate to each other in a manner that an alternative view on development model becomes an obvious choice.

Thematic Areas

Over the years, SADED has identified thematic areas as the focus of its work, themes dealing with the interface of ecology with social, economic and political democracy – from local-to-global levels.

  • Sustainable Agriculture; Kisan Swaraj Abhiyan (Farmer's Swaraj Campaign)

  • Water-Rivers-Flood Management

  • Ecology, Dignity and the Marginalised Majorities

  • Koi Bhookha Na Soye Samvad (Let No One Sleep Hungry)

  • Himalaya Swaraj Abhiyan (Save the Himalaya Camapign)

  • Adivasi Survival Globally

  • Inter-Continental Dialogue

SADED Principles and Processes

Related to these various themes, SADED undertakes Dialogue in several modes - through multifarious conversations across diverse sections; through formal meetings, workshops and seminars at local, national and international levels; as well as Jeevanshalas (schools) and remedial classes for children and adolescents, padyatras and field research also providing channels for dialogue.
These various modes of communication are viewed as inputs into processes that strengthen the 'flow of meaning' across various social segments and contexts, such as by: Engaging in campaigns of the deprived to understand the meaning of ecological democracy in specific contexts; Generating dialogue to evolve the idea of ecological democracy and how it can be strengthened in realistic terms; Identifying and strengthening ecological lifestyles and worldviews by engaging with groups such as the Adivasis.
In all of these, some principles commonly followed have been:

  • Voluntary participation was encouraged and garnered as a resource for ecological democracy.

  • Those with more ecological worldviews (often also from less developed regions and deprived sections) were encouraged to participate, given greater exposure than their level of skills and resources would normally allow, and nurture them into leadership roles.

  • Linking the theoretical and ground level issues and debates.

  • Engaging in collaboration activities, supporting or enhancing impact of ongoing activities and harnessing existing energies and resources for ecological democracy work.

  • Developing and strengthening networks without building the identity of SADED.

  • Promoting the ideas and issues of ecological democracy was primary; not organisational branding and credit-seeking.

Thus, besides organising and participating in dialogues to promote and deepen the concept of Ecological Swaraaj, the formal activities SADED engages in to promote ecological democracy include:

  • Building networks or participating in existing networks relevant to Ecological Swaraaj;

  • Strengthening this work in neighbouring South Asian countries and in international fora;

  • Disseminating information on Climate Crisis and Ecological Democracy to the general and movement press through Green Features, and

  • Upgrading the SADED Resource Centre as a support for scholars and activists working on subjects related to Ecological Democracy by providing a collection of documents, newspaper clippings and books as well as a work space.





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South Asian Dialogues on Ecological Democracy