[Excerpt from Cyborgs Versus the Earth Goddess: Men’s Domestication of Women and Animals and Female Resistance (forthcoming, 2017) by Moses Seenarine, Ed.D]
The Great Apes
The subduing of mammalian males by females is an extensive and ongoing process in numerous species across the Globe. The first domestication realized among the great apes family in the primate order was the taming of sperm-producers by egg-producers. Even though balance between the sexes fluctuates, females wield great power in sex-selection.
Female reproductive achievement is limited by resource availability and acquisition. In contrast, male reproductive success is limited by access to mates and the number of fertilizations, and may therefore be more variable. Phallic apes have to obtain young-bearers' approval, who may have a preference for younger mates. So power relations among social primates are situational and constantly changing.
Primates are characterized by refined development of the hands and feet, a shortened snout, an ample brain, as well as an increased reliance on stereoscopic vision at the expense of smell, the dominant sensory system in most mammals.1 Many primates have specializations that enable them to exploit particular foods, such as fruit, leaves, gum or insects.2
The great apes or Hominidae are sizable, tailless primates, with the smallest living species being the bonobo at 60 to 90 pounds (30 to 40 kg) in weight, and the largest being the eastern gorillas, with males weighing 300 to 400 pounds (140 to 180 kg). The Hominidae family include seven species in four genera. One genus is Pongo consisting of the Bornean and Sumatran orangutan. Another is Gorilla, with the eastern and western gorilla.
A third genus is Pan comprising of the common chimpanzee and the bonobo. And finally, there is Homo, with human and near-human ancestors and relatives, like the Neanderthals. Fruit is the preferred food among all with the exception of human groups. Human teeth and jaws are markedly smaller for their size than those of other apes, which may be an adaptation to eating cooked food.3
(Image: Orangutan-human comparison)
Similar to the male bias held by mainstream anthropologists, primate researchers are male-centric, and their work has focused on the role of phallic individuals vying for leadership of groups. Often viewed as more passive, egg-producing apes' manipulation of sex selection and other aspects of power are frequently understated and misinterpreted in primate studies.
The great apes have varying degrees of female-centered involvement in their cultures, from solitary orangutan mothers who avoid contact with males to female-led bonobo clans of over 100 individuals. Resident orangutan females live in defined home ranges that overlap with those of other adult egg-producers, who may be their immediate relatives. Females tend to settle in home ranges that overlap with their mothers,4 and so live mostly within a gynocentric grouping.
The notion of phallic-dominated gorillas with a lone silverback defending a group of egg-producers is problematic since this leads to increased sexual insecurity for sperm-producers. There are several advantages for silverbacks to follow the wishes of female gorillas, for example, food and reproductive security.
(Image: Bonobos are very social apes - W H Calvin)
The most successful first-domestication among the great apes was that of bobono sperm-producers by egg-producers. This taming can probably be traced to the split between the two Pans, around one million BP. In contrast to chimpanzees, bonobos are relatively egalitarian and nonviolent. They are not phallic-dominated but instead display a mix of gynocentrism and sexually receptive behavior.
Sharing 98.5 percent of the same DNA as humans, it is not surprising that bonobos possess very human-like qualities. They embody a profound intelligence and emotional capacity. Bonobos have picked up on many facets of human culture through simple observation, and have learned how to communicate in human languages, use tools, and play music.5
Egg-producing bonobos frequently form coalitions even though they are generally with non-relatives. All-female coalitions of two or more individuals form spontaneously to attack males, usually after sperm-producers behaved aggressively towards one or more bonobo female.
Bonding enables bonobo females to dominate most of the males. Although male bonobos are individually stronger, they cannot stand alone against a united group of egg-producers. One researcher concludes, “coalitions in female bonobos might have evolved as a counter strategy against male harassment.”6
Interestingly, bonobos have highly individualized facial features, as humans do. So like us, one individual may look significantly different from another bonobo. This adaption facilitated visual facial recognition in social interaction.
Bonobos can live in close-knit social groups of a hundred individuals or more. During the day, the group break into smaller groups to forage in different areas, but the whole clan sleeps together at night. The ancestors of humans might have adopted the same foraging and sleeping behavior. And they may have occupied temporary retreats, or settlements, for extensive periods of time. So human settlements, or what is commonly considered as 'domestication,' is much older than 12,000 years.
Between bonobo groups, social mingling may occur, in which members of different communities have sex and groom each other. This behavior is unheard of among common chimpanzees. While social hierarchies do exist, rank plays a less prominent role than in other primate societies. Primatologist Frans de Waal thinks that bonobos are capable of altruism, compassion, empathy, kindness, patience, and sensitivity. He describes "bonobo society" as a "gynecocracy."7
Females have a higher social status in bonobo society than the other great apes. Aggressive encounters between females and male bonobos are rare, and sperm-producers are tolerant of infants and juveniles. Bonobos carry and nurse their young for four years and give birth every 4.6 years. Akin to the other great apes, bonobo mothers assume the entirety of parental care.
(Image: A bonobo mother and infant at Lola Ya Bonobo sanctuary in Kinshasa, DRC. - Christina Bergey)
A male bonobo derives status from the social position of his mother, similar to chimpanzees, and hanging out with mom can boost a sperm-producer's chances of getting intimate with a fertile female.8 The mother–son bond often stays strong and continues throughout life.9
Compared to chimps, bonobos show more sexual behavior in a greater variety of relationships. Bonobos frequently have sex, sometimes to help prevent and resolve conflicts. Bonobos are the only non-human animal to have been observed engaging in tongue kissing, and oral sex. Bonobos and humans are the only primates that engage in face-to-face genital sex.10
Bonobos do not form permanent monogamous sexual relationships with individual partners. They also do not discriminate in their sexual behavior by sex or age either. When bonobos come upon a new food source or feeding ground, the increased excitement will usually lead to communal sexual activity, presumably decreasing tension and encouraging peaceful feeding.11
Female bonobos engage in mutual genital behavior, possibly to bond socially and form a female nucleus of bonobo society. Egg-producers rub their clitorises together rapidly for ten to twenty seconds, and this behavior, "which may be repeated in rapid succession, is usually accompanied by grinding, shrieking, and clitoral engorgement."12 Adolescent females often leave their native community to join another group. Sexual bonding with other egg-producers establishes these new females as members of the group.
Bonobos' diet is for the most part vegetarian and sustainable. Foraging in small groups, bonobos feast primarily on fruit, but they also eat leaves, flowers, bark, stems, roots, insect larvae, worms, crustaceans, honey, eggs, and soil. The female-centered nature of bonobo and other primate societies show that male domination among humans is an anomaly among primates, and that it can be changed.
1Most primates have opposable thumbs and some have prehensile tails. Many species are sexually dimorphic. Primates have slower rates of development than other similarly sized mammals and reach maturity later, but have longer lifespans. Most primates live in tropical or subtropical regions of the Americas, Africa and Asia. They range in size from the mouse lemur, which weighs only 30 g (1 oz), to the eastern gorilla, weighing over 200 kg (440 lb).
2K Strier. 2007. Primate Behavioral Ecology (3rd ed.). Allyn & Bacon.
3Richard Wrangham. 2007. "Chapter 12: The Cooking Enigma". In C Pasternak. What Makes Us Human? Oxford: Oneworld Press
4EA Fox. 2002. "Female tactics to reduce sexual harassment in the Sumatran orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus abelii)". Behav Ecol Sociobiol 52 (2): 93–101.
5To 'ape' someone is to copy them. This points to how similar apes are to humans
6N Tokuyama & T Furuichi. 2016. "Do friends help each other? Patterns of female coalition formation in wild bonobos at Wamba." Animal Behaviour, 119:27–35 Sep
7F de Waal & F Lanting. 1997. Bonobo: The Forgotten Ape. U of California P.
8Martin Surbeck et al. 2010. "Mothers matter! Maternal support, dominance status and mating success in male bonobos (Pan paniscus)." Proceedings of the Royal Society B, Sep 1.
9Orcas, hyneas and other creatures also share strong mother-son bonds.
10Susan Block. 2014. The Bonobo Way: The Evolution of Peace Through Pleasure. Gardner & Daugh
11F de Waal. 1995. "Bonobo Sex and Society." Scientific Am 272 (3): 58–64. Mar
12JP Balcombe. 2011. The Exultant Ark: A Pictorial Tour of Animal Pleasure. UC Press. p. 88
humans lived in ecogynocentric cultures and worshiped Earth Goddesses
(Excerpt from Cyborgs Versus the Earth Goddess: Men's Domestication of Women and Animals and Female Resistance (2017) by Moses Seenarine)
(Female Hand print, Chauvet cave, France c. 32,000 BP)
The Earth and her organisms are wholesome, active entities. Each unique creature has individual and collective interests and relationships. However, acting like aliens, modern men or Cyborgs have reduced and eliminated the subjectivity of Earthlings to establish themselves as the only 'real' subjects in both theory and practice.
The status of being a subject is central to having rights and safeguards under a patriarchal society. Framing unique, individual beings as similar objects is a key strategy of patriarchal reduction and oppression. This article sketches female subjectivity during prehistory and their extraordinary decline in status when men gained control over human organization. It starts with a brief look at how female-centered societies were associated with Goddess ideologies. After this, the decline of the Greek Goddess, Metis, is explained. And the article concludes with an examination of the great fall in female status in the post-Stone Age.
(Woman/Goddess of Willendorf, Germany c. 28,000 BP)
♀ Roles & the Goddess
Female-centered primate cultures existed for millions of years, and females held a high status within the earliest human groups, around two million BP. Also, from the dawn of the species over 200,000 years ago, females have been active participants in shaping culture, behavior, and human destiny.
The notion of a Goddess was central to Stone Age oral traditions, imagery, gynecology, and female-centered thinking. Gynocentric practices revolved around reverence for various Goddesses, and evolved along with our human-like ancestors.
The Goddess perspective was maintained during humans' continuous migration out of Africa to populate the Earth, so it was a Global one. Gynecological sanctions were part of Goddess narratives, and adhering to these environmental laws ensured long periods of sustainability for our species.1
Stone Age humans viewed the Earth as a providential Goddess and a fertile Mother, and females' prominent positions were connected to the bountiful Deity. Under the Goddess worldview, nature and animals were perceived as female – sacred, mighty, and nurturing. Men were active participants in female-led communities, with valuable roles and strong ties to their maternal clans.
As fully realized subjects, females led child-centered groups under the protection of various Earth Goddesses. Then, as now, egg-producing humans were creative, intelligent, reasonable, courageous, and powerful. They were likewise generous, compassionate, moral, socially responsible, and hard-working.
Stone Age females lived in matrilocal kin groups based on maternal residence and group motherhood. Clans were also matrilineal, with inheritance based on maternal lineage.2 The Goddess-centered economy was proportionate and equal, with gift-giving playing a primal role in fostering cooperation and solidarity between female communities.
The tightly-knit, female-centered social organization kept the power of human male animals in balance during the Stone Age. Lack of art and other physical evidence imply there was an absence of conflict, and the numerous successful migrations across the globe suggest vast periods of human cooperation.
In many parts of the World, Goddess worship and females held dominant roles, but over the past centuries, grave robbers pillaged a lot of this evidence. The burial of a 4,500 years old Siberian noblewoman from the ancient Okunev Culture that was found undisturbed provides a glimpse of the history that was wiped out.
The early Bronze Age grave include an incense burner decorated with solar symbols - three sun-shaped facial images which match ancient rock art in Siberia. There were also two jars, cases with bone needles inside, a bronze knife, 1,500 beads that once adorned the woman's costume, and 100 pendants made from animal teeth.3
In the Americas, female authority persisted into the last millennia. For example, the priestesses of Moche were renowned for their monumental architecture and rich visual culture. Regarded as the first state-level civilization in the Americas, the Moche inhabited the north coast of Peru from 2,000 to 1,200 BP.
The Moche flourished before the Incas, but at the same time, the Mayas thrived in Mexico and Central America. The Moche developed the inland desert with a complicated system of irrigation used for agriculture. They built adobe pyramids, and, like other gynocentric cultures, used an Earth Goddess to unify their society.4
The Moche had no written language but left thousands of ceramic vessels with intricate drawings portraying their daily lives and beliefs about the human and supernatural worlds. Moche artists crafted ceramic and metal objects of striking realism and visual sophistication depicting the Goddess and female life cycles.
The eight royal tombs of Moche priestess discovered contained extensive artifacts, and the complexity of the burial reveal the power and influence the women wielded in life. Archaeologists know the eight women were priestesses because of their resemblance to figures depicted in rituals scenes found in Moche art.
The women were priestesses, but they could have likewise been rulers. The political and religious realms were blended in ancient cultures, and rulers were often the priests. For instance, the Señora de Cao, who reined around 1,700 BP, is considered the first female sovereign of pre-Hispanic Peru.5
(A winged goddess depicted under Zeus' throne, possibly Metis c. 2,550 BP)
In Greek, Metis means 'wisdom,' 'skill,' or craft.' In pre-patriarchal Greek religions, Metis was of the older Titan generation and an Oceanid. Metis was born of Oceanus and his sister Tethys. She is of an earlier age than Zeus, the chief male god, and his siblings. This era was the age of the Goddess when male deities were rare or insignificant.
Metis was the Titan Goddess of good advice, planning, and cunning. She was the mother of wisdom and sound thought. After the decline of gynocentrism, Metis was reduced to a counsel and spouse of Zeus, and besides, his cousin.
A prophecy revealed that she was destined to bear a son greater than his father. Zeus became jealous and tricked Metis into turning herself into a fly. Then, he promptly swallowed her. Trapped, Metis spent the rest of her life giving Zeus advice from inside him.
Inside Zeus' belly, Metis conceived a daughter. In time, she began making a helmet and robe for her fetus, and her hammering caused Zeus great pain. Eventually, her daughter, Athena, re-birthed from the god's head fully grown and armed with a war-cry.
In later Greek mythology, after the solidification of patriarchal versions of earlier religions, poets described Athena as a "motherless goddess" and did not mention Metis. Other versions of Athena noted that Zeus, her father, later attempted to rape her. Athena killed him without hesitation and took his name and skin. In many different versions of the story, Athena never has a birth mother. Plato identified Athena with Neith, a much more ancient Triple Goddess from Libya.
Zeus swallowed Metis and made her a part of himself. But that was not enough. By having Athena born only from Zeus, the narrative gave males authority and power over something that had previously only been a female realm, the cycles of reproduction. Moreover, this framing of male-birthing removed all female association with wisdom.
In remembering Metis, this study is reclaiming female prehistory and wisdom as female-centered. It is asserting that gynocentric cultures existed among early humans and lasted throughout the Stone Age. Honoring Metis reminds us that ancient gynecological principles were sustainable and a return to these practices can slow down planetary heating and help to restore harmony on Earth.
(Woman/Goddess of Çatalhöyük c. 8,000 BP)
The Great Fall of ♀
Stone Age gynecological worldviews that honored females and nature through various Earth Goddesses survived well into the so-called 'agrarian' era. But by the Bronze Age, even though some Goddesses remained, sex roles and status were totally reversed. Maleness became prized, at the detriment of other subjects, and females, nature, and the Goddess were collectively debased to mere objects for male use.
Men's opportunity arose with females' continuous innovations in cultivating plants during the Neolithic, or New Stone Age (12,200 to 4,500 BP). Sperm-producing humans embraced, learned, then took over female cultivation technologies, but this was not the end. The stupendous decline in female status and culture, and the attendant rise of patriarchy, are related to animal enslavement that occurred later.
By 9,500 to 9,000 BP, agricultural economies that relied on a mix of domesticated crops and farmed animals were fully crystallized in the Middle East. Soon after, many aspects of daily life in the Fertile Crescent were diffused into the Mediterranean and elsewhere.6 The agrarian transfer package included subsistence agriculture, animal husbandry, social networks, and cyborg belief systems.
By 8,000 BP, male-dominated farming economies led to the rise to powerful cyborg city-states in Eurasia. The sovereignty of female clans honoring Earth Goddesses was comprehensively diminished, and egg-producing humans were prevented from amply expressing themselves in increasingly male-dominated societies. Formerly honored girls were disempowered and objectified into tools by the falsely entitled cyborg herders.
The Bronze-Age started around 5,000 BP, and durable weapons increased male violence across the Globe as embattled men competed to rule over each other. Across Europe, patriarchal ideology continued to replace matrilineal and matrifocal systems, which severely affected females' personal, social, and economic status.
The pistillate7 calamity intensified around 1,500 BP when Christians and Muslims began to replace the thousands of female-honoring Goddess cultures in Africa and Eurasia with a single patriarchal god. In a short time span, in cultures across the world, once sovereign beings were objectified into reproductive objects and restricted to the domestic sphere.
In Gyn/Ecology, Mary Daly notes, "this attraction/need of males for female energy, seen for what it is, is necrophilia - not in the sense of love for actual corpses, but of love for those victimized into a state of living death." The domestication of 'ladies' is ongoing and so too is its resistance. Sarah Ditum argues that women cannot remain neutral on the feminist issue because the battlefield is our bodies: “There’s no way to avoid picking a side when you yourself are the disputed territory.”
While there has been some progress toward sexual equality in modern times, gains have also been eroded and "the much needed positive developments are not happening fast enough.” This conclusion was made at the 2017 UN Commission on the Status of Women, by Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, executive director of UN Women, the United Nations agency charged with promoting women's rights.8
In addition to receiving one-third less wages than a man, over half of all women workers around the world, and up to 90 percent in some countries, are informally employed. The informal economy consists of low-cost, female farm workers, street food vendors, care workers, and so on. These girls and women work without legal or social protection, and in India alone, this sector accounts for 190 million women. "They are the under-the-radar and under-valued cogs in the bigger wheels of the formal economy," Mlambo-Ngcuka said.
The UNW director note that changing discriminatory laws in over 150 countries "could affect more than three billion women and girls in the world." And empowering females politicallly can lead to many positive changes, including economic one. For instance Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka suggested that "advancing women's equality in total could bring a potential boost of 28 trillion U.S. dollars to global annual GDP by 2025."
Women and children represent seventy-five percent of humans. It makes sense that society should be organized around the interests of this majority, rather than a hopelessly insecure minority that is clearly unfit to rule. Returning the Goddess and women to their rightful place in prehistory and the present is not only good for females, but for males, and the entire Earth. Women and men ignore this imperative at our own peril.
1Goddess beliefs were part of gynecological land management practices that contributed to the long-term survival of the species. The contrasting notions of power and transcendence over nature and nonhuman animals are fundamental aspects of patriarchal thought, which are unsustainable and self-destructive as the climate crisis demonstrates.
2Chris Knight. 2008. “Early Human Kinship Was Matrilineal.” In N. J. Allen, et al, eds., Early Human Kinship. Oxford: Blackwell, pp. 61-82.
3Staff. 2016. "Found: grave of Siberian noblewoman up to 4,500 years old." Siberian Times, Aug 19.
4S Bourget & K Jones. 2009. The Art and Archaeology of the Moche: An Ancient Andean Society of the Peruvian North Coast. U of Texas Press
5Liz Mineo. 2016. "Where women once ruled." Harvard Gazette, July 19.
6Melinda Zeder 2008. "Domestication & early agriculture in the Mediterranean Basin: Origins, diffusion, & impact." PNAS 105(33):11597-604.
7A flower that lacks stamens is pistillate, or female, while one that lacks pistils is said to be staminate, or male.
8Edith Lederer. 2017. "Women's Rights Are Under Attack Worldwide, Warns U.N. Chief." AP, Mar 13
India's Population Bump and Its Consequences
Is India's growth rate sustainable and equitable?
by Moses Seenarine
(This article was published on OpEd News on 08/04/2017)
Growth for Who?
India is a young country with a fast growing annual GDP of above seven percent in 2016, up from two percent at Independence in 1947. India's per capita income rose from Rs. 7,513 from 1950 to Rs. 69,959 to 2014, yet according to the World Bank, it had the largest number of poor people in any country in 2012.
The country's economic growth is lauded by the ruling class, but is India's growth rate sustainable and equitable? What is the cost of decades of growth in terms of environmental degradation and social exclusion? India is portrayed as one of the world's top greenhouse gas polluters, but India’s extended period of economic growth is driving energy consumption, not necessarily its people.
Economic growth has remained positive since the mid-1970s and has hovered above five percent since the 1990s. Exports grew from $59 million in 1958 to over $30 billion in 2013, while food grain production rose from 51 million tonnes in 1950 to 257 million tonnes in 2012. Widespread belief in a raising GDP is viewed as a solution for all India’s social and political problems, and the growth rate is the only indicator of progress to which all Indian politicians pay homage. But there is an annual negative balance of trade of $13 billion, and total external debt of $470 billion.
The youth unemployment rate hovers around 13 percent officially, but the actual figure may be much higher. The Rangarajan study estimated that 363 million, or close to 30 percent of India’s 1.2 billion people lived in poverty in 2011-12. The study considers people living on less than Rs 32 a day in rural areas and Rs 47 a day in urban areas as poor. A vast majority of the poor come from Dalit and other disadvantaged communities.
The median Indian age is under 27 years, slowly raising from its low of 19 years in the 1970s. It is expected that, in 2020, the average age of an Indian will be 29 years, compared to 37 for China and 48 for Japan. The population growth rate is falling, and the pace of the decline has increased in the last few decades. The first decade of the new millennium saw fewer people added to India’s population than in the previous decade.
Women are the main reason for this decrease in growth rate. Indian women are having fewer children, and they are choosing to stop having kids early, so the mean age at childbirth is falling. The average fertility is 2.3 children, well down from 5.9 births per female in 1951, and is expected to further decline to the replacement rate of 2.1 by 2025. The rural fertility figure is 2.5, and in urban areas it is 1.8, close to the European Union’s 1.6. The urban population is around a third of the total, around 400 million people. The number of female births for every male birth in India is very low and just above that of China, Armenia and Azerbaijan. The sex ratio was 944 females for 1000 males in 2016, but this disparity should start to improve by 2020, when male and female child mortality is expected to be similar.
While the tremendous decline in fertility rate means that India does not represent a population bomb, there is a significant bump ahead due to demographic momentum that can still lead to resource problems and ecological crisis. Indians already represent a fifth of the world's humans, totaling over 1.3 billion in 2016, so the current slight value above the replacement rate translates into hundreds of millions of people in the coming decades. According to a 2017 United Nations' report, India will overtake China to become the world's most populous country within the next seven years. And, India's population will continue to grow until 2061 to over 1.7 billion people, by which time China's numbers is expected to decline to 1.2 billion.
In 2012, India had the tenth-largest economy in the world but was the fourth-largest energy consumer, trailing only the United States, China, and Russia. Primary energy consumption more than doubled between 1990 and 2011. India was the fourth largest consumer of oil and petroleum products in the world in 2011, after the United States, China, and Japan. India relies heavily on imported crude oil, mostly from the Middle East, and became the world's sixth-largest liquefied natural gas importer in 2011.
India's power capacity increased from 1,323 MW in 1947 to 240,000 MW in 2013. Coal is India's primary source of energy; the power sector accounts for more than 70 percent of coal consumption. India's dependence on imported energy resources and its inconsistent energy sector reform may make it difficult to satisfy rising demand. Because of insufficient fuel supply, the country suffers from a shortage of electricity generation, leading to rolling blackouts.
Due primarily to religious restrictions, vegetarianism is widespread in India, but very few Indians follow a plant-based diet in which all animal products are avoided. Milk and other dairy products are avidly consumed across a large portion of the country. There are high levels of meat consumption in Indian states such as Goa, Mizoram, Meghalaya and Kerala. In Bengal, even Brahmins, whose dietary restrictions are pronounced, are allowed to eat fish.
India is the largest milk producer in the world by a good margin, having recently surpassed the entire European Union, and Pakistan ranks fourth. Milk is India’s leading agricultural commodity, produced on some 75 million dairy farms, most of which are quite small. Urban dwellers, being wealthier on average, tend to drink more milk than rural dwellers. Ghee, or clarified butter, is an essential component of many Indian dishes.
To appease Hindu conservatives, 18 states have banned the slaughter of cattle. Three states require permits for the slaughter of cattle and seven states allow cattle to be killed. These tough restrictions did not stop India being a major player in world beef markets. According to the USDA India was the largest exporter of beef in 2014, ahead of Brazil and Australia. India exports mostly buffalo meat which largely fall outside of the cattle bans, plus the animals are needed to keep India's huge domestic dairy industry going. Beef earns India more export dollars than basmati rice. Further, the country's leather trade accounts for 13 percent of the world market.
Sales of beef, lamb and chicken in India have all increased steadily over the past six years and rising wealth is a big reason for the growth. India's disposable income has surged 95 percent since 2009, and meat consumption has nearly doubled over that time.
Climate Change Ahead
India occupies 2.4 percent of the world's land area but supports close to 20 percent of the world's population. India is already experiencing a warming climate and 13 of the country’s hottest 15 years on record has occurred since 2002. The former union environment minister, Jairam Ramesh, admitted that India is the most vulnerable country in the world to climate change. For one, no country in the world has the demographic expansion which India is currently experiencing.
Around 60 percent of India's agriculture is rain-fed and the number of rainy days have decreased which lessens ground water recharging. India is subjected to irregular monsoons, flooding, and higher temperatures. The Himalayan glaciers are receding which impacts the perennial rivers of north-India. And rising sea-levels will adversely affect millions of people living along the country's 7,500 km of coast line.
The reason India is so vulnerable to climate change is because it is a large country with many living in poverty, inadequate infrastructure, and lack of government planning to deal with complex weather systems. Climate change will exacerbate the risks faced by the country's poor, including storms, droughts and heat waves. Warming temperature trends over the last three decades have already been responsible for over 59,000 suicides throughout India.
High temperatures in the growing season reduce crop yields, putting economic pressure on India’s farmers. Crop losses could permeate throughout the economy, causing both farming and non-farming populations to face distress as food prices rise and agricultural labor demand falls. With no limit on global warming, about 30 percent of the region could see dangerous wet bulb temperatures above 31 degrees C (88 degrees F) on a regular basis within just a few decades.
By the end of the century, wide swaths of northern India, southern Pakistan and parts of Bangladesh may become so hot and humid it will be deadly just being outdoors. Such conditions would threaten up to a third of the 1.5 billion people living in these regions. Most of those at risk are poor farm workers, outdoor construction laborers, women and children.
The poor lack air conditioners, and up to 25 percent in of India’s population still has no access to electricity. In some areas that have been deforested for industry or agriculture, the disenfranchised may not even have very much shade. Women and girls from Dalit and other marginalised communities are disproportionately affected since they have to go outdoors to search for firewood, fetch water, wash clothes, and so on.
Floods and other natural disasters can affect affects crops, livestock, infrastructure, roads, electricity, communication links, and more. Abrupt climate change in South Asia may necessitate cooperation and fraternity with India's traditional rivals, China and Pakistan. And a belligerent Hindu raj posturing for votes may prove disastrous for tens of millions of climate refugees. India needs to remain democratic and collaborative with its neighbors to mitigate this unprecedented crisis.
The Indian diaspora will also be significantly impacted by climate change. A vast number of overseas Indians reside on islands and in countries below the sea level. Will India allow millions of climate migrants to return from overseas communities? Diaspora organizations should include climate change in their agenda and help communities in affected countries to become more climate resilient.
Dr. B. R. Ambedkar's emphasis on liberty, equality and fraternity points the way forward for India and its diaspora. As he stated, "These principles of liberty, equality and fraternity are not to be treated as separate items in a trinity. They form a union of trinity in the sense that to divorce one from the other is to defeat the very purpose of democracy.”
Bengaluru Declaration: Revisiting Reservations
Reclaiming Social Justice and Human Rights in the 21st Century
by Moses Seenarine
(This article was published on Medium on 08/07/2017)
Persistent Bias and Poverty
For over half a century, there have been legal restrictions against caste-based and sex-based discrimination in India, yet both forms of oppression continue to affect the lives of hundreds of millions nationwide, especially Dalit and tribal Women. For example, in terms of literacy rate, income level, health access, and other factors, Dalit and tribal Women are among the lowest in the country.
As the main architect of India's Constitution, Dr. B. R. Ambedkar's legacy includes legal interventions specifically designed for ensuring inclusion of Women, Dalits, OBCs, Tribals, and minorities in the public sector. Due to Ambedkar's influence, reservations and other policies were enacted which have slightly opened up political and social spaces forbidden for centuries to these groups.
In addition to limits on the political and social empowerment of the historically underprivileged, the nation has a long way to go towards ensuring that basic needs are met for vast numbers of Indians. The Rangarajan study estimated that 363 million, or close to 30 percent of India’s 1.2 billion people, lived in poverty in 2011-12. The study considers people living on less than Rs 32 ($0.50) a day in rural areas and Rs 47 ($0.75) a day in urban areas as poor. A vast majority of the destitute come from disadvantaged communities who are victims of inter-generational impoverishment. The existing education and employment provisions for Dalit and others are limited to the public sector and many avenues remain blocked, especially at the higher levels.
Legal provisions and reservations are like paper tigers, and powerful groups find ways to circumvent and block their application. Lack of implementation of the law is a huge issue, and Women, Dalits, OBCs, Tribals, and minorities face consequences for daring to attend school, contesting elections, and so on. Given the persistence of bias and deprivation, and the shortcomings with implementation of existing policies, there is a need for discussion and ideas on how to improve the current impasse in inequality.
The Bengaluru Declaration offers a broad set of recommendations that could prove useful for a wide range of issues facing Women, Dalits, OBCs, Tribals, and minorities. The Declaration's framers used the platform provided by the Dr. B.R. Ambedkar International Conference, held from the 21-23 of July, 2017 in Bengaluru, Karnataka to draft an extensive list of recommendations that “hopes to be a dynamic blueprint that addresses the needs and aspirations of all Indians, and a starting point for an “alliance of equity” of all progressive forces committed to safeguarding the idea of India." In order to be effective, the suggested programs must have accountability, and there should be consequences for individuals, businesses and organizations who continue to practice discrimination and bias.
Bengaluru Declaration's Recommendations
The Bengaluru Declaration contains 41 recommendations in six broad sections. In the first one, there are two sets of propositions for “Safeguarding the People,” - one focuses on upholding the rule of Law, and the other on protecting individual rights and freedoms. The second section contains three proposals for “Strengthening Democratic Institutions.” The first recommendation is on reforms to enhance political representation, the second is for protecting media freedoms, and the third focuses on judicial reforms.
The 22 suggestions in the third section for “Deepening Social Justice” represents the heart of the Bengaluru Declaration as it tries to comprehensively address “the needs and aspirations of all Indians, especially those who are most vulnerable and marginalised, such as Scheduled Castes (SCs), Scheduled Tribes (STs), Other Backward Classes (OBCs), Women and Minorities.” The list of undertaking range from establishing an Equal Opportunities Commission and studying Ambedkar in the school and college, to legislating reservations in the private sector and granting agricultural land to landless Dalits.
The fourth section centers on the needs of the poor with six propositions for “Enhancing Human Development.” This section declares that health, housing and education should be universal rights and asks the state to allocate six percent of GDP for education and three percent for health. It calls for establishing a Farmers Income Commission, and attaining universal secondary education. It also wants provision of nutritional support for poor children, and halfway homes to support employment.
Three suggestions in the fifth section for “Ensuring Responsive Governance” focus on mechanisms for public feedback and government accountability. The last section of the Bengaluru Declaration contains six proposals for “Promoting Social Security.” It calls for universal Social Security and a living wage for the unorganised sector, and ensuring dignity in retirement through enhanced pensions and an enhanced safety net. It proposes starting a fund for landless labourers, and finally, it wants low cost housing for the urban poor in all private housing layouts.
If fully implemented, these 41 proposals could help to alleviate many of the problems faced by India's poor and historically disadvantaged communities. However, the widespread recommendations are complex and extend over several economic and social sectors, and involves disparate areas of governance. Successful implementation will require intricate coordination by multiple agencies, critical assessment, and accountability.
Many of Bengaluru Declaration's recommendations in education are basic and should be part of a growing democracy, but successful implementation will depend on gainful employment and upward mobility in all sectors of society for female and poor students. The Declaration's educational proposals include (i) curriculum changes in school and college, (ii) access to quality English medium education from secondary school level, (iii) residential schools for vulnerable children, (iv) universal access to hostels, (v) reservations in private Higher Educational institutions, (vi) and universal secondary education.
Bengaluru Declaration on Education
Recommendation number 16, “Reservations for SCs, STs and OBCs in Private Higher Educational Institutions,” is essential in educational access for students, and employment of academics, from historically disadvantaged communities. There is a limit to what the public sector can do, and as the Declaration states, “Considering the expansion of higher educational institutions in the private section, reservations for SCs, STs and OBCs in these institutions shall be made mandatory.”
Private Higher Education Institutions should be required to submit bi-annual reports on student enrollment and staffing to show compliance with reservation policies. At the end of a grace period, Private Higher Education Institutions should submit plans to fill reserved spots and prove they are non-discriminatory, or face fines for non-compliance. After a certain period of repeat, unwarranted non-compliance, Higher Educational Institutions should face oversight or having their accreditation suspended.
The Bengaluru Declaration realise that English instruction can be empowering and Recommendation number 13 declares, “the State shall ensure access to quality English medium education from secondary school level onwards.” The important reason for this curriculum change is to ensure SCs, STs, OBCs, Women and Minorities “are able to stand as equals with forward castes.” English is commonly used in urban areas, so English literacy will help disadvantaged groups to participate more fully in urban economies.
To provide quality English-based instruction, teacher credentialing must include an English proficiency test. English courses should be integrated into Education departments and all prospective teachers should take classes in English grammar, speech and composition. In addition, English courses in debate, literature, non-fiction, technical and narrative writing should be available for students pursuing Education degrees and teacher credentials.
The Bengaluru Declaration's proposal for Navodaya type residential schools for vulnerable children in Recommendation number 14 will provide basic and essential social and educational services that can help increase graduation rates for poor children. There should be separate Navodaya schools for girls and boys, and over 50 percent of the staff must be reserved for women from Dalit and other disadvantaged communities. These residential schools should be taught in English medium and infuse Dalit Studies across the curriculum.
The call for universal access to hostels for SCs, STs and OBCs in Recommendation number 15 is part of non-discrimination laws and a basic human right. Individuals who ignore anti-caste laws should be charged and penalised if guilty. Anti-caste and housing commissions should make it simple for victims to file housing complaints, and these commissions should have the power to impose fines on property owners and businesses.
Recommendation number eight calls for curriculum changes in school and college for "Ensuring study of Dr. Ambedkar, Mahatma Jyotirao & Savitribai Phule in School and College Curriculum: To inspire and educate future generations on ideas and movements of social justice, curriculum in schools and colleges should mandatorily include the study of the life and work of Dr. Ambedkar, Mahatma and Savitribai Phule."
Dalit Studies, including the life and work of Dr. Ambedkar, Mahatma and Savitribai Phule, will help to inspire excellence in all Indian students, and especially those from historically disadvantaged communities. Cultural empowerment is essential to motivating marginalized groups and to raising the self-esteem of impoverished girls and boys. This form of secular education can aid in the removal of historical stigma and bias by raising awareness and bringing individual and community experiences into the classroom.
Implementing Dalit Studies in schools and colleges requires several administrations and programs, and thousands of trained and qualified teachers. There should also be independent Dalit Studies Institutes that focus on legislation, research and assessment of policies and programs for disadvantaged communities. Women from Dalit and other disadvantaged communities should comprise 50 percent or more of the staff as program administrators, department chairs, professors, researchers, instructors, and teachers at all levels.
To provide instruction in Dalit Studies, a curriculum committee should establish content and assessment criteria for Dalit Studies for each standard of school, and year of college. The curriculum committee should contain representation from various Dalit sub-groups, professions, and income levels. The curriculum should be available and taught in English at all levels.
The curriculum committee should determine basic, intermediate and advance levels of knowledge and understanding of Dalit Studies at the college level, including curriculum and assessment for courses in art, culture, economy, history, language, literature, music, media, pedagogy, philosophy, political science, psychology, religion, sociology, and women's studies. The field of Dalit Studies could be added to Arts, Education, Humanities, Interdisciplinary and/or Social Science departments in college, or have its own field with degrees at the bachelor's, masters and doctoral levels.
In terms of sequencing, there should two or more units of Dalit Studies at the Primary School level, and four courses of Dalit Studies available in Secondary School. There should be one course on Mahatma Phule, another on Savitribai Phule, and two classes on Dr. Ambedkar. Completion of at least one course in Dalit Studies should be a requirement for Secondary School graduation for all students. A Bachelor's degree consisting of 12 or more college-level courses in Dalit Studies should be required to teach this subject in Secondary School. And, one or more Dalit Studies course should be a graduation requirement for all college students.
The Dalit Studies Departments in college should have linkages to other fields through dual-majors, inter-disciplinary studies, and so on. The work of Savitribai Phule and Dalit Women's issues should comprise at least a quarter of coursework at all college levels. Classes in Computers, Technology and Social Media should be part of course requirements, and there should be opportunities for experiential or field-work through departmental linkages to social welfare agencies and schools that provide services to Women, Dalits, OBCs, Tribals, and minorities.
The Bengaluru Declaration's educational proposals will be more effective for historically disadvantaged students and workers if they are supported by social services mentioned in other recommendations, such as "Halfway Homes to Support Employment." Extending reservations into the Private Sector is essential for progress, and there also needs to be implementation of existing policies, such as filling up backlog vacancies in reserved posts.
As with any set of prescriptions for social reform, the Bengaluru Declaration do have some shortcomings. There is lack of recognition regarding sex-differences, and the recommendations have to focused on better serving the needs of Women and Children. Despite this limitation, the 41 proposals are a good starting point for discussion and can help guide the work of activists and advocacy organizations alike.
Asserting Secularism and Global Equity Through Ambedkar
Human Survival Requires Secular Values, Not Machismo Fundamentalism
by Dr. Moses Seenarine
(Photo: Martin Luther King lll at the Quest For Equity conference with Congress VP Rahul Gandhi, Nobel Laureate Kailash Satyarthi, and Chief Minister of Karnataka. Credit: GOK)
(This articles was published on Medium on 08/07/2017)
(This articles was published on Medium on 08/07/2017)
The conference, “Reclaiming Social Justice, Revisiting Ambedkar,” held from 21-23 July, 2017 in Banglauru, Karnataka, was historic in many ways. First, it was the first international conference that brought together hundreds of scholars from all across India and the world to focus on the life, thoughts and influence of one of the greatest minds of the 20th century – Dr. Bhim Rao Ambedkar (14th April 1891 to 6th December 1956). Although hardly known outside of India, B. R. Ambedkar is a distinguished leader in the history of South Asia, and a pivotal figure in the global quest for equity and freedom for the oppressed.
In an age of rapacious economic neoliberalism and rampant, machismo nationalism, Ambedkar's trenchant demand for equality, and his ardent call for freedom, equity and fraternity, have never been more relevant. Climate change in South Asia will necessitate cooperation with India's traditional rivals, China and Pakistan, and blindly following parochial, belligerent Hindu-based regimes may prove disastrous for hundreds of millions of climate refugees due to environmental disaster, land degradation, and uninhabitable conditions. India needs to remain democratic and cooperative with its neighbors to mitigate this unprecedented crisis and Dr. B. R. Ambedkar offers a way forward.
As the chief architect of India's Constitution, Dr. Ambedkar was a scholar par excellence, a philosopher, visionary, and emancipator of over 200 million 'Untouchables' or Dalits oppressed globally under hierarchical Hinduism. Born in an out-casted group considered ritually polluting to Hindus, Bhim Rao led a number of social movements to secure human rights for women, workers, the poor, and the depressed sections of society. Dr. Ambedkar is a towering symbol in the struggle for social justice globally, and stands as the South Asian equivalent to Sojourner Truth, Fredrick Douglas, W. E. B. Du Boise, Marcus H. Garvey, and Martin Luther King in the USA. The Indian Constitution is a testament to his vision of a civilized society with its numerous protections for the disadvantaged.
The Bengaluru Declaration issued at the conference was framed from input provided by the Dr. B.R. Ambedkar International Conference. The Declaration contains a broad set of recommendations to address a wide range of issues facing the poor. Although written for India, the 41 proposals could be adopted to improve the lives of Women across the globe, People of Color, minorities, and populations in the Global South.
Secondly, the conference offered a bold secular alternative to the ecocidal religiosity and genocidal militarism currently sweeping the world. To mitigate the impending effects of abrupt climate change, humans will need to become more secular, that is, learn to believe in ourselves, behave in a responsible way to others, and act as if we belong to a global community. Survival and adaptation to the deepening ecological crisis requires us to have unbiased perception, clear thinking, an open mind, and acute awareness of our local surroundings and conditions across the globe. At its core, to be secular is to maintain a naturalistic worldview in which belief in anything is always proportioned to the evidence available, and no leader exemplifies these values and qualities as much as Bhim Rao.
In a seminal undelivered speech to reformist Hindus, later published as the Annihilation of Caste, Dr. Ambedkar argued, “An ideal society should be mobile, should be full of channels for conveying a change taking place in one part to other parts. In an ideal society there should be many interests consciously communicated and shared. There should be varied and free points of contact with other modes of association. In other words there should be social endosmosis. This is fraternity, which is only another name for democracy. Democracy is not merely a form of Government. It is primarily a mode of associated living, of conjoint communicated experience. It is essentially an attitude of respect and reverence towards fellowmen (and women).”
Speaking on the opening night, Martin Luther King III presented a clear-headed, secular analysis of politics in India and the USA, and deconstructed the cunning appeal of cultural fundamentalism under which social intolerance is stroked. The son of the famous civil rights leader observed that the “Trump and Modi administrations have unleashed a ferocious animosity in both countries” and highlighted various mob and racially-based atrocities against females, African Americans, and Dalits. He concluded that both populist leaders, “have limited regard for the poor and the underprivileged.” Martin Luther King III's keynote speech linking the struggle against caste and race is an important contribution to Pan-Africanism and in theorizing the Global South, and should be read by activists worldwide.
The most anticipated speaker of the opening night also hinted to the dangers of religious ideology and narrow-minded nationalism. In his address to the packed auditorium, the current vice-president of India's Congress Party, Rahul Gandhi, warned against distortion of the truth and glorification the past to guide the present. Taking a principled, secular position on caste and religious issues, Rahul observed, “There have been good and bad sides to India, and we need to accept it and change it.”
Like King III, the grandson of the famous Indira Gandhi cited numerous examples of Hindu intolerance and their growing violence against Dalits and Muslims. Commenting on the systemic denial of caste-and religious based oppression, Rahul Gandhi stated, “The Modi government is trying to wipe out history and create a perfect India, thereby strangling the reality of Vermulas and Akhlaqs” - men who died as a result of religious bigotry.
Thirdly, the conference presented valuable insights into Ambedkar's global relevance as speakers connected his writings and activism on caste, religious and cultural oppression to the histories of enslavement, bonded labor, gender construction, labor, migration and other social issues. B. R. Ambedkar's legal prescriptions for women, the poor and disadvantaged, including safeguards for political representation, education and employment reservation was compared to affirmative action policies for women and minorities in the Caribbean, Nepal, Northern Ireland, Pacific Islands, Sri Lanka, South Africa, UK and USA.
The successful non-discriminatory safeguards implemented in Northern Ireland can be applied elsewhere, and similarly, lessons can be learned from the political shortcomings of Sri Lanka's affirmative action polices after the civil war. Moreover, the conference showed that Ambedkar's stringent opposition to female oppression under traditional culture and his prescriptions for women's equality are applicable worldwide.
Given the significance that Bhim Rao placed on female representation in all spheres, it was disappointing that the list of keynote speakers on the opening night did not contain a single female. The token female on the dais, a regional actress whose sole role was to dutifully introduce the eleven men on stage. Her marginality is symbolic of the far road that lies ahead for caste, race, sex and class-based inequality, but Ambedkar's guidance can help us achieve faster and safer passage to a more equitable and rewarding future.
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