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   Growing stories from India
Reviewed by Sudhirendar Sharma
30 Apr 2012

Myths and narratives

Predicament of the present is all about failure of the dominant narratives of our times. Haven't inflated rhetoric of industrial agriculture, depicted as scientific and cutting-edge, been one such 'dominant narrative' that has been hard to criticize? Though the 'narrative' has been positioned around 'feed the world' logic, hunger and malnutrition has only continued to grow as a global problem. Without doubt, it may have served some purpose in feeding the teeming millions but not without destroying the 'alternative narratives' of organic or natural agriculture.

Narratives of industrial agriculture presume human control over and entitlements to the earth’s resources which must change if human societies have to survive and sustain future generations. A Whitney Sanford, a professor of religion at the University of Florida, presents the alternative narrative through the story of Balaram and the Yamuna river. Balaram has an interesting, if not paradoxical, relationship with the Yamuna river. While his forcible diversion of the river demonstrates his power over her, his moral duty to worship the river goddess reflects other aspect of their relationship. Balaram’s multiple obligations to the earth, his family and his subjects has been positioned as a ‘alternate narrative’ through which Sanford asks one of the central questions of this book: how can we balance the human need for agricultural production with the needs of the broader biotic community?

Using the moral tenants of the tale as commentary on contemporary society, Stanford emphasises the need for ‘alternate narrative’ that will help infuse responsible stewardship in agriculture. The trouble with ‘dominant narratives’ is that these are not only hegemonic but also, by virtue of being entrenched in dominant institutional spaces, do not allow alternative narratives to flourish. Myths and stories can dispel such narratives by providing the space through which ecological imagination in search of viable solutions can be expanded.

Insightful and scholarly at the same time, Sanford not only bridges cultural differences in agriculture but also shows how those differences hold the key to future sustainability. It is an important book that calls for paradigm shift in our current understanding on agriculture.

Growing Stories from India
by A Whitney Sanford
The University Press of Kentucky, USA
269 pages, US$ 40

 Other books reviewed by Dr Sudhirendar Sharma
Features > Book Shelf
Spoiling Tibet
Posting Date: 28 Feb 2014

A Journey in the Future of Water
Posting Date: 28 Feb 2014

Yamuna Manifesto
Posting Date: 28 Feb 2014

Corruption Watch

The bad news is that corruption has not only sustained but has grown in size and stature in the country. With scams being a regular feature, seventy per cent respondents in a survey have rightfully opined that corruption has continued to increase in India. One in every two interviewed admit having paid a bribe for availing public services during last one year. Transparency International's latest survey reveals that the political parties top the chart for the most corrupt public institutions, followed by police force and legislatures. No wonder, India continues to make new records on the global corruption arena!

The shocking revelation is that the health and education sectors haven't remained untouched by this phenomenon. With 5th and 6th positions respectively for these sectors on the public perception chart on corruption, corruption has crept insidiously into these sectors of hope for the masses. With bureaucracy being fourth in the list of corrupt institutions in the country, corruption seems to have been non-formally institutionalized with little hope if public services would ever be effective in the country. With economic growth having literally institutionalized corruption, are we now expecting corrupt to be socially responsible - a different CSR.

Poor. Who?

Not giving 'aid' to India is one thing but calling it 'rich' is quite another. If one in three of the world's malnourished children live in India, what does average daily income of $3 indicate? It perhaps means that there is a relative decline in poverty - people are 'less poor' than what they used to be in the past. But having crossed the World Bank arbitrary threshold of $2 a day does not absolve the 'developed' countries of their obligation to part with 0.7 per cent of their Gross National Income in development aid. Should this three-decade old figure not be revised?  

An interesting debate in UK's House of Commons delved on future of development assistance by the British Government. While prioritizing limited resources has been a concern, there has been no denying the fact that development aid must be guided towards tangible gains over a short period of time to start with. There are difficult choices for elected governments to make - should they invest in long-term primary education or in short-term university scholarships? Which of these will bring gains and trigger long-term transformation in the society. As politicians continue to be divided on the matter, poverty persists!!   

Lead View
People, Partition and the Pain
By Rina Mukherji
15 Aug 2013

Dr Jayanti Basu's book analyzes the complex feelings of hatred and longing for the homeland that have contributed to shaping the personalities of a generation of people who were forced to ..
Book Shelf

Yamuna Manifesto

A Journey in the Future of Water

Spoiling Tibet

On Western Terrorism
Devinder Sharma
Carmen Miranda
Pandurang Hegde
Sudhirendar Sharma
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