‘Development’ needs rethink

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One afternoon during the days of communal riots which preceded the independence and partitioning of India and Pakistan in 1947, recalls Amartya Sen “… a man came through the gate screaming pitifully and bleeding profusely; he had been knifed in the back.” The knifed man, called Kader Mia, was a Muslim daily labourer “who had come for work in a neighbouring house – for a tiny reward – and had been knifed on the street by some communal thugs in our largely Hindu area.” As Sen gave him water and his father rushed him to the hospital, Kader Mia told them that his wife had told him not to go into the hostile area in such troubled times, but he (Kader Mia) had to go in search of work and a bit of earning because his family had nothing to eat. The penalty of his “economic unfreedom” turned out to be death, which occurred later on in the hospital.

Sen says this experience had a devastating effect on him for it drove home the unfortunate realities about the terrible burden of narrowly defined identities, including those based on communities and groups. “But more immediately, it also pointed to the remarkable fact that economic unfreedom, in the form of extreme poverty, can make a person a helpless prey in the violation of other kinds of freedom. Kader Mia need not have come to a hostile area in search of little income in those terrible times had his family been able to survive without it. Economic unfreedom can breed social unfreedom, just as social or political unfreedom can also foster economic unfreedom.”

One can’t help but completely support Sen’s argument, and hence all those who believe that economic independence of Jammu and Kashmir is a major prerequisite for the honour and dignity of its people – the assertion to wrest control over the state’s water resources, and power projects in particular, often talked of as a major starting point in this direction. As Sen and all other development economists have argued in volumes of economic and political literature, all kinds of human development must be seen as something that is aimed at expanding and advancing human freedoms, for then only could one concentrate on this overarching objective. “Viewing development in terms of expanding substantive freedoms directs attention to the ends that make development important, rather than merely to some of the means that, inter alia, play a prominent part in the process.”

So if governments in Srinagar and in New Delhi, as also all other actors in the Kashmir’s political amphitheatre seriously intend to see dawn of real peace here, then they all will also have to understand that economic and political freedoms can’t be seen in isolation of each-other and that of other freedoms. All the different kinds of freedoms are so closely interconnected and interdependent that one set becomes completely meaningless in the absence of other related freedoms. For instance, the ‘political freedom’ that separatists always refer to whenever they talk of ‘Azadi’ (freedom), is meaningless if people do not enjoy economic freedoms as well. Similarly, the developmental model of peace as propounded by the governments won’t do much if it does not accord, expand and ensure all different human freedoms including the political ones also.

As Sen would say, development requires “removal of major sources of unfreedom”, be it poverty or tyranny, poor economic opportunities as well as systematic social deprivation, neglect of public facilities as well as “intolerance or overactivity of repressive states”. So the task for the government goes beyond the domain of straight-jacketed economics; it is all-encompassing one, demanding a multifaceted and multi-pronged approach wherein no sphere of human activity is neglected or even taken not-so-seriously. Even the basic public facilities – drinking water, roads, electricity, schools, hospitals, or for that matter even public transport and fairness in marketplaces — have to be ensured by the government as part of its developmental agenda which as per its claims remains the focus area. But besides this, it will also have to be willing to remove other unfreedoms which nobody in the echelons of power wants to talk about but which are a daily reality in this God-foresaken land. If only it wants to and is actually able to help in people’s economic freedom – everything else will follow. The skewed thinking about economic dependence of Srinagar on New Delhi vis-à-vis its political and strategic relationship must change. Geopolitical realities and political thinking have changed a great deal since 1947, 1953, 1975, and 1989. In 2018, economic freedoms bring bigger and better cohesions as much as economic unfreedoms are the real cause of conflict and trouble.

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