The people of a rural community in India confront a modern reality – economic development may painfully complicate their age-old, self-sufficient, subsistence-farming way of life.
The struggle provokes a question that shoppers in the West rarely ask of themselves: What happens when we buy yet another pair of running shoes, glam underwear, or other baubles of our consumer societies?
The debates regarding the future of rural India pose an overarching question: What is the best way forward, when one approach causes such distress, but attempting no new approach seems to threaten India’s economic boom?
How much will economic development cost?
That is the troubling, fundamental question that rural Indians, along with government and corporate officials, ask in Walls and the Tiger.
State and federal governments focus on such measures of wealth as “average income” to support their agenda of growth led by hugely increased exports of manufactured consumer goods.
That hardly reassures villager-farmers who have lost their land, their age-old subsistence livelihoods, their place in society, and in many cases members of their family.
Indisputable is that changing the face of rural India – and possibly ushering out a way of life of millennia.
Walls and The Tiger goes to rural communities to see what these changes look like, in day-to-day life.
There, local youth who have won the relatively few factory jobs sing the praises of the new economy for boosting their purchasing power and entertainment options.
But most farmer-villagers have begun to learn what will follow from the claim of Indian government and industry leaders that India can outstrip even China’s manufacturing-based economic-development boom.
The reformers’ recipe:
- create and harness a huge pool of low-cost manpower;
- put it to work in multinational corporations’ new factories in rural India;
- entice those companies to India with lavish offers: tax forgiveness, grants of seized farmland, power to enforce their own conditions on their labor forces…
All that in return for boosting exports of consumer goods to an insatiable West.
In a rural community in southeast India, Walls and the Tiger finds women like Gamli, whose husband has died, a broken man, after government seizure of farming land stuns the region.
Muniswami and his family have lost their land, their livelihood, and almost their will to live. Only community bonds save them from adding to the 200,000 Indian farmer-villagers who have died from suicide in a decade.
How, ask they and their neighbors, is it “progress” when the state seizes fertile agricultural land from farmer-villagers – still the majority of Indians – and hands it to mammoth manufacturing corporations, virtually without charge?
How does it help Kistamma, whose family has lost everything – self-sufficiency, social standing, access to credit, even their hopes of a joyful marriage for their daughter?
How does it help that protests against the changes, and the corruption that is rife in their implementation, are met with brutality? Another villager relives the loss of her husband, shot at close range during a police riot.
As community leaders rally their fellow villagers to resist the government agenda, they question the validity of the government’s citing standard measures of growth, such as “income levels.” Those, say the resistance leaders, are meaningless to an ancient subsistence way of life that to this day operates with minimal involvement in any cash economy.
And Walls and The Tiger asks whether, in view of these realities of the struggle to define and implement worthwhile economic and social change, consumers in the West should pause before buying yet another pair of running shoes, glam underwear, or other baubles of their consumer societies?
But even as conditions become more and more perilous, those few responsible and courageous individual continue to encourage their fellow villagers to hold firm.