It’s a hundred miles to peace | india | Hindustan Times
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It’s a hundred miles to peace

Poverty is day-to-day violence, no less destructive than war. If social balance is to be restored, we must remove it. Ela Bhatt writes.

india Updated: Feb 19, 2013 21:32 IST
Ela Bhatt

The 2011 Indira Gandhi Prize for Peace, Disarmament and Development gives us an opportunity to re-examine our ideas of what constitutes peace. The absence of war is not peace; peace disarms and renders war useless. Peace is a condition enjoyed by a fair and fertile society. Peace is about restoring balance in society. In my view, restoration and reconstruction of a society are essential components of any peace process.

If we look at our world, we find that where there is an unfair distribution of resources, there’s unrest. When people cannot enjoy the fruits of their labour fairly, when they are forced off their land, we have the basis of an unjust society. Where there is violence and conflict, we find poverty. And where there is poverty, we find anger and struggles for justice and equity.

I have often stated that poverty is violence. This violence is by consensus of society that lets other human beings go without roti and kapada and makan. Poverty is day-to-day violence, no less destructive than war. Poverty is lack of peace and freedom. In fact, removing poverty is building peace. To me, ‘Garibi Hatao’ meant ‘Shanti Banao’. Garibi Hatao is a peace song.

In India, we are proud of our multicultural society. ‘Bahudha’ is at the heart of what makes us who we are: social diversity, political diversity, religious diversity, biological diversity. But in our rush to modernise, let us not forget one of our greatest assets, our economic diversity. In our markets, we have the vendor, the cart seller, the kiosk owner, the shop owner, and the supermarket owner, all plying their trades at the same time. Let them cater to different strata of society, co-existing and competing in a natural, organic way.

Gandhiji talked about Swaraj; he talked about economic decentralisation. I would urge us to ensure that six basic needs —food, shelter, clothing, primary education, primary healthcare and primary banking — are met from resources within 100 miles around us, we will have the growth of a new holistic economy that the world will sit up and take notice of. I call it the 100-mile principle. Catching up with the western economic models will turn us into incompetent followers, not leaders. The 100-mile principle is not a recipe for isolation; in fact technologies can help to share knowledge and ideas across countries. However, we do need to get away from a world where people grow what they do not eat, and eat what they do not grow; where they have become part of a system whose outcomes are determined by people far away in a manner not in their interest nor control.

And where do we start? I have faith in women. Women have shown that disarmament in the end is not a treaty by two nations to render arms useless, though such a treaty is much needed in this world. Focus on women, and you will find an ally who wants a stable community. She wants roots for her family. Women bring constructive, creative and sustainable solutions to the table.

In my experience, productive work is the thread that weaves a society together. It builds peace because work gives people roots as well as allows them to flower; it builds communities and it gives meaning and dignity to one’s life. By work, I do not mean sweatshops and cheap labour in factories. Treating land and forests and people and even work as a commodity cannot build a fuller human being, nor a holistic society. Such work strips them of the multifunctional, multicultural character of work that fosters dynamic and organic growth in society.

A woman who tends a small plot of land, grows vegetables, weaves cloth, and provides for the family and the market, while caring for the financial, social, educational and emotional needs of her family is a multifunctional worker and the builder of a stable society. One who labours long hours at a factory where he has no control of his work or his skills, contributes one product to society whose work is ‘measured’ and so given greater credence by us, while her work is unaccounted and ignored. It is the GDP at the household level that matters. The use of the word ‘domestic’ in GDP should not be overlooked; peace and development cannot be measured in numbers.

This is an edited excerpt from Ela Bhatt’s acceptance speech after she received the Indira Gandhi Prize for Peace, Disarmament and Development. Bhatt is the founder of the Self-Employed Women’s Association of India The views expressed by the author are personal