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by Nandana Reddy

Kobe, June 16, 2002

Dear friends,            

First, I would like to thank Hiro San for inviting me to your beautiful city of Kobe. I would also thank Mayur Shah for agreeing to translate for me, without him I would have no voice and I am grateful to all of you for taking the time to listen to me. I come here with great humility, to learn as much as to share my thoughts with you.

The title of my paper is the Power of Shakti in Governance. 'Shakti' in Sanskrit is the power of the Goddess. The feminine energy, the mother, the protector, the lover. The bearer of new life. The fair, the just, but also the one that punishes wrong doing. She is one who maintains the balance in the world, the one who ensures the continuation of life. The caretaker of humanity and basic human values such as love, peace, happiness and prosperity.

In India, Shakti has been suppressed; she has been discarded and ignored. This is so of most countries of the world and we all seem to be living in a world that is ill and ailing. We see brutality, violence and terrorism on the rise the world over. The concept of 'family' is so rapidly changing that it is almost unrecognisable. Suicides are on the increase, women have been reduced to slaves and children have become clay in the hands of macroeconomics. Some nameless disease has attacked our mother earth and she is in pain.

In my country, India, in the past year alone we have witnessed more bloodshed and barbarism than in the past 20 years put together and this year is a year of shame. India has been held to ransom by a minority of fundamentalists for whom the building of a Hindu Temple was more important than food, water, housing, education and employment. More important that human life itself.

In the state of Gujarat, the birthplace of the Mahatma, the father of non-violence, we are killing each other. Whole families have been burnt alive just because they profess a different religion. Children have been slaughtered and women raped. India is in flames and the majority are silent spectators. These events are not just isolated incidents but a reflection of the psyche of a people and a Government, which seriously questions the sanity of a nation.

A person reaching out for peace wrote:

If a fire raged
In one room of your house
Could you sleep in the next room?

If a dead body lay
In one room of your house
Could you sing in the next room?

If corpses lay rotting
In one room of your house
Could you pray in the next room?

If yes,
Then I have nothing
Nothing at all to say to you.

"What can you say about a woman eight months pregnant who begged to be spared? Her assailants instead slit open her stomach, pulled out her foetus and slaughtered it before her eyes.

What can you say about a family of nineteen being killed by flooding their house with water and then electrocuting them with high-tension electricity? What can you say?

"A small boy of six described how his mother and six brothers and sisters were battered to death before his eyes.

"What Gujarat witnessed was not a riot, but a terrorist attack followed by a systematic, planned massacre. This was not a spontaneous upsurge of mass anger. It was a carefully planned programme ", where the government were not just mere spectators, but the perpetrators of this violence.

And yet there has been no significant protest; the people of India have not risen up in anger - and we are supposed to be a Democracy! The majority of my people have been conditioned, from very young, not to participate or question the construct of society. Our socio-cultural systems, our education and our political structures do not encourage the participation of people in the governance of any institution, be it the family, work place or state. Shakti has been silenced.

It is therefore with a heavy heart that I come here to Kobe. Like Basho, your Haiku poet said:
"In my dark winter
Lying ill…
At last I ask
How fares my neighbour?"

In the Asian sub-continent Japan has been our textbook. An example to emulate. An economic miracle. The Land of the Rising Sun; the land of beauty and prosperity. A resource poor land…rising from the rubble of World War II… Japan as number one. A nation that has rebuilt herself many times. And yet…. Now Japan is holding its breath and waiting for the Seismic collapse!

In this beautiful and good old fashioned city of Kobe, in 1997, a 14 year old school boy who was suspended from school for fighting murders a 11 year old child to show his revenge against the compulsory school system and the society that created it."

Again, this is not just one isolated incident. There are several such stories all over Japan, that of children taking to violence as a response to a repressive system.

What I have described is not unique to Japan, it has been the situation in the United States for more than a decade, spread to Europe and has now come to Asia. But when our children exhibit brutality we have to be very concerned, as the disease we are suffering from has affected the roots of our civilisation.

Have we imported a western way of life and values that are so alien to our own? Have we lost al our own positive values and principles and replaced them with a singular pursuit of profit? Have we lost our souls while trying to prove that we are so called 'Developed Nations'?

In Japan:
・ About a million Japanese are considered shut-ins, either literally cloistered in their rooms or refusing to work and avoiding all social contact for years . It is the biggest problem of this type in the world and it is growing.
・ Japan has the highest number of child suicides in the world
・ High rate of school drop outs who are served by alternate schools like Apple Tree
・ Growing rate of business Suicides in Japan so that families may inherit life insurance policies
・ Teenage pregnancies
・ Children hardly see their fathers
・ Women are relegated to mere shadows - the silent providers, the subservient slaves, the submissive gratifiers. Non-persons who have no control, unnoticed, voiceless and submissive
・ The sugar sweet Pop stars of today's Japan do not reflect the abrasive reality of modern day Japan they serve as an escapist fantasy except maybe for Ayumi Hamasaki who tries to get the nations attention to its ailments through her lyrics.

Though all this has been attributed to the Recession that has lasted for nearly 12 years and now seems more serious that a mere recession with the Nikkei reaching an 18 year low and meeting the Dow resulting in record unemployment rates and little job security in Japan where a job was considered a life time commitment. There is more too it. Japan has lost her balance and is now toppling over, just as India is, though perhaps for apparently different reasons.

In 1973 E.F Schumacher said:
"In the excitement over the unfolding of his scientific and technical powers, modern man has built a system of production that ravishes nature and a type of society that mutilates man. If only there were more and more wealth, everything else, it is thought, would fall into place. Money is considered to be all-powerful; if it could only actually buy non-material values, such as justice, harmony, beauty or even health, it could circumvent the need for them to compensate for their loss.

"The development of production and the acquisition of wealth have become the highest goals of the modern world in relation to which all other goals, no matter how much lip service may still be paid to them, have come to take second place. The highest goals require no justification; all secondary goals have finally to justify themselves in terms of the service their attainment renders to the attainment of the highest."

In our mad race to become economic powers we have sacrificed human values and principles related to the quality of life. We have also de-franchised ourselves, reducing ourselves to passive submissive beings, mere cogs in the economic wheel of history. We have forgotten that we have a right to self-determination and a right to participate in all decisions.

It has been increasingly recognised that mainstream development has:
・ Exploited nature
・ It has increased disparities at all levels
・ It has created hierarchies of all kinds - hierarchies in nations, peoples, cultures, sexes etc.
・ It has led to rigid and harmful specialisation and compartmentalisation making it difficult to look at phenomenon holistically and ecologically
・ It has created dualities and hierarchies between culture and nature, mind and matter, rational and emotional, objective and subjective etc.

In this development, higher values like ethics, morality, justice, all the values of Shakti, have been forgotten or relegated to the area of the personal or religious life. Public life is purely for the pursuit of profit and power.

Jeremy Seabrook says in the preface of the book titled 'Asking the Earth' : "In the countries of the Two-Thirds World (for two-thirds of humanity live in what is commonly misnamed the Third World), where people have remained close to the resource-base upon which they depend, this has long been apparent; only now is the West beginning to realise that the natural world is neither a limitless provider of raw materials, nor an infinite absorber of all the noxious by-products of industrialism.

"Most of the Two-Thirds World had sustainable systems in place until the advent of colonialism. The spread of neo-colonial western "development" continues the process of despoliation. A revival of sustainable practices is the most urgent task facing humanity.

"It is impossible for the countries of the Two-Thirds World to liberate themselves from harmful forms of "development" while the west continues as before. It is hypocrisy for the west to preach freedom to the poor and to their threatened habitat."

As Mahatma Gandhi said: "Mother Earth has enough for everyone's need but not for everyone's greed." And when asked by a journalist if he would like India to attain the standard of living of Britain, he replied: "To have its standard of living, a tiny country like Britain had to exploit half the globe. How many globes will a large country like India need to exploit to have a similar standard of living?"

What has happened? Why have things gone so badly wrong? We, in Asia are worried. You in Japan are worried. We have lost our confidence and seem to burying our heads in hope. But that is not the way. We need to recognise this trend for what it is, to analyse it and understand it before it is too late. We need to learn from our mistakes and be reborn as a new Nations. A new India and a new Japan. We, in Asia, need to join hands in this endeavour so that we do not make the same mistakes again.

My mother, Snehalatha Reddy wrote a play just before she died called Sita.

There were tow kings, the King of India - Rama and the King of Sri Lanka - Ravanna. Rama married Sita, the daughter of Mother Earth, a very brave and beautiful women who embodied all that was honest and just and true.

Rama is obsessed with his kingdom. He is passionate about being a good and just king and taking his country into an age of prosperity.

Meanwhile Ravanna falls in love with Sita and takes her away to his island kingdom, installs her in a palace amidst a beautiful garden and begins to woe her. He never violates her.

Rama wages a battle against Sri Lanka and gets Sita back. However, some people question her chastity and Rama, wanting to show that he is a good king, agrees to a trial by fire. Sita walks through the fire and comes out unscathed! But she is bitterly wounded at heart and disappointed by her husband. She feels betrayed. She prays to her mother, Earth and asks her to take her back. She leaves her husband.
In traditional Hindu mythology Rama is the hero, the just King who put his country before his wife and Ravanna is the villain, a man who put his love for a woman before his country. Over the year the Patriarchal construct of Indian society has moulded this story and has exalted the King's passion to prove himself as a manly ruler, seeming to follow the will of his people and subjecting the woman, in this case his own wife to humiliation.

In my mother's play, Ravanna is the hero, not Rama. My mother felt that Ravanna was the superior human being as he was capable of love. He was willing to risk his kingdom for Sita, whereas Rama sacrificed Sita for his kingdom.

India today has taken the path of Rama, not Sita. In the political and economic spheres, the isolated pursuit of single goals that subjugate other concerns and needs has converted my country into a hotbed of communalism and right wing politics. After 50 years of independence, a socialist, secular democratic republic that wished to secure for all her citizens justice, liberty and equality has failed.

There is a lesson here, and the lesson is that above all else we must learn to love and we must learn to keep a balance between all values and exert our right to dissent. We must revive Shakti.

For centuries our world was ruled by religion, after that our world was ruled by political ideologies and now our world is ruled by economics. All these, individually and in excess have proved disastrous to humankind. There was no balance. And not religion nor ideologies nor money could buy happiness. It did not bring us lasting justice, harmony, beauty or peace.

Through the centuries we have progressively succeeded in suppressing 50% of our population, the women. They have been prevented from making any contribution; they have no meaning and no control over their lives. In our male dominated societies we have vigorously pursued masculine values and as a result, reduced the quality of our lives.

These two diametrically opposite approaches of Rama and Sita, or the Ying and Yang, are based on our relationship with nature, how close or far removed we are from natural cycles and interestingly, the closer you are the model seems to be one of true partnership with a surprising lack of hierarchy, where every member of society participates - men, women, and children actively and in an informed manner; while the other is clearly based on hierarchy and domination. The question is do we want to centralise or decentralise. Do we want to dominate or live in partnership?

Centralization and patriarchy have grown together and one from the other. Some claim that the matriarchal system was the answer to patriarchy but the way it now operates, it seems that it has been appropriated by the system of patriarchy. We are not sure if the matriarchal system grew in reaction to the patriarchal system or the other way around but both are based on the dominant model. They may represent different sexes but one was certainly not an answer to the other. Both are now in violation of the fundamental principles of nature.

There is however a third example but heard of rarely. This is the society designed around the partnership model. The image is not clear but it seems to be an image born of the smell of the soil, practiced by peoples close to the soil.

Thallamakki is a tribal village on the banks of the river Varahi. Here children and their families make a living by weaving baskets, gathering honey and mushrooms. The raw material for the baskets as well as the honey and mushrooms are gathered from the forest of which they were a part. Tasks are delegated based on the ability of the individual. The women manage the resources while the men do the hard work. When we asked them why? They said that it was because men do not have the head for it. They explained that women have a natural tendency to nurture and grow things. They instinctively want to preserve and protect, while men are more aggressive and impatient. The male instinct is to show strength and power. They don't hesitate to destroy so it is better that they exert their strength for something useful such as chopping firewood or ploughing the fields.

I founded a Private Development Organisation in the mid 70's called the Concerned for Working Children (CWC)(Web Site: www.workingchild.org). We work with marginalised children empowering them to participate and realise their rights. We believe that children have a right to shape the world they will inherit from us and that they have a right to participate in all decisions concerning them.

There are many battles being fought in our countries by the marginalised; the long battle by working children, the underprivileged, women, tribal communities and displaced persons. The issues and the principles of all these struggles are common. The question of peoples control over their own lives and resources, their need to access political space in order to voice their opinions and the strength to change socio-cultural, economic and political structures. Ultimately, the power and ability to redesign society and the existing model of development.

I would like to tell you the story of Unchengamma, one of the little girls we work with.

Unchengamma has just turned 14. This is a drought prone area, very poor and extremely traditional. She lives in a very backward village in the north of Karnataka, the state that I come from. She is the president of Bhima Sangha a union off, for and by working children and also the president of the Makkala Panchayat or children government.

The children of this region had identified 'child marriage' as one of the issues that they needed to deal with girls as young as 10 and boys of 13 are being married off.

Recently, Unchengamma returned to her village after a meeting and found that her parents had decided to get her married to a boy of 21 years. She was appalled! She immediately registered a complaint with the police, the local Government and the Makkala Mitra or Children's Friend (like an ombudsperson for children). By doing this she was able to prevent her own marriage from taking place. She then called a meeting of the Children's Council and the working children's union and converted her personal battle into a movement against child marriages.

This campaign was not confrontative, but based on persuasion and reason. Children went house-to-house talking about the problems of child marriage using case studies of children who had suffered as a result. They enlisted the support of their families by asking them to sign a declaration against this practice. As it is against the law, teachers, politicians and local leaders could not help but sign this. The children finally called a public meeting that was supported by all the political parties and at this meeting the whole village took an oath that there would be no more child marriages there.

Unchengamma and her colleagues have succeeded in winning this battle peacefully. They have changed the attitude of a whole village. A practice that was deeply imbedded in age-old culture and tradition has been recognised as harmful and discarded. An incredible transformation has occurred and all through the power of children!

Unchengamma has now become a local heroine. She may be young and a girl but she has proved that struggles for justice have no age bar. If she can do it, so can we.

Thousands of children are now participating in the governance of their villages. Adults that were traditionally feudal, patriarchal and gender insensitive have become the advocates for Children's Rights. Many of them do not even know about the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Yet they see a value in the active and equal participation of children as they have seen this translated into overall benefit for the whole community. A sea change in the body politic!

We live in a paternalistic society. A society that is controlled by the minority elite that in order to protect its interests suppresses the majority. A body politic that uses structures to marginalise the weaker and less fortunate. State structures, the judiciary and parts of civil society all collude to keep vast groups of people at the bottom of the socio/economic and political triangle - and children have no place at all, no voice, no strength and no control.

Presented with this scenario, the Concerned for Working Children decided that the only way to solve the root causes of this problem were by creating 'political space' for children. Our role would be to enable children to occupy and use this space effectively to change structures and programmes to ones that improve the quality of their lives and that of their communities. To do this the children needed to gain strength through collective action, own and use information and be able to access and utilise human and material resources. Our programme called 'Makkala Toofan' or children's typhoon has enabled systemic changes that formalise political space for children.

There are not enough of people's movements, heroes or struggles; and the struggle that the children are engaged in is not even acknowledged. They know how to love, to hope and to dream. Things that most of us adults have forgotten how to do.

Hiro San's father owned a small rice field in the middle of Suita City and until a few years ago continued to farm it surrounded by high-rise buildings. He clung on to this piece of land, not because of its monetary value, but because he loved it. For him this land represented all the values he had lived for.

He has passed these values on to his son and having known Hiro San for years, I can see what these are. They are a warm and loving family where Hero and Toshie San are true and equal partners. The two girls, though twins, have grown into two very different and self assured young women, perusing very different careers. They were protected from the pressures that other Japanese children had to face. The family has managed to opt out of the rat race and live a gentle life, filled with laughter, music, love and purpose. Their home is a haven for many other young people searching for another way of life. This seems to be quite an impossible task in the middle of Japan - yet they have done it and they are happy and content.

The people of Yufuin, the tiny hot springs town, have begun an interesting experiment that points in the right direction. As you know they have introduced their own currency, the Yufu. With the Yufu you can buy services like a taxi ride, dinner, laundry and vegetables. This is their way of going back to the age-old system of barter. Apparently the Yufu is bringing back the old way of life based on need not greed - a way of life where you harvested your own vegetables for the evening meal, and made your own Miso soup with the noodles that your neighbour makes, and the Tofu man comes to the door step and supplies you fresh Tofu, made just the way you like it. The important thing is that the Yufu works on trust and credibility and social control that has strengthened the solidarity of the local community.

Maybe the people of Yufuin and families like Hiro San's are sowing the seeds for the rebirth of Japan. The 'small is beautiful' concept. Rediscovering the balance between the Ying and the Yang and going back to a more sustainable way of life that is closer to our resource base.

The American poet, essayist and novelist Wendell Berry, a tireless critic of the modern agricultural establishment, who ploughs his field the old fashioned way in Kentucky says, " The question of what a beloved country is to be used for quickly becomes inseparable from the questions of who is to use it or who is to prescribe its uses, and what will be the ways of using it. If we speak simply of the use of a 'country' then only the first question is asked, and only its would-be users ask it.

"It is not until we speak of a 'beloved country' - a particular country, particularly loved - that the question about ways of use will arise. It arises because, loving our country, we see where we are, and we see that present ways of use are not adequate. They are not adequate because such local cultures and economies as we had, have been stunted or destroyed.

We are steadily destroying this closeness with nature and losing our place as an integral part of her cycle. With it we are forgetting how to love her. We no more show her the affection and respect she deserves and instead we proceed to brutalise and rob her and consequently we are doing the same to our own quality of life.

Is it at all possible to reverse this trend? Is it not possible to live by what we believe and know to be right instead of by theories that have been developed in abstraction? Can we not live by Wendell's law - "As the quality of use increases, the scale of use (that is, the size of operations) will decline, the tools will become simpler, and the methods and the skills will become more complex. That is difficult law for us to believe, because we have assumed otherwise for a long time, and yet our experience overwhelmingly suggests that it is a law, and that the penalties for disobeying it are severe".

Is it possible to evolve a new social order based on partnership, rejecting totally the dominant model? Books like the Chalice and the Blade by Rianer Eisler , argue that such societies existed in the past and we see glimmers of some today.

All of Asia is facing the same crisis to a different degree. We have adopted a model of development and governance that is not truly a part of our nature, where the balance between Shakti and Shiva, the male, are out of synch. We have followed a hierarchy and compartmentalised our lives, separating the male and female values into small boxes and never seeing the whole picture. We have lost the balance between the Ying and the Yang - the masculine and the feminine or Shakti. We thought that by just allowing women into the economic arenas would solve the problem and we produced leaders such as Sri Lanka's President, Chandrika Bandranaike Kumaratunga, United Kingdom's Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher and India's Prime Minister, Indira Ghandi, all women who played the game by the rules laid down by men and just happened to prove better at it. They did not demonstrate the Stree Shakti or female power.

Each one of us has both the masculine and the feminine, the Ying and Yang. The Shiva and the Shakti. The Strong and the Gentle, the Aggressive and the Nurturing, the Confrontative and the Peaceful, the Impatient and the Patient, the Competitive and the Participatory, the Violent and the Protective, the Intolerant and the Tolerant, the Angry and the Loving and caring

All these attributes are not necessarily negative if they are balanced and used together. In isolation and in excess they are harmful and destructive. This balance is what we need to achieve and to do that we need to share the power we now enjoy equally with the other sex. We need to let women into the arena of politics, economics, religion and the socio-cultural sphere. We need to empower women to participate while retaining their feminine values.

We need to let the female inside each one of us grow and blossom. That is our only hope. This must be done through: 1) Changing Attitudes, 2) Restructuring the construct of gender in society, 3) Breaking stereo types, 4) Empowering girls and women to participate and realise their rights and 5) Enabling them to organise a platform and have a voice.

We also need to empower our children to grow up questioning us and demanding of us a new paradigm. We need to enable children to show us the way and lead us to a new world.

Let us release the Shakti of Japan and let this power enter the Governance of all institutions, the family, the community, business, education and the State.

We the majority must speak out and begin in our own small way to reconstruct our countries. You need to rebuild Japan on a sustainable model of development. We need to rebuild India. You have so many strengths, beauty and aesthetics, the power of self-control, fearlessness and austerity. You need to reclaim your place as the beacon for Asia and together we need to find a new way - an Asian way that is based on the positive in Asian values and traditions. Not a clone of the west.

I would like to end with the words of Issa:
"Old snow is melting…
Now the huts
Unfreezing too
Free all the children "
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