|THE POWER OF SHAKTI IN GOVERNANCE
by Nandana Reddy
Kobe, June 16, 2002
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
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?
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
"In my dark winter
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
・ 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
・ 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
・ 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
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,
・ 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
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
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
"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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Free all the children "