Imaginative Sympathy to Deliver Care

Photo by Author: The peak summer plants at Auroville, tended with care

Swami Ranganathananda, the 13th President of the Ramakrishna Order, while expounding the values for a public servant, coins the term ‘imaginative sympathy’, for the person occupying an office of responsibility to evolve beyond the ordinary sympathy into a space of spiritual sympathy. He says that such a person with the capacity to imaginatively experience the sufferings of people, has a wide range of expressions to respond to them. Such growth, he elaborates, provides the person with the by-products of ethical awareness and human response. I remembered these words recently when I met with S in a college function. We had just met, and he introduced himself as a retired Postman. He said humbly, ‘Not many know my name, because who remembers the name of a postman?’

S retired as a postman this year after serving for over three decades in one of the most difficult tribal terrains of India. When he was in service, he was known for sometimes walking 15 kilometres daily to deliver letters to remote inaccessible tribal villages. Occasionally, it may be a single letter that he was delivering. He would ensure that the letters are delivered to the right people, being concerned about what the post may carry to them. ‘You see it could be a Money Order for a few hundred rupees that someone needed the most or a job offer. It is my responsibility to ensure that I deliver these to the rightful person in time and I have to do it at any cost.’

While on duty, several times he would encounter wild animals, but that did not deter him. Narrating one such incident to college students, he said that once he was chased by a wild elephant while he was walking to deliver letters. S hid behind a tree and waited for the tusker to leave while shouting at it all the time that he can have him after he delivers the letter and return. ‘I don’t know if he understood, but thankfully after a while he left, and I could continue my journey’, he said. Maybe the animal did understand, like S mentioned to the students, ‘I know the forest and the animals, they know me as well, we all go about our work without disturbing each other’.
Another time while delivering a Money Order, he found that the particular house was locked and the person had been hospitalised. Now S felt that the poor person may need the money even more. After learning about which hospital the person was admitted in, he took the next day off from work. Taking a bus journey, he reached the hospital and delivered the money to the person that was much appreciated. He could have simply returned the money to the Post Office, or left it sitting there awaiting the person to return home, or left a word for the person to collect the money later. What he practiced was imaginative sympathy to motivate and shape each one of his responses. And as Swami Ranganathanandaji states, when every civil servant conducts his work in such a spirit, the nation really marches into great progress and transforms into a nation of great citizens and not merely of individuals.

Sangharsh or Samanvay? –A Debate of Our Times …

Indian philosophy and thinking, values infinite human potential and does not give up on oneself or others. There is redemption for all—the sinners as well as the saints. This in turn recognises that everyone is a ‘work in progress’ and gives a chance to evolve into a better being. Here is the beginning of non-violence that stems from a deeper understanding that hurting others is also hurting oneself.

M, is a founder-teacher in a rural resident school. A new student who was violent towards others because of his traumatic family history, was beating up his classmates. She called for an assembly and appealed to the angry youth by giving a stick to hit everyone there, including
herself. The student though initially taken aback, went ahead and tried it. Now that he had
hit everyone, she told him to give violence a rest for the day within himself. The same ritual was
repeated the next day. On the third day, he could not do it. In the process of converting the
violence in the student into a ritual, M had addressed the deep-seated anger that the
youngster had bottled up, and once that was exhausted, he could only treat his co-students
with respect.

Talking about our challenges, recently a senior monk mentioned that the excessive modern emphasis on ‘novelty, self-grounding and violence’ were the key features of our times. He outlined that for many of us, there cannot be anything ordinary any longer, even the mundane daily needs must have a sense of being new and novel. Modern humans have been programmed to believe that they are missing out on something if they are not excited about their basic daily needs, despite the fact that these needs have remained stable over time.

As humans embrace new ideas, they often categorize past customs as blind faith and view novel ideas as growth. This can lead to isolation from the past and an inherent violence in the attitude that there is no alternative (TINA) to competitive development.

Additionally, all commercial growth is often portrayed as ‘development’ regardless of its consequences. P, a senior nun during a discussion highlighted this with an example: ‘A dead cattle is sold in the market at more than double the price of a living cattle’. She mentioned this giving a thumb rule example, ‘how can any life form survive in an economy if its value is higher
when dead than when it is alive?’. The same can be said of other animals, and some rare plants
and minerals which are harvested or extracted without the thought of sustainability. The senior
monk concluded, ‘today we are at a situation where we feel, irrespective of whether some
people are alive or dead, development needs to happen. This is the result of “sangharsh” or
struggle being seen as both a means towards achieving growth and an end in itself’. ‘Struggle between entities has been much glorified in this context including its violent methods. In this process, even pregnancy is portrayed as a “struggle” between the mother and the child in the womb sometimes. When all development is presented as a struggle of one view against the other, victory of one at the cost of the other, even annihilation of the other, maybe acceptable eventually’. Contrasted against this is the Indian vision of samanvay or peaceful co-existence, where everyone has the liberating vision of continuous mutual development.

Explaining this with the beautiful verse of the Gita (3.11), Swami Ranganathananda said, ‘The principle of a healthy social life is also based on this parasparam bhavayantah, “Help and nourish each other” principle; not by fighting with each other, but by helping each other, serving each other; that will help all people to rise to the highest level. If you take from nature and not give back to nature, you will suffer. Take and give back, take and give back, that is the nature of a healthy human environment relation.’

Trusteeship Vs Plutonomy

“We are all floating in the same sea, it’s clear that some are in superyachts while others are clinging to drifting debris”, said the UN Secretary General Mr. Antonio Gunerras while commenting on the inequality in the post-pandemic world (link). Inequality has been repeatedly referred to as one of the significant challenges of the world that stems from several causes, historical, social, and contemporary.

— The historical reason for the inequality includes colonization by the European nations that left an indelible mark on the subjugated nations, their societies, people, communities, knowledge and economies.

— Social reasons include the oppression of certain sections of society, in the name of caste, gender and other divisions.

— The contemporary issues include the expansion of trade globally and technological advances in some countries that have shifted the income distribution in unprecedented ways with no social security whatsoever for those rendered unskilled or whose knowledge has been rendered irrelevant.

Globally though the idea of limits to economic growth was known long ago, Economists have accepted that limitless growth is impossible only recently after the emergency of climate crisis. However in the meanwhile, we have had the emergence of a plutonomy society. A plutonomy society is defined as a society in which majority of wealth is owned and controlled by an ever shrinking few.  This has widened the economic inequality in society and the consequences include social unrest, increased crime and debasing of social cohesion.  The debasing of social cohesion is seen as one of the biggest risk the world will face in the coming decade.  Pathways for economic growth have been proven since long, however the pathway for addressing inequality is not available with clarity, particularly in the western world.

When Sanjivbhai Dholakia, the diamond merchant of Surat started to gift cars and houses to his staff some years ago, suddenly the world got interested in this model of sharing wealth by a corporate head. He was gifting several hundred cars and houses to his loyal employees and wanted to provide them with basic amenities for a happy life. His model was picked up by several others in different parts of the country, where the owners set aside a significant portion of their profit to be shared with the employees. While this may result in the individual owner cutting down on his profits, it resulted in a genuine care for the welfare of the employees. Dholakia mentioned that taking care of the grievance of his employees and ensuring that they are happy was a responsibility of the businessperson. This is in line with the Trusteeship model that was proposed by Gandhiji for the voluntary distribution of wealth by the rich. The model places a moral responsibility of the wealthy to use their wealth for the service of all of humanity and never end up compromising the welfare of the many, particularly the poor and downtrodden for the profit or luxury of a few people.

In India, the modern Indian State has strived to provide an equal playing field and address the historic and social inequalities through constitutional provision, reservation policy, scholarship programmes, institutional support, and subsidies.  At the same time, the contemporary drivers of inequality in terms of economic and technological inequalities have grown. That is where the examples of Trusteeship that people like Dholakia act upon, sharing their wealth, sets a different example.

 As Swami Vivekananda indicated long back clearly, “Without the knowledge of the Spirit, all material knowledge is only adding fuel to fire, only giving into the hands of the selfish one more instrument to take what belongs to others, to live upon the life of others, instead of giving up one’s own life for them.”

Care & Trust as Enterprise Values

B manages a small soap making unit in his native town. After giving up his pursuit of career in the IT sector, he decided to settle down with his parents and siblings in a large joint family in his native town and work with educationists in the region. He decided to pursue a career of teaching and mentoring school children and teachers as well, apart from reading scriptures and practicing his belief. Mentoring several schoolteachers, today he is well sought after as a trainer and speaker. Addressing the needs of the poor and government schoolteachers means, he often is falling short in earning the basic needs for his family. So, he decided to produce something by hand processing and sell the same and earn a living. He learnt soap making and taught it to the family.  He realized that a minimal order secured can sustain the family. Being a practitioner of strict ethical code of conduct; he developed challenges when he started to produce the soap.

The first problem he encountered was when he wanted to produce the soap in bulk. He was not for making soaps that had excess chemicals. So, after some research he found out that there were ways to make soaps without any chemical inputs. With that knowledge, he made soaps that were did not produce much lather. While this did not go well with some customers, eventually, after he shared the reasons, the quality of the product ensured that there were regular customers. His next challenge was how to package the soap in a non-plastic wrapper that did not create a non-decomposable waste material.  His continued search led him to another youth, D, who was researching on the non-plastic packaging material. They collaborated to come up with a non-plastic wrapper for the soap. Another problem that B encountered in his soap manufacturing was that he had no idea now to price his product. As his marketing was through word of mouth and friends and relatives, he decided to leave the pricing to them. So, he called a few of his friends and told them the amount of money he had spent to make the soap and then asked them to pay him whatever they felt comfortable. B confessed that “when I ask them, people always cite a price more than what I would have priced the soap myself. People are always generous if we insist on care and quality and trust them! I always price the product lesser than what they want to pay. I do not need more”.

In a world where pricing is done through competition analysis and profit maximization, such strategies may seem odd and misplaced. Faith in the capacity of people to sustain oneself and care for their welfare has made B a successful entrepreneur today, though his production is very local and only for a few.  As Swami Vivekananda said, “every successful man must have behind him somewhere tremendous integrity, tremendous sincerity, and that is the cause of his success in life”.  

We share and grow together  – higher truths as simple response

One of Swami Vivekananda’s oft repeated quotations ‘the society is greatest where the highest truths become practical’. His continued efforts were to bring the deep-rooted highest truths of the civilization to bear on the day-to-day life and provide people with the confidence to face the acute and emerging difficult situations.  

The guiding principles of a civilization that proclaimed, “everything that is there is inter-connected” in the divine reality and choosing to co-exist the multiple interpretations of the same must have several lessons for the world not merely on the matters of the spirit, but, also on materialism. How does a society that has been resilient and has seen the ascend and descend of many kingdoms structure its preparation for a difficult day if it was a society that has the highest truths built in?  What are these values and how does it manifest today?

During the pandemic that shook the world in 2000, there were several examples of this resilience coming to the fore in the unorganized sector across India. K and G had started a small tailoring unit in a town in southern India just a few of years before the pandemic, they had trained women from the nearby slums to stitch cloth bags and had just moved to a new office, a large, abandoned building in the middle of a major slum in the town. While the location was not easy to reach, the rent was affordable, and the place was accessible for the women to come without having to spend money for travel. Many also had their children coming to the office after the school hours and slowly an evening school too was getting initiated.

When Pandemic came and there were no orders for the bags coming up, the promoters were worried if they can sustain the effort, pay the women as well as the rental. They spoke to some of their friends – one was managing an organic food retail shop in another town; another friend was designing packaging material for small retailers – they found that all of them were having a similar challenge. K asked them if they were willing to move their operations to his large (and relatively unoccupied) office and willing to share the burden together? Within a few weeks, two new businesses and their owners moved into the large space. What started off as an initial shared space, soon became shared responsibility and multiple roles. Not just the promoters, even the minimal staff that were working were happy to rotate their roles between multiple businesses and do diverse forms of work during the day. “What started off as an emergency response has made us all into a new form of community. I don’t much worry about the business any longer, though we are not related or have any written agreements, I somehow have the feeling of being cared for, I know I am not alone”, said K. Collective responsibility and shared resources can emerge as a strategy only in a civilization with an ethical view that we all grow together and reaffirms the higher truth that all things are connected in daily life as well. 

Why do People Conserve Nature?

Credits: Baskar Manimegalai

Do you see this tree we are sitting under? What do you see in this?’, asked a Kurumba tribal leader as we sat to discuss about their livelihoods in the forest dwelling in the Nilgiris under a very large tree. The Kurumbas are one of the smaller tribal groups that are restricted in their habitation to the Nilgiris alone. The Forest Rights Act (FRA) has given communities dwelling in the forests like the Kurumba rights over farming and collecting forest produce in their land. It was in studying the impact of FRA that I was visiting their land and sitting in a dialogue with the leader. ‘You see this is a rosewood tree, I grew up with this tree, we relate to each other like a family, and the trees are part of our life. When people from outside come, they only look at the value of the timber and not the tree. Often, we have visiting traders and even officers eyeing the tree and talking about how amazing the timber can be. We don’t see it that way, for us the tree is part of our life. Otherwise, don’t you think we would have better doors for our houses than these?’, he said pointing to the dwellings built under government scheme, having cement sheets as a doors. Among the poor and ordinary people of this land seems
to reverberate the ancient wisdom that all things in nature are connected.

World over there is an increasing recognition of the healing nature of trees. Forest bathing has emerged as a therapeutic practice. Such forest bathing is prescribed for people in Japan. Scientists the world over have discovered that spending time in the forest and among trees is not merely good for stress but also building immunity in the human body. It has also been found that plants too like being touched and studies indicate that the plants develop better resistance to pests if they are touched and cared for with love.

Jadav Payang
Salamaradhu Thimmakka

When Jadav Payang and Salamaradhu Thimmakka were awarded the Padma Shri by the Government of India in 2015 and 2019 respectively, it was a recognition of the immense capacity of the ordinary person to conserve nature by planting trees and in the process even creating a forest. While the 64 year old Jadev is credited with single-handedly creating 550 hectares of forest in his native state of Assam, the 110 year old Thimmakka has planted nearly 400 banyan trees. Their humble and even poverty struck existence has not in any way diminished their conviction nor the impact of their work today in society.

Modern theories suggest that people get involved in social activity as a way of gaining recognition after their basic needs are met. Indians as a civilisation seems to have always proven this theory wrong. Today it is not uncommon to see small saplings of trees being gifted during functions and even during weddings. With increasing awareness, some of the domestic products are sent with a gift of a small bag of seeds encouraging people to start planting and conserving. While the modern environmental movement has emerged as a possible response to largescale destruction of the forests in the Western countries, in India it has and will remain always as a way of re-emphasizing and establishing the ancient wisdom that we are one with the trees and forests.

pic courtesy: Baskar Manimegalai

Dhamma Co-learner

Two years of proud association bonded by commitment to reviving dialogues on Ethics or Dharma. Free Thinkers in Society who challenge our assumptions and break our stereotypes through sincere efforts in their quest for Truth, fearless and regardless of how it is perceived are the ones who push the boundaries of our imagination and responsible action.

Happy to continue the path…

Consensus in Decision Making

In any decision that impacts a wider community or the whole society, consensus is very
crucial. The process of arriving at a consensus ensures that everyone’s view is valued. The decision arrived at, then gets the maximum adherence. Consensus is a democratic process of decision making in which the interests and apprehensions of all are accommodated or addressed. But impatient people look down upon consensus in societal decision making as a ‘slowing down growth’ or ‘inefficient’ method; this is true for smaller communities as well as large international communities.

The widening economic and aspirational interest in society is most visible in the process
of arriving at a consensus. For example, when a particular group wants wide roads for their luxury cars, and another group wants to sustain their food cultivation on the roadsides, there is a conflict of interests; while one group calls this conflict ‘impediments of development’, the other terms it ‘ecological suicide’. In such situations, consensus remains a distant dream and the ensuing negotiations often result in the sacrifice of the interests of the less powerful. The underlying reason is lack of common values.

But it is not always difficult to arrive at a consensus if people lived and worked together
in one place for a long time. That is what I learnt from my interaction with the village
panchayat in the village P.

P is a small, interesting village, very popular for its annual festival. I first heard of
the village, through the amazing dairy cooperative that was managed and promoted by
the community members. They had several innovative practices as part of the dairy cooperative – insurance, procurement of cattle feed at source to ensure quality, subsidized and credit linked cattle feed, unique milk procurement process to assure quality, timely
disbursement of money to dairy farmers, procurement centres managed by women,
weekly account management by different members of the council and the consequent
weekly reconciliation and many more. It is not easy to achieve so much — build a strong asset base and several enterprises — if not for a strong leadership, and co-operation among all its members.

I found out that the community institution which managed these was a village panchayat
(not to be confused with the ‘official’ panchayat which is the body of elected representatives of the village). I enquired about this village panchayat, piqued by the thought that this might be some kind of an autocratic institution parallel to the official elected body. Everyone assured me that this panchayat leader’s decisions were final word in the village. This made me more uncomfortable.

I finally got an appointment to meet the panchayat leader and also witness a panchayat
meeting. It was about a domestic violence dispute between a couple. Even as the case was being heard by the council, the leader stepped out of the medai (the raised platform for the panchayat to sit, beside the village deity’s temple) to have a cup of tea. Meanwhile, the business of dispensing justice continued. After hearing both sides some judgement was pronounced and the couple as well as the members of the panchayat council dispersed. I was surprised! I had assumed they would wait for the leader to return before pronouncing the judgment.

So, when the leader returned for the interview with me, my first question to him
was, “Ever since I entered your village, I have been hearing that your judgment is the rule
here. So, how come, in this case the judgment was pronounced in your absence?” He looked genuinely surprised at my question but not as surprised as I was to be, at his response – “How did you think that all of us at the council thought differently? Whatever the ruling, it would have been the same had I been present too; all of us think alike.” What he was saying was all of them shared the same set of values and since the judgment came from shared values, it would have been the same, no matter who pronounced it.

It also clarified another practice there, that I had earlier been befuddled by. A member could not be elected to the council unless he/she had been living continuously in the village for 10 years. When I enquired about this, the leader said, “Yes, it takes that long before someone can belong to the village and decide for it.” This was one rule they were strict about. Even if someone migrated from the village for only a few months, he would have to again have ten years of continuous living in the village to be eligible for the council. Late Gandhian historian, Dharampal often used to mention that in India consensus was always preferred over efficiency in decision-making because it ensured better participation.

Swami Vivekananda has warned us repeatedly against disagreements in a group, and of the importance of slow and steady work. In a letter dated 4 Oct 1895 written from England, he writes: “Purity, patience, and perseverance overcome all obstacles. All great
things must of necessity be slow…” Speed, as a mechanical process is contrasted against
slowness. However, as a social process, ‘speed’ could be construed as opposite to consensus, inclusiveness, democracy, or holistic thought. Often the mechanical value of speed is superimposed upon social processes as well, implying that having a ‘speedy’ social process will somehow deliver good to society. However, the truth is, great things are achieved slowly and by ensuring everyone is included — whether it be governance of a village or a community enterprise.

Gifting Culture – Becoming a Nachiketha

The Katha Upanishad starts with Nachiketha, a young boy asking his father why as part of the rituals and ceremony he was giving away as gifts unhealthy and weak cattle to the poor and what purpose will it serve them receiving such cattle.

I was reminded of this recently when we had a couple of young interns pursuing Entrepreneurship at the Institute. One of them came from a silk weaving and trading family from Kancheepuram. Kancheepuram is one of the most ancient towns of Tamil Nadu and is a hub for silk weaving. The intern hails from one of the weaving community families that also sells their products through exclusive shops that abound amidst thousands of historic temples. Walking around Kancheepuram one can encounter several ancient temples with superior aesthetics and architecture, arts and design.

When I spoke to the student, I enquired her about the quality of silk that is used in weaving.  I was aware that genuine silk has over the past two decades slowly been replaced by cheap Chinese artificial shiny yarn that is passed off as silk. Weavers regularly use these yarns as it provides the same finish and is cheaper.

When I enquired about the kind of silk being used, she said, “sir we mostly weave and sell genuine silk but also sell the Chinese ones, maybe it is about 30-40%”. When I asked her whether the Chinese silk is good for the person wearing the same, she agreed with me that it is a synthetic material and is not good for whoever wears it. Knowing how my question was proceeding, she said that ‘’people ask for genuine silk to buy for themselves whereas they buy the poor quality unhealthy synthetic material to be given as gift to others”, so the shop had to stock of both. Did she feel there was something wrong about it? I asked, she said, “that’s what people want, what can we do”?  

Human aspiration for better quality of life can never be challenged. But what does a human aspire for by gifting someone else poorer quality product?  Mom used to tell us a beautiful saying in Sanskrit which meant – vidya (knowledge) leads to discrimination, discrimination leads to character, character leads to wealth and wealth leads to sharing (dhaanam) and it is sharing (dhaanam) that gives one sukham (happiness). Gifting is a way of sharing what one has regardless of the quality. But, to have a quality for oneself and another for gifting is not sharing as in dhaanam, but, a hypocrisy.  We have created an entire industry out of gift giving and receiving in this country that is built such hypocrisy as the young intern acknowledged.

In the land that celebrates highest quality of fabric, metal work, arts, crafts and all kinds of material of a very high quality, anyone wants to really gift someone else with a superior quality product, can do so and if the other person uses the same. Every qualitatively superior product, – where quality is defined as workmanship, beauty, skill, artistry, design or functionality, – provides us with a deep sense of satisfaction of having encountered something superior, like walking into the town of Kancheepuram and witnessing all the beautiful temples. There is a sense of being elevated if the values are shared about what is quality. The best gift is done spontaneously and with gratitude. “Be thankful in giving”, says the Buddha. When we are given an opportunity to gift someone, we are expressing one of the most profound human experiences.

 In a world of excessive extraction and exploitation, every human experience has been commodified and expressed as some material or another. Today with the over doing of the extraction and exploitation, some people rightfully are asking the purpose of material based gifting itself.  Gift need not be a commodity, it can be a peaceful presence, listening to beautiful music, sharing a magical moment in silent wonderment, creatively engaged in a shared idea, working side-by-side in a field, sharing someone’s work without being asked, all of these are gifts.  Can’t we plant a tree or sponsor an animal care as a gift to someone? Why should we ‘’gift’’ and ‘’return gift’’ poor quality materials to people?

On gifting, let’s try adopting the question of Nachiketa, “what is the purpose of the gifting?” is a good question to ask and convincing ourselves of giving away toxic, unhealthy, poor quality and useless gifts is a way of perpetrating poor quality in the planet.   

Re-creating Dharma in daily life today starts with the question of consumption.

Freedom vs Technology

“We are happy Madam!” said a smiling farmer V to the visiting agricultural professor, as he stood along with his wife in the middle of a brinjal patch on his 2-acre family land. They were in work clothes and it was evident that they had worked long hours in the field. The pride and happiness at having another group of visitors at his successful field, was visible on his face.

The professor was part of a delegation that had been sent from the neighbouring state to understand the practice and benefits of nonchemical farming. Agricultural university professors from one state, visiting small and marginal farmers in another state is no
common occurrence; it had taken a visionary bureaucrat and a co-operative Vice Chancellor to ensure that it happened. One of the visiting professors was into developing new varieties of hybrid seeds and, like everyone else in the group, was impressed by farmer V’s confidence and knowledge as he explained the amazing transformation that had come about when they switched from synthetic chemicals to natural
farming practices.

When the discussion turned to seeds, the lady professor was intrigued to learn that he
used traditional seeds and that they were occasionally exchanged with other farmers
including his own brother who cultivated in another village. This was how it had been done for hundreds of years. She asked him, “What about using hybrid seeds? You can get better yields if you use hybrid seeds.” She was referring to hybrid seeds that were developed, and sold by private companies. These do have the capacity for better yield in the short term, but require the farmer to replenish seeds continuously at a higher cost, from the company. V smiled and said, “We are happy Madam!” The professor thought the farmer perhaps did not comprehend what she said. She turned to the interpreter and requested that her comment be translated. She kept repeating that he did not understand. What the professor did not know was that V had used hybrid seeds
at one time, got into debt trap like many others in the region, and had then returned to
traditional farming practices.

The professor who had spent all her life trying to create ‘improved’ varieties of seeds,
that she believed would solve farmers’ problems, had not considered their economic
viability. Often one single benefit of an institutional/technological product is used to
justify the difficulties it imposes on the beneficiary. Yield-centric thought in the
farming sector is one such. Modern technology workers do not think of the human cost and violence that technology brings. Divorce of ethics from the research, production and
marketing of the benefits of technology has a lot to do with it.
The professor later admitted that she had been ignorant of the larger realities related to
economics, in farming. She had only considered the obvious benefits she believed technology would deliver. She said, “We have conveniently worked with farmers who have been eager to try out new technologies and I realise many of these were rich farmers who could afford the cost of adopting such technologies.” An oft repeated question in the technology innovation circles is: “If technology is the solution, what was the problem?” Here, the professor’s notion of doing ‘useful’ work was challenged and that upset her very much. She realised that while for her it was a choice of technology, for the farmer
it was about asserting freedom.
The curriculum of many Indian universities is rooted in a colonial understanding of the sciences and their priorities. Much needs to be done to revise them to match our current priorities and understanding. For instance, the colonizer needed to show traditional agriculture in poor light so the superiority of his agriculture sciences could be established. Knowledge of traditional farming was thus kept out of the curriculum, and if at all included, was done so in a disparaging manner. Evaluation of agriculture on the basis of indicators like ‘productivity’, ‘speed’ and ‘efficiency’ replaced values such as ‘inclusivity’, ‘holism’, ‘selfreliance’, ‘diversity’, ‘resilience’ and ‘freedom’.
The diversity of various crops in India is even today unknown to undergraduate students in agriculture. Recently, a whole class of agriculture graduates and post-graduates were
able to name only 7 varieties of rice and were surprised to learn that till recent decades India had over 1,00,000 varieties. Even today, several hundreds of these varieties are cultivated across the country by farmers to enhance their capacity to fight weather uncertainties brought about by climate change, and also to meet specialised market demands. Some senior students acknowledged that they had heard of a few names of the traditional varieties of rice, but had not given it any thought as they had had no awareness about their relevance. Such knowledge gaps in learning later concretise
into major flaws in capacity to deliver services, or develop products or technologies for

As Swami Ranganathanandaji, the 13th President of the Ramakrishna Sangha, often
exhorted, freedom and responsibility go together. While the farmer enjoys his rightful
freedom to stay out of the hybrid seeds-debt cycle, it is his responsibility to grow nurturing and healthy food for humanity without harming the environment. Similarly, an agriculture professional, whether an academician, researcher, or an entrepreneur, has the freedom in his/her domain of knowledge to pursue research, develop newer products and
technologies, but with the responsibility to ensure that the same assures long-term
benefits to the farmer and the soil.