Development Sustained, But What Does That Mean?

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By Amar Yumnam The world is right now preoccupied with the winds of change blowing across North Africa and Middle East. These establish or rather confirm a few major findings in the development literature. First, education is a prime mover of thoughts for change. Second, education enhances and deepens the spirit of democracy among the population. Third, individuals with education acquired in a more advanced place and who had returned home are major catalysts of change.

As a colleague from the World Bank has so characteristically put it, the changes now taking place have led to what he calls Explanation Olympics with so many experts trying to chip in their own explanations. But it is an Olympics that is going to run for quite some time, years or decades even, with no visible sign of anyone coming out a winner. In fact, all disputes in history have had more than one side of story and more than one rationale of the outcomes. The more than twenty volumes in the History in Dispute series published by St. James Press are a wonderful testimony to this reality. By the way, if someone asks me if I have read all the volumes, please do not feel unsecured for I have not read all but only selectively.

More Ethical Issues: While these contemporary developments would take time to get fully unfolded and for the dimensions to have their complete play-outs, we need to be concerned with the ethical dimensions of development. It is here that the term sustainability becomes calling again and again. In the beginning, it used to be confined only to the environment related issues, but today the term has acquired broader meanings. Sustainability has to be practised not only in the case of environment, but in the case of social, economic and political variables as well.

No doubt sustainability of the environment is important with the looming disaster likely to be a reality within our own lifetime unless something is put in place today. But it would have no meaning if the society one lives in is not sustainable and the polity one survives in is unjust. This is the reason why pundits and policy makers have now started speaking increasingly of sustainable society.

A sustainable society is one where individuals have the opportunity to grow without discrimination, and there is possibility of collective glory. With the rise of democracy the necessity of enlarging the scope for individual advancement is being increasingly appreciated. But this in no way has diminished the relevance of community in one form or another. Whereas identity may undergo changes in character and composition, the necessity of a community with which an individual can identify with has not diminished at all. Even in the case of an individual who may not be interacting at all with those geographically close to him, there is now the Facebook circle or Linkedin connections.

Contextualisation: It is exactly at this point that there is necessity of contextualising the understanding of social sustainability. The socially sustainable approach and policy are to be evolved keeping in mind fully the context in which we have to apply them.

Naturally we have to think of a sustainable society keeping in mind the contextual realities of Manipur. First of all, we have to accept the heterogeneity of the demographic composition of the population now called Manipuris. In this exercise, we have to take into account not only the population groups settling here since primordial times but also those who have made the land their home for the last half a century or more. Any attempt to single out and target the latter as outsiders would have two unfortunate outcomes. To begin with, the very approach would only invite global wrath, and to that extent would be suicidal. Further, the strength of the Manipuris as nurtured over the last century or so would necessarily encompass the contribution of all groups of population, irrespective of whether primordial or otherwise. We must be able to ride on the strength of the heterogeneity.

Now while attempting to create a socially sustainable society the role of politically implemented policies are of prime importance. We need to continually see to it that there is neither vacuum nor imposition on the social space of individuals and communities. It is of no meaning and would be of no long term consequence to attempt to create societies without being alive to the realities of geography and history as some are trying in this part of the world. While saying so, we must also be alive to the necessity of the governance to be sensitive and commit to the needs of interests of the heterogeneous geography and ethnic composition of the land. If this does not happen, we would continue facing the non-sustainable irritant of some individuals playing the communal card in the name of integration and all that. Now that the elections are due in few months and ipso facto we have started meeting increasing number of “social workers”, the larger society needs to apply its mind on these issues individually as well as collectively.

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