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A call for burying the notion of development


03 / 1993

At the Conference "Living with the Earth" organized by the Intercultural Institute of Montreal in May 1992, an Indian participant from the Himalaya, Sunderlal Bahuguna, called for the burial of the notion of development. He attended the Conference immediately following a 45 days fast and 11 days in prison, in protest against the building of the Tehtri Dam in the foothills of the Himalayas. He is well-known as one of the leaders of the Chipko Movement in the Himalayas. He once led a padayatra, or march, the whole length of the Himalayas - from Kashmir in the west, to the farthest eastern part of the mountains. He follows in the tradition of Gandhi-ji, and carries in his very person the living spirit and presence of the Mahatma. This is an extract of what he said : "Friends, I thank you for giving me an opportunity to come here from my remote Himalayan village to listen to scholars, philosophers, activists and development practioners. My first reaction to this conference is that if we can do something concrete we should bury the word "development" with great festivity and grandeur. Because this idea of development, which was born after the industrial revolution, made two basic changes in the human thinking. The first was the concept that nature is a commodity which can be sold and marketed. The second was the idea that society is only made up of human beings. And these are two big lies. And that is the root cause of the devastation and destruction which we see all around us. We all know that it has created havoc, especially the Second Great World War. But very few people know that the Third Great War has started - the human war against nature. We know that in terms of economic growth, we have achieved too much. Whatever growth was achieved up to 1915 has been equalled by the growth achieved during the last 40 years. But at what cost ? Twenty percent of the forests have disappeared. More crop land has been converted into deserts. These are the gifts of development. We define development as affluence - having more and more things. And in order to achieve this goal, human beings became butchers of nature. We have achieved prosperity but we have lost peace and happiness. And this prosperity is temporary, because it is based on the butchery of nature. That is the direction that our science and technology has taken. We misuse technology in order to extract more and more from nature. Development believes in the religion of economics. We are no longer Christians or Hindus or Muslims. We are followers of the religion of economics. And the priest in this religion of economics is technology. So friends, our greatest success would be to bury this era of development. Nobody would talk about development then. Development agencies and funding agencies remind me of an expression in my language : "The rat is dying, but it is play for the cat." You have seen the play of the rat and the cat; the cat does not kill him at once. He plays for some time. That is what is happening everywhere. The poor people are playing the part of the rat. And the cat is playing with them, by advancing lucrative aid and grants."

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