Social movements have a very important role in society, a role that has to assume even more significance if our deeply troubled world has to find a way out of the survival crisis in which it is entangled very badly at the moment. Of course we are here talking of only sincere movements, and not of those movements which are merely fronts of various narrow interests. However even sincere and honest social movements have to function in a situation of several uncertainties and confusions in the present day complex world. In such a situation how can we ensure that social movements definitely make a positive contribution, and contribute in more durable and wider ways?
Firstly, the easier task– it is important to be very clear about the most basic requirements of social change so that whatever the limited demands and aspirations of a particular movement, it does not go against the bigger and more basic requirements of creating a better world. Essentially we need a much more equal world, in social as well as economic terms, based on much more justice, including gender justice. We need a much higher commitment to peace and protection of environment at all levels. We need much more commitment to protection of and compassion for all other forms of life. We need harmony and mutual respect among people of various faiths, religions and sects. We need a much greater spirit of cooperation and mutual help in our troubled world at all levels.
Secondly, while understanding the importance of all the above-mentioned objectives, we need to have the ability of harmonizing these various objectives so that the narrow, one point pursuit of one objective is not at the cost of , or in violation of, other equally important objectives. This is very much needed for the proper presentation or articulation of the demands of a movement, as even very sincere and devoted movements can make serious mistakes if they are not careful regarding this cautionary principle.
Thirdly, there is need for deep commitment to peaceful and non-violent methods of bringing change as far as possible. There is a need to look for longer term objectives and prepare for the longer haul, have patience to work with a longer term perspective instead of spending all energy in one big outburst. This need is now more than before because of the complexity of the task of confronting the survival crisis.
Fourthly, there is a strong need to combine struggle and constructive work, as emphasized by Mahatma Gandhi earlier, and in more recent times by Shankar Guha Niyogi ( the path of combining sangharsh va nirman), a path also followed by several leading social movements of India like Narmada Bachao Andolan and Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sanghathna(MKSS).
Fifth and related aspect is to build up self-improvements in the course of the movements. For example of struggle can also involve that participants take a pledge, on voluntary basis of course and only those who feel the inclination for this, that they will entirely give up alcohol and all intoxicants and in addition will give up all aspects of domestic violence completely ( particularly all violence against women and children, not just physical violence but also verbal and emotional violence). This improves ethical base of movements and provides relief to people even before demands of struggle are accepted.
Last but not the least, there must be understanding of the wider survival crisis and of the need to contribute to the wider efforts to confront and check this crisis before it is too late.
Bharat Dogra is a journalist and author. His recent books include ‘Survival Crisis, Planet in Peril—People’s Movements the Only Way Forward’ and ‘ When the Two Streams Met’ ( Freedom Movement of India).