A long road of inhumanity

IMG_A1AB2C17A407-1Let’s walk with this migrant labourer for a while
A father in his late 20s
Walking with his bags
and barely leftover pride on his back
Balancing his child
and hope for survival on his shoulders

He left his poor farm
To earn a living in big promising cities
He slogged day and night
To help his landlord and employers
Build their houses and live their dreams

When pandemic demanded all go home
He and his family were kicked out on the street
Government ceased the public transport
Forcing them to walk on foot
100s of miles to their village
On a long concrete highway
No food, no water, no shelter
Desperately turning back
on the sound of every passing vehicle
Hoping someone would help

An overloaded truck slows down
100s like him rush to cling with its ropes
He is not an insensitive father
When he throws his child on to the truck
He is desperate to save him
With all that he has
His body, his strength
And his determination to survive

IMG_4E4B0C523EC2-1* * *

Now, walk with the woman
Catching up right behind her husband
Her steps way bigger than her frame
Carrying a bag in left
And her toddler in the right arm

She left her village
To support her man
In his struggle against poverty
And it’s evil cousin of gender oppression

She gave him hope
To dream of a family
In the Eden garden of capitalist schemes

Pandemic busted their hope
And robbed her dignity overnight
Left stranded between–
a lost dream and a fading homeland
She walks on a long lifeless road
Gathering her last strength
Bearing the child, the shame
and broken hope
Ready to give every drop to her life
To her family
She is a moving home
She is a woman too!

* * *

And if you could stay a little longer
And walk beside the child for a while
Look within his innocent eyes
Wondering quietly
Why his school, his playground, his safe home
Was snatched overnight
Why do his parents choose to walk this long road
Why does his stomach hurt so much
Why he can’t ask for food
Why no one would wipe his tears

A soul unknowingly born in a world
So broken and so inhuman
Crushing his innocence with structural inequity
That you and I create and endorse every day

Their pandemic is not COVID
It’s the fragmented society, failed governance, fake capitalist dream
And heartlessness of people like us
Residing in the top slots of the pyramid
Unaware of the collapse at the bottom

— manish srivastava
from the sacred well
on sleepless night of 13th May 2020

…………………………………………………………

Photo credits:

Some more info on state of stranded migrant labourers in midst of COVID lockdown:

Some grassroots efforts supporting migrant labours and their villages:

Virus & the stories we tell

Does this virus really care
For the stories, we tell
Is it aware of its lethal spread
Or any benign side effects

Will it spare you
For your bureaucratic power
Political maneuver
Or grand religious affairs

Will, it ever feel remorse
For unfair deal, it gave to those
With more burden and suffering

Will it get any credit
For the radically reduced carbon footprints
Or the management insights generated on LinkedIn

Is the virus aware that we are already infected
By the destructive pathogens of fear, greed, and hatred
Can the virus stand its own insignificance
And bear our unprocessed projections
Does the virus know it could be an unconscious cure
for many ills, we humans cause on ourselves

Viruses are innocent
They come and go

Humans need stories
Some to scare
Some to survive

Life sits alone
On an old armchair
Always beautiful
Always fragile

 

-Manish Srivastava

(from the Sacred Well)

19.03.2020

Added on 21 March after this news:

Does the virus care for your entitlements?
Your power or status won’t help you get out of this one
Look within O Powerfuls, its a lesson in “responsibility”

Free Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

Sacred Fire

As we celebrate the sacred fire of Holika Dahan, I am reminded of all the pain and conflict, our land has witnessed in the recent past. 

Rituals offer deeper meaning. Mythology is collective psychology. A sacred fire is more than the annihilation of evil King Hiranyakashyapu or celebration of faith of a divine child Prahlad.

The sacred fire is the flame of truth within each of us that longs to burn all that hold us from our true nature. Beyond our armours of race, religion, gender, or region. To rebirth us into the field “out beyond our wrongdoings and rightdoings” that great poet Rumi spoke about many years back. 

As I stand in reverence to the sacred fire of Holi, my heart opens up…

 

At the threshold of our knowing 

Between day and night 

Right and wrong 

Wild and civilized 

Swells a Sacred Fire 

 

Little flame of inner truth 

Transformed into a blast furnace 

Burning all that holds us 

From our authentic core 

Fierce and intense 

Kali’s tongue or Rudra’s breath 

Rising within each soul 

Destroying all facade 

Restoring humanity 

Healing old wounds 

 

Tonight let’s surrender 

To the sacred fire within

 

~ Manish Srivastava @poetmanish

http://www.sacredwell.in

(On sacred occasion of Holika Dahan)

 

 

Longing for Dignity

Transforming  human trafficking ecosystem

Sometimes we need to walk to the edges of our civilization to see deeper truths. Human trafficking is one such edge. It is a story of how human can reduce humanity to an object for flesh-trade.

I was ignorant and apathetic to the world of human trafficking until two leading non-profit organizations, working on anti-trafficking, invited me to facilitate a dialogue. They asked me to help them solve complex systems challenges in their field that was leading to internal ideological conflicts and impacting their collective work.

We convened a group of men and women committed to fighting against this gruesome act of humanity. At the end of the first day, we sat in a circle and shared painful stories of how young girls and boys are sold, how their innocence is manipulated, and their dignity is destroyed. As they introduced me to the dark world of human trafficking, I felt deeply sad, angry and helpless. I had no courage to facilitate a dialogue on such a painful topic. At some level, it was hard for me to relate to their complex challenges.

Honouring the FieldKali trampling Shiva. Chromolithograph by R. Varma.

Coincidently, the workshop was scheduled during Navratri (April 2017)– a festival where Hindu’s worship nine avatars of Goddess or Divine Feminine over nine nights. On that particular night, it was Day 7, Kalaratri pooja. I invoked the Goddess in my meditation and confessed my limitations as a man holding a conversation that related to deep dishonouring of the feminine. I asked her to help me in my role as a facilitator. Image of Kali with Shiva lying on her feet popped up with two clear insights: 1. Listen to the body (Kali doesn’t like anything heady) and 2. Surrender (as Shiva did)!

Next morning, instead of conversations, we used an embodied contemplative theatre practice called 4D Mapping to understand the social system that leads to trafficking of girls. 4D Mapping is one of the practices of Social Presencing Theatre developed by Arawana Hayashi. In this, we work with complex systems challenges, embody key stakeholders and co-create a social sculpture of current social reality. This process makes visible the hidden dimensions of the social field and generates in-depth data about the shifts that could move the whole ecosystem towards its wellbeing. Most importantly, this process required us to surrender our agenda and listen to the wisdom of our bodies.

Participants played different roles representing victim girl, her family, her dignity, police system, shelter homes, anti-trafficking NGOs, the justice system and customers. As we embodied the roles and relationships between various actors, all the stories from last night and many generations, become alive. We were uncovering the primal patterns of systemic oppression: where suppressed-sexuality turns women into objects of sex; and upheld-morality fights back to give her justice. She suffers on both ends. Sacrificing her dignity and freedom. While we walk the clean streets with our pants zipped and collars upright.

Collective Resonance: 

When we sat back in a circle to reflect on what we just experienced, the whole room went in deep impregnating silence. There was an unspoken resonance vibrating through space, transforming words into tears. After a while, few spoke from their heart. Others nodded in deep acceptance.

A man who played the role of a ‘victim girl’ shared that while embodying her role, he could feel her trembling fear and pain in his body. He added that while every other player in the act were pulling or pushing the girl to justice, all that she longed for was acceptance and dignity from her family.

A woman who played the role of a ‘policeman’ shared that while playing the role, she felt exhausted and misjudged by others. All that policeman wanted was appreciation and dignity for his work.

Another woman who embodied ‘family’ found herself powerless and filled with shame. All through the exercise ‘family’ kept lying on edge away from ‘dignity’. She said, “I know the girl longs to come back, and everyone else judges me (family) for letting her go, but I have no dignity left within myself. I have no agency or power either.”

Everyone in the room, including me, cried as we embraced the fact— we all were somehow victims and contributors, unfairly stuck in this systemic suffering. And each one, irrespective of our gender, longed for acceptance and dignity.

Collective Resolution: 

Slowly our heart-felt reflections transformed into collective resolve.

A program leader opened her heart and said “I think we got it wrong from the beginning. We got so invested in our idea of justice that we turned insensitive to girls need. How different are we from the trafficking ecosystem that robs her of her dignity? We need to redefine our purpose from anti-trafficking to pro-dignity”.

A young man who works with communities and shelter homes said “I have been feeling this for long. Her dignity dies at the source: when her family sells her due to their vulnerable social-economic conditions. We should work at the source instead of trying to fix the problem after she has lost all hopes in the trafficking system”. Another leader declared: “Let’s redirect our attention and funds for bringing dignity to girls and working with their vulnerable families”.

In following days and weeks, insights were translated into new projects. Relationships between the partners has deepened and so is their collective advocacy for draft bill on anti-trafficking in India. However, there was another piece of the puzzle lying in the outer circle.

Customers & Citizens: Two sides of the same coin?

Throughout our reflective dialogue, I kept wondering about the mysterious role of the customers. How could men be so inhuman to turn a woman or a child into an object for the sex-trade? Don’t they get curious about her feelings, her fears, her helplessness?

In the paralysed stuckness of the customer, I could see wounded masculine energy that falls prey to their own repressed sexuality, and, gets stuck in corrupt game of sex, money and power.

Towards end, my attention shifted to yet another invisible role– bystanders or citizens. Those of us who are aware but choose to disengage from the dark quarters of sex-trafficking or prostitution. We do not want to get our linen dirty in this mess. We would instead write college essays on ‘legalization of prostitution’ or share WhatsApp jokes on ‘Bangkok holidays’. Aren’t we part of the social system that creates the ground for sex-trade? Haven’t we invented and upheld morality that shames sexual desires? Pushing it to shadow realms of prostitution and pornography. In that sense, how different are we form the customers who create demand and activate the human trafficking system?

We generated powerful felt-insights when we created the embodied map of the stakeholder, oppressors, rescuers and oppressed in the social system. I wondered, how we would place the feminine, masculine, child, shame, sexuality, dignity within our hearts? Who oppresses whom? What accentuates the customer? What disempowers the bystander? What is the divine within us really longing for?

Returning to the Woman within

After the workshop, I sat alone in the room, feeling the resonance of the dialogue we just had. Unresolved, I turned again to the Goddess, the divine feminine. She responded from within:

A woman is reduced to an object for sex
So you can strip her of all her dignity
And redeem yourself from your shame

A stone is turned into a revered Goddess
So you can project her dignified presence
And redeem yourself from your guilt

Where have you lost it, O civilized man?
Couldn’t you pause and feel the woman within?
She longs for dignity and your presence!

—————
This experience led me to a poetic exploration of the inner dimensions of masculinity; and it’s journey from woundedness (exploiting feminine) to wholeness (honouring feminine and healing the world); in my upcoming book “Trading Armour for a Flower: Rise of New Masculine
—————

– Manish Srivastava


Gratitude:

I am grateful to the leaders and team members of Kamonohashi Project and Save The Children India for this opportunity to learn and work with them. They are doing incredible work to transform the trafficking ecosystem. Pls, visit their website to learn more about their work and contribute to their projects.
Kamonohashi Project: https://www.en.kamonohashi-project.net 
Save The Children India: https://savethechildrenindia.org 

Death of an Entrepreneur: Part 2: “Grandiosity and Shame”

Café Coffee Day founder #VGSiddhartha death revealed the debt crisis in India. It also revealed an empathy crisis of the world we live in. 

Frozen TV Screen in a Cafe Coffee Day

When a self-made, socially-committed entrepreneur commits suicide, we are left with an unexplainable void. In my last blog (Death of an Entrepreneur: Our collective Blindspot), I explored how we all are becoming the part of the invisible forces, within our social ecosystem, that makes and breaks an entrepreneur.

I received many responses from other entrepreneurs, bankers, tax officers, psychologists and artist. They resonated with the blog and shared how they feel stuck and helpless in the ecosystem that accounts for the death of talented and conscious entrepreneurs like Siddharth. Some of the readers knew Siddharth personally. They shared stories of his commitment to uplift underprivileged communities, educating youth and his diligence to pay off all his debts. Yet, he ended up seeing himself a failure and killed himself.

Interestingly, some readers saw it differently. They hold Siddharth as a defaulter who took the system for granted and killed himself when questioned. They wonder how can one have empathy for those who default the system and fail their dependents. This contrast in viewpoints made me wonder why do we fail to see and feel the ecosystem that we are part of. How do we get obsessed with the struggle between the oppressed and the oppressor, while, the script and the scriptwriters go unnoticed?

Perhaps, how we see the world depends upon what lenses we wear. Do we tend to look narrowly at immediate parts or we look at the whole? Do we look mechanically at structural/ logical elements and externalise responsibility? Or we also look empathically at emotional/cultural dimension and take collective ownership of what happened?

This made me draw a matrix to map all response. There seem to be four distinct viewpoints:

Narrow mechanistic view (Fault-finding): Holding the entrepreneur accountable for his or her wrong decisions and lack of responsibility. From this viewpoint death of entrepreneurs like Siddharth is a result of their own mistakes and failure. They misuse the system and fail to deal with when questioned. This is similar to the patriarchal, alpha male paradigm that blames the entrepreneurs (the masculine provider) for defaulting the system and shames him for making his family or tribe suffer.

Systems mechanistic view (System-analysis): Holding the system accountable that’s victimising the entrepreneur. This viewpoint shifts attention from the individual to the whole system and analyses the structural and policy dimensions. Many business leaders and politicians have been speaking from this viewpoint, when they refer to tax-terrorism and insensitive policies by the current government.

Both the above viewpoints on left side of the matrix, are logical and persuasive. But they lack empathy. They look at the issue and try to quickly fix it by holding either the entrepreneur or the system accountable. They don’t put themselves in the situation. To understand the right side of the matrix, we need to step into shoes of the entrepreneurs like Siddharth. Something we were able to do when we created a Social Presencing Theatre based systems map (refer last blog)

Narrow empathetic view (Mental-wellbeing): Reflecting on the mental and emotional stress an entrepreneur undergoes that makes him take such drastic step. Those holding this viewpoint empathise with Siddharth and call upon other entrepreneurs to take care of their mental well-being. They advocate that entrepreneurs must have close friends and professional support to help them through these situations. 

Holistic empathic view (Co-sensing and transforming the ecosystem): Reflecting not only on the emotional struggles of the entrepreneur but the larger field that co-creating the suffering. Those holding this perspective are like gardeners who go beyond sympathising with the dying plant and attend to the whole ecosystem. They feel the collective pain and reflect on their own role in co-creating the mess.

The holistic empathic view reminds of something my teacher and systems thinking guru Peter Senge told me ten years back.

“You cannot change a system unless you see your thumbprint (role) in creating it”.

This quote changed my perspective in life. Unless we see how we are creating the current state of suffering, we will only remain helpless victims of the same. And victims have no power to change the system anyways. From a holistic systemic viewpoint, we all are interconnected. We can see how we are co-creators of the capitalist economy that creates, exploits and kills entrepreneurs like Siddharth.

As investors, we are only invested in higher returns on the capital we invest in. We create pressure on enterprises to take the risk and return higher dividends. We don’t care anything about sustainable practices of the enterprise or well-being of the entrepreneur. Together with banking system, we have co-created a short-term, individualistic growth culture cares little for people or planet.

As the government, we want to control and claim higher taxes. We citizen elect governments and become part of the impersonal machinery that puts undue pressure on entrepreneurs. I recall how voters celebrated the demonetisation and GST policies while so many small scale entrepreneurs struggled to survive. It was painful to see an entrepreneur friend of mine breaking down financially and emotionally during that period. 

As employees of these enterprises and banks, we want job stability, salary raise and secure lifestyle. We don’t know the risks and burden an entrepreneur takes to feed his enterprise. As family and friends, we often want the status quo of lifestyle to continue. Praising the patriarch and never letting him off the hook. As a community, we shame and blame if they fail their role as providers. Makes it difficult for entrepreneurs like Siddharth to retreat, surrender or restart.

As a society, media and consumers, we have co-created a narrative of “grandiosity and shame”. We feed on rag-to-riches, alpha, hero stories. We inspire our youth to think big, dream big, and leap beyond their own bearings. We have created systems that seduce them do so through low-risk loans, venture capital and so on. 

We first feed them to the “grandiose” narrative. A few may succeed, temporarily. Sooner or later they fail. Then we trigger the “shame” narrative. Shaming them for failing the system, the family, the community, their own image. Some sneak away unceremoniously out of the limelight. Some bear it all and commit suicide.

 

Something in this story reminds me of the 2017 biopic “The Mercy“. It is a real-life story of a  businessman, Donald Crowhurst, from the United Kingdom. He had a beautiful family and a decent lifestyle inspite of his struggling business. He got seduced by the grandiosity narrative and, in spite of being an amateur sailor, he applied for the Golden Globe Race to sail solo around the world without any stop. Media made him an instant hero. Investors put their money to help him build a new boat. Rest of us projected our unlived hero dream on his frail shoulders. A few weeks before his journey he realised that he has bitten more than he could chew. As a technologist, he was certain that his new boat would fail. Yet the media refused to listen, investors got hold of his house mortgage, everyone put pressure on him, and he, himself, could not fail his family. And so he went on the expedition. Though he sailed half way around the world, impressive for an amateur, he could not return as a failure and face the shame. He jumped in the sea and committed suicide. When the news of his suicide reached his wife and children, media surrounded their house, hurling insults and demeaning him. At one point his wife opened the door and said

“I don’t know if my husband slipped and fell, or if he jumped… as you’re now saying. But I would like you to rest assured, that if he did jump, he was pushed. And each and every one of you here had a grubby hand on his back. Every photographer, every sponsor, every reporter, every sad little man who stands at a newsstand to feast on the scraps of another’s undoing. And once he was in the water, you all held him under with your judgement.

Last week you were selling hope, now you’re selling blame. Next week you’ll be selling something else.

But tomorrow and every day after, my children will still need their father. And I will still need my husband.”

 

Manish Srivastava

http://www.sacredwell.in

——————-

Gratitude & Dedication:

I was inspired to write Part 2 of this blog by Shamnad Basheer. A spirited soul, a legal academician, social entrepreneur and innovator. I had met him and fourteen other inspiring legal professionals at a gathering in Kerela organised by Agami last month (some of work is reflect in Part 1 of this blog). 3 weeks back, Shamnad was travelling in the region where V.G.Siddhartha came from and shared inspiring stories encouraging me and others to “step beyond atomistic thinking and reconnect with the whole we are part of”. Unfortunately, Shamnad died in an accident on way back from Chikamangaluru on 8th Aug 2019. In a short span of few weeks, he inspired me to keep activating the ecosystem of goodness. Unfortunately, he is not here to read this piece. 

~Manish

 

Death of an Entrepreneur: Part 1: “Our Collective Blindspot”

When a plant dies, the gardener does not blame the plant. He checks the soil, water, sunlight, in short, the ecosystem that helps a plant nourish or perish.

VG Siddhartha, the founder of Cafe Coffee Day (CCD), committed suicide. He has been known as role-model, self-made, successful business entrepreneur. Industry leaders remember him for his sincerity, dedication, and commitment to social upliftment. CCD grew rapidly and became a brand known as Starbucks of India. Newspapers say that he was under heavy debt and broke down from continuous harassment from government and banks. Three days back, he went missing and left a letter on social media. The letter reflects his good intention and his breakdown to the institutional pressures.

Maybe there is more to the business story that we will know in days to come. Right now, as a social witness, I am saddened to see a life gone. Like many entrepreneurs of the capitalist economic system, he took too many risks, grew too fast and collapsed.  We can blame him for impractical decisions and being too aspirational. He blamed himself for the same and took away his life. I wonder why he did not use his political connections and flee the country like many others. Maybe he was too thin-skinned to not take responsibility for his actions. But wait a minute. Is he the only one to be blamed for what happened? Is he the only one failed in this story? 

Coincidently, two weeks back, I was working with a group of social entrepreneurs and innovators from the legal field. They were convened by Agami to reflect on how we could transform the current legal system in India. One of the cases we worked with was about “how Alternative Dispute Resolution could help financial institutions resolve disputes with loan defaulters?”. 

We used Social Presencing Theatre (SPT), a contemplative social art practice, that helps in making visible the hidden dimensions of our current systems challenges. After understanding the complexity of our challenge we identified key stakeholders and co-created a social sculpture (a systems map) representing how these stakeholders are stuck in the current reality.

Our systems map had two main players— “the bank” and “defaulters”, who were influenced by other stakeholders including lawyers, the justice system, financial institutions, family etc. While we mapped the inter-relational dimensions of the legal system around the bank and defaulters, the map also illuminated the systems blindspot— the powerful financial system that produces and promotes capitalist web and punishes when one falls out of it. Somehow the players representing “finance system”, including government & investors, remained almost invisible to other players. They were powerful and kept controlling others indirectly, while the rest of the system struggled to work with the stuck between demanding bank and struggling defaulter. This made us wonder— who creates the defaulter in the first place? 

In the case of CCD, VG Siddhartha was the good-hearted “defaulter”. He was created and destroyed by the crony capitalist systems that we are part of. Unfortunately, we have co-created a capitalist economic system that thrives on rapid growth and risk-taking of individuals like Siddharth. And when they struggle, we call them as “defaulters” and suck every ounce of spirit till they drop dead.

We all are part of this system. We don’t think twice before demanding high dividends from our shares invested in these corporations. We want our coffees and products cheap and of high quality. We, just like those impersonal banks and demanding tax authorities, are least invested in the success or failure of the one who is creating value for us.

No loan-seeker goes to banks intending to become a defaulter one day. No bank professional wakes up intending to harass an entrepreneur. We all are equally stuck in same system. We need to ask— what are the deeper systems that are promoting the values of unchecked growth that leads an entrepreneur to a point where they have no option but to fail or flee? A change at that level would ask us to step beyond our current sectoral role into larger systems transformation role. Something that is much more complex, collaborative and necessary.

Afterthought: (added on Aug 3, 2019, after a conversation with few friends): While entrepreneurs and bankers are obvious stuck players in this situation, there are powerful, impersonal Invisibles. This includes demanding investors, regulating government and mindless consumers. All demanding higher returns, seeking higher control and extracting higher value. None of them cares for the well-being of the entrepreneur. They need “more” and are “happy” as long as the business entrepreneur serves their demands. Together they promote and control the ego-driven, limit-less growth paradigm that seduces, creates, exploits and kills an entrepreneur.

We weave the carpet for our heroes to rise
We set up the guillotine for them to be sacrificed
While the higher throne remains unchallenged and smiles
Who needs a warrior once the kingdom survives!

Manish Srivastava

http://www.sacredwell.in

 

Gratitude:

I am grateful to the Agami team including Supriya, Keerthana, Artika and my co-conspirator, Sonali Ojha.  In these moments of sadness, Agami brings hope by gathering 15 path-breaking young social innovators who are committed to transforming legal ecosystem in India. The pictures above show them in action— mapping the ecosystem by activating the wisdom of the social field. 

Indian Leadership Crisis- a compromise of conscience!

This election is a political manthan (churning) that has surfaced a deep leadership crisis in India.

In their race for power the current political leaders have shown their worst— ego-centric, manipulative, self-obsessed leadership that exploits emotions, religion, defence and public institutions on name of stability and victory. They hide development failures behind war, religion or caste rhetoric. Is this the leadership we want, to govern our country? 

When questioned, all the logical supporters come with only one consistent argument— “we don’t have any other option!” 

It’s like saying— let’s keep feeding on slow poison cause we don’t have any other healthy option. Or keep burning fossil fuels and poisoning our air cause we don’t have any viable option.

Fair enough, the only other strong political opponents come with their share of corrupt history. They lack credibility or gravity demanded by a large democracy like ours. Then there are those who are neither corrupt nor inefficient. They have demonstrated development results in their constituency but they are small players and relatively inexperienced to manage complex national politics. 

Where does this lead us to?

A compromise. 

Not just for a political leader but a compromise of our own voice, values and conscience. 

“We don’t have another option”— is not a narrative of choice. It’s a narrative of a victim. It’s a narrative carefully created by those in power by ridiculing the opposition to hide their exploitation. 

“We don’t have another option” is a political game and it not true for those who design it. A political party has a choice about whom they give tickets to contest elections. The party chief endorses that choice. He gives sanction to that kind of leadership. Now think of all morally-corrupt, hate-promoting, criminal choices that the party chiefs have sanctioned. It’s the kind of leadership he stands for. He could have said “no” and stood his ground. It’s a choice he has made and it’s the choice we are making if we don’t see the game we are being fed to. 

If you discover that the class teacher and other staff in your kid’s school are corrupt, incompetent and abusive, what would you do? Will you hold the Principal and Management accountable or keep singing Principal’s praise and ignore the mess that he is creating? Will a good speech by the celebrated Principal, about how the school won lost pride in last football tournament, and, how they are better than previous management, cover up for their lack of focus on what matters— quality education for your child? What if you raised the issue and the Principal and staff called you anti-education, anti-national and hinderance to their leadership? If all this happened to our own kids in a school, wouldn’t we hold the school leader accountable for results and for those they give power to? Will telling our kids that “we don’t have better option” be enough? 

 

Seeing the binary game of compromise

We are forced to choose between corruption of resources and corruption of character. One threatens our development by exploiting public resources. Other threatens our democracy by dividing us on basis of religion, caste and nationalism. At one end we argue against re-distributing wealth to the poor as freebies. While on the other, we don’t mind the politician-capitalist-nexus that gives free access to a few capitalists to exploit our resources and control our lives.

Stuck in this binary narrative we end up choosing political leaders half-hearted (conscious compromise) or devoted (unconscious compromise). “This leader is our best option” (devotion/ bhakt narrative) is another way of saying “we don’t have any other option” (adjustment narrative). Either way it’s a compromise. It only serves the power-accumulator, weakens opposition, shuts the dissent, kills creativity, threatens democracy and divides a community into a binary of staunch-supporters-vs-anti-nationals. 

Why do we get stuck in this game of limited choice? Why we loose the capacity to see the grey? And courage to be vulnerable about our limitations? Why do we end up giving all our power to a few leaders and feel helpless about our own destiny? 

We are in middle of deep leadership crisis. And we can’t overcome it unless we learn to see thru the game and call out the corruption of either kind. We may have limited choice about political parties but we do have choice about what political narrative we buy. We can choose our own leadership as citizens and hold our political leaders accountable. 

 

We need a new leadership narrative 

I recall the community leadership development work I was doing in tribal villages of Melghat. We were inviting community leaders to step forward. When I translated “leader” to “neta” in Hindi, everyone in the room stepped back. I learnt that we see “neta” as someone who is corrupt, ego-centered, exploiting and even criminal. When I tried give examples of Gandhi or Bose, they appeared too idealistic for our current times. The current examples of political leaders only inspired youth to accumulate power, show might and eradicate other religions and nations. There was no way people could relate “public leaders” to community based service. This is worrisome. This leaves a void for corrupts to exploit. This is the way current leaders make corruption, power-hoarding and communalism a new normal. 

Our country needs a new leadership narrative. A narrative where political leadership honours humanity beyond communal or caste divides, pursues development before nationalist politics, and, puts community service ahead of their political aspirations. We need leaders who are honest about their limitations and collaborate with people across societal divides or ideologies to create policies that benefit all. We need leaders who are vulnerable enough to admits their mistakes, courageous enough to invite and listen to opposition and critics, and humble enough to give credit to people who make change happen. 

We need leadership that stands on moral grounds and can say No to their own party when greed or power overtakes; who can take full accountability of their position including the ones they select to lead and the mishaps that take place in their command. 

We as citizens need to redefine what kind of leaders we want. We need to start now. Name the leadership qualities or practices that we want and what we are not okay with. Voting is only a beginning. Naming, developing and holding self and other accountable is a long-term daily work. 

We Indian are natives of one of the richest, wisest and oldest society. We have capacity to hold diversity and dissent as part of our pluralist, wise tradition. We are way more than the reduced, binary, either-or narrative that our leaders are dividing us into.  This election is a manthan of a new kind. Along with its poisonous painful patterns, its has also surfaced some divine amrut (elixir). Perhaps, it’s a call for seeing active citizenship as powerful as the leaders we choose. We need to role-model the public leadership we seek in at the centre.

 

~ Manish Srivastava

PS: My intent here is not just to notice the deeper games we play (irrespective of our side) but also to turn this crisis into an opportunity. What if we could co-create a new leadership narrative? What if we start role-modelling and holding our leaders accountable for the same? If you feel the frustration, compromise or apathy like many others, I invite you to name the shift in political leadership qualities you want to see & live with #callfornewleadership in comment. A journey of thousand steps starts with first.

(from the Sacred Well)

 

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