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What is the meaning of development?

May 21, 2010

Is mankind really on it’s path towards progress? Today in India we have 30% of the people living in cities. In 2020, we would have that increased to 40%. Grandson of the guy owning a car today will most probably own 3 or 4 cars.

Shimla would turn into Delhi and Ladakh into another Shimla. We think we are progressing/ developing.. whatever… but Helena Norberg-Hodge does not ! It is a complex and a big topic but here is a small attempt to understand it from Ladakh’s point of view –

After almost two decades studying Ladakhi culture, Norberg-Hodge had come to believe that preserving a traditional way of life in Ladakh-extended families, living in harmony with the land, would bring about more happiness than “improving” Ladakhis’ standard of living with unchecked development.

I used to assume that the direction of ‘progress’ was somehow inevitable, not to be questioned. I passively accepted a new road through the middle of the park, a steel-and-glass bank where a 200-year-old church had stood would do good anywhere, anytime. I do not anymore. In Ladakh I have learned that there is more than one path into the future and I have had the privilege to witness another, saner, way of life – a pattern of existence based on the co-evolution between human beings and the earth.

Norberg-Hodge continues to argue not only that western development workers should not blindly impose modern “improvements” on ancient cultures, but that industrialized countries had lessons to learn from people like Ladakhis about building sustainable societies.

I have seen that community and a close relationship with the land can enrich human life beyond all comparison with material wealth or technological sophistication. I have learned that another way is possible.

Excerpt from a Superb article written by her –

For generation after generation, Ladakhis grew up learning how to provide themselves with clothing and shelter; how to make shoes out of yak skin and robes from the wool of sheep; how to build houses out of mud and stone. Education was location-specific and nurtured an intimate relationship with the living world. It gave children an intuitive awareness that allowed them, as they grew older, to use resources in an effective and sustainable way.

None of that knowledge is provided in the modern school. Children are trained to become specialists in a technological, rather than an ecological, society. School is a place to forget traditional skills, and worse, to look down on them.

Western education first came to Ladakhi villages in the 1970s. Today there are about two hundred schools. The basic curriculum is a poor imitation of that taught in other parts of India, which itself is an imitation of British education. There is almost nothing Ladakhi about it.

You can read the whole article here

We ain’t doing justice to people living in such places; places like N.E., like the innumerable hill stations. We ain’t doing justice to mankind. Save the efforts of a few organizations, India would have already lost all expertise that it had in artworks, handicrafts etc. Much has already been lost. Everyone is running on path of progress – to Make money and Buy. The more money you can make and the more you can buy, the more you have progressed. Well growing consumerism is another story altogether. Do see Story of Stuff if interested. It is a nice 21 minute video made by Annie Leonard.

Parents want their children to be educated and that too from the best of the best schools. And why not?

— Better Schools —> Better Education —> Better Jobs —> Richer and lavish Lifestyle

However, Cultures were not always the same. They need not be the same. A few hundred years ago education served a different (am not saying higher/ better) purpose –

— Better Schools —> Better education —> Higher learning —> Better equipped to make this world a better (if required) place…

A few years ago, Ladakhi schoolchildren were asked to imagine their region in the year 2000. A little girl wrote,

‘Before 1974, Ladakh was not known to the world. People were uncivilised. There was a smile on every face. They don’t need money. Whatever they had was enough for them.’

In another essay a child wrote,

‘They sing their own songs, they feel disgrace. But they sing English and Hindi songs with great interest… In these days we find that maximum people and persons didn’t wear our own dress, like feeling disgrace.’

Little children understand, sadly we don’t!

If interested to know more about what is happening to beautiful Ladakh and to know what does Helena mean by counter-development, read this book here – Ancient Futures

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