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The Swadhyaya community has grown since the 1960s as a unique pattern of mutual engagement that has empowered some 100,000 Indian villages to develop successfully as communities and across caste barriers (including "untouchables") without financial or material assistance - counteracting conventional social problems in the process. It derives its strength and coherence from the cultural framework provided by the Hindu spiritual and cultural tradition dating back over 2,500 years to the Rg Veda. The Pitjantjatjara aboriginal community at Amata on traditional tribal lands in the Central Australian desert is faced with a classical pattern of psycho-social problems (alcoholism, petrol-sniffing, unemployment, alienation) although supported materially and socially by Australian welfare benefits. The Pitjantjatjara, numbering some 3,000, derive their spiritual and cultural strength and coherence from the Tjukurpa (Dreaming/Law) developed over 40,000 years in relation to their land. This pattern is severely endangered by the encounter with western civilization, despite a variety of well-meaning community development initiatives.
There are a significant number of interesting psycho-cultural parallels between the development situations and potentials of both communities which contrast with many conventional community development challenges. Preliminary contacts in 1998 indicate that both communities would be open to a proposed exchange of key figures. This exchange could be partially assisted by westerners known to either or both communities. To explore the wider relevance of this approach, such westerners would seek to derive and communicate insights to other challenged communities, with which they have special relationships, using communities in Scotland and Palestine as test cases. Deliverables would include videos for such wider communication purposes, and a series of reports with a view to developing further initiatives from this encounter, notably in relation to a number of other cross-linking international initiatives.
Funding is primarily required for the travel of 6 (?) Pitjantjatjara to India, and for 6 (?) Swadhyayees to Australia, plus travel of 6 (?) westerners from Europe through India (for the Swadhyaya encounter) and on to Australia (for the Pitjantjatjara encounter). [To be clarified in relation to per diem costings, etc...***] The visitors would be hosted by the Swadhyaya community in India. Additional funding is however required for ground support in the Australia desert, and for report writing. Separate funding is being sought for professional video production.
The visit could last 7 days and would involve travel to a number of village communities in the western coastal regions of India, including communities of untouchables in the Ahmedabad area. The opportunity might also be taken to visit initiatives of:
Visit to Australia (Phase 2): Visit to the Pitjantjatjara tribal lands (Central Australia) by 6 Swadhyayees. These might include: Dr Rajan C Sonerao (representing an "untouchable" perspective), plus [to be defined***]. It might include Sanjay Prakash on behalf of Development Alternatives. The visit would be articulated by Diana James (on behalf of the Pitjantjatjara) assisted by R K Srivastava (on behalf of Swadhyaya community).
The visit could last 7 days and would involve travel to a number of desert locations in the tribal area (typically separated by several hundred kilometres) and around Alice Springs. Visitors would travel and camp out using the infrastructure facilities of the Pitjantjatjara owned eco-tourism company Desert Tracks (managed by Diana James). Consideration could be given to the purchase from Development Alternatives, and transportation to Amata for practical demonstration and testing, of their specially developed low-cost, manually-operated earth-brickmaking device. One day could be devoted to a meeting (at Umua ?) in which conclusions and future possibilities might be discussed.
Accompanying westerners, from Europe, might include: Allan Howard (Scotland), Nadia McLaren (UK/Australia), Tim Casswell (UK), Anthony Judge (Belgium/Australia), Subhi Zobaidi (Palestine). Separate funding might be sought for others including: Margarita Marino de Botero (Colombia), Marc Luyckx (EU), Christian de Laet (Canada), Therèse Gaudry (Canada), Jon Jenkins (USA), Jacques de Mévius (Belgium). Those based in Australia would include Diana James and Craig San Roque. Participants would need to accept the rigours of outback camping conditions.
In terms of people, it would be good if pairs of people in touch with shared areas of challenge (table later) were identified and put into contact. (Eg. Issues of water, social services, etc)
Artistic representation: Drawings and paintings would be used to articulate the relation to the mythical dimensions to which both communities attach considerable importance. This medium is already used by both communities. The initiative would be articulated by Diana James (already actively pursuing this possibility) and Tim Casswell.
Separate funding for this initiative would be sought from the EU-India program (in relation to India) and from the EU-Australia program (in relation to Australia). Attention would be given to the subsequent possibilities of distributing the film through educational TV, recognizing the constraints of intellectual copyright to which the Pitjantjatjara are especially sensitive.
Report (General): Development of a general report on further possibilities, building on the bonds formed during the initial exchange of visits, notably in the light of other rural and distance education initiatives. This could be articulated by Anthony Judge and Nadia McLaren, in consultation with other interested participants and in the light of the following specific reports. Some of the material would be used to develop the web-based interactive Encyclopedia of Community Action currently under development by the Union of International Associations.
Separate funding for this initiative would be sought from the EU-India program (in relation to India) and with the EU-Australia program (in relation to Australia).
Report (Socio-anthropological): Development of a comparative study of the challenges and learning possibilities of the two communities, notably in the light of other communities relying for their coherence on spiritual and cultural dimensions ignored by conventional community development initiatives. This could be articulated by Diana James and R K Srivastava, in consultation with other interested participants.
Report ("University of Earth"): Development of a report on the possibility of a "University of Earth" on Pitjantjatjara lands as a significant extension (already under consideration) of their Bush College experiment at Angatja and in the light of the Swadhyaya post-graduate college (Tattvajnana Vidyapith) near Bombay, as well as of other efforts (especially in geographically remote locations) to provide an educational focus for the modern application of traditional knowledge and values (and their reconciliation with main stream initiatives), notably:
Report (Palestine): Development of a report on the learnings of relevance to urban and rural communities in Palestine, notably in the light of the spiritual and cultural coherence provided by Islam and the suras of the Koran. This could be articulated by Allan Howard in the light of his experience in those communities, in consultation with Subhi Zobaidi and other interested parties.
Separate funding for this initiative would be sought from the EU-Palestine program. It is possible that UK funders would be prepared to add some money for the general project (ie cover some of the Australia related costs, probably non-travel related (filming etc)) especially if UK TV interests are involved
Report (Scotland): Development of a report on the learnings of relevance to urban and rural communities in Scotland. This report could raise interesting questions concerning the potential role of traditional culture in sustaining community development in ways neglected by conventional models. This could be articulated Allan Howard in the light of his experience in those communities, and in consultation with other interested parties. The report could be used in planning the proposed Conference on Sustainable Development as Culturally-based Development (Edinburgh, 2000) of the Centre for Human Ecology (Edinburgh).
Report (Expo2000 dialogue): ****
Separate funding for this initiative would be sought from the UK Overseas Development Agency and from the British Council.
Report (Sustaining Stories from Traditional Culture): ***
Report (Voluntary Action in a Western Context): ****
Salient features of the two communities
In order to clarify the "logic" justifying the proposed exchange, three annexes have been used to present:
Development of links with Pitjantjatjara: Anthony Judge first made contact with Aborigines in the Amata area in October 1994 in a visit facilitated by Diana James, as a consequence of which he was encouraged by Ilyatjari (co-responsible for the Amata outreach) to produce a first report on the possibility of a "University of Earth". The Union of International Associations hosted the website of the aboriginal Spirit of the Land Foundation (created December 1997) from March 1998, on which this proposal was posted with an adaptation for the Pitjantjatara by Diana James. Lee and Leah Brady from Amata visited Brussels in October 1998 with Diana James and met with Marc Luyckx, Christian de Laet, Nadia McLaren, Allan Howard and Jacques de Mévius. Anthony Judge was invited to present the University of Earth proposal to a meeting of the Spirit of the Land Foundation in Umua in November 1998 where further exploration was agreed.
People links: (see Annex 4)
Institutional links: (see Annex 5)
With respect to any articulation of the problematique of the Aborigines, it should be recognized that there are traps associated with the conventions of western (and Australian) mindsets.
The situation may appear very different to Swadhyaya. Do Swadhaya
worry about their lack of commercial activity? Does "unemployment"
seem an issue for them? Swadhyaya will tend not see its involvement or
that of the Aborigines in terms
of identities or identifications. It may define this involvement in terms of mutual learning and sharing experience as belonging to one human family, rather than representing two indigenous/esoteric traditions. That is the underlying basis of Swadhyayee
bhaktipheri--establishing selfless relationship with the other. Its consequence is creation of integrated communities.
With respect to travel arrangements, attention should be given to the different dietary patterns and how these constraints can be handled at the two locations.
Attention should also be given to arrangements relating to women versus men, since this is a concern in both cultures. This should not be ignored in a spirit of western "political correctness".
Whilst both groups are open to those of other faiths, attention should be given to typical problems relating to contact between Hindu, Muslim and Christian.
In Australia, attention should be given to the challenges relating to the rigours of outback camping (heat, flies and other animals, dust, distances, and ablution facilities).
In this preliminary report, numbers have not been fixed, nor the perspectives that could usefully be represented. Consultation is required on the numbers that can be conveniently handled in each location. There is also the concern at how best to limit the numbers of "westerner", despite their role in developing reports for further action.
In addition to being a cross-cultural initiative, care should be taken in seeking to benefit from "low-cost" opportunities of freely-given time in the case of some people, that the situation of others is not adequately taken into account. Specifically, and irrespective of goodwill, professional Swadhyayees would normally give their time freely, whereas the Aborigines would normally expect to be remunerated for their time, especially when some of the westerners are on generous salaries, and others are consultants who have to justify use of their time and the rates charged. An equitable resolution of these different perspectives is required in order to determine costs.
2. Separation of the visits, instead of having the visit Pitjantjatara come to Mumbai and return with the Swadhyaya group to Amata. This might help ideas to settle and clarify which of the Swadhyaya group could usefully go to Amata. However it would also dilute the effects of a combined visit.
3. One way visit only: Arrange a vist of an Aboriginal group to the Swadhyaya, but without any return visit. This would depend on the attitude of the Swadhyaya.
4. Omit participation of westerners and the production of the associated written deliverables in order to concentrate on the two-way exchange. This raises useful questions about the westerners role in midwifing the exchange and ensruing reporting to wider audiences.
5. Omit video production, on the argument that it would either be too intrusive or could not be edited into a product that would respond to all sensitivities. The key question is the audience and the purpose. Arguably no purpose would be served by having a video of the Aborigines, unless video effects were used to sketch our some future vision for them. It could however be useful as a means of communicating Swadhyaya initiatives to a Palestinian or Scottish audience, for example.
6. In the light of air ticketing constraints and possibilities, stopovers and extensions might be considered, notably in relation to Maori connections of Spirit of the Land Foundation.
consequences may follow. Swadhyaya is both a metaphor and a movement. It is a metaphor in the sense of a vision, and a movement in terms of its orientation in social and economic spheres." (R K Srivastava, 1986)
Active as a process of self-empowerment in nearly 100,000 Indian villages and urban communities, and in Indian communities around the world (Canada, Germany, Sweden, Portugal, Kenya, South Africa, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Fiji, West Indies, and 450 centres in the USA) that are primarily of Gujarti or Maharashtri origin. Estimated to have affected the lives of some 20 million people.
Totally based on voluntary activity (including the preparation, translation, and manual addressing of 300,000 copies of its monthly newsletter, preparation and circulation of videos, and other central administrative tasks).
Seeks no private or public funding or material assistance (including individual charity at the village level). Unsolicited donations are declined.
Swadhyaya is non-political and maintains a low-profile, notably in the "development community", although the initiatives of its founder Pandurang Shastri Athavale have been acknowledged internationally through the Magasaysay Award for Community Leadership (1996) and the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion (1997). With respect to the latter, it is noteworthy that some 400 Swadhyayees flew, at their own expense, from North America to London (for the presentation in Westminster Abbey by Prince Philip), and 200 from India. Typically, on receipt of the prestigious Mahatma Gandhi Prize (1988), Athavale doubled the financial award and returned it to the donors for alternative use.
Swadhyayees ignore caste barriers in social interaction - a remarkable achievement in India. Swadhyaya has notably focused on the untouchable castes and the tribal and forest peoples, integrating them successfully into its community (without hectoring them to change their lifestyle). This follows a long history of unsuccessful efforts by other bodies - experienced as exploitative and viewed with suspicion and distrust.
Activity is based on a range of original social "experiments" (many designed to generate "impersonal wealth" in the participating villages) including:
R K Srivastava (Ed). Vital Connections - Self, Society, God: perspectives
on Swadhyaya. Weatherhill, 1998
The Pitjantjatjara tribe is one of the many Aborginal tribes whose culture collectively dates back over some 40,000 years. Unlike many Aborginal tribes, its traditional lands lands (covering some 103,000sq kilometres, population 3,000) in Central Australia are restricted for use by the Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara under Freehold Land Title. It is not open to casual visitors. The area is geographically remote and very sparsely populated, notably because of the arid, desert conditions that prevent any form of conventional agriculture or grazing without seriously damaging the ecology. Foreign domesticated animals and people find it near impossible to survive in these conditions.
The Freehoold Land Title is administered by Anangu Pitjantjatjara (based at Umuwa and in Alice Springs). This proposal relates to the community based at Amata who have taken a number of initiatives of relevance, notably catalyzed by the small homeland community of Angatja. These include:
The Aboriginal culture and sense of coherence is sustained by traditional stories that emerge from an eternal Dreamtime through which the world is sustained. This is more than simply a belief. It is a lived reality.
Despite the optimism and dedication of many isolated individuals, whether white or Aborigine, and the considerable development of material and social resources (compared to those available in many Third World countries) through government services, the Pitjantjatjara have good reason for concern for the future of their culture and the future of their children.
Cowan, James. Mysteries of the Dream-Time: the spiritual life of the Austramian Aborigines. Woollahra, Prism - Unity, 1989. (Chapter on Totems also published in: Resurgence, 1989, 138, pp. 30-34 )
Strehlow, T G H. Songs of Central Australia. Melbourne, Angus and Robertson, 1971
Tacey, David J. The Edge of the Sacred: transformation in Australia. HarperCollins, 1995
|"Untouchables" / Tribal Peoples
(within the Swadhyaya community)
|Importance attached to "invisible" / spiritual dimension||Existential reality of indwelling divinity||Existential reality of active participation in omnipresent Tjukurpa (Dreaming)|
|Aural culture (as inspiration for development)||Chanted slokas of the vedic literature
|Chanted songline stories of the Tjukurpa (Dreaming)
Written in the land
|Special reframing||Indwelling divinity as articulated by Pandurang Shastri Athavale||Christian dimension as articulated by Nganyinytja|
|Articulation of any failure||Failure to acknowledge indwelling divinity (in others and oneself) and express it appropriately||Failure to acknowledge, and be entrained by, the Dreaming (hence the special significance of substance abuse)|
|Non-western languages||Sanskrit, Gujarati, Maharashtri
Some English education
|Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara, and variants
according to social role
Some English education
|Identity in the community||Thru voluntary activity||Increasingly thru consumerism
Status and identity through positions of
authority in traditional law system, but increasingly in new western system.
|Work attitudes||Traditional work ethic (no work, no food)||Work attitude disrupted by socio-economic context
High priority to traditional 'ceremonial' work
|Remuneration||Voluntary||Traditional work (voluntary and obligatory)
|Family values||Community values||Extended family, kinship values|
|Community openness||Effectively closed to other cultures
Open to special visitors
|Effectively closed to other cultures
Open to special visitors
|Dietary regime||Essentially vegetarian||Meat-based|
|Men vs Women||Separation of men and women for certain purposes (gatherings, eating, education)||Separation of men and women for certain purposes (ceremony, traditional education education)|
|Leadership continuity||Currently: Key role played by a man (the founder, now infirm) and a woman (his daughter)||Current Angatja initiatives:
Key role played by a woman (the spiritual authority) and her husband (now infirm)
|Authority||Earned||Inherited, and increasingly challenged|
|Respect||Earned, but natural deference to the elderly||For authority and elders, but increasingly challenged|
|Community infrastructure development||Relatively low (although possibly perceived as disproportionate)||Relatively high|
|Sustainability||Necessary local self-sufficiency||Dependence on substantial external support and decision-making|
|Problematic aspects of govt. support and privileges||Support evokes criticism by other groups and discourages community effort||Support evokes criticism by other groups and discourages community effort|
|Disempowerment and sense of entrapment||Especially among youth||Especially among youth|
|Urban and rural variants of problematique||Migration to towns and classic consequences||Migration to towns and classic consequences|
|Problematic relationship to majority culture -- living memory of...||Exclusion from schools, religious education, etc||Shootings, rape, separation of children from parents, social exclusion, prohibited language|
|Negative image cultivated by majority culture||Disparaging remarks||Disparaging remarks|
|History of extreme hostility / resentment / violence towards majority culture||Within living memory||Within living memory|
|Extreme politicization of relationship to majority culture||Rights of scheduled castes||Land rights issues|
|Openness||Natural openness constrained by subtletites of higher levels of vedic interpretation and understanding||Secretiveness determined by binding nature of ceremonial initiation into higher levels of interpretation and understanding -- "to know is to become an active part of" (publicized versions of Dreaming are "childrens stories")|
|Inquiry||Beliefs freely questioned encouraging each to reach own conclusions||Traditional beliefs primarily challenged by western perspectives|
|Seminal initiatives of creative role models and own projects||"Social experiments"||Notably at Angatija|
|Evolving skills enabling contact / learning with similar communities elsewhere||Association with other communities||Travel to other communities|
|Non-text information initiatives||Video production initiatives||CD production initiatives|
|Computer technology||Used for accounting
In process of introducing for communication
|In process of introducing for accounting and communication|
|Population||Densely populated and numerous
|Sparsely populated and few
|Land use||Limited land
|Custodial relationship to extensive arid lands
Hunter / Gatherers
|Water||Exploitation of aquifers||Exploitation of aquifers|
Names to be determined
Names to be determined
Core group responsible for deliverables (tentative):
Casswell, Tim (UK): Cross-cultural facilitator (notably at the Earth Summit (Rio de Janeiro) and Parliament of the World's Religions (Chicago)). Artist. Co-founder of Creative Connections, a human relations consultancy working with community groups and companies in the UK, Belgium, Canada and Eastern Europe. Previously involved for a number of years in village-level rural development in India and Indonesia as a member of the Institute of Cultural Affairs.
Howard, Allan (UK): Responsible for developing an Encyclopedia of Community Action (at the Union of International Associations) initially focussed on a joint project with the Centre for Human Ecology (Edinburgh). Formerly community development officer for 5 years in Palestine (largely funded from Australia with the Ma'an Development Center) with a focus on permaculture. Coordinator of film projects. Former member of the Findhorn Foundation (Scotland), following service with the police force in Glasgow.
James, Diana (Australia): Anthropologist integrated for over 20 years into the family structure of the Pitjantjatjara. Manager of Desert Tracks an Aborginal-owned eco-tourism company associated with the Amata community. Co-founder of the Spirit of the Land Foundation.
Judge, Anthony (Australia/Belgium): Based in Brussels with the Union of International Associations. Responsible for the Yearbook of International Organizations and the Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential. Numerous papers relating to sustainable community development and related themes (https://www.laetusinpraesens.org/themes/aadocdia.php)
McLaren, Nadia (Australia/Belgium): Applied ecologists and environmental consultant (including work for the Pitjantjatjara). Editor of the Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential (currently under development through a project on Biodiversity Conservation in an Information Context, partially funded by INFO2000 (EU-DGXIII). Also a director of Global Action Plan for the Earth, promoting sustainable lifestyles. .
Prakash, Sanjay (India): Architect responsible for the design and construction of a number of significant earth-based buildings in India, including temples, notably the headquarters of Development Alternatives (New Delhi) housing 150 people.
Srivastava, R K (India): Member of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (New Delhi) from which he has been studying and collaborating with the Swadhyaya community since the early 1980s -- initially in connection with a program of the United Nations University on Goals, Processes and Indicators of Development. Currently with the United Nations University (Tokyo)
Zobaidi, Subhi (Palestine): Born in West Bank refugee camp. Trained
in film-making in New York. Specializes in cultural disruption of the Palestinian
people through the film company Refugee Productions. Producer of 12 TV
Possible additional collaborators in roles to be determined (tentative):
De Laet, Christian (Canada/Belgium): Environmental consultant, specializing in alternative technology. Director of Development Alternatives (Canada). President of the Canadian Association of Futures Studies. Former Secretary of the Commonwealth Science Council and of the Canadian Council of Resource Ministers. Member of the Union of International Associations.
De Mévius, Jacques (Belgium): Alternative technology projects
Gaudry, Therèse (Canada): Director of the Fondation Jules et Paul-Emile Leger. Member of the Union of International Associations.
Jenkins, Jon (USA/Netherlands): Co-founder and training consultant with Imaginal Training, currently with projects in Poland, Bulgaria, Kenya and Namibia. Former editor of Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential. Background of long-term involvement in the Institute of Cultural Affairs with community development projects in USA, Japan, Peru, India, Hong Kong and Belgium.
Khosla, Ashok (India): President-Founder of Development Alternatives (India). Member of Club of Rome. Formerly responsible for the environmental information programme of UNEP.
Luyckx, Marc (Belgium): Futurist (specializing in ethical issues and religion) associated with the Forward Studies Unit of the European Commission. Former president of the European Association Transpersonal Psychology.
Morino de Botero, Margarita (Colombia): Founder of Corporacion El Colegio Verde (Colombia). Member of Club of Rome. Member of Latin American Commission for environment and Development (UNDP/IDB). Vice-President of the International Advisory Board of Expo2000.
San Roque, Craig (Australia): Jungian psychoanalyst specializing in theatrical reframing of alcoholism as a therapeutic initiative for the Aborigines. Long-term ties with the Aborigines at Amata.
Spirit of the Land Foundation (http://www.uia.org/guests/spirland/SL_first.html)
Desert Tracks (http://www.uia.org/guests/spirland/SL_dst.html)
Swadhyaya community (Mumbai)
Development Alternatives (New Delhi) (http://www.ecouncil..ac.cr/devalt/dagrp.htm)
Center for the Study of Developing Societies (Delhi)
Auroville (nr Pondicherry) (http://www.auroville-india.org/)
Union of International Associations (Brussels) (UIA)
European Commission (Brussels)
Convention on Biodiversity Secretariat
United Nations University (Tokyo) (http://www.unu.edu/)
Centre for Human Ecology (Edinburgh) (http://www.scotweb.co.uk/environment/che/chefront.htm)
Examples of alternative think tanks highlighting applications of traditional knowledge:
R K Srivastava (Ed). Vital Connections - Self, Society, God: perspectives on Swadhyaya. Weatherhill, 1998
This work is licenced under a creative commons licence.