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Common Property as God's Resource

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Type: Conference Paper
Author: Sheth, N. R.
Conference: Constituting the Commons: Crafting Sustainable Commons in the New Millennium, the Eighth Biennial Conference of the International Association for the Study of Common Property
Location: Bloomington, Indiana, USA
Conf. Date: May 31-June 4
Date: 2000
URI: https://hdl.handle.net/10535/556
Sector: Social Organization
General & Multiple Resources
Region: Middle East & South Asia
Subject(s): IASC
common pool resources
village organization
community participation
resource management
institutional analysis
sacred forests
ritual and religion
Abstract: "Swadhyaya (literally Self-learning) is a spiritual movement. It is based on a redefinition of Indian religious and philosophical heritage for its relevance to human welfare and development in the contemporary global society. It advocates religion as a social force to build relations across barriers of caste, region, language, race and religious affiliations. Swadhyaya propagates universal human fraternity under the fatherhood of God. Its programmes and activities are designed to build lasting divine and social bonds between higher and lower socio- economic strata. The Swadhyaya regimen potentially serves as a model of social governance to deal with the problems of human inequality, indignity, exploitation, poverty, backwardness and suffering. The movement is concentrated in Gujarat, but it has spread in recent years among people in various states in India and within the Indian diaspora in the west, the Middle East and Southeast Asia. While there are no records to ascertain Swadhyaya following, several million men and women are known to participate in basic Swadhyaya discipline and many thousands participate in major programmes. These include small segments of non-Hindus. "The soul of Swadhyaya's community programmes is bhaktipheri (devotional round) by which a devotee vows to undertake regular periodical visits to a village or (usually backward) community to assist its population to imbibe the spiritual and social elements of the movement. Bhaktipheri contributes to evolution and sustenance of fraternal bonds between people and strata customarily living in separation from each other. This creates a vital social and psychological bridge of mutual recognition and respect between haves and have-notes. The divine sanction underlying the new bonds takes them well beyond the hooks of self-preservation and fear of the 'other' on which human relations are normally pegged. "In such an institutional setting, Swadhyaya has promoted several experiments in creation and management of common property resources in rural India. Yogeshwar Krushi (the Lords farm) is a village-based farming enterprise in which major inputs such as seed, fertiliser and labour are voluntarily contributed by the farmers. Vruksha Mandi (tree temple) is usually the product of an effort to set up rich shrubbing-cum-orchard with all inputs of reclamation of barren land; raw material and labour organised voluntarily by a cluster of about twenty villages. A similar experiment in community farming is known as Shreedarshanam (Gods Scenario). Amrutalayam is a village temple built and managed entirely through local peoples contribution of material and human inputs. Matsyagandha (fragrant fish) is a project in which the community of fishermen acquire and manage fishing equipment and expeditions by shared contribution of inputs. Nirmal Neer (pure water) involves collaborative development of water reservoirs and watersheds for augmentation of underground water for irrigation and other needs. Swadhyaya has in recent years pioneered a remarkably effective yet inexpensive effort in recharging of wells and reservoir in some of the worst scarcity prone areas of Gujarat. "Swadhyaya, in some significant ways, is unique in development and management of common property resources. Financial inputs in themselves play a negligible role in Swadhyaya work. All inputs are provided by Swadhyaya members as an integral part of their devotion to God. All activity is Krutibhakti (devotional action). All labour is offered as shrambhakti (labour as devotion). The wealth produced with inputs from volunteers is impersonal wealth. It is used to help the poorest and the weakest in a community. They receive it not as a charity but as God's grace. This divine element raises the volunteers commitment to work and quality of output. It sanctifies and cements human bonds. It controls selfishness, greed and above all, individual and collective arrogance underlying human inequalities. It probably shows the way to a new human republic. "Swadhyaya is not alone in what it does. It offers a most noteworthy refinement and synthesis of thought and action in human social development. It seems to be, for the present, an open question whether and how far the various Swadhyaya efforts in creating and managing common property resources are sustainable in wider space and over a longer period of time. The founder and present leader of the movement is an exceptionally gifted and reversed scholar-preacher-innovator. The new equations constructed and maintained among the vast Swadhyaya fraternity with a new leader will determine what difference Swadhyaya can and will make to humanity, to the problems of our society encountered today."

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