There are many kinds of social movements and it is understandable that social movements are often preoccupied with their immediate demands which are likely to be of a very specific nature. At the same time there are some very basic concerns and priorities which should be common to more or less all social movements on an enduring basis. No matter what the specific demand or concern with which a social movement is preoccupied at a particular point, it has to remain committed to these basic concerns on a permanent basis. Even more than any success or failure any social movement may have in terms of having its immediate demands met, what may be more important in the longer-term is the sincerity and strength of its commitment to these basic concerns.
One such important concern is a commitment to socio-economic equality and justice at various levels including gender. If a middle class movement is striving for removing some injustice to its members which affects it then this is fine, but we will also have to see whether it has a justice and equality based approach towards weaker sections, particularly the poorest people. If this justice and equality based approach is not there, then even if this movement is very successful in terms of achieving its immediate demand, this cannot be called a relevant and useful movement in terms of the wider agenda of human progress and the correct priorities of human progress.
Another basic concern is of peace and non-violence based on justice, with a wider view of promoting non-violence and peace in various diverse aspects of life. This view emphasizes relationships of peace and non-violence at all levels whether at the level of villages or nations, and seeks to avoid wars and arms race to the extent possible. While armed resistance to protect justice and equality may be necessary at times, it is important that such armed resistance is also carried out with the ultimate objective of peace and non-violence in society. If there is a movement which promises to get some important benefits for some section of people but only by very violent actions which could be avoided then this movement cannot be justified from the point of view of human progress.
Another basic and related concern is of inter-faith harmony and broad-based unity of people of various faiths and sects ( including atheists) and a liberal approach in such matters which leaves adequate scope for different interpretations and reforms. If a movement is very successful in terms of its narrow objectives but if it does not allow for such harmony and liberal values, then this movement cannot be called conducive for human development.
Protection of environment has been very important always and in recent times with the accentuation of climate change and other life-threatening problems, the urgency of this concern has increased further. A social movement may be dealing with other important specific issues, but it is very important to have an overall worldview and approach that is ecologically protective and the actions and statements of social movements should not violate this concern. This also implies that the overall life-values should be of simplicity and life being based on ‘need and not greed’.
Earth is not just for human beings and it is very important to have a protective attitude towards other forms of life. There should be no cruelty and instead compassion should be promoted. It is important for social movements to have this wider perspective regarding other forms of life.
Needless to add, these important concerns and priorities are closely related to each other and supportive towards each other.
We should look at demands of various social movements in terms of these basic concerns which are most important for human progress. Are these demands in conformity with these wider concerns? Beyond the immediate demands what are the wider attitudes of these social movements? It may be more important to know whether the wider attitudes and orientations of any social movements are in keeping with the basic requirements of human progress.
Social movements should look inwards to self-introspect about whether they live up to these essential requirements of human progress. Their supporters and sympathizers can help them in this important exercise. If a social movement is lacking in some important respect then it should be reminded about this and it should respond to such friendly criticism, aimed at improving the social movement, in a positive way.
When social movements are more active and a lot of people have been mobilized , then this is also a good time for increasing awareness of members and supporters regarding these wider responsibilities and priorities and how a social movement of particular capabilities can best contribute to this. A farmers’ movement can contribute in a different way and a workers’ movement can contribute in a different way, but the understanding for this , the commitment and the strong desire for this should be there.
To give an example from the ongoing farmers’ movement in India its immediate demand of repealing three controversial laws is justified but beyond this objective the farmers’ movement can contribute so much to protection of environment, peace and harmony in villages, help for the poorest landless villagers and gender-equality . So it will be very useful to use the ongoing mobilization to increase the consciousness regarding these wider responsibilities and to also self-introspect regarding how several farmer organizations have performed in the context of such essential requirements of human progress in the recent past.
It is only when there is adequate discussion and self-introspection on such important issues that possibilities of improvement in the context of most important responsibilities increases but unfortunately the experience of many social movements has been that adequate importance is not given to such wider issues and instead there is more preoccupation with immediate and narrow demands. Due to this the wider dimensions of human progress are often missed out in some social movements otherwise recognized as strong and successful movements.
Bharat Dogra is a freelance journalist who has been involved with several social movements. His recent books include Man Over Machine and Protecting Earth for Children.