Vikalp Sangam

Vikalp Sangam (Alternative Confluence) is an ongoing process in India which started in the year 2014. It aims at bringing together practitioners, thinkers, researchers, and others working on alternatives to currently dominant forms of economic development and political governance. The endeavour is to create a space to come together, dream and deliberate towards alternative futures.

In detail

The Vikalp Sangam process brings together movements, networks, organisations and individuals who have worked at practical and/or conceptual levels on alternatives to mainstream ‘development’ and 'political governance' models on a common platform.1). Alternatives are those that challenge the fundamental structures of exploitation, oppression and unsustainability. It is proposed that alternatives are built on the following overlapping spheres, seen as an integrated whole; in this or other forms, these have been expressed by many in the past, but are re-emerging in the new contexts of the 21st century: radical and delegated democracy, social well-being and justice, economic democracy, cultural diversity and knowledge democracy, and ecological integrity and resilience. A more detailed explanation on alternatives from Vikalp Sangam process can be referred in the text "The search for Alternatives: key aspects and principles".

One of the issues faced by movements working towards radical transformation, is that many actions being claimed as alternatives are actually dealing only with the symptoms (e.g. recycling waste and avoid challenging its generation and the economic forces that create it), rather than bringing in radical or transformative changes. In addition, they might be fundamentally challenging one dimension of transformation but might be negatively impacting other dimensions of transformations. In order to understand these and other complex issues, a tool called the Alternatives Transformation Format (ATF) has been developed as part of, the Academic-Activist Co-generation of Knowledge on Environmental Justice Project (ACKnowl-EJ). The document is available in this link.

The Vikalp Sangam process involves physical gatherings at regional levels, and on themes (e.g. energy, food, youth, well-being, health, democracy, media). These gatherings involve dialogue, practical work, visits to on-ground experiences, and other activities of sharing, visioning, and collaboration. The process also involves documentation and outreach of alternatives across India, the collective envisioning of a just world, and advocacy at various platforms.

By Lina Contreras

The gatherings

The idea of Vikalp Sangams is mainly promote regional and thematic gatherings of people practising or conceiving alternatives. These provide a platform to constructively challenge and learn from each other, build alliances, and collectively evolve alternative futures.

We are aware that there are many networks and initiatives that have brought together movements and groups on various platforms related to this theme. But most of these are limited to individual themes or kinds of movements, e.g. struggles against destructive ‘development’ projects, alternative health initiatives, sustainable farming work, etc. There are limited opportunities and attempts to cut across thematic areas, bringing ecological, education, health, justice, livelihood, market/trade, governance and other alternatives together to learn from each other. The Vikalp Sangams aim to be such cross-cutting gatherings, and to build on rather than replicate the existing/ongoing initiatives.

Minimum time is spent at the Vikalp Sangams on the ills of the current economic/ political/ social system. There are plenty of other occasions available for this; the Sangams are predominantly focused on alternatives. But we also do not want to fall into the trap of romanticizing these alternatives; both the pros and cons of such initiatives are shared.

The gatherings are not intended to be academic conferences, but rather a more free-flowing meeting of minds and hearts and hands and feet. Over 3-4 days, there could be small group or plenary sessions focused on individual themes, to enable in-depth exchange and learning, with substantial time devoted to learning across themes and movements. Opportunities to showcase the initiatives include exhibitions, films/A-Vs, theatre and other arts / media. Spontaneous joint activities like art and theatre, or learning some craft, are also attempted. If easily accessible, trips to one or more alternative initiatives in the area are included. The Sangams are a combination of fun, learning & unlearning, and bonding.

Process

Vikalp Sangam is a community of practice that is constantly trying out new ways of being and doing, new forms of organising which respect the local cultures and nature and draw from them. The members celebrate as well as challenge each other constructively, to grow into a strong political force of change in the country.

Second, as a process of co-enquiry, co-visioning and co-creation of a holistic pathway for the New Society; a pathway which attempts to acknowledge and embrace all ecological, social, political, economic, cultural and spiritual realities, simultaneously.

Hence, the sangams try to create a space to have components of community-building where members feel safe to bring themselves into the collective space with a sense of ease in connection, sharing, joy and celebration, as well as opportunities for challenging others and being challenged.

Participants and Venues

The Sangams bring together practitioners, thinkers, researchers and theorists (these are not necessarily mutually exclusive categories!) working on the broad theme of alternatives to destructive and inequitable development. The participation ranges from a few dozen to over a hundred people, depending on local situations. Vikalp Sangam seeks participants who in spite of their levels of expertise/experience are willing to come together as equals with others (there are no VIPs), who have actively worked on effecting systemic change in at least two spheres of alternatives (mentioned above), and definitely interested and exploring in all five, are interested in self-reflection, and are interested in co-learning and co-creation.

Each of the Sangams is organized and hosted by one or more regional organizations/institutions that have the capacity; expenses are shared by these organizations and participants. As of late 2019, almost 20 Sangams have been held at the regional and national level of India2)

1)
For a detailed description see the reference document "The search for Alternatives: key aspects and principles"
2)
See the list of Sangamas in this link.