Regionalism is understood to be the expression of a common sense of identity and purpose by a people within a geographical region. Policies and institutions are accordingly created that break away from centralized institutions, shaping collective action as per the needs of the people of that region in order to uplift them.
Naga people are familiar with this political concept though it has survived at great cost in the Indian Union—subsequent governments in Nagaland State have relied heavily on New Delhi and central policies in order to attract funds. The heavy focus on maintaining a government, instead of uplifting all people, has induced many new forms of inequality for sections of society, often marginalizing women and forcing workers to migrate. Not that governance has gained; what the Naga and their neighbouring peoples have lost, markets (and those who own capital) have gained.
On the international arena, economic regionalism is on the rise. The World Trade Organization has historically encouraged the conversion of sustenance into commodity. It facilitated the entry of big business into self sustaining ecologies, often destroying the latter with impunity. Free Trade Agreements (FTA) have forced countries to allow capital to rule over policy. They have deprived those who have not had traditional access to capital, bringing several peoples/nations/states to their knees. Breaking away from the hegemony of centralized institutions, countries have formed regional blocs. However, instead of shifting focus away from markets and capital, these countries are forging similar trade agreements. By favouring multinational corporations, these can potentially destroy native agriculture, small and medium enterprise, promote big business that rely on mechanization and do not create jobs, thereby pushing marginalized populations into further poverty and impoverishment.
The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) is one such “mega-regional” economic agreement (FTA) being negotiated between the 10 ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) governments and their six FTA partners: Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea. India is currently hosting the 19th round of RCEP negotiations in Hyderabad. Marginalized groups are protesting the potential impact that the health or agriculture sectors could have if imports are unconditionally allowed into the country at the cost of policies (like affordable healthcare or seed sovereignty).
From past data on FTAs available, rural peasant communities will be some of the worst affected. Among them, women will be at the bottom of the rung. As an activist from the Federation of Women Farmers Rights, Tamil Nadu pointed out, “Land grabbing for corporate agriculture will impact our food sovereignty, rights over our land and seed preservation. It will force women to migrate to seek labour and become vulnerable to trafficking.”
As one type of regionalism hurts, another form of regionalism, like the Naga one, could be an antidote. Standing up for communal sovereignty may be the way forward. In its current corrupt and patriarchal form though, it may not be possible.
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