Anarcho-environmentalism allegorised

The name Anaarkali in the present context has many meanings - Anaar symbolises the anarchism of the Bhils and kali which means flower bud in Hindi stands for their traditional environmentalism. Anaar in Hindi can also mean the fruit pomegranate which is said to be a panacea for many ills as in the Hindi idiom - "Ek anar sou bimar - One pomegranate for a hundred ill people"! - which describes a situation in which there is only one remedy available for giving to a hundred ill people and so the problem is who to give it to. Thus this name indicates that anarcho-environmentalism is the only cure for the many diseases of modern development! Similarly kali can also imply a budding anarcho-environmentalist movement. Finally according to a legend that is considered to be apocryphal by historians Anarkali was the lover of Prince Salim who was later to become the Mughal emperor Jehangir. Emperor Akbar did not approve of this romance of his son and ordered Anarkali to be bricked in alive into a wall in Lahore in Pakistan but she escaped. Allegorically this means that anarcho-environmentalists can succeed in bringing about the escape of humankind from the self-destructive love of modern development that it is enamoured of at the moment and they will do this by simultaneously supporting women's struggles for their rights.

Friday, October 4, 2019

A Labour of Love

The Indian State rarely does much to save the environment. Despite stringent laws being there, they are not implemented properly. Neither is there an attempt to increase the awareness of the population regarding environmental conservation. That is why it is mostly NGOs and individuals who have to act to get things done. Either on their own or sometimes through organisational lobbying they get the state machinery to do something. Some of these individuals and NGOs succeed immensely. One such is THE NATURE VOLUNTEERS (TNV) of Indore.
Essentially this is a group of lake conservationists and birdwatchers. Since a substantial number of local birds have their habitats in and around water bodies and migratory birds also come there, TNV began campaigning to save one major lake in the Sirpur area of Indore city which was constructed in the era of the Holkar Maharajas. Not only was sewage being emptied into the lake and plastic waste being dumped in it but its catchment was being encroached illegally and being converted into built up areas. They raised public awareness and were able to get enough pressure to bear on the Indore Municipal Corporation (IMC) to protect the lake and its catchment. So over time the lake regained its lost glory and became a haven for both local and migratory birds. So much so that Sirpur Lake has been named as an Important Bird and Biodiversity Area (IBA) by Birdlife International. Their efforts have also led to a much larger lake created by a dam to supply water to Indore city, Yeshwant Sagar, also being protected by the IMC and this too has been designated as an IBA. TNV now has a centre at the Sirpur Lake where the nuances of bird watching and bird conservation are taught to enthusiasts. Thus, overall TNV has now become a well known conservation club and its members have won several awards for their efforts. This year the magnificent pink coloured Greater Flamingoes made an unexpected visit to the Sirpur Lake causing great excitement and pleasure to the conservationists of the city.

However, the point of this post is their latest effort of publishing the book "Birds of Indore". Since TNV has among its members avid bird watchers, top class photographers and qualified ornithologists, they have produced a superb compendium on the birds that have been sighted in Indore district including both the local species and those that migrate to the district during winter mostly and also at other times of the year. The book is thus both for amateurs and professionals. The photographs of the birds are scintillating with details giving the local, biological and common English names of the birds, their anatomical description, their conservation status and their habitats. The book starts off by explaining the nuances of bird watching followed by a description of the major birding sites both water bodies and land areas. The birds have been grouped in different categories like wetland birds, birds of prey, nocturnal birds, ground feeding birds etc and there is a detailed index of the common English names also so that one can search for them by category or by name. There is a glossary that explains the technical terms. It is thus a collector's item.
While I am a die hard natural resource conservationist, I must confess that I know very little about birds apart from admiring them when I see them. Therefore, I was very happy to read this book and find out that there are so many birds in Indore and if they are studied in a systematic way then our knowledge of their importance to us increases. This is the most important aspect of this book that it is so well produced that it will attract non birders to birding and conservation and so build up the popular movement for natural conservation even more and exert further pressure on the administration. Despite its top class production, the book costs only 500 rupees in soft cover and 700 rupees in hard cover plus postage charges when bought directly from TNV and so is not a very big drain on one's pocket. Kudos to all the members of TNV who have done so much for bird and lake conservation in Indore through their voluntary efforts. It is indeed a labour of love.  

Monday, September 30, 2019

Whither Women's Health

Possibly the most vulnerable people in India are Adivasi and Dalit women. At least the Adivasi and Dalit women of western Madhya Pradesh coming from economically weak backgrounds are strong contenders if their health situation is taken into account. Through a few case studies, in which the names have been masked for obvious reasons, is detailed here the realities of women’s health in western Madhya Pradesh.
Syadi is about 35 years old and a mother of three children. She is overworked as she had to cook for the whole family which at the time this story begins consisted of her father and mother in law, husband and three children. Over and above this she had to take the cattle, buffaloes and and goats for grazing, clean up the cowdung, take care of the poultry and also do the agricultural work on the farm. Consequently she frequently fell ill. She would go to the local quack in her village and get an intravenous glucose cum saline drip and a few medicines injected which seemed to perk her up for some time. However, this did not last long and so she visited the traditional Adivasi medicine men also who would recite various kinds of chants to get rid of the evil spirits which they said were affecting her.
Syadi’s health deteriorated further as neither the quack nor the medicine men could improve her affliction. Then last year her father in law expired from a heart attack. After that the medicine men began saying that the spirit of her departed father in law had penetrated her and was causing greater problems.
Our organisation MAJLIS offers various kinds of cures ranging from ayurveda, natural healing and allopathy based on a diagnosis of health problems. We had suggested to Syadi and her husband that she should be properly diagnosed by a competent doctor in Indore. However, this did not impress them and they continued to pursue the quacks and medicine men. However, a time came when Syadi became bedridden and hysterical and then her husband contacted us. We brought her to a doctor in Indore who after carrying out various tests said that there were no physical problems and she was suffering from severe anxiety stress and depression. She was given a course of anti anxiety and anti depression drugs for three months and her husband was counselled to reduce her workload as that was the main reason for her stress. Counselling and medication improved her condition and now she is not only much healthier but also able to work.
Later she reported having a urinary tract infection and white discharge resuting in severe back and waist pain. Once again she went to the quack first who obviously couldn’t solve the problem. Luckily after this she immediately contacted us instead of going to a medicine man. So she got proper treatment and recovered. This is a typical combination of patriarchal pressure and the lack of adequate and good medical facilities in rural areas that most women face that causes severe stress and anxiety.
Syadi’s sister in law, the wife of her husband’s younger brother, Navadi, who is thirty years old, too was not keeping well. She was pregnant with her third child. She already had a girl and a boy but wanted another boy. These days the government health apparatus has been geared towards ensuring safe motherhood for women and so when women from the economically weaker sections become pregnant they are immediately registered for pre natal care and finally institutional delivery including free transport to the hospital and back at the time of child birth. The mothers are also given monetary help through direct transfers to their bank accounts. Navadi was anaemic and so she felt weak and dizzy and could not do much work. We then told her to take a better diet of vegetables, proteins and berries available in the forest as she did not have enough money to buy from the market.
When her time for delivery was nigh, the doctors at the primary health centre advised her to get an ultrasound sonography done at some private centre as neither. She got this done at a private clinic in a nearby town with her own money and then when she returned to the Primary Health Centre the doctor told her to get admitted without examining her to ascertain whether labour had started or not. The nurse then told her to walk around all the time so that the labour would start!! This was absurd and so she came back home. The labour pains started only two days later at home and by that time it was very late. The family called for the ambulance to be sent for her to be taken to the Primary Health Centre. However, there is only one ambulance and it is always busy carting some pregnant woman or other to the centre and so it did not arrive on time. Navadi gave birth to a girl child at home itself with the help of a male traditional birth attendant. It was only after that next morning that the ambulance came and took the mother and newborn to the Primary Health Centre for post natal care. Both had to come back by travelling in a bus two days later as once again the ambulance was not available. Even two months after the delivery the money from the Government has not been credited to her account. This just goes to show how callous the whole health department is towards women and safe motherhood despite all the rhetoric. The family is so poor that they did not have enough money to buy mattresses and clothes for the newborn and we had to send out a request to friends to donate these.
Punibai is the wife of a very well known medicine man. She is close to sixty years of age and had not been keeping well for quite some time. The medicine man had failed to cure her and so she went to a quack who said she was suffering from low blood pressure and gave her medication for that along with the inevitable saline plus glucose drip and injected antibiotics. That too did not work and so she finally came to us. Initial questioning revealed that she was actually suffering from hyper acidity and treatment for that brought her relief. However, she still felt stressed and said that she was not feeling well even though physically she did not feel pain. We took her to the doctor in Indore who once again diagnosed her as having anxiety related stress and depression and prescribed a course of medication for three months. That has improved her mental state and she is now able to do work also.
Jamnabai, a thirty year old woman, with three children, who had been sterilised earlier, had problems of the urinary and reproductive tracts. She was clinically examined and treated in a reproductive health camp organised by MAJLIS. She responded well but then did not come back to us for further treatment when she fell ill again. Instead she went to a quack who referred her to a private hospital in Indore where she was put through a hysterectomy. Since the removal of the uterus does not solve the reproductive and urinary tract problems, she is still suffering from them.

A woman who is an active member of MAJLIS was bitten by a poisonous snake in her home. This snake had been there in her home for the past week or so eating the chicken that she was raising. Instead of killing the snake, the woman and her husband used to place incense sticks before its hole and ask it to leave!! Obviously it did not leave and one morning it bit the woman while she was giving feed to the chicken which were covered in a basket.
The woman raised a hue and cry and immediately her husband and neighbours came and killed the snake and then took her to a traditional medicine man. The medicine man said that he would not be able to treat her and she was rushed to the government community health centre in Udainagar nearby. There was no anti snake venom injection in stock in the health centre and none were available in any of the many drug stores nearby. The doctor at the health centre referred to the woman to the bigger hospital in Indore. However, the woman died while in transit to Indore which is about 50 kms away.
The Udainagar area is a snake prone area and there are quite a few cases of snake bites with some of them being of lethal snakes like cobras and kraits. Our farm in Pandutalav also has quite a few snakes which surface from time to time and we have had to kill a few of the more dangerous kind. In this case the woman and her husband decided not to kill the snake or chase it away and instead relied on beseeching it with incense sticks. Eventually, when the snake bit her the woman could not be saved because the people did not know the basics of first aid in case of snake bite, which involves tying a tight tourniquet above the bite to prevent the venomous blood from circulating and making an incision on the bite to suck the blood out using the anus of a chicken. Secondly the government health system and the private drug stores do not stock anti snake venom despite the area being prone to snake bite deaths. Thus, once again there is a betrayal by the modern system of the poor Adivasis. The market will obviously not provide for the Adivasis who do not have the money to pay for its services and so in the absence of proper public health services which do not cover even basic medical problems, let alone specialised ones like snake bites, the Adivasis are left to their own devices.
Thus, caught between a dysfunctional government public health system, quacks practising arbitrary and irrational medicine, traditional medicine men reciting chants to shoo away spirits and a patriarchal social structure that is apathetic to their serious health problems, women in our area are in very bad shape.
 Padma is 30 years old and works as a cook. Her husband is a motorcycle mechanic and they have two daughters and a son aged between 10 and 15 years. They live in a two room apartment in a block that has been built under the Rajeev Gandhi Ashray Yojana for rehabilitating people living in slums from which they have been displaced to make way for up-scale urban development. Clinical examination revealed that Padma was underweight for her height and suffered from general weakness and backache. She had severe cervical erosion from several infections of the vaginal tract and had white discharge. She was anaemic with haemoglobin level of 9.7 grams per decilitre. She was prescribed calcium, iron and protein powder to increase her strength and was given vaginal pessaries to insert to clear up the white discharge. She was also given a combination of drugs to treat her vaginal infections. Since these were very widespread and had been there for quite some time, the doctor asked her to ask her husband also to take this combination of drugs. She was also given anti-biotics.
This is where the problem began. Her husband refused to take the combination drugs to cure the vaginal infections saying that he was not ill so why should he take medication. We sat with the man and explained to him that if he did not take the drug then his genitals would continue to be infected and once again infect his wife after she was cured. He just nodded his head and went away but he refused to take the medicine. Talking to Padma we learnt that her husband came home drunk on most days and demanded sex despite her being so weak and if she protested then he would beat her up and allege that she was sleeping with some other man. This is a classic case of marital rape if ever there was one. Consequently there was not much improvement in her condition despite the medication.
During the follow up camp the doctor said that Padma's condition had not improved and she still had severe cervical erosion which would eventually result in her having to remove her uterus unless the cervix was cauterised and she desisted from having sex for some time.
Once again we spoke to the husband but did not get any response. Then, Subhadra got angry and she told Padma that she would have to take a hard decision. Either she would waste away if she continued in the present fashion or she would have to fight her husband for her rights. Subhadra said that she would take Padma to a hospital for cauterisation of her cervix, only if she stood up to her husband and stopped sleeping with him as otherwise the whole procedure would become useless. After much hesitation Padma agreed and her teenaged daughter also asked her to take courage. She went ahead with the cauterisation and then refused to sleep with her husband for a whole month telling him that a lot of money had been spent on her and she was not going to let that go down the drain because of his lust. When he tried to beat her she said, on the strength of the information given to her by Subhadra, that she would report him to the police for violating the provisions of the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act. She has since asserted herself more and now has sex only when she feels like it. As a result she has recovered her health.
Under the circumstances in which patriarchal oppression constricts women like Padma, it is indeed a little insensitive on the part of Maneka Gandhi to say that the onus is on the woman to report marital rape and since she is not doing so and there is not enough data, the Government can't do anything. Padma is not alone as  most women report marital rape saying that they have to sleep with their husbands almost every day regardless of their own inclinations or face beatings.
The influence of quacks and medicine men is so much that despite all our efforts women still go to them thinking that intravenous drips and injections on the one hand and recitation of chants on the other will solve their problems. 

Thursday, September 26, 2019

The School Education Waste Land

Possibly one of the most difficult subjects both conceptually and mathematically in modern science is Quantum Mechanics, which plays a major role these days in Physics, Chemistry and Biology and in many cutting edge technologies. The Madhya Pradesh Board of Secondary Education, in its wisdom, has decided to include it in its syllabus for the Physical Chemistry course in Class Eleven at the higher secondary level. The treatment of the subject is at a fairly high level and there are also mathematical problems to be solved based on the various formulae. Generally the Physics and Chemistry courses have a considerable amount of mathematics in them and so the Physics course in class eleven starts off with a chapter on dimensional analysis followed by another on differential and integral calculus before going on to other subjects. And all this is in very sanskritised Hindi.
The Government High School in Pandutalab village where our centre is, offers the Physics, Chemistry and Biology combination to those students who want to opt for science at the higher secondary level leaving out mathematics, the syllabus for which is very difficult. However, given the preponderance of mathematics in both physics and chemistry and also to some extent in biology which has genetics in the prescribed course at the higher secondary level, the students and teachers have to contend with it. And there lies the rub. 
At the coaching class that we run for students at our centre in Pandutalab, we have students from nursery to class eleven. Right from the fifth class students to those in class eleven, not a single one had any understanding of factors and multiples, fractions, decimals and basic algebra.  So initially we sat all the students from class five to class eleven together and made them understand and solve problems on factors, multiples, fractions, decimals and basic algebra. After doing this for about two weeks, we then went on to other subjects thinking that their basics had been cleared. However, since nothing was being taught at school, as the teachers themselves did not know any of these and just taught mechanically from guide books without solving any problems, we found that every time there was a need to use any of this basic mathematics in solving the higher level science problems, the students would stare blankly. So once again we would have to go back to revising the basic mathematics. Thus, now it has become a routine that the first hour or two of each coaching class is spent on revising basic mathematics before we go on to some other subject!!
This brought back the original problem that we have been facing ever since we have tried to do coaching in Pandutalab. Given that very little of mathematics is being taught in the schools nearby, not just the government schools but the private ones also, the students find the rigour and hard work required in our coaching classes a bit too much and tend to bunk them or stop coming altogether!! Then we have to go and speak to their parents and try to explain to them that their children should come to our weekend coaching classes regularly and also revise what we teach them there during the rest of the week. Even this does not work and from about twentyfive children who initially came to the coaching classes, eventually we are now left with around ten students from nursery to class eleven as shown below.
 Its a huge challenge to teach mathematics and science to these children who are all first generation Adivasi learners given the fact that even I find the sanskritised Hindi texts difficult to understand. I have to refer continually to the corresponding English texts to decipher what exactly the Hindi means to be able to explain it to the students!! The children first have to understand the problems after reading them and then set them up in mathematical terms before solving them. Its a big ask and requires a lot of hard work from them which they have never been used to in their school previously and even now very little is being done. At present the only solution is to repeatedly do the same problems over and over again because the kids say that when they go home and go over the way the problems have been solved they often can't follow what has been done. 
The Annual Survey of Education Report (ASER) has been continually showing this sorry state of affairs, which is in fact deteriorating further with every passing year, with regard to school education in the country but it does not seem to have any effect on the policy makers. Millions of children are learning very little in schools, both government and private, across the country. The syllabi are made tough because a miniscule few elite children have to study at a higher level and compete to get into the top colleges in the country and abroad but this is taking a heavy toll on the rest of the children. The teachers themselves have come out of this kind of schooling and do not understand the tough texts so what will they teach. In fact the ASER should test the teachers' skills also and then it will become clear why the kids aren't learning. Its a school education waste land and I can only forlornly paraphrase T S Eliot - 
I sat upon the shore Teaching, 
with the arid plain in front of me
Without much hope of setting my lands in order.

Friday, August 30, 2019

Whither Higher Technical Education

Last month a student in final year of Computer Science and Engineering in a Government Engineering College in Indore committed suicide. He left a note saying that he had wasted a lot of money of his family and was unable to fulfill their expectations that the investment they were making in his education would result in a good job and so instead of wasting any more of their money he thought it better to take his own life. Many such suicides take place and so it is necessary to delve into this phenomenon to understand the desperate situation that faces the youth of this country.
The student in question belonged to the Scheduled Caste category. He hailed from one of the smaller towns of Madhya Pradesh where his father makes a marginal living as a motor repairer. Therefore, his selection for admission in this government engineering college in Indore for computer science through the competitive entrance examination was welcomed by his family with great enthusiasm. They and he thought that this would put them eventually on the path to prosperity.

Unfortunately, the reality that confronted this boy and which confronts most students coming from humble vernacular backgrounds these days, is very harsh. The first barrier they face is that all teaching in Engineering colleges is in English. Therefore, they are not able to perform well and end up with low cumulative grade point average scores. Finally, when the time comes for campus placement they are not able to achieve the cutoff score of 7 CGPA that is demanded by the visiting companies for eligibility to be interviewed by them. Therefore, these students never get placed from campus interviews conducted by private concerns. There was a time when there used to be Government jobs for such people but those too have dried up these days with very few government institutions and those that are there, outsourcing most of their work to private concerns. So eventually these students attend coaching classes for competitive examinations for jobs in the government administrative services, public sector banks, railways and the like. Those who don't succeed in either getting placed through campus interviews or getting selected for government jobs through competitive exams have to eke out their living in low paying and insecure private jobs which cannot lift people out of poverty.
This is why a huge number of low income background students in engineering colleges are frustrated. Their aspirations have been raised that a degree in engineering will result in a well paying and secure job. So their parents spend a huge amount to get them educated in this hope. But eventually they find that this is not the case because late capitalism has drastically reduced well paying and secure job opportunities both in the private sector and in the government and so only those with good grades succeed in landing these jobs and the poorer students are left with low paying insecure jobs.
Even though there are scholarships provided to Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe students for their college studies, they do not cover all the costs of tuition and hostel residence. Therefore, the parents of these students have to make a substantial outlay in addition to what is provided through scholarships by the government. After that due to the load of these expenses which often push poor families into debt there is pressure on the students to deliver which they cannot. Even if only a few commit suicide, there is general depression and desperation among them.
Thus, even technical education is now not able to provide a leg up out of poverty for those who are poor and liberal arts education had stopped doing so much earlier. The problem of course is not with education so much as with the capitalist system which creates aspirations among the people for good high paying and secure jobs on the one hand and continually decreases the number of such jobs on the other hand. Even though this adversely affects the large proportion of students coming from weaker socio-economic backgrounds more, the adverse impact on those from more privileged backgrounds is also quite high. These students have to spend a lot more on their education, even when it is in government colleges, anything from 5 to 10 lakhs if not more. After that the pay packages that are offered are on an average about 5 lakhs a year which are insufficient for staying in metro cities at the luxurious level they are accustomed to in their homes as the cost of living and rent are very high. Therefore, in many cases where students have taken loans which have to be repaid, they find it difficult to make ends meet and have to borrow further from their parents at the start of their careers.
There is also the question as to why so many engineers are being produced when clearly there is not enough demand for them. In fact for quite some time now most engineers do not pursue careers in engineering and are instead serving as managers and administrators. The answer is that the huge number of engineers pushes down the wages of these engineers in the market. The remedy could be to redesign these courses to suit the needs of the masses of the country in the areas of sustainable communitarian development but that would not suit the rapacious drive for capital accumulation and so the youth are being misled into becoming engineers who are not needed by the capitalist development juggernaut.
All this makes the mass struggle against capitalism so much more difficult. The contribution of organic intellectuals from the oppressed classes and justice minded intellectuals from the privileged classes to provide support to the struggles for justice is very important. However, the way in which aspirations have been created and then throttled by capitalism, most of the educated youth these days whether from the oppressed classes or from the privileged classes, are least inclined to rebel against the system and are instead either trying to somehow progress in it or are falling by the wayside in depression. Those of the youth who do make it, become aggressive defenders of the oppressive status quo. Some youth do want to rebel but are scared of the consequences of penury and possible incarceration and so are afraid to take the leap into the uncertain world of activism.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Dark Days Ahead

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) along with the support of many other parties can now muster a two thirds majority in both houses of parliament and that is what it has done in amending the Right to Information Act, the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and Article 370 of the Constitution to the detriment of freedom in this country. In the last case it has also imposed a complete curfew on the Kashmir valley to prevent any protests there against the changes brought about in the status of Jammu and Kashmir. Thus, effectively, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), which is the force behind the BJP and provides it with its main leaders, including the Prime Minister and the Party President, is now in control of the Indian state apparatus and also that of 15 states either by itself or in coalition with like minded parties. It would be of interest to analyse how what began as a social movement has now moved very close to achieving its goal of establishing a Hindu Rashtra in India while other social and political movements for justice have become marginalised.
As all participants in social movements know the biggest hurdle in getting one going and then sustaining it is that of lack of finances. Social or political movements for justice invariably find it difficult to garner funds from those they fight for since they have little funds anyway. The moneyed class will not contribute funds to social movements which tend to undermine their power. Therefore, it is always a struggle to sustain for these movements. Even if they do manage to attain critical mass in some cases, as the communists and socialists did for quite some time, eventually the exigencies of working within a capitalist framework have meant that they have metamorphosed into parties that work for the capitalists and not for justice for the masses. 
This is where the RSS has scored. Initially its clarion call of establishing a Hindu Rashtra resonated with the obscurantist Sarvarnas who were losing out to the more modern Savarnas who were embracing liberal education and getting the new jobs created by the colonial administration. These obscurantist Savarnas had wealth earned from feudal lands and so they funded the growth of the RSS. It also received support from the Hindu religious congregations for its project to organise the diverse sects into a systematic Hindu religion. Since some of these congregations and their temples are wealthy they too provided funds to the RSS. Thus by the time of independence the RSS had acquired critical mass and it had enough resources to spread far and wide its message of Hindu nationalism. Some of its active members even planned and executed the murder of Gandhi in 1948.
The RSS then launched a political party called Bharatiya Jana Sangh in 1951. Possibly as a consequence of the state backlash from the murder of Gandhi, it astutely decided to pursue the parliamentary path to power instead of one of armed struggle. It diligently worked to build up its cadre through community groups called Shakhas and it is these cadres that also worked for the Jana Sangh and gradually built up the party. Initially its base was in Maharashtra and in the Hindi heartland. It came to power at the centre and in the some states in 1977 as part of the Janata Party in the elections after the revocation of the internal emergency which had been declared in 1975.
After the breakup of the Janata Party in 1980 the RSS formed the BJP and since then, except for a brief hiccup in 1984 when due to the assassination of Indira Gandhi, it ended up with only two seats in the subsequent parliamentary elections, it hasn't looked back. It also learnt from its failed experiment with socialism along with the socialists in the Janata Party and adopted an aggressive Hindu nationalist line that was also pro-business. This was crucial because the Indian economy was opened up from 1986 onwards and the power of global capitalism was unleashed in India. A huge NRI support base of the RSS began to be built up along with supporters from the business world in India. Religion is deeply a part of the psyche of people in India and so overtly religious programmes of action were adopted and the Babri Masjid dispute which had been peripheral earlier was brought to centre stage and the Muslims systematically othered. Nowhere more so than in Kashmir which is now under a lockdown.

Once it gained state power at the Centre in 1998 the RSS gained control over immense state resources and its programmes for reaching out among the masses increased substantially. I can speak from my own experience as an activist at the grassroots. The RSS actively began poaching our own grassroots workers by giving them many sops. It also used these resources to spread into the rest of India apart from its traditional base in the Hindi heartland and Maharashtra. Similarly it was totally pro-business in its governance and consequently it lost power in the elections in 2004 to a Congress led coalition. Unfortunately, the Congress and the various Socialist and Communist Parties pursued corrupt ways over the decade that they were in power after that and so the masses plumped for the BJP once again in 2014.  Such is the negative perception among the masses regarding the bankruptcy of the Congress and the other parties including the Dalit formation Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) that the BJP has come back to power again with an even greater majority in 2019 and is now emboldened to aggressively follow its Hindu nationalist agenda. It has now used its financial power to twist the arms of quite a few regional parties and get them on its side also. Despite having now become the masters of the Indian state, the RSS is still working at the grassroots through its cadres who work on the same shoe strings personally as they used to do earlier. 
This astute march to power of the RSS has to be contrasted with the political trajectory of the Socialists, Communists and the new social movements who are now on the margins. Unlike the RSS, their opposition to the capitalist dispensation meant that they were strapped for resources. When they did come to power they soon realised that they would have to toe the capitalist line and so they jettisoned most of their pro people agenda and became corrupt. The BSP is the prime example in this respect. It too grew out of a social movement of the Dalits into a political party but then it could not spread its wings outside Uttar Pradesh and there too it diluted its social justice agenda to follow a capitalist and corrupt path. While the RSS has a clear cut philosophy and agenda, the socialists and communists do not have one anymore as their practice has become capitalist.
The India Against Corruption Movement also metamorphosed into a political party and was sensationally able to capture power in the state of Delhi of all places. However, due to its sticking to its principles of anti-corruption it has come up against the problem of resource mobilisation and it is also continually hamstrung by the BJP government at the centre. Consequently it too has not been able to spread its wings and stands in danger of losing power in the forthcoming state elections as it has lost much of its cadre and mass base in the interim.
The only anti-capitalist political formation that has retained its ideology is the Communist Party of India (Marxist Leninist) in its various factions. While the Maoists who are fighting for a revolutionary overthrow of the Indian state are as a consequence restricted to a few remote forested locations, the parliamentary faction called Liberation faces the problem of lack of resources and so has a small mass base which is shrinking.  
The most pathetic is the situation of the social movements. We are still sticking to our ideology and we also have an alternative to the present development paradigm that has devastated agricutlure, livelihoods and the environment. However, with time our access to resources has dwindled drastically and so we are neither able to maintain our cadre nor expand our mass base. Even winning panchayat elections has become difficult let alone capture power at the state or central level.
The immediate future, therefore, does not seem rosy at all. The RSS with its control of the state institutions and the fourth most powerful military in the world and cavalier disregard for constitutional propriety can easily declare an emergency on the country and clamp down on democratic rights in pursuit of its retrograde aim of establishing a Hindu Rashtra. Especially as it has continually bungled on the economic front and the economy is in serious trouble with agricultural and industrial production in recession and unemployment figures increasing.  Dark days seem to lie ahead.  

Sunday, July 21, 2019

WHITHER ADIVASI GIRLS' EDUCATION

I set out four decades ago to try and improve the situation of Adivasis but unfortunately have mostly met with failure. However, nothing hurts more than the most recent in this series of failures because it is related to Girls' Education.
My wife Subhadra is a Dalit whose family had less than two hectares of unirrigated land from which they could hardly make ends meet. She had to study in a government school and also work at home on meagre food and almost no money. She somehow passed her higher secondary school examinations and then to escape her poverty joined an NGO as an Anganwadi (creche) worker and later by dint of persistence became a land rights and gender activist. Later she decided to pursue higher education and is currently enrolled for a Phd.
This personal experience made her think about the education of girl children from poor families. She felt that if girls from poor families are to study then they must be provided hostel facilities because if they stay at home then their parents tend to make them work and so they are not able to study. Moreover, the government school system in Madhya Pradesh has now become moribund with close to zero teaching and learning. Therefore, without extra tuition it is not possible to educate girls just by sending them to a government school.
However, running hostels and schools for girls is not an easy matter. The Right to Education Act has now made it mandatory for all schools to be registered and a considerable amount of paper work has to be done continuously regardless of the quality of the actual education being imparted. Secondly due to the grievous malpractices by NGOs running girls' hostels there is also a considerable amount of monitoring of such hostels. Moreover, running a full fledged school and hostel requires good quality staff which is almost impossible to get in rural areas these days. Those few from rural areas who have somehow learnt something from the dysfunctional government school system and have attained some quality have invariably migrated to cities for better livelihoods. Therefore, those that remain in rural areas know next to nothing despite having become graduates.

So Subhadra decided two years back to informally run a hostel with about five or six girls of class six at the Pandutalab centre of Mahila Jagat Lihaaz Samiti. The girls would be enrolled in the Government Middle School in the village and would reside at the centre and get coaching from Subhadra and I in addition to whatever they were taught at school. Once the hostel stabilised other people also could come and spend a few days and teach them whatever they were good at. The idea was that the girls would get a holistic education as they would also work on sustainable farming at the centre and understand the forest, soil, water and energy conservation work being done there.
Initially, it was difficult to get these girls as both the girls and their parents were not ready. So in the first year we started a weekend coaching class at the centre for girls of all classes from Pandutalab and a few nearby villages so that they and their parents would get an idea of the huge difference in education quality that we were planning to provide. There were quite a few girls who came to these coaching classes in the beginning where we taught them English and Mathematics the two main bug bears of school children in rural areas. However, after some time the interest of the students flagged despite their learning immensely in the classes. Investigations revealed that the problem was that they were being taught next to nothing in the schools and they were also not being given any time to study at home by their parents. Thus, while they would learn a lot in the coaching class on one weekend, they would forget everything by the next weekend and be back to square one. Also the girls did not see why they should work hard to understand a subject in the coaching class when nothing was being taught in the school.
This reinforced the logic that the girls would have to be kept in the hostel and taught intensively. But that is easier said than done given the fact that girls are made to do a lot of work at home even when they are studying in school and so keeping them in hostels is not generally favoured by parents. Anyway, this year Subhadra began canvassing for girls to join the hostel from the month of April itself when the last year's session came to an end. She went around nearby villages convincing parents and talking to the girls who could be enrolled for the hostel. Once the girls were identified, she went and met the teachers of their schools to facilitate their transfer to the Government Middle School in Pandutalab.
The interaction with the teachers brought to light the sorry state of public primary education in Mahdya Pradesh in tribal areas. The primary schools are mostly single or double teacher schools teaching five grades all seated together. All the children of school going age are enrolled in these schools regardless of whether they are attending regularly or not. This is because there is a strict order from the higher ups that there should not be any child out of school. Since there is a no detention policy so not only are these children marked present they are also declared passed in the examinations. Moreover, since the funds and materials for the midday meal to be given to the children are according to the attendance in the school so also all are marked present regardless of whether they are taking the meals or not. The Unified District Information System for Education, which is the online data base for the primary education system thus paints a very rosy picture of the status of primary education. There is of course an unofficial tally of the actual attendance and the number of dropout children with the teachers but try as she might Subhadra could not get this from them.
After much effort parents of about eight girls agreed to put their girls in the hostel at Pandutalab. They were told to get the transfer certificates from the old school so that they could be admitted to the school in Pandutalab. Two girls were even put in the hostel by their parents pending the formal transfer and we began teaching them. These girls despite being in the sixth class did not know the Hindi alphabet or the numbers let alone write in Hindi and do sums.
When the girls' parents went to try and get the transfer certificates they came up against a barrage of questions from the teachers as to why they wanted to shift their girls to a private hostel and the government school in Pandutalab and that such hostels are wholly unreliable and that they would be jeopardising the future of their girls. One parent did manage to get the transfer certificate but the Head Master of the Pandutalab Middle School refused to admit the girl giving him the same kind of warning that putting the girl in the private hostel would jeopardise her future. Basically no teacher wants to lose a student even if he himself is not teaching anything because it reduces the number of students for the midday meal. Also instead of trying to improve pedagogy and learning achievements in his school he is wary of private schools and hostels which reflect on his incomepetence and the shoddy state of the Government School System.
This then created a difficult situation for us. The only two girls who had come to the hostel began crying given the lack of company. The increased pressure of proper studying also made them feel more home sick. The fact that the girls would not be enrolled in the school in Pandutalab also resulted in a situation wherein Subhadra and I would have to take on the full responsibility of teaching them. Since these girls would in any case remain enrolled in their village schools formally this was not much of a problem in formal terms. As they could go and give the examinations there. There was also the possibility of getting these girls to give the tenth class examinations from the National Institute of Open Schooling a few years down the line as this is the first formal educational certification these days after the RTE Act's no detention provision. However, convincing the parents to follow this kind of informal arrangement became difficult as they felt that their girls might get penalised in future. Also there is a general reluctance to send girls to study away from home because there are now a spate of cases where the girls elope with other boys often of a different sub tribe of the Bhils from the one to which they belong even while studying in school. So there is a malevolent and dysfunctional public education system on the one hand and patriarchy on the other which are seriously putting girls education in jeopardy.
Consequently, we have had to send the two girls who had joined the hostel back and put this project in abeyance for the time being. We will try again next year with greater preparation as we now know what we are up against.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

The Bell Tolls for Thee

Horrendous Caste Oppression will not end and Dalit Emancipation will not happen only if a few well meaning and diligent Savarna officers do their duty as depicted in the much hyped film "Article 15" but will be possible only if there are militant Dalit Activists in large numbers who can lead their community in a conscious fight against Casteism. Unfortunately there are too few of these and in a great tragedy for the western Madhya Pradesh region and India as a whole, we lost one of the greatest self made Dalit activists prematurely at the age of 47 on 6.7.2019. Kemat Gawle passed away after battling valiantly for almost a month against a series of brain strokes that he suffered since the first one on June 12th 2019, which had paralysed his left side.
Kemat hailed from a marginal farmer family of which he was the eldest of 7 sons though he had elder sisters. Despite his father educating him with great deprivation so that he would eventually get a government job and so relieve their poverty, Kemat decided to join the Narmada Bachao Andolan to fight against the Sardar Sarovar Dam which was to submerge their farm land in Kakrana village on the banks of the Narmada River in Alirajpur district. He later gave up his studies without completing his graduation to become a full time activist of the Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath (KMCS) which was fighting for the rights of Adivasis and Dalits in Alirajpur district to the great chagrin of his father who threw him out of the house.
Even though his contributions to the struggles against the dam and for the rights of Adivasis and Dalits through community mobilisation, for which he was imprisoned and tortured several times, is of great importance, his seminal contribution is in the field of education. He set up along with other members of the KMCS a residential school in Kakrana village named the Rani Kajal Jeevan Shala (RKJS). The major problem in Alirajpur, which according to the Census 2011 is the district with the least amount of literacy in the country of just 37%, is that the people migrate to Gujarat and towns in Madhya Pradesh seasonally to increase their earnings as the income from agriculture on their marginal farms is not enough for them to make ends meet. This results in the children missing out on their education as they have to go with their parents. Moreover, the standard of pedagogy in Government schools is abysmal with high student teacher ratios, multigrade teaching by the same unqualified teacher and poor facilities. Matters are compounded by the fact that the Adiavasis and Dalits in Alirajpur speak the Bhili dialects and so it is even more difficult for first time learners to understand the sanskritised Hindi texts that are prescribed in the syllabus.
So the RKJS developed its own pedagogy in Bhili to initiate children into studies under the leadership of Kemat and provided quality education in a residential milieu to the children of migrating parents. Kemat is shown in the picture below with two students and their father who is a mason who migrates to Gujarat for work with complete satisfaction that his sons are in good hands and all set for a great future. 
To ensure that girls too get a good education, the fees are waived totally for them and so 40% of the students are girls. Even for the boys the education is subsidised and the school runs on a grant of about Rupees 25 lakhs a year which are mobilised by Kemat and his team from various donors. Consequently there are some 220 boarding students from as many as 52 villages of Alirajpur district and every year there is a huge rush among parents to get their children admitted to this school. The motto of the school is "Padhai Ladhai Saath Saath" which means learning and struggle together. The pedagogy is radical in character aimed at producing youth who will challenge the oppressive status quo that stifles the genius of the Adivasis and Dalits in Alirajpur.
One of the great things about the KMCS is the huge number of organic intellectuals and independent minded activists that it has produced among the local people and Kemat was among the best. Even though he gave up formal studies he continued to read radical literature as did Shankar Tadwal the Adivasi grassroots leader who too gave up formal studies to become a full timer of the KMCS. Even though the KMCS was initially led by Savarna activists, Kemat, Shankar and others soon became critical of this and within a decade of its inception by 1996, the local members of the organisation became capable enough to run it by themselves and all the Savarnas left. Kemat was fiercely independent and conscious of his Dalit identity as is Shankar of his Adivasi identity. So even though we Savarna activists have continued to be associated with the KMCS and the RKJS in many ways, Kemat and Shankar have called the shots. I will remember with great fondness the many times that Kemat has given me a dressing down not mincing the fact that we Savarnas are at the root of most of the problems of this country and definitely of Dalits.
Kemat also led reform movements within his community to restrict the amount of the bride price, alcoholism and gender based violence against women. He was in addition a public health activist trying to improve the access to health services and their quality for the poor.
Sadly, we have lost him at the peak of his abilities and at a time when there are very few new activists coming up to fight for justice. His passing away in this way prematurely is also a telling commentary on the abominable status of public health in this country. Kemat suffered from diabetes and hypertension but despite being aware as a health activist that these are silent killers and require constant monitoring, preoccupation with work prevented him from doing so and over the past four months or so he had not been taking medication regularly. This lack of proper management of these diseases led to the sudden brain stroke and paralysis. He had to be brought to Indore which is five hours away from Kakrana as there was no hospital nearer than that where he could be given even preliminary intensive care. Even though he was admitted to one of the best corporate hospitals at great expense and was treated by the best neuro surgeons under good intensive care with proper medication and finally surgery, he could not be saved.
The photo below is that of his last journey to the school he founded where he was kept for some time on the central platform built around a big neem tree before being taken for cremation. There is a skeleton hanging from the branches of the tree which is used to teach the students about the bone structure of humans. Here it eerily conveys the futility of the fight for justice which is continually losing its most militant protagonists. We lost Khemraj Choudhary a month back, Chhotubhai a little earlier, Pushpendra before that and Khemla, another militant Adivasi founder of the KMCS, two years back. Therefore, send not to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Survival Edge Technology

Decentralised and communitarian work in soil and water conservation, sustainable agriculture, afforestation and renewable energy needs to be done extensively if the human race is to survive the deepening water, food, energy and climate crises. Moreover, since these crises most affect the poor who live on the edge of survival in rural areas, the decentralised communitarian technology required to mitigate these crises can appropriately be called Survival Edge Technology. However, implementing this is easier said than done. Primarily because of the dominant view, that work at the cutting edge of technology requiring highly centralised systems and huge investments will alone be able to address these problems, without much action to ensure community participation in the implementation of time tested and simple decentralised technologies, some of which are as old as human civilisation. The Mahila Jagat Lihaaz Samiti (MAJLIS) is working in all these areas and detailed below is the complexity of the problems that are being faced as revealed over the past six months of work at its Climate Change Mitigation Centre in Pandutalav village in Dewas district of Madhya Pradesh.
The major problem at the centre and also nearby areas is the lack of water. The underlying rock structure is such that the aquifer does not have much water. A bore well sunk to a depth of 130 meters yielded very little water which was just about enough to provide drinking and washing water but not enough for agriculture. Open wells nearby had some more water at lesser depths ranging from 5 to 10 meters and so we decided to dig one. There is a local technology for digging open wells in which a motor run winch draws up the dug up mud from the well bottom as shown below.
After some digging the soil gets hard and so it becomes time consuming to dig it with pick axe and shovel. So dynamite has to be used to blast the hard soil. In this too a local technology is used in which a compressor mounted on a tractor is used to drive an air drill to make the holes in which the dynamite is inserted as shown below.


There was no sign of water though and so the well had to be dug to a depth of 23 meters before some water was struck. At this great depth it became dangerous to dig any further as the sides of the well were collapsing every time blasting was done as shown below. Indeed the diameter of the well had to be reduced from about 19 m depth onwards due to this danger of the sides collapsing. Eventually the digging was stopped at 23 meters depth where hard rock was struck. The important thing to note here is the variability of the water bearing aquifer in the area. Whereas within a radius of about 300 meters there were other wells which had water at about 10 meters, the well at the centre struck water at 23 meters which is a whopping 7 stories deep.


Then the work of building the circular reinforced concrete side wall of the well began. Once again local technology was used. Flexible steel shuttering was used to construct reinforced concrete circular rings in situ and a funnel and pipe assembly was used to pour the concrete into the shuttering as shown below. 

Eventually after a long effort spanning six months and much labour, the well was ready but with only a little water at the bottom. However, it held the promise that there would be more water during the agricultural season.


Given the low availability of water, soil conservation work was also done on the farm. The farm sits astride a drainage line that slopes away from the well. So a earthen bund and tank has been built above the well to harness the water from the water shed above it and recharge it into the ground. A pond has been built below the bund and next to the well to catch the overflow and seepage from the bund. The slope of the farm has been reversed towards the pond and the well by building a gabion retaining wall, involving the tight packing of stones in a wire mesh, at the boundary and filling it up with gravel and topping it with clayey soil from a nearby tank as shown below. In this way water availability of the farm has been increased through soil and water conservation measures.


All this of course has cost a lot of money. And there lies the rub. In dry land and hard rock areas which are naturally water scarce and cover 70 percent of the country, soil and water conservation work requires considerable amount of money which the poor living at the survival edge cannot afford even if they know the technology required for it. Unfortunately, the government is more interested in grandiose plans like linking rivers to harness flows, which are going down by the year due to massive deforestation in their catchments, rather than invest in communitarian soil and water conservation and afforestation measures to increase the recharge of water into the aquifers and increase water availability. The fatal fascination for centralised cutting edge technology rather than for survival edge technology that has been the bane of development the world over has resulted in those living on the survival edge continuing to face the increasing threats of climate change without adequate mitigation and adaptation measures. 
 The farm is also running on solar energy. The technology for this of course is not local and has to be sourced from outside and in this also considerable investment is required which is once again beyond the reach of the average farmer. Yet again the government has not shown much interest in promoting decentralised renewable energy despite the fact that it is running up huge losses in supplying thermal power through centralised grids in rural areas due to high transmission and distribution losses.
Sustainable agriculture with indigenous varieties and organic farming processes is practiced on this farm which relies on mulch from the nearby forests which are being protected through communitarian fencing and regeneration efforts and composted farm residue to round off the climate action programme. An effort is being made to spread this form of farming and once again due to lack of government support which mainly goes to the unsustainable chemical agriculture,  not much headway is being made. Subhadra tried to sell the indigenous seeds conserved on the farm in the weekly markets but with little success.
 The problem of water scarcity has become very acute in urban areas also and so there is a need for decentralised water conservation measures in cities. To this end in the office of MAJLIS at Indore rainwater harvesting, recharge and wastewater treatment and reuse are being done so that the office is self sufficient in water. It also has both active and passive solar energy with net export of surplus renewable energy to the grid. Once again this requires considerable investment and the government is not providing enough support to these decentralised renewable energy efforts to make them more wide spread. The office also has fruit trees and vegetables are grown in the garden. The drumstick tree that dominates the office building is very popular with people living in a radius of 2 kilometers and its leaves, flowers and fruits are consumed with enthusiasm. The office is covered in creepers and has good cross ventilation so that it remains cool in summer and saves on energy required for cooling.

Thus, even though communitarian implementation of decentralised survival edge technology is the need of the hour both in rural and urban areas, there is not much progress in this direction due to governmental apathy and preoccupation with impracticable centralised solutions and it is left to lone and marginal efforts by NGOs to implement it. Anyway, the MAJLIS climate change mitigation centre at Pandutalav village is now a demonstration farm and training centre on how survival edge technology can be implemented.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Monumental Patriarchal Injustice

Sexual harassment of women by men at the work place is rampant in India and it takes place in both the formal and the informal sector. Consequently, that a junior woman worker of the Supreme Court should complain that someone as senior as the Chief Justice of India had sexually harassed her is not surprising. After all, no men and no institutions are above suspicion in this matter given the extent of patriarchy that pervades Indian society. However, there are a few disturbing points in the present case that need to be critically reviewed to understand the depth of this abhorrent phenomenon.
Normally, if a woman spurns the sexual advances of a man at the work place, the matter ends there unless the woman makes a complaint or the man continues to harass her. In this case the latter happened. The man did not make any further sexual advances but took vindictive action against the woman leading to the termination of her service on flimsy grounds. Matters did not end there as the man then pressurised the police to target her husband and brother in law, both junior level policemen and had them suspended. Then the police dug up an old complaint against the woman and her family and had her arrested. The woman was forced to fall at the feet of the man’s wife and rub her nose on the ground saying that she would not commit any transgression again. Even after that the police persecution continued.
The man had first shown undue favour to the woman and then demanded that the woman gratify him sexually. When the woman had the guts to spurn such a powerful man, he became incensed and decided to crush her completely for having dared to spurn him. The woman then showed even greater courage and complained to all the justices of the Supreme Court and went to the press with her complaint.
The Chief Justice of India then first alleged that there was a conspiracy to curb the independence of the judiciary by framing him falsely and then constituted a committee of the judges of the Supreme Court who are all subordinate to him, without any independent member to probe the complaint of the woman against him. This committee did not allow the woman to take the help of her lawyer while deposing before the committee and nor was she told of the procedure to be followed by the committee to decide on the complaint. She was also not given a copy of the record of the proceedings of the committee. During the proceedings the judge heading the committee offered to reinstate her in her job. The woman withdrew from the probe saying that this was a gross violation of justice. Thereafter, the committee decided ex parte that the complaint of the woman had no substance and cleared the Chief Justice of any wrong doing.

The serious problem in this case is that the Chief Justice of India had first used his immense power to harass the woman after she spurned his sexual advances and then bypassed the expected procedure of having an independent probe into the complaint and allowing the complainant all possible legal assistance. Justice in this country has often not been seen to be delivered to poor people and especially Dalits and this has happened again in this case as the complainant is a Dalit woman. Even in the USA there have been two cases in which judges who were appointed to the Supreme Court were accused of sexually harassing women earlier but there too eventually the women did not get justice.
Since the Supreme Court itself has rubbished the woman’s complaints there is very little legal redress left and so this is nothing short of monumental patriarchal injustice. Consequently, street protests have started against this blatant use of patriarchal power to crush a courageous woman who has stood up against it with about 60 lawyers and activists being arrested from in front of the Supreme Court where they had assembled to register a public protest against the Chief Justice of India. It remains to be seen if these incipient protests snowball into a mass protest that can force the Supreme Court to follow proper procedure to probe the complaint of the woman.

Monday, April 1, 2019

The Wages of Idiocy


Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s surgical strike on black money took place through demonetisation on November 8th 2016. It was claimed that this would lead to a substantial amount of black money held as cash not being deposited and so the liability of the Reserve Bank in this regard would be cancelled out and this would accrue as a windfall dividend to the Government to pursue greater economic development.  About Rs 15 lakh crores were in circulation as Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes at the time of demonetisation. In the absence of any rigorous measurement a conservative estimate is that the extent of the black economy is 50 percent of the official GDP. Thus, Rs 7.5 lakh crores was estimated to be the black money that would not be deposited resulting in a huge dividend to the government. Unfortunately, disregarding all warnings of dire consequences that would follow if citizens deposited demonetised notes of more than Rs 2.5 lakhs in cumulative value in savings accounts and more than Rs 12.5 lakhs in current accounts, people deposited all their demonetised notes and so eventually 100 percent of the notes were deposited and the Government did not get its expected windfall. On the contrary by having to print notes in replacement in a hurry to replace all the demonetised notes the Government incurred an expenditure of Rs 15,000 crores which reduced the dividend it gets annually from the RBI because of the profits earned by the latter from its money market operations.

The goal posts were then shifted and it was claimed that all those who had deposited money in excess of the prescribed amounts would be identified and prosecuted and in this way eventually the black money that was deposited would be traced. The investment in the information technology enabled wing of the investigation department of the Central Board of Direct Taxes was racheted up considerably to analyse the huge data of deposits that were coming in from the banks. As a result the following data was gleaned –

1.       18 lakh accounts had deposits of demonetised notes greater than the prescribed amounts
2.       11.44 lakh Permanent Account Numbers (PAN) were found to be duplicate and were deactivated.

After this action was taken as follows -

1.       Notices were sent to all those who had deposited more than the prescribed amount asking them to explain this and about 12 lakh people filed responses.
2.       Based on these responses notices were issued to  3,04,910 persons who had deposited more than Rs 10 lakhs in savings bank accounts and had not disclosed this in their income tax returns.
3.       As a result 2,17,557 persons filed income tax returns and paid self assessment tax  of Rs 6,514 crores while 87,353 persons did not file income tax returns at all and proceedings have ensued against them.
Thus, even if all those who haven’t filed returns are pursued and the returns of those who have are scrutinised, the total tax recovery is not likely to be more than the Rs 15,000 crores it cost to reprint the notes that were demonetised.

It was also claimed that the demonetisation exercise and the digital analysis of data has led to a larger tax base and better tax compliance resulting in greater tax revenue. The total tax recovered for the financial year 2016-17 in which demonetisation was carried out has not shown a phenomenal increase. Whereas the growth in the total direct tax collection in the financial year 2015-16 over that in financial year 2016-17 was 14 percent this growth had been achieved earlier also during the UPA regime and had in fact slumped to less than 10 percent in the first two years of NDA rule. The growth in direct tax collection the following year in 2017-18 was 17 percent but this too was achieved earlier in the UPA regime and is not remarkable. Even though there has been a significant increase in the number of tax filers and so the tax base has increased considerably, mostly they either file nil returns or they do so to get back refunds of tax deducted at source and that is why the actual tax collected has not shown a phenomenal increase.
Finally, there is the matter of greater digitisation of the economy and the claim that as a result of demonetisation India would move towards becoming a cashless economy. This has proved to be another red herring as the money supply currently is much more than what it was at the time of demonetisation and cash continues to be king.

The Black economy is thriving because the troika that is in control of the economy – businessmen, bureaucrats and politicians, are hand in glove in evading taxes. A much greater amount of black money is held in the form of fixed assets in India and abroad and in cash abroad than in cash in India. Thus, a surgical strike through demonetisation, even if it were to be successful in terms of the demonetised notes that are unaccounted not being deposited, it would neither yield much nor would it lead to a reduction in the black economy.

The biggest problem with ensuring tax compliance is that there are not enough personnel to check tax evasion. The only way to ensure greater compliance is to conduct scrutiny and search. However, this requires a lot of time and staff and that is why the self assessed returns of less than 1 percent of the total taxpayers are scrutinised and a miniscule few are subjected to searches. Even after this the tax evaders challenge the decisions of the tax department in courts and so a huge amount of tax demand is stuck in litigation. The tax evaders know from experience that the process of scrutiny is a long drawn one and that is why they didn’t heed the dire warnings of the Government regarding legal proceedings to follow and deposited all their unaccounted money after demonetisation.

Apart from the direct costs to the Government in terms of printing of new notes and the technology and human power deployed in the already over burdened tax department to trace the depositors of excess demonetised notes, the economy as a whole suffered. Initially the whole population had to line up in long queues to deposit their demonetised notes in banks and thus lost out on their regular work. The iconic photo of an old man standing crying in front of a long queue underlines this poignantly.

The banks bore tremendous costs as they had to stop all other work and involve themselves in taking in the demonetised notes and finally the Reserve Bank of India spent a huge amount of time counting the demonetised notes to arrive at the conclusion that almost all of them were deposited!!

 Especially adversely affected by demonetisation was the informal economy, where cash is the major medium of exchange and only a miniscule few transactions are done through banks. Many small businesses closed down due to lack of liquidity leading to loss of work for the poor who are mostly employed as casual labourers.  It has been claimed that India has continued to be the fastest growing major economy in the world despite demonetisation and so it is not true that the economy has suffered. But this is yet another red herring. India is the fastest growing economy because of its huge population which even if it does not work at its productive best, nevertheless contributes to the GDP in some way or other. The chai walas and pakoda sellers are all contributing to the economy even if that may not be the ideal kind of work they would like to do. So if demonetisation had not taken place the economy would have grown even faster. 
  
 All in all, demonetisation was one of the most idiotic exercises to have been carried out in recent times and the costs were borne by the economy and disproportionately by its poorest participants.