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.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Exorcising the Maths Demon!!

Yesterday I found lying on our dining table the Mathematics Books for Class Twelve produced by the National Centre for Educational Research and Training which are prescribed for students who have opted to take mathematics as one of their subjects under the Central Board of Secondary Education. Our son has just entered class twelve and so he had got the books.
I picked them up and began reading them. They are of a very high standard no doubt but they made me wonder about their relevance for the future lives of the vast majority of students who would be reading them!! For instance, I myself read these at one time when I was in school, and a little more of this kind of arcane mathematics, in engineering college, but later on in life I have used very little of this. Even, engineers who are in the business of using their engineering education, use very little of this as most are in managerial roles that do not require this kind of arcane mathematics.
However, millions of students every year study this tough mathematics, even though they have no aptitude for it, just because they have to do it if they want to study engineering. Consequently, most of them do not do well in the subject and this continues into their college education with them later becoming bad engineers or not pursuing engineering as a career. In fact only those who would like to pursue research in science and engineering need a good foundation in this kind of mathematics. Since only a miniscule proportion of students at the school level eventually pursue a career in research, it is a huge waste of time and resources, both of the nation and the students, in teaching a much larger number this kind of mathematics. Moreover, the need to select a few students from the millions aspiring to get into elite engineering and science colleges leads to the teaching of the solution of even more arcane mathematical problems that are served up in competitive examinations making life more of a hell for the students. Unless one loves to do mathematics, this kind of study is bound to be a useless burden as it is for most students. Those who have prepared these books are all obviously in love with their mathematics but if such narcissistic love for the subject results in the foisting of tough mathematics on students who not only do not have any such love for the subject but end up hating it by the time they are done with it, then something is deeply wrong. Especially since this obsession with maths of a few has led to a situation wherein physical human labour is increasingly becoming redundant.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

A Life Drunk to The Lees

I found myself on the dais today in a function with the District Collector of Indore!! As an anarchist I shun going on the dais and almost never with Government officials or politicians. That this happened today is because of an extraordinary personality, the anniversary of whose untimely passing away was being commemorated.

Saeed Khan, was an anarchist to the core and despite being part of an organisation he was always in confrontation with it. He was a journalist of the Hindustan Times, Indore edition, which has now wound up and he believed in staying close to the ground. So much so that he did not own any motorised vehicle and moved around on foot and public transport even though he had an Iphone in his pocket which he used to surf the world at a drop of the hat. I was invited to speak a few words about him in today's commemoration and that is how I landed up on the dais. The commemoration event had been well advertised on FB and Twitter and reading this, the District Collector of Indore too came uninvited and was called up to the dais and that is how we were together there.
The Collector said that in his earlier stint as the Municipal Commissioner in Indore, he had been accosted on many occasions by Saeed who was then diligently pursuing all the misplanning and malimplementation that was manifesting itself in the development of Indore city. He said, that in Saeed, for the first time he met a journalist who did deep research on his stories and would fearlessly flay administrative inefficiency. He also said that normally he is continually invited to chair or take part in various public meetings by organisations and had to refuse them most of the time but this is the first time in his thirteen year career as an administrator that he was attending a meeting like this uninvited simply because he couldn't get over the fact that Saeed was not there anymore and he wanted to share his respect for him.
Saeed's brother, who also is a journalist in Bhopal, set off the reminiscences by going back to their childhood and saying that their father who too had been a journalist had told them that as a journalist one must write simply so that people could understand, truthfully so that the powerful would shake in fear and down to earth so that the concerns of the poor were addressed. Saeed followed this advice to a tee and he lived a life that enabled him to do this, with friends and acquaintances. He was also self effacing and never allowed his name to be published with his reports which always went as from an HT Correspondent. Yet it was easy to recognise his pieces because he had a beautiful humorous style of writing. The humour often was self deprecating but also had sharp satire of those he was critiquing. Given his seniority he was offered promotions which would have taken him to other cities but he refused them because he said he wanted to remain a street reporter in his beloved Indore.
As an anarchist I shun a lot of things including media spotlight. The only times previously I had got covered by the media is when I fell foul of the State doing some organising at the grassroots and went to jail!! Saeed changed all that. He found me out through his researches and then said that he wanted to do stories on the work that we do among the Adivasis. He wouldn't take no for an answer and that is how we became fast friends and I hit the front page of the Hindustan Times and later even other dailies more often!! He then used my contacts to ferret out many other grassroots workers in the region and did stories on their work and thus brought to the mainstream media the struggles of the marginalised which would otherwise never have reached the limelight. However, he was not the follower of any received ideology. He would ask searching questions to all of us at the grassroots and especially question dogma. He was an activist like us but preferred to fight for justice through his journalism.
There was a Palestinian gentleman at the meet who too had been found out by Saeed in many of his travels along the streets of Indore. The gentleman said that in the first meeting Saeed had impressed him with his knowledge of the Palestinian struggle and he even knew more about it than him!! He said that Muslims in India are generally a backward lot and not very knowledgeable about things and in that respect Saeed was an exception in that he knew a lot not only about India but about the world at large. He too spoke about Saeed's Iphone. Whenever there was some argument about a fact, out came the Iphone and Saeed would do a search to get the truth!!
Unfortunately, Saeed was afflicted with cancer and it was detected in the final stages when there was not much that could be done. Nevertheless despite the pain and the huge expenses involved in the treatment, Saeed never lost his desire to live or his sense of humour. Till the very end he was researching for stories that would never see the light of day. On one of my last visits to see him in Gurgaon just a few weeks before his death last year, I was astonished to see the high spirits he was in and while I was feeling the tears welling up within me, I couldn't help but laugh along with him at the many jokes he cracked.
As he lived, so he approached death with a critical mind. His illness was such that it cost quite a few lakhs to treat and he obviously didn't have that kind of money. Citizens, friends, politicians and even the Government came forward to pool money but Saeed initially protested saying that this was unfair but he was overruled. He questioned the absolutely worthless public health system in this country which was not providing care for even basic ailments and so putting a heavy burden on people to pay for costly private health services.
We have lost a true man, who could in the words of the poet Tennyson, verily have said about himself -
"I Can not rest from travel: I will drink 
Life to the lees: All times I have enjoy'd 
Greatly, have suffer'd greatly, both with those 
That loved me, and alone, on shore, and when 
Thro' scudding drifts the rainy Hyades 
Vext the dim sea: I am become a name; 
For always roaming with a hungry heart 
Much have I seen and known

Friday, March 17, 2017

Women's Empowerment through Backyard Poultry Farming

 Nilesh Desai and his NGO Sampark have brought about a small revolution in Jhabua district by facilitating Bhil Adivasi Women to become successful backyard poultry farmers in association with The Global Alliance for Livestock Veterinary Medicines (GALVmed).  This video shows how vaccinating poultry has empowered Bhil women. The video was recorded in an area that educates poultry keepers about a vaccine that protects against the highly contagious and lethal poultry disease – Newcastle Disease (ND) called Ranikhet disease locally. The disease can kill up to 80-90% of a flock.
The vaccination project has seen an increase in the number of female entrepreneurs in the region since vaccination began. Dhani Bai, an ND vaccinator and poultry keeper, has started a business as a tailor through her income selling vaccinated poultry. She also pays for her children’s education and all household financial decisions are made jointly by her and her husband.
Surti Bai Puniya Parmar of Saad Village has 2 hectares of land in which her family of five produces cotton, soyabean, moong, maize and vegetables. She owns a buffalo, two bullocks and three goats. 

When the project started she had five hens. In October 2013 she came into contact with Sampark. She took part in every activity of the project as follows –
1.      She participated in training workshops and learnt vaccination, deworming, first aid and maintenance of records in the meetings of the group for extension of poultry farming. She followed each and every guideline, due to which chickens didn’t get infected through this disease and their growth rate increased so that now she has 80 – 100 desi hen.
2.      She learnt how to make chicken feed supplements with the help of local ingredients and fed them to the chicken. As a result the hens which used to produce eggs three times per year on an average, now produce 4-5 times per year on an average.
3.      Surati Bai had decided to start a poultry farm with the local breed of Kadaknath chicken. She constructed her own 7 m x 10m  shed with  Bamboo and wood, purchased 400 chicks of Kadaknath from Krishi Vigyan Kendra and started the poultry farm in August 2014. These chicken were maintained and provided with proper vaccine, de-wormed and given first aid from time to time with the help of Murgi Sakhis with minimum expenditure as only food supplements made of local ingredients was provided. Out of 400 chicken, 20 died during transportation  and after 4 months 380 chicken had grown up to be hens of 1 - 1.5 kg. Each of these were sold for Rs 600.
4.      This tremendous success has inspired her to increase the size of her shed so as to rear 1000 chicken. Other poultry farmers of the village and nearby areas have also been enthused by her example to take up systematic poultry farming. 

The World Economic Forum predicts the gender gap won’t close entirely until 2186. The World Economic Forum currently ranks India as 87 out of 144 countries in the Global Gender Gap Index, which considers economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival, political empowerment. India’s ranking has improved from 98th place out of 115 countries in 2006. Thus, this vaccination project has made a significant contribution in women's empowerment towards reducing this vast gender gap. SAMPARK has sold 1 million doses of the ND vaccine. The vaccine costs roughly US 3 cents per dose once a quarter. The cheapness of the vaccine and the effectiveness of the women's groups that have spread the vaccination process has resulted in the programme expanding to 330 villages benefiting 30,000 households who are engaged in backyard poultry as diseases and mortality of the birds were drastically reduced. The success of the programme in increasing the incomes of the households was also reflected in their willingness to pay for the services of the vaccinators and dewormers and so they too were able to earn enhanced incomes.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Congress is Hoist with its own Petard

 Ideally the Indian electoral system should have been based on proportional representation to accommodate the vast diversity in the socio-economic characteristics of the population. In this system political parties are allotted seats in the legislature in proportion to the votes that they get and so even small local parties who can get votes higher than a specified threshold can find representation in the legislature. There would thus have been scope for a thousand schools of thought and practice to contend and bring to fruition a much more vibrant and diverse democratic culture than had obtained in British India. Instead the first past the post system was adopted after independence in which the candidate getting the most number of the valid votes cast in a constituency is declared elected. This latter system was to the advantage of the Congress party which could get to rule unhampered on its own without the pulls and pressures of coalition governance that a system of proportional representation usually gives rise to and would certainly have in the diverse Indian context. So the first past the post electoral system of the British and American democracies, which the British had introduced to suit their own agenda of keeping the unruly masses in India at bay, was retained after independence giving the Congress an undue monopoly of power in the crucial first decade and a half of governance under the leadership of Nehru.
The first elections to the Lok Sabha held in 1951 saw the Congress winning just forty five percent of the total valid votes, which in turn were only sixty one percent of the total electorate but as much as seventy five percent of the seats. Similarly in the second elections in 1957 the Congress won forty eight percent of the total valid votes, which were sixty four percent of the total electorate and seventy five percent of the seats. In the third general elections of 1962 the Congress won forty five percent of the total valid votes which were fifty five percent of the total electorate and got seventy three percent of the seats. The second largest party by way of votes won in all these three elections was the Socialist Party but due to the fact that their support base was spread much thinner than the Congress' they could not win seats in proportion to their votes. In 1951 the Socialists got ten and a half percent of the total valid votes but only two and a half percent of the seats. This is to be contrasted with the Communist Party of India, which won only three and a half percent of the votes and a similar percentage of the seats because their mass base was of a concentrated nature. Similarly in 1957 the Socialists once again got ten and a half percent of the votes but only three and a half percent of the seats while the Communists got nearly nine percent of the votes and five and a half percent of the seats. In the 1962 elections the two separate Socialist Parties together got nine and a half percent of the votes and only three and a half percent of the seats while the Communists got almost ten percent of the votes and five and a half percent of the seats. Thus a clever and unnatural choice of electoral system gave the Congress party thumping majorities to do as it pleased with little effective parliamentary opposition to its policies.
However, now the tables have been turned and the Congress is hoist with its own petard. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) under the leadership of Narendra Modi has swept to power in the most populous state of India, Uttar Pradesh with a two thirds majority of seats despite getting only forty percent of the valid votes polled which are in turn sixty percent of the total electorate. The party has also won handsomely in Uttarakhand and is making a bid to form Governments in Goa and Manipur with the help of horse trading of law makers which is another dubious strategy of the Congress that the BJP has happily lapped up. In Uttar Pradesh, the Bahujan Samaj Party, the Samajwadi Party and the Congress have together got fifty percent of the valid votes polled which would have given them a landslide victory if they had had a pre poll alliance but since all these parties are now fiefdoms of megalomaniac leaders, this did not transpire and a more shrewd megalomaniac from the BJP swept the polls in terms of seats instead. Indeed the BJP looks a much more democratic party compared to the Samajwadi Party or the Congress, both of which are controlled by political dynasties. Over and above this, if one ignores the temporary blip caused by the demonetisation fiasco, Narendra Modi has delivered much better and cleaner governance including far reaching welfare measures in his almost three years as Prime Minister than the Congress had done in its last stint at the centre and the Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh.

Under the circumstances, in terms of vote percentages, there is not much reason for celebration on the part of the BJP or dudgeon and disheartenment on the part of the losers. Even if the BJP continues to win more elections in the run up to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections and wins those elections also, it is unlikely that its voting percentage is going to increase much. In fact the likelihood is that with time the ills of being in power too long are going to affect its performance sooner or later like it did for the Congress and the Samajwadi party, given the fact that development policies in this country are generally dictated by the capitalists to their advantage, leaving the masses out in the cold. So much so, that even the erstwhile Socialists and Communists have also become lackeys of capitalists when they have been in power. The Communists in fact are further hamstrung by the fact that they are still clinging on to the obsolete views and practices of Lenin, Stalin and Mao, which are anyway so arcane that they have never been properly explained to the Indian masses. Therefore, with time the BJP too will bite the dust as it is unlikely that it will be able to retain its vote share without improving the lot of the masses. One major positive outcome of the BJP's continuance in power would be the ridding of the Congress of its dynastic Gandhi family rule!! Whereas a Congress Free India is not really a desirable in the present milieu, a Gandhi free Congress certainly is. Though, that also may not happen if the Congress and other parties decide to team up before the 2019 Lok Sabha elections and so prevent the fragmentation of the non-BJP votes across the country and especially in the cow belt.

Interestingly Bhimrao Ambedkar's political party, The All India Scheduled Castes Federation, also failed to do well at the hustings in the first elections in 1951 with the great man himself losing from Bombay City North constituency despite having done so much for the Dalits. This is relevant today because in the Manipur elections, Irom Sharmila's party too flopped badly with Sharmila herself getting only ninety votes and the Aam Aadmi Party bit the dust in Goa totally and got only twenty seats in Punjab. The liberals, leftists and anarchists have all been carping because of the victory of the BJP and the loss of the Aam Aadmi Party and Sharmila and some are even blaming the masses for voting as they did. However, as long as the first past the post system is in place, voters will either not vote because they consider it a waste of time to vote for any party or if they vote, they will do so for candidates who they think are likely to win and form a stable government and not for those who are fighting for a more people friendly dispensation but are lacking in mass support. So as long as proportional representation is not introduced in India, there is little chance of individuals or parties fighting for true people oriented development, making any headway in electoral politics. However, there is no need for disillusionment and fear but instead more commitment is needed to pursue grassroots activism which is increasingly becoming a rarity with time.

Monday, March 13, 2017

The Bhagoriya Fair is not a Love Festival

Balu Bhuria and Benedict Damor write about the Bhagoriya Fair celebrated by the Bhils in the week before Holi -

Summer is just setting in with its incipient heat, the Rabi crop has been harvested from the fields, the orange Palash flowers are making the forests fiery bright, the toddy on the palm trees is still trickling down and the flowers of the Mahua have begun to drop with their heady scent when the Bhagoriya Fair comes amidst this magic of nature. The fair reflects the nature loving enthusiasm of the Bhil Adivasis. This fair comes with a double festivity as it is the occasion for the veneration of Baba Gal Dev and the celebration of Holi.
The Bhagoriya Fair begins one week before the advent of Holi and it is celebrated in each of the market villages or towns by turn on their weekly market days. The Bhagoriya fair day is a special market day on which the Adivasis buy materials for celebrating the coming Holi festival and enjoy themselves decked out in new clothes by singing and dancing in groups with their traditional musical instruments like drums, flutes and indigenous violins. Their are many ferris wheels, snack and sweet shops and jewellery shops which add to the merriment and enjoyment. The sight of the Adivasis dancing and singing in their colourful clothes is so enticing that people from far and wide come to watch this festival.
The name Bhagoriya comes from the village Bhagor in Jhabua district. Legend has it that there was a powerful kingdom with its seat in Bhagor in the thirteenth century. Bhagga Nayak Bhil was the king of Bhagor. Even though some historians say that the appellation Nayak refers to a king from the Labhana caste, actually in the Bhili language this appellation refers to a king from among the Bhils. Bhagga Nayak used to arrange a great festival after the harvest of the Rabi crop each year in which he used to give a big feast to all the people of his kingdom. The people would come with their musical instruments and sing and dance in celebration. Gradually other kings in nearby areas too began celebrating the Rabi harvest in the same manner and these festivals came to be called as Bhagoriya Haat or Bhagoriya Fair and it became part of the culture of the nature loving Bhils.

Presently some mainstream journalists have popularised the Bhagoriya Fair as a festival of love which is totally wrong. These journalists say that Bhil youth elope during these festivals in large numbers and that is their sole aim. Actually, there is a custom of asking for gifts called 'goth' in cash and kind from elders by the youth during the festival and girls and boys form rings around the elders and sing songs demanding these gifts. Often young boys who are accompanying the elders also are caught in the ring and to avoid giving the goth they try to break the ring and run. Then the girls run after them. While this causes a lot of merriment to the Bhils, those non-Adivasis who do not know about this custom think that young boys and girls are eloping together. In reality the Bhagoriya fair is a celebration of the bounty of nature and is not a religious or love festival but an expression of the Bhil Adivasis' traditional respect for nature.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Draconian Laws and Civil Liberties

Earlier we had Binayak Sen and Piyush Guha being sentenced to life imprisonment on the charges of hobnobbing with the Maoists and aiding them in their programme of waging war against the Indian State. Now we have a repeat of this in similar sentencing of G N Saibaba, Hem Mishra, Prashant Rahi, Vijay Tirke, Mahesh Tirke and Pandu Narote  on similar charges. According to the trial courts in both the cases, the prosecution was able to prove that the accused were acting as front men for the Maoists and so helping them to wage a war against the Indian State. However, in both cases there is not much hard evidence or corroboration by independent witnesses and the evidence is mostly in the form of literature, material on computer hard disks, email correspondence and confessions taken under duress from the accused when they were in police custody. The question therefore arises whether those who voice their intention to wage war against the state or correspond with armed groups who are actually doing so and killing people in the process, should be treated at par with the latter when it comes to sentencing them.
The pitch is basically queered by the fact that laws such as the Chhattisgarh Special Public Security Act and the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act do away with the basic safeguard that is there in criminal law that confessions before the police will not count as evidence. Thus, even if there is no independent witness, the police by torturing the accused when they are initially in their custody can get confessions from them and these are then valid as evidence in court during the trial. This is a gross violation of international covenants on human rights that India is a signatory to. Unfortunately, even the judiciary turns a blind eye to this violation of basic civil liberties under the influence of the paranoia that besets the state regarding terrorist and Maoist violence.
In many cases, like that of Hem Mishra, who is a student of Jawaharlal Nehru University and a cultural activist and not in any way connected with the Maoists, the police use the impunity that is given to them by such draconian laws to implicate innocent people. In Mishra's case he was a vocal opponent of police high handedness in his native Uttarakhand. He was arrested in Gadhchiroli while he was going to meet Prakash Amte and then tortured into admitting that he was a courier for the Maoists.
Never has it happened that six people, including Hem Mishra and the journalist Prashant Rahi from Uttarakhand in addition to Professor Saibaba and three Adivasis, have been given life terms together for allegedly aiding the Maoists in waging a war against the state. The Judge not only said that by aiding the Maoists in their mayhem, the accused are as culpable as the Maoists but that if his hands were not tied by the letter of the law he would have given even harsher punishment.
Whatever, the intent of the legislature, executive and the police in bringing in such unjust laws and then using their impunity to implicate people in false cases on flimsy or concocted evidence, it is the task of the judiciary to uphold human rights and especially civil liberties in a liberal democracy. The judiciary should take the charges and the investigation reports filed by the Police with a pinch of salt always and the Supreme Court on a number of occasions has said as much in what has come to be enshrined in judicial practice in India as the "rule of prudence". But somehow when it comes to cases of terrorists and Maoists, the judiciary seems to become part and parcel of the executive and pronounces harsh judgments.
Sentencing people to life for having tenuous or no connection with Maoists or terrorists just on the basis of police chargesheets and confessions is a travesty of justice ill suited to a country like ours. It is laughable that such a huge and powerful state as India has to advance danger to its national integrity as a reason to incarcerate for life, professors, journalists and students, not to mention the poor Adivasis because of the suspicion that they have been colluding with the Maoists. The battle will of course continue in the higher courts and the sentence will surely be reduced if not the conviction overturned but the state of the lower judiciary in this country is a blot on the tenets of liberal democracy that are enshrined in our Constitution.  

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Breaking the Culture of Silence

A sixteen year old unmarried girl from a slum in Indore city in Madhya Pradesh was recently taken to a quack doctor for an abortion when she was five months pregnant. The quack gave her some potion to drink and also pressed her lower abdomen with his hands continuously and aborted the foetus. Later on after coming home she began bleeding profusely and had to be rushed to a government hospital where the doctors removed her uterus and saved her. This horrendous incident on analysis brings out the following serious obstacles that prevent poor urban women from successfully addressing their reproductive health problems -
A taboo on discussing reproductive health problems in general unless matters go out of control.
A taboo on discussing sexuality issues with adolescents leading to unwanted pregnancies among unmarried girls.
The lack of access to cheap and certified reproductive health treatment.
This situation is not unique to Indore as reproductive health, especially gynaecological health, of poor women in India is generally very bad. Even though poor women in urban areas do have a lesser work burden in terms of physical labour as compared to the rural women they are nevertheless handicapped by having to live in very cramped and dirty surroundings in slums and suffer from the effects of patriarchy in the same way as rural women. This creates serious reproductive health problems for them. Government health services are mostly not accessible to these women and they have to rely on private doctors whose fees and treatment for reproductive health problems are more expensive than in rural areas and in most cases not of good quality. So urban women suffer from various reproductive health problems and are anaemic. In most cases the women are not able to articulate these problems due to their lower status in society. Reproductive health problems lead to both economic loss through inability to work and mental stress due to illness for women and being a neglected area, need to be urgently addressed to ensure gender equity.
Current thinking among feminists broadly defines the discipline of reproductive and sexual health as the social and clinical study of those problems and diseases that arise from the social asymmetries influencing human sexuality and reproduction. Specifically, a reproductive health approach has been defined as that which enables women, including adolescents, everywhere to regulate their own fertility safely and effectively by conceiving when they desire, terminating unwanted pregnancies and carrying wanted pregnancies to term; to remain free of disease, disability or death associated with reproduction or sexuality and to bear and raise healthy children.  In reality, however, this ideal state of affairs does not prevail anywhere in the world and especially in India most women have to suffer from serious reproductive and sexual health problems. Feminist sociology has pinpointed the dominance of men in society as the prime reason for the lack of gender equity and termed this phenomenon as patriarchy. Analysing all the main institutions of society like the family, marriage, kinship groups, media, religious hierarchies and the state, they have shown that all these play a role in maintaining the overall patriarchal structure of society. Over thousands of years this structure has become so well entrenched that to most people including women it seems quite natural instead of being the inequitous social construct that it actually is. Therefore, gender equity cannot be achieved without the removal of patriarchy.

As a result traditionally women have had to work more, they have been denied the right to inheritance of property, they have had to assume total responsibility for house work and the care of children and the elderly and this work is not counted as of being of any economic value, they have had to go underfed and have been subjected to domestic and external violence of the worst kind. As a consequence of this secondary status women have to bear more babies to ensure that there are male progeny who will inherit the property and provide security in old age. Along with this there is social control over the sexuality of women so that men can be assured that the children born to their wives are truly theirs and so ensure the purity of their descent. Naturally all this affects the overall health of women and especially their reproductive and sexual health. Since there is a taboo on the discussion of these issues women have to suffer their troubles in silence and this leads to mental problems. Thus there is a deafening culture of silence surrounding women's reproductive and sexual health problems. The biggest irony is that the menstrual cycle which is an integral part of the reproductive process is considered in the prevailing patriarchal system to be the cause of various negative things and has been given a dirty connotation in India. This affects the ability of women to maintain personal hygiene and results in their being afflicted by various diseases of the reproductive tract.
The first effective steps towards improving the status of women's reproductive health in India were taken by NGOs in the 1980s. The pioneer in this respect is the NGO SEARCH in Gadhchiroli district of Maharashtra. In the course of their work among the Gond indigenous people they found that all women were not reporting their gynaecological problems properly. So they decided to conduct a detailed study which has now become a landmark in this field. The study revealed that 55% of the women surveyed admitted to some gynaecological problem or other but when they were tested clinically this proportion rose to 92%. The most disturbing finding was that only 8% of these women had come to the NGO for treatment of their problems indicating a tremendous level of reticence to confront their serious reproductive health problems. Many other studies later have confirmed these disturbing findings.
The decade of the nineteen nineties saw a concerted effort by feminists all over the world to improve this sorry state of affairs. The basis of this campaign was the establishment of the reproductive and sexual rights of women. According to this view there are four aspects of reproductive and sexual rights -
Bodily Integrity - All women have the right to protect their bodies and have control over them. Thus women cannot be deprived of their sexual and productive abilities by men or the state and they cannot be made to use these abilities according to the latter's whims and fancies.
Personhood - Women will take their own decisions regarding reproduction and sexual behaviour and nobody can interfere in this.
Equality - Women are equal to men in all respects and so the gender division of labour under which women have been given the work of exclusively tending the children and the elderly and also doing housework has to be abolished and men should also take up these responsibilities. Apart from this women's health issues should be better addressed on par with those of men.
Diversity - The differences arising from difference in values, culture, religion, class, nationality and the like should be respected.
The International Conference on Population and Development organised by the United Nations in Cairo in 1994 and the World Women's Conference in Beijing in 1995 finally led to the adoption of this feminist viewpoint and an appeal was made to all governments to tailor their women's health programmes to meet these parameters. Unfortunately in India this has largely not materialised and women are still perceived as baby producing machines engaged in care giving and domestic unpaid work.
The Mahila Jagat Lihaaz Samiti has begun a programme of reproductive and sexual health and rights in Indore to break the culture of silence and strike against patriarchy that incorporates the principles of reproductive health and rights as shown in the following graphic -
 The programme has been very successful so far and a model for reproductive health and rights work has been developed that can be replicated elsewhere.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Accumulation by Cheating!!

The other day, while I was going to the market village in Udainagar in Dewas district of Madhya Pradesh to get some steel for the centre we are building on Subhadra's farm, an Adivasi woman I know, hitched a ride. She said she was going to exchange her old brass utensil for a new one. I said that wouldn't take much time so I said I would go along with her and after she did her exchange we would get the steel also and come back. The old utensil weighed 1.65 kg and the new one she chose weighed 1.85 kg. The merchant who is also a moneylender, as is usual in Adivasi areas, said that she would have to pay Rs 690 over and above the old utensil she was exchanging.
All this while I was sitting in the car but since the woman didn't have that much money she came to me and asked me whether I could lend her Rs 200. I asked her what was the price being asked and became suspicious. So I got down and went to the merchant and asked him what the prices of the old utensil and the new utensil were per kg and he said Rs 250 and Rs 450 respectively. I did a quick calculation and found that she would have to pay Rs 420 and not Rs 690 and told the merchant as much. He then said that a tax of 12% would apply on the purchase of the new utensil.
This was another red herring because for unbilled transactions throughout india no taxes are paid. Nevertheless I did a net search and found that the VAT in Madhya Pradesh for brass utensils is only 5% and also the price of new brass utensils was only Rs 400 per kg. The merchant then said that the least he could give the utensil for was 600 and the Adivasi woman was ready to give that amount but since she had only Rs 500 she still had to borrow Rs 100 from me. I told her I wasn't going to lend her money so she could get fleeced in this way. She then said that it didn't matter and she would pay Rs 500 and pay the rest Rs 100 later.
With that we parted ways, with her happy with her brass and I going for my steel!!
What I found most crushing is that this woman despite being a member of the sangathan didn't see much point in refusing the deal despite it being unfair and was happy that I had helped her cut back the price by 100 bucks. Indeed for all I know she might even end up paying Rs 690 in the end. I didn't ask but probably the merchant was her moneylender also and she wouldn't like to rub him the wrong way.
There is also a special history of the sangathan in this area. There was a militant movement in in the late 1990s and early 2000s against the moneylender merchants and the oppressive state bureaucracy that was crushed by the state with the use of force in 2001. So now only a few diehard people still retain their militancy and most, like this woman, have decided to go along with their exploitation. I too lack the enthusiasm and energy that I had a decade and a half earlier to fight the state and the ruling class full tilt!!
This is an instance of primitive accumulation, the only concept that is not teleological or not lacking in empirical validity and so not scientistic, of all that Marx has written in Das Kapital. Plain cheating, in simple terms, which has become the mainstay of capitalist accumulation and extends to even the literate consumers and not just this non-literate Adivasi woman!! After all no one asks why an I Phone costs the earth and instead queues up to buy one!!

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Free Speech in Jeopardy

"Home of lost causes, and forsaken beliefs, and unpopular names, and impossible loyalties!" wrote the poet Matthew Arnold about Oxford University but it can apply to a lesser or greater extent to all universities and even more so universities in India, given that this country is a melting pot in which caste, ethnic, gender and religious in addition to class differences abound and overlap and education is seen as a means of breaking free of multiple oppressions. Thus, universities are the home of contesting ideas and opinions, espousing freedom of speech and expression. In reality, however, this has been circumscribed in many ways, not the least by the funding pattern of these universities, the need for students to use these as stepping stones towards professional careers and also by the use of these by political parties to recruit cadre. The dominance of Neo-liberalism has meant that state funding of universities has decreased in relative terms forcing them to hike fees for students. Similarly the logic of capitalism has resulted in technological development that has reduced employment opportunities. Finally, fascist political parties have gained in political strength and so they have made more and more inroads among the students. So, liberal values and especially the freedom of speech and expression have come under attack.

Matters have been compounded by the attempt by the ruling party at the centre to force a narrow conception of nationalism down the throats of the people and this has also been reinforced in recent times by the Supreme Court ordering that the national anthem should be played in cinema halls before the screening of movies and the viewers should stand in reverence for this. Since students in universities generally stick out for fringe causes which challenge this narrow conception of nationality this has led to escalating conflict in campuses between those upholding the values of free speech and diversity and the fascists. Even though the happenings in the universities in Delhi where the clash has primarily been between leftists and the fascists have hogged the attention of the media, elsewhere too across the country campuses are on fire. Like in Parliament, so also in the university campuses debate has taken a back seat and physical attack and disruption has become the order of the day. 
As is to be expected in a country which now has an independent democratic tradition of seven decades, such high handedness on the part of the fascists has met with resistance both at the level of debate and also at the level of physical engagement!! Despite a clear State hand in support of the fascist students they have been finding it difficult to establish their writ in the universities. Individual students on social media and organisations of students on the streets have come out against this attempt to muzzle free speech. This is a welcome sign. Students are risking their careers to stand up and fight for their rights against the oppressive thrust of fascist forces. Let us hope that this will in time extend to questioning the present centralised capitalist system also as without that the current wave of fascism will not subside in the long run. The last great student mobilisation was way back in 1974 and it snowballed into such strength that it culminated in the emergency and the curtailing of fundamental freedoms by the State. Democracy is much deeper now in this country but there is still a long way to go.

Monday, February 27, 2017

The Irrelevance of Our Technological Institutes

Two years back I visited my alma mater, the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur, to meet up with an old classmate of mine who is now a teacher there and also to show the institute to my wife and son. During the visit, I found, just inside the main administrative area, next to what used to be called the Open Air Theatre in our time and which has now been renamed as the Spring Fest Arena, a biomass incinerator for producing electrical energy which was lying dysfunctional. This symbolised for me the irrelevance of technological institutes in our country to the real needs of our development. One of the biggest drags on the Indian economy is the huge outgo of foreign exchange for the purchase of crude oil. Therefore, any rational planning system would demand that we find an alternative to this which will not only reduce the outgo of foreign exchange but also enhance our energy security. Decentralised generation of electricity through the anaerobic incineration of biomass can provide cheap, abundant and renewable energy that is cleaner than coal and also does away with the need for a widespread distribution network. It has the advantage over solar photovoltaic cells of being able to provide for high tension loads also and the capital investment is much lower. Dencentralised production of energy can give a big push to the local economy especially in rural areas. Moreover, given the absurd situation prevailing currently of there being a surplus of centralised power without any takers because the state electricity boards are bankrupt due to not being able to recover electricity charges from consumers who in turn are unable to pay for them, it is imperative that a more sustainable decentralised electricity system is put in place. Yet neither is the Government interested in pursuing this alternative and nor our technological institutes doing anything to promote them.
The main building of IIT Kharagpur shown in the picture above has a glow sign over the portico which reads "Dedicated to the Service of the Nation". This is a hollow slogan, however, because the research being conducted in IIT KGP is very little connected with the well being of the vast majority of the people of this country. At a time when, solar energy has become such an important source of decentralised energy and countries like Germany have single handedly brought down the price of solar panels through research, the IIT KGP campus produces and uses a paltry 250 kilowatts or so of solar photovoltaic energy, when it can easily take care of all its low tension needs from solar energy. Combining with the use of bio-mass incineration for the high tension needs the campus can not only become self sufficient in energy but it can also export into the grid. One would expect that a leading technological institute of the country would do this and develop models that can be replicated in large numbers throughout the country. But that is a far cry. Similarly, in the other very stressed sphere of water management also, very little is being done. There is neither stormwater recharge or harvesting nor treatment and reuse of wastewater. Once again the institute could have developed a model for decentralised water management on its campus for replication throughout the country but it hasn't. Faced with the difficult problem of hopping internet through wireless to the school in Kakrana we had approached some of the professors in IIT Kharagpur for a solution. They were just not interested even though for them it wouldn't have posed much of a problem. Eventually the problem was solved by a young engineer who is into developing alternative communications solutions.
When we were studying there, sometimes the glow sign used to malfunction and read "Dedicated to the Vice of the Nation" causing us much ribald merriment. However, I have now come to think that not only my alma mater but all technological institutes in this country are indeed dedicated to the vice of the nation which is the promotion of consumerist capitalism!! Actually the nation itself is not a homogeneous entity. As we know these days it is very much contested with multiple definitions of nation and nationalism resulting in continuous conflict of murderous proportions. Generally, the downtrodden majority do not even have a conception of nation and are too caught up in making two ends meet. The elite take advantage of this to distort the agenda of development of this country and nowhere is it more visible than in the irrelevance of our technological institutes. I have visited many institutes for conferences but nowhere have I found decentralised energy and water management implemented.
Ideally any technological institute in this country needs to implement the following on its campus to present itself as a model in decentralised energy and water management -
I.          Renewable Energy
1)      All low tension electricity supply should be directly from solar photovoltaic panels in the daytime either by inversion to AC loads or directly to DC loads. To avoid the problem of storage and the consequent loss of energy and the costs involved, higher solar production should be done during the day and fed into the AC supply grid and a corresponding amount withdrawn from the grid during the night. The solar panels can be deployed on top of all of the many buildings that are there on the campus. 
2)      For high tension electricity supply, anaerobic biomass incinerators coupled with gas generators should be installed. One such incinerator is already there on the campus near the Open Air Theatre but it is not functional at the moment. Husk, stalk   and other agricultural bio-mass is available in plenty and this can be used as the fuel for the incinerators along with other agricultural bio-mass. The bio-char that comes as a byproduct can be powdered and sold to farmers for enriching their fields or converted into briquettes for use in cooking stoves. Charcoal is also an excellent adsorbent of foul smelling gases so the powdered bio-char can be packed in small cotton bags and used ad deodorants in bathrooms and toilets.
II.          Water Management
1)      A detailed stormwater recharge system should be implemented and not a single drop of stormwater should be allowed to leave the campus all of it being recharged into the aquifers both shallow and deep. With a little more investment the stormwater can be harvested and stored in underground tanks for use in bathing and washing also and with RO systems in drinking. In fact with both recharging and harvesting the water needs of the campus can be met within its area only.
2)      All wastewater also should be treated and reused for toilet flushing and gardening. All buildings in the campus should be retrofitted with dual plumbing systems and the wastewater after decentralised treatment should be reused for flushing and gardening. Only the water for bathing, washing and drinking should be supplied from a central system.
III.          Solid Waste Management
1)      All solid waste has to be segregated at source itself into bio-degradable and non-bio-degradable categories. The bio-degradable waste can be used to produce bio-gas for use in the messes and canteens of the hostels and guest houses.

2)      The non-plastic and non-metallic non-bio-degradable waste can be incinerated in the incinerators to produce electrical energy, while the plastic and metallic waste can be recycled.