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.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

A Great Crusader is No More

Sunilbhai the National General Secretary of the Samajwadi Jan Parishad and the founder member of the Kisan Adivasi Sangathan in Kesla in Madhya Pradesh is no more. He suffered a severe cerebral stroke a few days ago which led to a part of the brain becoming dead and this later affected the rest of the brain leading to his passing away in the All India Institute of Medical Sciences Hospital in Delhi yesterday, 21.04.2014, at 11.30 pm. The struggles in this country for a more just, decentralised and people oriented development and polity have suffered a tremendous loss at this untimely demise at the age of 55 of one of their foremost thinkers and activists.
Sunilbhai hailed from the obscure town of Rampura in Mandsaur district of Madhya Pradesh. His family was displaced from their original village due to its being submerged in the reservoir created by the construction of the Gandhi Sagar dam on the river Chambal. His father is an economist who used to teach in Government Colleges and is an acolyte of Ram Manohar Lohia. Sunilbhai picked up the basics of Lohiaite Socialism from his father and wended his way to the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) for his post graduation in the late nineteen seventies. JNU was the hotbed of radical left politics at that time with both the faculty and the students distinctly red in colour. Sunilbhai took active part in student politics in the student wing of a particular faction of Socialists and even unsuccessfully contested for the post of the president of the JNU student's union. Finally after spending a few years he decided that academics was not his cup of tea and gave up his studies as a Ph.D scholar to take up residence in the premises of the defunct and so vacant Lohia Academy in Kesla village in Hoshangabad district to start mass organisational work there in the mid nineteen eighties.
The Gond and Korku adivasis in the area were in a sorry plight. They had suffered multiple displacements without any proper rehabilitation and resettlement from the construction of a dam on the Tawa River, which is a tributary of the Narmada River and a proof range for testing bombs and missiles produced in an ordinance factory. Moreover their habitats were converted into the Bori Wildlife Sanctuary leading to a further restriction of their rights to forest access. All this had severely affected their livelihoods and they were living close to starvation.  Sunilbhai began organising the people to demand that the government initiate relief works in the area. A mass organisation named Kisan Adivasi Sangathan (KAS) was formed and agitations began, involving rallies and sit-ins and long marches to the administrative headquarters. Inexorably this was countered with police repression by the state and Sunilbhai and his comrades were beaten up and put into jail. They were handcuffed while being taken to court from jail to attend their dates and they challenged this illegality in the Supreme Court, which passed strictures against the administration in what has gone down as a landmark judgement regarding the right of under-trial prisoners not to be handcuffed (SCC 1990 (3) p 119). This repression combined with some sops given to the people had the typical result of weaning them away from the KAS and it began losing ground for sometime.
Things hotted up again in 1994 when the fishing rights in the Tawa dam reservoir were auctioned off to a private contractor in Bhopal and a proposal was put forward by the Forest Department to evict the adivasis residing within the Bori Wildlife Sanctuary to make way for the preservation of tigers. The government through its Fisheries Department had controlled the fishing ever since the Tawa dam had been built. The department had brought in people from outside to do the fishing leaving the adivasis literally high and dry. However, the adivasis had learnt to fish and in the absence of any other viable livelihoods used to poach fish from the reservoir and sell them by bribing the department staff. But the contractor from Bhopal would have none of this and he descended with his musclemen and began beating up the adivasis when they were caught poaching. The Forest Department staff too began harassing the adivasis to leave the forest. This became a major issue and once again the KAS under the leadership of Sunilbhai began agitating for the rights of the adivasis through rallies and sit-ins and finally a roadblock agitation. This was brutally suppressed and the agitators thrown into jail. However, the agitation finally paid off as the government took a decision to revoke the eviction orders on the adivasis in the Bori Wildlife Sanctuary and it agreed to give the right to fishing in the reservoir to a cooperative of the adivasi fishermen.
This cooperative proved to be a resounding success. Not only did the earnings of the members increase substantially but the fishing environment of the reservoir too improved resulting in higher and more sustainable output. Since this enhanced output was more than could be sold locally the adivasis became adept at transporting the fish in refrigerated trucks to far off locations like Kolkata and Mumbai and earned greater profits under the guidance of Sunilbhai. The government too began earning much more from royalties that it had ever done earlier. All the adivasis being members of the cooperative had a vested interest in ensuring that the reservoir was well taken care of and stocked and fishing was stopped during the monsoon months when spawning takes place. The bonus from the profits was distributed during these months so as to balance the loss of income due to stopping of fishing. The social fencing by the adivasis was so effective that even the illegal poaching of tigers and timber has been reduced. On one occasion some adivasis from a distant village wanted to poach turtles required for some ceremony from the reservoir. They were not allowed to do so. They were asked that even if the KAS allowed them to take the turtles how they would cart them through the Bori Wildlife Sanctuary to their village, which was outside it. The answer was that the forest guards were far easier to convince than the KAS members!
The immense success of the cooperative in increasing the earnings of their members meant that they contributed from their wages to the KAS to fund its political activities, which were an insurance against any possibility of the government rescinding the fishing rights. However, the government being the government later did rescind the fishing rights citing the reason that the reservoir was within a protected forest area in which no fishing could be allowed  and deprived the people of a viable livelihood alternative and the KAS of a regular source of funds for its political mobilisation.
Sunilbhai in fact was the national general secretary of the Samajvadi Jan Parishad, which is a national level party of Socialists. He was also the convenor of the Jan Sangharsh Morcha, which is a federation of mass organisations in Madhya Pradesh and also a member of the National Alliance of People's Movements. Thus, Sunilbhai took part in people's action right from the local to the national level. Sunilbhai was very active in trying to build up national and state level movements of the people espousing a more human and nature friendly decentralised model of development. He was a traveller on a very tough road. The government and especially the bureaucracy and the police have not liked the local successes of the KAS and so have tried to scuttle it at every opportunity. Now once again the people have had to bear not only the withdrawal of fishing rights but large scale displacement arising from the expansion of the area of the Satpura National Park in the Pachmarhi region of Hoshangabad district by the inclusion of the Bori Wildlife Sanctuary and also the reservoir of the Tawa dam in it. The sequestration of ecological niches as carbon sinks and bio-diversity reserves to compensate for the environmental profligacy of the elite has become a new cause for the displacement of adivasis from their habitats throughout the country and the adivasis of Hoshangabad too have suffered. In the midst of all this and the many other national struggles to which he provided leadership, suddenly, Sunilbhai is no more. A great crusader is irretrievably lost.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Right to Education and The Reality

The Right to Education assuring eight years of schooling to all children is there on paper in this country but the reality is quite different. The poor people, who find it difficult to make ends meet as it is, are rarely able to spare the money for the education of their children. Therefore, it devolves on the Government to provide free schooling to the poor children under the Right to Education Act. Unfortunately in remote Adivasi areas like the ones in Alirajpur district in which the Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath operates, the Government does not provide for the education of children adequately. What it does is appoint some guest teachers on an ad hoc basis. Each year at the start of the academic session in June advertisements are given asking for applications from prospective teachers. By the time the whole process of selection is over it is about October. So a single teacher per school is appointed in November without any training whatsoever and she is retained till March when the examinations are conducted and then the teacher is laid off resulting in only five months of teaching in an year. The teacher is paid only Rs 2400 per month for teaching children of various ages in multiple grades in one school housed in the hut of one of the villagers. It is easy to imagine what effect on the quality of pedagogy such working conditions will have. In most cases these teachers do not teach at all. Since all children are passed automatically in Madhya Pradesh till they reach class ten, all that the teachers have to do is maintain false records of attendance and then submit false evaluation reports. Thus, in government records there is hundred percent enrolment and passing of children in all the classes and everyone in the administration is clapping themselves on their back saying that the Right to Education has been guaranteed.
Consequently, given this sorry state of affairs, the KMCS has been running a residential school in village Kakrana since the 2001 to provide quality education to children. However, this is not enough and still huge numbers of children are without education in many villages. So the KMCS began running three schools in 2013 so as to improve the access to education for children in remote villages. Two of these villages had the government guest teacher schools while one had no school. Bada Amba and Chilakda, which have guest teacher schools are on the banks of the River Narmada, while Khatamri, which is without any school is up in the Vindhya Hills a little way inside from the Narmada. The people in these villages all belong to the Bhil Scheduled Tribe. The school in Bada Amba in progress is pictured below.

The school in Chilakda which is running since July 2013 along with the one in Bada Amba now has its own building constructed by the people of the village and is shown in the picture below. 
The school in Khatamri began in December 2013 and has a lady teacher and is shown below. 
Presented below is the evaluation report of the performance of the children studying in these schools. The official enrolment in the school in Bada Amba is as shown below in Table 1.
 Table 1: Total Enrolment in School in Bada Amba
Age in Years
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
Total
Boys
6
6
2
4
4
4
4
2
32
Girls
6
6
2
4
4
2
4
2
30
Total
12
12
4
8
8
6
8
4
62
However, all these children do not attend the school. The people are so poor and their single cropped farms so small and unproductive that they have to migrate to Gujarat seasonally to labour in the farms and urban construction sites there to augment their income once the Kharif crop has been harvested. They take their children along with them and this prevents the latter from attending school. Generally there is some scepticism also among the parents regarding the utility of education and so they prefer to have their children grazing livestock or labouring on the farms and in the houses rather than attending school. The number of children who are regularly attending school are given in Table 2 below.
Table 2: Children Regularly Attending School in Bada Amba
Age in Years
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
Total
Boys
2
3
2
1
1
9
Girls
2
6
5
2
15
Total
2
8
8
4
1


1
24
Thus, only 38.7 per cent of the total enrolled children are regularly attending school. Among boys the proportion is very low at 28.1 per cent while among girls it is much better at 50 per cent.  The reading, writing and arithmetic skills acquired by the regularly attending children in the past one year is given in Table 3 below.
Table 3: Proficiency Level of Children in Bada Amba School
Subject
Level of Proficiency
Boys
Girls
Total
Hindi
Reading and Writing of Alphabets
6
13
19
Reading and Writing of Words
1
2
3
Reading and Writing of Sentences
2

2
Total
9
15
24
English
Reading and Writing of Alphabets
3
6
9
Reading and Writing of Words
3
2
5
Total
6
8
14
Arithmetic
Reading and Writing of Numbers
6
13
19
Simple Addition, Subtraction and Multiplication
1
2
3
Addition, Subtraction and Multiplication with Carryover
2


Total
9
15
24
The two older boys have made considerable progress in Hindi, English and Arithmetic. Two of the slightly younger boys and two girls can do simple arithmetic and read and write words in Hindi and English. The rest of the children are at the rudimentary stage of reading and writing the alphabets and numbers and ten students cannot read or write the English alphabet. 
The total enrolment in the school in Chilakda is given in Table 4 below.
Table 4: Total Enrolment in School in Chilakda
Age in Years
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
Total
Boys
6
14
4
2
1
1
4
32
Girls
5
9
3
2
4
1
2
26
Total
11
23
7
4
5
2
6
58
Due to the same reasons as mentioned for Bada Amba earlier, in Chilakda too all the children enrolled in school do not attend regularly though the attendance is more than in the former. The number of children who are regularly attending school are given in Table 5 below.
Table 5: Children Regularly Attending School in Chilakda
Age in Years
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
Total
Boys
6
10
4
2
1
1
24
Girls
4
2
1
7
Total
10
12
4
3
1

1
31
In Chilakda 53.4 per cent of the children enrolled in school attend regularly. Among boys the proportion is higher at 75 per cent while for girls it is very much lower at 26.9 per cent. There is greater attrition among the older children and girls. Child marriage is a common custom among the Bhils and girls especially are married off very early once they attain puberty and that is the reason for the high attrition rate among the older girls. The reading, writing and arithmetic skills acquired by the regularly attending children in the past one year is given in Table 6 below.
Table 6: Proficiency Level of Children in Chilakda School
Subject
Level of Proficiency
Boys
Girls
Total
Hindi
Reading and Writing of Alphabets
18
6
24
Reading and Writing of Words
1

1
Reading and Writing of Sentences
5
1
6
Total
24
7
31
English
Reading and Writing of Alphabets
18
6
24
Reading and Writing of Words
6
1
7
Total
24
7
31
Arithmetic
Reading and Writing of Numbers
18
6
24
Simple Addition, Subtraction and Multiplication
4
1
5
Addition, Subtraction and Multiplication with Carryover
2

2
Total
24
7
31
Once again the two older boys have made considerable progress in one year and can read and write sentences in Hindi, read words in English and do addition, subtraction and multiplication with carryover. Four slightly younger boys and one girl can do simple arithmetic and read and write sentences in Hindi and read and write words in English. The rest of the children are at a rudimentary stage of reading and writing the Hindi and English alphabets and numbers. The proficiency levels in Chilakda are better than in Bada Amba because the parents take a little more interest and the teacher is more skilled even though both teachers are formally eighth class pass.
Khatamri village does not have even the rudimentary guest teacher Government school. Some children of this village study in hostel schools elsewhere. There was a long standing demand for a school here but due to the lack of a suitable teacher it could not be started. Finally one of the youth of the village married an eighth class pass girl and this lady was appointed as teacher in December 2013. The parents in this village are very proactive and from the beginning have sent their children to the school. They have also imposed a rupee one per day fine if a child does not attend. Consequently the attendance is regular and in a short time the children have acquired considerable proficiency. The number of children attending school are shown in Table 7 below. In this village the age of the children is a little less than in the other two villages earlier. Khatamri in fact is the remotest and smallest hamlet of the large village Vakner. That is why there are less number of children as compared to the other villages.
Table 7: Children Regularly Attending School in Khatamri
Age in Years
4
5
6
7
8
9
Total
Boys
3
1
5
9
Girls
3
3
4
2
1
13
Total
6
4

9
2
1
22
 The lady teacher and the parents are very diligent and so the quality of teaching too is good. So much so that some parents have withdrawn their children studying in the Government hostel schools in other nearby villages and enrolled them in this school. The reading, writing and arithmetic skills acquired by the children in the past five months is given in Table 8 below.
Table 8: Proficiency Level of Children in Khatamri School
Subject
Level of Proficiency
Boys
Girls
Total
Hindi
Reading and Writing of Alphabets
4
6
10
Reading and Writing of Words
5
1
6
Reading and Writing of Sentences

6
6
Total
9
13
22
English
Reading and Writing of Alphabets
9
10
19
Reading and Writing of Words

3
3
Total
9
13
22
Arithmetic
Reading and Writing of Numbers
9
10
19
Simple Addition, Subtraction and Multiplication

3
3
Addition, Subtraction and Multiplication with Carryover



Total
9
13
22
Three of the older girls have picked up simple arithmetic skills and six of them can read and write sentences in Hindi. The rest are at a rudimentary stage.

Clearly more inputs are needed. The villagers of Chilakda first and then Bada Amba later have built separate schools contributing their labour and wooden materials. Some support has been provided to buy the roof tiles. The school in Chilakda is now functional while the one in Bada Amba is still under construction as shown in the picture below. 
The teachers have undergone training for a week in the Adharshila Learning Centre which is a residential school set up for Adivasi children by another Adivasi organisation, Adivasi Mukti Sangathan, in the adjacent Barwani district. The picture below shows the training in progress.

The teachers are all formally class eight pass. However, at the start of the training it became evident that some of them were at the class four level while others were even weaker. They have been taught how to teach better and this will improve the quality of pedagogy next year. The schools are currently closed for the summer holidays and will reopen for the next session in June 2014. There will be another short training of the teachers just before the schools start followed by follow up trainings once every quarter thereafter. The teachers will do three surveys during this holiday period in their respective villages. The first will be to document all the flora and fauna. The second will be to document all the crops that are planted. The third will be to document all the herbs that are used by their local medicine men to cure various diseases.
Education has a very close link with human development. All the countries with high levels of human development have high levels of public investment in education right from the primary to the tertiary levels. Unfortunately right from the time of independence, the education sector has been plagued with low public investment and even lesser accountability of the what little investment has been made. Government schools across the country are woefully understaffed and under provisioned and the local people, especially Adivasis eking out a precarious existence in remote regions have little control over their functioning. They have neither the wherewithal nor the belief to provide for the education of their children. The KMCS with the help of some external help sourced through crowd funding on the Internet is trying to do something to improve matters in this crucial sphere. A lot remains to be done and it is hoped that this initiative will become better with the passage of time. The total cost including the salaries and training of the three teachers comes to Rupees Two Lakhs annually. The bank account for transferring funds electronically is -
Dhas Gramin Vikas Kendra
Current Account Number - 024105500603
ICICI Bank, Ashok Nagar, Indore, Madhya Pradesh -452001
IFSC - ICIC00000241
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