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.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Republic of Liquor and Consumerist Mobile Content

The Bhil Adivasis were always hard drinkers. That was the first thing that struck me when I first went to Alirajpur. However, what has changed significantly over the past three and a half decades is the source of the liquor. Earlier the only way to drink was to first distill liquor from Mahua flowers in a still improvised from pots and pans as shown below.
This is a laborious process as first the Mahua flowers have to be kept in water and fermented for two to three days and after that this distillation has to be done in a nearby stream over a few hours. At one go at the most a few bottles of liquor can be made. Thus, this round about and time consuming process resulted in a regulation of the amount of drinking that could be done as the Bhils had to work hard to produce their food also from their fields. So even though the Bhils are hard drinkers they could do so only intermittently.
However, things have changed drastically now. These days liquor made in commercial distilleries are available at the drop of a hat in shops even in remote villages. Moreover, the Bhils are no more dependent only on their subsistence agriculture but get good wages as construction labourers and sharecroppers in Gujarat and so have a considerable amount of money. So the consumption of alcohol has gone up by leaps and bounds. There is a law that prohibits the sale of liquor without a license. But these licences are sold by the Madhya Pradesh Government at a hefty premium and it earns Rs 13000 crores annually from this. It then looks the other way when the licensees sell through small shops more than the licensed amount to make profits after recovering the hefty premiums they have paid. There are bootleggers who convey this liquor to the small shops and these too are Adivasis. They have become very powerful people in their community. Obviously the excise department and police officials also earn a cut in the process.
Liquor, thus, influences grassroots politics in many adverse ways. First it keeps the masses sozzled and so they are least interested in any alternative politics for their own development. Second it generates funds which are used to fight elections from the local to the national level. Third the trade in liquor, being lucrative, has coopted many grassroots activists of the Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath (KMCS) into it.
Consequently, when we had a night meeting recently in village Vakner when we went there to collect indigenous seeds, many of the people who came to attend it were sozzled and created a lot of trouble. Night meetings used to be the most potent means of political education and strategising in villages in the initial years of the KMCS. But now these meetings or any meetings for that matter have a good spattering of sozzled people in them who tend to disrupt them.
While the older generation is addicted to liquor, the younger generation is addicted to both liquor and mobile phones. They have the money also from doing migrant labour. So they are least bothered about political meetings and are happy to enjoy the pleasures of liquor and consumerist mobile content. The market and the state through liquor and mobile phones have effectively put paid to mass organisational work. The most disturbing phenomenon is that of the grassroots activists being corrupted by this. The KMCS used to have a host of village leaders who worked voluntarily with some support from the community. That is why only a few full time activists could mobilise people across hundreds of villages and a high level of political mobilisation used to take place on a shoestring budget. Not anymore.
Thus, the level of mobilisation has gone down and many of the grassroots activists have either become inactive or are into selling liquor. Some have used the power gained from selling liquor to become workers of the mainstream political parties. The night meeting that we had was disrupted by one of these also. Not only was he drunk but he also aggressively said that Adivasis were Hindus and so should work to ensure that the BJP comes back to power in Madhya Pradesh. When asked as to where he got the idea that Adivasis were Hindus he said that he regularly attended the meetings of the BJP where he was told that the Adivasis were the original followers of Ram Bhagwan!!
When we started the mobilisation work three and a half decades ago neither did we, the urban activists who provided the intellectual capital required to fight the state and the market, require much money nor did the grassroots Adivasi activists. However, now not only is much more money required by both but also the number of people prepared to fight on a shoestring is much less. The Republic today is one of liquor and mobile content both actively promoted by the State and Market and it is very difficult nay well nigh impossible to forge a mass movement for decentralised equitable and sustainable development.

Friday, January 17, 2020

All You Need is Love

Subhadra and I began the new year by taking a trip down to the hills on the banks of the River Narmada in Alirajpur in search of indigenous seeds. Especially Chikni Jowar whose flour is like that of wheat and so was traditionally used by the Bhils for making puris and laddoos. It turned out to be a wild goose chase. Its almost vanished so that one lady had a good laugh at Subhadra when she asked her whether she had any. She just could not stop laughing as if Subhadra had cracked a big joke. Subhadra had collected this seed two years earlier and grown it on our farm and also sold it to others. However, the heavy rains this year killed all the plants that we had sown. So here we were in search of the Chikni Jowar in Vakner.
Someone said that he had seen Pavlia growing this crop and so we should go there. Pavlia lives deep in the jungle cultivating forest land down in the valley where there are no roads. It was an hour's walk down the hills to his farm. Pavlia is one of the founder members of the Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath (KMCS) and a doughty warrior who has made the Forest Rights Act possible through long struggles. I had not met him for over five years and I had never been to his farm as it was off the road. So I set off with his father Vangria who stays in Vakner proper. After a while the path we were walking down suddenly became a rough road that had been cut from the hills by an earth moving machine. Vangria said that the machine had come at night and dug the road and he was concerned that it might be the Forest Department trying to revive its old plan of converting the whole area into a wild life sanctuary. I told him that that has been buried completely by the Sangathan and he need not worry. This must be the Panchayat constructing a road. Anyway, once we reached Pavlia's farm the matter was cleared as Pavlia said that their whole hamlet were pooling money to build that road so as to make it connected and ease their life a little. This is the advantage of the Forest Rights Act and the Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas Act. Where there is a strong people's organisation like the Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath, these laws have enabled the Adivasis to control their lives in a significant way side lining the state.
What was amazing for me is that Pavlia is a living monument of all the principles that inspired the KMCS in the initial years of struggle. KMCS had posited that the jungle, land and water was the people's resources and so they would conserve them and use them with responsibility. There are villages after villages where people have done this. But Pavlia is one of the best.
 Pavlia is standing on his farm in which he has grown Kadia Cotton which is an indigenous variety of cotton grown without chemical fertilisers and pesticides. One of the few farmers who are left still growing this cotton. Before him is a stone bund that he has erected to prevent soil erosion and water runoff. Behind him is a dense forest that he has protected from being felled. He of course had the Chikni Jowar we were looking for.
He was extremely thrilled to see me again after such a long time and insisted that I spend the night at his place. When I said that I could not do so as we had to go to other villages also in search of seeds he decided to come along with me up to Vakner. He said that there was no surety as to when we would meet again and so he wanted to make the most of this fortuitous meeting!!
We spent the night in Vakner where there was a huge meeting as people from all over the village gathered on hearing that I had come!! We discussed politics, sang songs and had a great feast. A friend of ours had also come along for this trip. She too is an activist. At the end of the meeting before going to sleep she said that she had not seen such outpouring of love elsewhere. I told her that that was the motto of the KMCS - camaraderie and love. With very little resources we fought great battles and all we needed was love. We are still doing mobilisation work but it does not have the same quality of love that characterised those initial years in Alirajpur. A life lived among the Adivasis struggling for their rights has indeed been fulfilling even though we have not succeeded in pushing back the state and the market.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

The Light is Not Yet in Sight

The other day I landed up at a protest in Indore against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the proposed National Register of Citizens (NRC). The information for the protest had been sent to me by a text message from one of the human rights organisations. So I assumed that all the usual suspects from the mass organisations numbering at most a hundred or so people will gather for the protest. Even though only a few years ago the mass organisations in Madhya Pradesh could muster thousands of people in their protest rallies, currently the scene has become moribund and rarely do mobilisations cross a few hundred in numbers. I was, thus, pleasantly surprised to find thousands of people gathered at the city centre of Indore and the crowds went on swelling as time passed. It turned out that the call for protests had been given by not only by the mass organisations but also by the Congress and the Communist parties. Moreover, many Muslim organisations had also supported the call. Consequently, Muslims and Hindus had turned out in large numbers even though the former were much more in number.
This protest was on December 14th 2019 immediately after the act was passed by Parliament. However, since then the protests have snowballed all over the country. The North East has been particularly in turmoil from even before the enactment because the people there have been protesting against the in migration from Bangladesh for close to half a century and they had achieved some sort of closure with the finalisation of the National Register of Citizens in Assam recently. Mostly the Muslims have come out in large numbers fearing victimisation by the NRC which is being proposed to be done all over India. However, students of all communities and also the general public have been protesting. Today, the 19th of December, 2019 has witnessed multiple protests all over India in a coordinated manner as this was announced as the day of national protest.
  Thus, there is no homogeneity in these protests and in some cases, like that of the people of the North East and the rest of the country, there are contradictory reasons behind the protests against the CAA. However, it is clear that people are hitting the streets in anger against the arbitrariness of governance in the country. The CAA by itself is not that much of a problem, except in the Northeast, but it is the fear of the all India NRC and its arbitrary implementation and the simmering anger arising from the tensions of a sluggish economy that are bringing people out on the streets.
It seems that the resigned acceptance of the BJP's absurd governance is slowly breaking. The huge mandate that the BJP received probably was because the people felt that it would in its second term take steps to improve the state of the economy. Instead, the BJP ignored the economy and busied itself with its narrow sectarian agenda.
Be that as it may, the grassroots mass organisations are still left high and dry!! These protests, encouraging as they are, are unlikely to lead to a major mobilisation against the depredations of capitalism which are manifesting themselves in serious crises in the economy and the environment.  If we were to ask for a switch to organic agriculture or better soil and water conservation measures or more emphasis on renewable energy and greater public investment in education and health for the poor by taxing the rich then we would still not get votes in elections. Simply because there is not enough awareness in the population that this is what will save them and the earth. One is thus left wondering whether these protests are akin to the light at the end of the tunnel.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Powerless in the Time of Market Absolutism

Even if the farmers in Punjab are not using the rotavator machine to cut the straw in their fields and mulch it into the soil, the Adivasis in and around our farm are!!
This is a machine that is attached to a tractor and it cuts the agricultural biomass left after harvesting into tiny shreds and mixes it into the soil. It became popular initially in Punjab for cutting the rice stubble that was otherwise being burnt when the Government banned straw burning and provided subsidies to farmers to buy this and other machines that could provide an alternative to straw burning. However, it costs quite a lot to run these machines as the farmers in Punjab have a lot of land. Then the wheat sown in this mulched straw does not germinate properly and so the output is less.
The companies that make these machines have spread their use in the rest of the country to keep up their production in the face of falling demand in Punjab. And so these machines have reached Dewas district where our farm is. The Adivasis are using them with gusto after some farmers have bought these machines with the subsidy provided by the Government. They have very small farms of two or three acres at the most and so the cost of renting this machine is not much as they have to spend Rs 800 per hour and it takes an hour to mulch a one acre field. They have got round the problem of tardy germination by first sowing the wheat and gram seeds dry and then irrigating the farm. It appears this results in very good germination and also lesser weed growth. So the Adivasis have stopped burning the agricultural waste bio mass from the Kharif season harvest and are instead mulching it into the soil.
Thus, we see that once again the combined power of the market and government has led to the adoption of a farming practice. The first such instance was of course the adoption of Green Revolution chemical agriculture. Even though in this particular case the use of the rotavator for mulching waste agricultural biomass into the soil is a good practice, overall the continuing support for chemical agriculture is proving to be detrimental.
This is where we activists have lost out. We may shout ourselves hoarse that there should be a complete switch from chemical to organic or natural farming but we just do not have the power to sway the market and the Government. This power of the market and Government has grown continually over the years and so the effectiveness of activists has gone down with time. Indeed even among farmers' organisations there is little support for such a switch as they are mostly demanding that the subsidies for chemical agriculture and the support prices of the produce be increased. 
This is further brought home by a recently published book that has fifteen case studies on social enterprises trying to make profits while paying the farmers a remunerative price. None of these enterprises have succeeded in doing either and are heavily dependent on grant support. 
Its a Catch 22 situation. Without power we cannot counter the market and the Government whereas the process of getting power is a corrupting one that results in those getting to power losing sight of their goals. We are thus doomed to remaining powerless in the time of market absolutism.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

The Morass of Bad Faith!!

Astounding as it may seem, the Supreme Court of India has said, that the Hindus praying in the belief that a particular place is the birthplace of their God is enough to displace the claims of Muslims to pray in the same place even if they were doing so there from centuries before in pursuit of their own faith. The fact that faith has such a big say in public matters in India has been the bane of development in this country.
Faiths of various kinds have been the problem right since the time of independence. In fact the faith in the possibility of bringing about environmentally sustainable and socio-economically equitable development through modern industrial growth whether of the capitalist or socialist variety has contributed to even greater problems than the faith in Gods. Faith compounded by casteism has meant that bigotry of all kinds instead of justice has been the watch word in India.
Even though fundamental rights were guaranteed in the Constitution, the crucial rights to free quality education, free quality health services and to work that could ensure a dignified life were put into the directive principles of state policy and made non-justiciable. This effectively negated the possibilities of the vast poverty and caste oppression ridden masses from being able to actualise the fundamental rights, especially the right to a dignified life, that were guaranteed in the Constitution. Indeed to pursue a policy of industrial development, primitive accumulation was resorted to by keeping agricultural product prices and wages depressed and also by displacing people without proper resettlement and rehabilitation. The belief, which has now been proved to be false, was that by making huge investments in centralised industrial development it would be possible to alleviate poverty through the trickling down of benefits to the poor. The adverse consequences of this bad faith are as follows -
1. Girls instead of being sent to school were as before married off as soon as they reached puberty and so they had higher fertility rates that not only combined with their lack of education, severely restricted their freedoms but also contributed to a huge population growth.
2. The economy is a demand constrained one as over 70 per cent of the population directly or indirectly dependent on agriculture does not have disposable incomes and so the industrial growth also was muted and there is widespread, unemployment, poverty and hunger and just 57 billionnaires control 70 percent of the country's wealth.
3. Lack of free quality education and health services has resulted in low productivity of the population. Thus, not only do we have a huge number of people, they are also of low productivity and so we are not able to compete with other countries, especially China, which with its much higher productivity is flooding the country with cheap products.
4. Chemical agriculture along with excessive construction of dams and withdrawal of groundwater has devastated farming and contributed to water stress apart from deforestation and land degradation.
5. Dependence on fossil fuel energy as opposed to renewable energy which contributes to a huge current account deficit on account of crude oil imports, devastation of the environment on account of coal mining, severe financial stress due to the economic unviability of centralised production and distribution of electricity and a lack of energy security.
This cancer of bad faith has now engulfed all institutions of the country and it is heading head long into disaster. When a newly constructed toilet in a village in Uttar Pradesh is built as if it is a temple and painted in saffron and people begin praying to it, then the morass of bad faith has well and truly become all pervasive.

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.