- Decentralised and local community controlled development has been acknowledged as a major desideratum for tackling tribal deprivation (Sharma, 2001).
- With the award of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences to Elinor Ostrom in 2009, it has come to be acknowledged that collective action is the best option for the management of common pool resources (Ostrom, 1990).
- The benefits accruing in terms of mitigation of climate change from such communitarian natural resource management in rural areas compensates for the emissions from the urban and industrial areas which cannot be totally nullified (International Institute of Sustainable Development et al. 2003).
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.
Monday, August 22, 2016
Saturday, August 20, 2016
Thus, for biodiverse organic agriculture to make a come back, there has to be a drastic change in agricultural policy providing support to it instead of chemical monocultures as at present.
Thursday, August 18, 2016
Monday, August 15, 2016
Friday, August 5, 2016
Let alone being connected with optic fibre, Kakrana does not have wireless connectivity also. The nearest mobile telephony tower is at a distance of 7 kms over hill and down dale. Thus, mobile phones don't work in Kakrana unless one climbs up on the hills. While most of the school buildings are in the valley below, there is one high hill about 30 meters in height within the campus of the RKJ. So whenever people have to communicate they climb up this hill with their mobiles. Smartphones can also receive a weak data signal of about 10 kilobites per second for checking emails at the most on this hill top. Since internet connectivity is so important in today's world and especially for a school for Adivasi children, initially a tent was set up on this hill to see if a laptop connected to a dongle wouldn't make possible some rudimentary emailing as shown below.
ERNET facility of the government under the aegis of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research. However, that did not materialise because NGOs are not eligible even if they are working under the aegis of a premier national research institute.
Looking around for solutions we came upon the wireless hop technology. This essentially meant using radio waves to transport data from the nearest point of good broadband optical fibre data connectivity in Kukshi some 35 kilometers away, straight as the crow flies, to Kakrana. The problem with this was that due to intervening hills there would have to be two repeaters on top of these hills between Kukshi and Kakrana. Setting up these repeaters and then ensuring their safety were both a cost and logistics issue. I went to see one such set up in Kodaicanal in the Nilgiri hills in Tamil Nadu to see how it works and the day I landed up it wasn't working because one of the repeaters had malfunctioned. This meant that someone would have to be sent to physically investigate the problem and set it right. Moreover, the software that has to be used for running this system is highly complicated and requires a fair level of computing skill which is not there in Kakrana. There are also some commercial operations in wireless hopping like Air Jaldi which is providing internet connectivity in the Himalayas in Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand but they said that they could make an economically viable foray in Kakrana only if there was a substantial customer base prepared to pay for the service. So that option also fizzled out as the Bhils of the area around the school living at subsistence levels were unlikely to pay for internet service!! Indeed Air Jaldi has been stymied in its attempts to expand its base in the Himalayas precisely because it isn't getting enough paying customers.
Just when we thought that there was no solution I saw a Facebook post by Arjun Venkatraman of the Mojolab Foundation about a pilot he was setting up in a rural area of Karnataka with the wireless mesh technology. This involved setting up a local area network (LAN) with wireless routers with one of the routers having internet connectivity which he calls the community owned wireless mesh or COWMesh. This can work only if there are a number of enthusiastic participants in the community who are interested in keeping the mesh active and running. Arjun combines the COWMesh with Datamuling. Since in remote locations internet speeds are abysmally low it is not possible to do much more than emailing and that too through a client that edits out all the advertising that has heavy data. So educational content has to be downloaded at locations where data is cheap like in the Metros, put into hard disks and then transported by rail or road to remote locations where they can they be fed into the COWMesh for sharing on the LAN. On our invitation Arjun came down to Kakrana in April with a demonstration set of wireless routers and a raspberry pi which is a rudimentary computer which acts as the e-mail server when a dongle is connected to it. The e-mail server and one router was put on top of the hill and the other router was put at the bottom in the office and it gave the WiFi signals which then allowed other devices to access the internet. The first ever email from the office of RKJ was sent and it even had attached photographs. So finally a solution had been found and it was decided that Arjun would prepare a system for RKJ and set it up. Arjun did not charge for his expertise as he is funded by the Ashoka Foundation as a fellow to use innovative technology to spread internet and mobile connectivity in rural areas and he charged only for his travel and the cost of equipment which totally came to about Rs 40,000 which is a steal.
However, there were more problems to be overcome. Like most other high tech electronic equipment there is constant innovation in wireless routers also. Therefore, when the new routers arrived Arjun found that their hardware and software had both been changed in such a way that it was not possible to put into them the open source software that Arjun and some other wireless connectivity experts had developed for the COWMesh. He tried to hack in and change the configuration but this blocked the routers altogether as they had been password protected. Basically, the router manufacturer was trying to ensure that only their proprietary software would be used and open source configurations could not be superimposed. Then issued a lengthy email battle trying to get the manufacturer to replace the routers. It appears that the password lock had been so designed that even the manufacturer could not restore the software onto the routers once the router was locked!! Anyway, after much argumentation, the manufacturer replaced the routers with a new set. Arjun then prepared a COWMesh software that would sit over the routers in the raspberry pi.
Last week he came down to Kakrana with the modified system and then began the process of setting it up. LAN cables were required to connect the various parts of the system. These cables cost Rs 150 per metre mainly because of the expertise of crimping the connectors at the end which has to be done properly. However, Arjun had other ideas as he bought the cable at Rs 7 per metre and the connectors at Rs 3 each separately and a crimping tool. He taught Gulab and Dhani, the two operations and maintenance people at RKJ, to crimp the connectors on to the cable as shown below and so we had LAN cables at Rs 15 per metre!!
The routers had to be set up on pipes and covered with buckets to ensure that they were not affected by rain and sun. This fabrication work too was done by the duo of Gulab and Dhani as shown below using PVC water pipes and connections.
While at the community level the solution has been found and that too extremely cheaply and in the process the people have been technologically empowered, the problem of low speed of wireless internet connectivity in rural areas remains. It would be educative to go into the reason why this is so. The main reason is the adverse economics of mobile towers. It takes Rs 40 Lakhs to set up a mobile tower. In rural areas the grid electricity supply is unreliable and so the towers have to be powered by diesel generators. If good data speeds are to be provided then the towers have to be powered much more than just for voice connectivity and this will require a higher expenditure on diesel. The demand in rural areas is mostly for voice, that is, people are prepared to pay for voice and not for data. Therefore, to earn profits after having made huge investments in buying spectrum, the telecom companies first economise on building towers and then economise on the diesel for running those towers by under powering them and that is why in Kakrana the average data speed is only about 10 kbps. Clearly, the telecom companies including the Government owned Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited are not going to improve wireless data connectivity unless they are given a huge subsidy to do so. Similarly the Bharat Broadband Nigam Limited which is tasked with providing optic fibre connectivity to rural areas is also unlikely to do so unless there is a huge subsidy for the capital and operational costs as poor people in rural areas are unlikely to bear this cost. The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India has initiated a public consultation on a new Public Wifi policy for spreading internet use but it does not adequately define public Wifi to include community meshes like the one set up in RKJ. Neither is there any support in terms of reducing duties on imported equipment necessary for setting up such networks. Presently community networks for sharing of content or accessing the internet can be set up without any regulatory permissions but if such permissions become mandatory in future then it will only make the task of digitising India that much more difficult as it is inconceivable that communities will be able to go through the application process for such permissions without costly mediation by legal experts.
There is still a problem that cannot be immediately solved because of a regulatory hurdle. Voice telephony cannot be transferred in real time from the top of the hill to the school below through a gateway even though it is technologically possible because of a legal ban. So what is being done as a next step in Kakrana is that a voice mail box system is being installed which will allow exchange of voice messages through a gateway with a time lag but won't allow real time conversations.
All this just shows that the Government in this country does not back up its rhetoric with regard to digitising India with adequate policy and financial support to really reach the internet to the poor. After all, after having earned huge sums of money by selling spectrum to the Telcos, it is surely obliged to spend some of that money to digitise India. But that is a distant dream.
Saturday, July 30, 2016
The guts of Wilson were evident when immediately after the award being announced he launched a broadside against Prime Minister Narendra Modi, saying that he broomed the street for just two minutes and ordered lakhs of toilets to be built without making any provisions as to who were to clean these toilets and the huge sewage load that would be generated.
The total sanitation campaign in India which has now been named the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan has never addressed the deeply casteist nature of society in India. For instance the huge push for constructing pit latrines never factored in the problem of who would clean the pits once they were filled. There is a tremendous prejudice in this country against cleaning faeces and so even today throughout the country this is being done by the traditional Dalit castes who have been doing it for millennia on end. Since many of these Dalits have now stopped doing this work due to upward mobility, there is a shortage of people who will do this work. Consequently, the pit latrines have mostly been failures as people don't use them.
Bezwada has forcefully made the point that latrines should be so designed that they do not require to be manually cleaned and sewers should be cleaned by mechanical means. Just building toilets without providing for cleaning them without the help of the traditional manual scavenging people is a crime. The biggest hurdle he has faced is that many manual scavenging people have had to give up on their dignity because of a lack of alternative livelihoods and the government is the main culprit in this regard. For instance the Indian Railways which is the biggest employer of manual scavenging people can easily put in toilets that do not empty their faeces on the railway tracks in stations but despite several orders from the Supreme Court it has steadfastly refused to do so. Similarly municipalities can use machines to clean sewers but they have continued with manual cleaning which leads to the death of some people every year. There is much that is rotten in the State of modern India but nothing more so than some people still having to manually clean faeces for a living.
Monday, July 25, 2016
Initially a friend of Swapanda's agreed to sell his 15 year old SUV for Rs 2,50,000 and the deal was almost done. But the friend for some reason baulked at the last moment and then we had to go to the internet to find some cars. There was one car that was available for Rs 2,00,000 only but by the time we got in touch with the seller it had been sold!! The others were beyond our financial reach. So then we set off across Indore exploring the various second hand car dealers. Once again most of the cars on sale were out of our financial reach or were in very bad condition. Then at the last car dealer that we went to we found a beautiful red Tata Safari car of 2008 vintage that had a price tag of Rs 2,50,000 which was dirt cheap as it should have been around 6 lakhs at least for that kind of vintage. Swapanda on seeing it immediately plumped for it despite my saying that there must be some serious problem with the car if it was selling so cheap. Enquiries revealed that we would be the seventh buyers of the car in seven years!! We took the car around for a test drive and found that there were indeed various problems. Nevertheless, Swapanda said that surely it could be repaired at some expense over time and even then it would be a bargain. Here is a photo of the car which will reveal why Swapanda is so enamoured of it!! Of course it is a repaint of the original!!!
My Maruti 800 mechanic, Iqbal, is a self made man. He has studied only up to class seven and has learnt the skills of automobile repair hands on once he gave up studies after reaching adolescence since he was making much headway in them. I had reached him earlier after having had a bad and expensive experience of getting my Maruti repaired at the authorised service centre. True to the KMCS spirit, I had bought the Maruti 800 car of 1998 vintage in 2011, second hand, for just Rs 50,000. We bought it mainly to cart the various props that we need for conducting Reproductive Health camps for poor urban women. With a carrier on top, the car is able to cart all the stuff we need as shown below with Subhadra at the steering.
The Safari on one occasion when we were riding it from Indore to Kakrana broke down once again. We were near a place called Manpur some 50 kilometers from Indore and it was early in the morning so instead of calling up Iqbal we sought out a mechanic in Manpur itself. There was some problem with the axle and also with the clutch plate which had become worn. The mechanic, Govinda, opened everything up and then ordered the parts from Indore by bus and fixed up the car and we were on our way again after a few hours. After we reached Kakrana, the car once again began stopping suddenly while running. It was not until the day we were returning to Indore that it became clear to us that this was happening because there was a leak in the water cooling system which was heating up the engine. We couldn't locate the leak and somehow brought it to Kukshi town some 50 kms from Kakrana by continually refilling the water in the cooling system. A mechanic in Kukshi tried to find out where the leak was but couldn't. He said that the parts of the Safari are available only in Indore and so if we left the car with him then it would take a lot of time and so it was better that we just filled water continuously and took the car to Indore!! So we did that over a distance of 100 kms and reached Manpur and Govinda's garage once again!!! Thereafter, Govinda took over and opened up the whole engine which had become damaged due to overheating, found the minute leak in one of the cooling pipes and did a complete overhaul of the whole car. So we have ended up spending about another Rs 1,00,000 on the Safari but now it is in top shape. Other owners before this had not shown the patience that we did and had disposed of the car in quick succession. Indeed one friend of Swapanda's, a scientist like him, after driving the car the day after it was bought had suggested that we give it back even if it meant incurring a substantial loss because he thought there was no future for it!! Swapanda gave him a dressing down saying that as a scientist he should welcome challenges instead of steering clear of them!!!
Iqbal and Govinda are only two of many such skilled people in this country who have not received any formal training but have learnt on the job and have learnt well. They do a good job and do it cheaply and much better than the authorised service centres which charge the earth for their sub standard services. This is the case in all sectors of the economy. Thus, it is these informal training processes in the vast informal sector that have to be supported instead of setting up institutions which churn out ostensibly skilled people but are actually white elephants that gorge resources without adequate productive output. Iqbal and Govinda make out a living through struggle as their existence is a contingent one as is that of many millions more in the informal sector. Govinda is a high scholl pass out but instead of pursuing higher studies in the hope of getting a job in the formal sector he decided to learn automobile repairing in a garage. He is very tech savvy and when Swapanda showed him the videos that he had downloaded from the internet regarding the assembly of automobile engines he cleaned out all the music from the micro SD card on his mobile phone and filled it up with the videos!! Iqbal works alone in his garage. When asked why he doesn't employ some help he says that daily wages have now become Rs 300 in Indore and he cannot afford to pay that much to a help. His son is in high school and wants to study further instead of join Iqbal in his garage because he feels that a secure job in the formal sector is both more paying and more prestigious than working in a garage. Thus, if the Government were to provide Iqbal with the money as a training fee then he would be more productive and also train another person or even his son at a much cheaper cost and more effectively than in the many institutions that the Government is setting up under its skilling initiative. Working with the hand as a technician should command respect in society as only then will the youth be freed from their hankering for secure white collar jobs that are anyway becoming scarce and are not that well paying anymore. Our country does not lack in skilled people, it only lacks in respect for these millions of informally skilled people. Instead the crony capitalists who skim off public resources at will without providing sustainable development opportunities are the ones who command respect and that is why despite all the economic growth in recent years, poverty and hunger continue to dog most of the people.
Thursday, July 14, 2016
After Burhan I am sure somewhere in India some Indian citizen has got killed by some security personnel or other as this happens regularly across the country. According to National Crime Records Bureau statistics on an average there are about 4 custodial deaths by the police alone every day in India!!!! if the paramilitary and military are taken into account this figure will be even higher. This is because there is a culture of impunity for state forces and they frequently take liberty with the law. In practical terms there will be some extra judicial killings because of the situation in which an encounter takes place between a militant, armed revolutionary or criminal and the security forces which are tasked with snuffing out armed resistance to the might of the State. However, to ensure that this kind of killing does not get out of hand, as it is bound to do given the huge power of the State vis a vis the citizen, there are clear provisions in the Constitution, other statutes and Supreme Court and High Court rulings to regulate them. There are clear provisions in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which clearly lay out the right of accused to a due process of law regardless of the nature of their crimes which is the basis of a liberal democratic and just dispensation and India is a signatory to this.
Secondly, there is the important issue of the legitimacy of the State in the eyes of the citizen. If there are too many extra judicial killings then the State begins to lose its legitimacy and the citizens tend to take the law into their own hands which is a very dangerous situation. Especially so in insurgency hit areas and even more so in an area like Kashmir where Pakistan is funding the insurgency. One does not know how many Kashmiris support the call for freedom from India but definitely there are a significant number of Kashmiris who don't including the whole of the Kashmiri ruling class regardless of political colour. However, there is enough evidence to show that the security forces in their over reach have struck against civilians indiscriminately and many innocents have been affected and this has led to mounting disaffection and anger against the Indian State. Indeed Burhan himself was motivated to join the insurgency after the security forces needlessly brutalised his brother Khalid. The situation today in Kashmir, from the point of view of the Indian State, is not as bad as it used to be in the 1990s primarily because of a huge military and security presence which has more or less hobbled the insurgency on the ground. Even though this heavy military presence is primarily directed towards preventing a recurrence of the kind of plannned intrusion into Indian territory by the Pakistani military in Kargil in 1989, it has also wiped out the armed insurgency with the number of active armed militants coming down from several thousands to just over a hundred or so. However, this has come at a huge cost to the exchequer. If the insurgency could be eliminated then the military presence would only have to be on the border against Pakistan and there would not be the need for such a heavy deployment. Insurgencies can never be eliminated by the use of force alone. There has to be a dialogue also and for that the State must have some legitimacy in the eyes of the insurgents and their supporters. The insurgents are like fish in a pond. if there is no water in the pond then the fish will die. there is obviously a lot of water in the pond as was demonstrated by the huge flare up protesting the killing of Burhan recently and which is still going on with determined resistance to the Indian State by citizens demanding independence for Kashmir. Admittedly Pakistan has had a hand in supporting both the insurgency and in fanning the protests after the killing of Burhan but why is it that there are so many people in Kashmir prepared to listen to Pakistan rather than India? So even if Burhan was a dreaded militant who had the blood of many on his hands and he was constantly urging more people to join the insurgency, nevertheless, not only from the human rights angle but also from the tactical angle there should have been a visible attempt by the Indian State forces to apprehend him and bring him to trial rather than kill him out right. Instead the security forces followed the Israeli strategy of killing at the first opportunity which has not really helped Israel in any way in snuffing out the Palestinian Intifada. Israel can afford to follow such a strategy because its military adventurism is funded by the USA but we have to fund our own security from our own taxes and that means that we have less for development work if that security bill escalates as it has done in Kashmir and other insurgency hit areas of the country due to a hawkish policy.
Saturday, June 25, 2016
Monday, May 30, 2016
When I graduated from college as an engineer, I did not take a job in the corporate sector or go for higher studies abroad as all my other classmates did. Instead, I joined the huge informal sector of this country where people live from hand to mouth and and from day to day!! And the most informal of all in this sector have always been the Adivasis. So I went to live and work with the Bhil Adivasis in Alirajpur and that is how the organisations DGVK and KMCS came to be set up because in the modern world it is not possible to fight and survive without a minimal organisational presence. After a decade of great fights and great living at the margins in Alirajpur, I got married to Subhadra Khaperde in 1993. She insisted that I must move out of Alirajpur and work with her for the gender rights of women and girls. So we moved out of Alirajpur and began working in Khargone and Dewas districts from 1994 onwards. From 1994 to 2001 we worked in these areas setting up more organisations, the most notable being Kansari Nu Vadavno, which translates as the "Felicitation of Kansari", Kansari being the powerful life giving Goddess symbolising the cereal jowar or sorghum, which is the staple food of the Bhils. This was a women's organisation that fought for reproductive health and rights. We were also simultaneously working for the establishment of Gram Swaraj or Village self rule for the Adivasis under the provisions of the Panchayat Extension to the Scheduled Areas Act. The Government of the day liked neither the women's mobilisation which had completely stopped the illegal sale of liquor nor the mobilisation for village self rule which had marginalised the administration in the villages in which the organisation was strong. So in a massive armed police operation it cracked down on the organisation and killed four of its members in firing and clapped dozens of others including me into prison. That was the end, for that time at least, of both the women's and village self rule mobilisations.
This made us roll again back to the city of Indore, as in the mean time a son had been born to us in 2000 and Subhadra also had decided to take a sabbatical from activism to pursue higher studies having been only a high school pass out earlier. I too had to begin doing consultancy work to garner funds for the huge legal expenses that kicked in after the Government crack down on our organisation. Moreover, it had become almost impossible to work for rights given the huge repression that the Government resorted to against mass mobilisation for rights and justice.
Then from 2005 onwards the years of struggle for rights by many grassroots organisations across the country began to bear fruit and we had legislations like the Right to Information Act, Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, the Forest Rights Act, Right to Education Act and the Right to Food Act being enacted, thus giving legal force to basic rights which earlier we had to fight and go to jail for. Our Adivasi colleagues in Alirajpur asked me to help them to reactivate DGVK which had been lying dormant as it had become increasingly difficult for them to survive and fight just on ad hoc contributions from the people and well wishers and the odd fellowship. They said that if advantage were to be taken of the new legislations, then institutional grant funding would have to be accessed through the registered trust DGVK. So from 2007 onwards grant funding came into Alirajpur and work took off with a bang again. Within a space of just four years we set Alirajpur afire with significant implementation of the legislations mentioned above and also a big campaign for justice for migrant labourers some of whom had died after contracting Silicosis in quartz crushing units in Gujarat. DGVK was awarded the Times of India Social Impact Award for its exemplary mobilisation of Adivasis in Alirajpur in 2011. The trade union KMCS has always been a force to reckon with in Alirajpur and it has now gained in considerable strength. A picture of a typical rally of thousands of people that periodically shakes the earth and the air of Alirajpur is shown below.
However, our work on gender rights and especially reproductive health and rights of women had lagged behind and had become almost zero in this time. So, Subhadra once again has started this work in Indore from January this year. Once she got into the work, it became clear that it is a very difficult exercise and will require full time commitment from both of us. Moreover, the work in Alirajpur should ideally be led by the Adivasis there in all respects. Even though most of the programmatic work is directed by them, the work of managing the DGVK accounts and legal compliances was being handled by me. Now even that is going to be done by the Adivasis and to make sure that there is no dependence whatsoever on me, I have decided to move out of the organisations there completely. After two decades we are going back to reproductive health and rights work that we had first done in Khargone and Dewas, to try and reinvent ourselves working with some of the most deprived and oppressed people in this country - economically disadvantaged Dalit and Adivasi women.