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, October 15, 2017

The Retreat of Mobilisation for Women's Rights

More than two decades back in 1996 Subhadra and I got a fellowship from the John D and Catherine T MacArthur Foundation (JCMF) to work on improving the reproductive and sexual health and rights of Bhil women. This was part of a programme initiated by the JCMF in the four countries of Brazil, Mexico, Nigeria and India to build a cadre of activists who would take forward the movement for securing women's rights. This programme was launched at a heady time when The International Conference on Population and Development in 1994 and the World Women's Conference in Beijing in 1995 had established firmly the following basic tenets of women's reproductive and sexual rights -
1. Bodily Integrity - All women have the right to protect their bodies and have control over them. Thus women cannot be deprived of their sexual and productive abilities by men or the state and they cannot be made to use these abilities according to the latter's whims and fancies.
2. Personhood - Women will take their own decisions regarding reproduction and sexual behaviour and nobody can interfere in this.
3. Equality - Women are equal to men in all respects and so the gender division of labour under which women have been given the work of exclusively tending the children and the elderly and also doing housework has to be abolished and men should also take up these responsibilities and allow women to participate more equally in social, economic and political activities. Apart from this women's health issues should be better addressed on par with those of men.
4. Diversity - The differences arising from difference in values, culture, religion, class, nationality and the like should be respected.
The programme ran for a little more than a decade and in that time over 300 activists and researchers across the four nations and 77 in India were given fellowships. Recently, the JCMF decided to review the programme and a rigorous evaluation consisting of an online survey, key person interviews and case studies. Yesterday some of the fellows who had responded to the survey got together to discuss the preliminary results of the evaluation and review the current situation with regard to women's reproductive and sexual rights. 
The review of the programme revealed that the fellows had done exemplary work both individually and to establish the field of reproductive and sexual health in their countries. However, the fellows themselves were not so enthusiastic about the situation of women's rights in India and especially reproductive and sexual health and rights. Patriarchy was still ascendant and despite more stringent laws that have been enacted over the past two decades, sexual rights of women and girls were being trampled at will. Public health services remained concentrated on providing maternal health services and that too at a minimal level whereas the gynaecological health of women was totally neglected.
Thus, on the ground most of the ideal points of sexual and reproductive rights enumerated at the beginning of this post are not secured and most women are doubly oppressed by patriarchy and poverty. The most worrying problem is that there is no big push for women's rights that was there two decades ago. The patriarchal forces at the world level have conspired to stall the holding of any more big conferences for women. The World Women's conference was held once every ten years since 1975 but after Beijing in 1995 there hasn't been one. Globally, the right to abortion, which is a crucial right of women, is under attack and most so in the United States of America. Funding for women's rights work both activism and research has also dwindled. Quite a few of the fellows who were running NGOs had wound them up because they had run short of funds and were unable to develop a second line of leadership and were now surviving by doing consultancies. The JCMF representative said that the Foundation was closing its very strong reproductive and sexual health programme globally and was switching its focus to Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation!! As far as the Indian Government is concerned it has always been focused on maternal health to the almost complete neglect of gynaecological health. It is in this challenging situation that we have to work to take forward the struggle for women's rights and it is indeed a daunting task.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Faithless In India

The Dalit Indian American author Sujatha Gidla in her book "Ants Among Elephants", describes a scene that is quintessential of India. Her book is a memoir of her early life in Telengana, where she was born, in which there are detailed descriptions of the Maoist movement at its inception of which her uncle was a founder. Once Charu Mazumdar, the renegade member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), who broke away from that party to initiate the Maoist movement in West Bengal, came to Telengana to hold a meeting with the renegades there to spread the rebellion. Charu was already very ill and so in the remote hilly forested areas, he had not only to be carried on the shoulders of other comrades but also given rest from time to time. While he was so resting, these comrades withdrew to a distance and then said among themselves that Charu was communicating directly with Chairman Mao and he would soon arrange guns and other resources that would enable them to launch the revolution in India!! This is quintessentially India because it shows that here FAITH is king!! So even atheist revolutionaries rely on faith, in an ideology or a charismatic leader, to carry them through trying circumstances in the same way as the faithful rely on Gods.
Not that India does not have a tradition of faithlessness. Right from the ancient times, when there were the Charvaks, there have been atheists. While the Charvaks were materialists, Buddha and Mahavira were mystically inclined atheists. But the tradition of faith has been so powerful that it has completely overwhelmed the tradition of faithlessness and so both Buddhism and Jainism have become faiths converting Buddha and Mahavira into Gods.
Babaheb Ambedkar, perceptive as he was, understood this very well. He had first announced in 1935 that even though he was born one he would not die a Hindu. He realised, however, that the Dalits at large would not be able to discard their reliance on faith so easily. So he searched around for a religion that was at once fair and also provided a set of beliefs that people could hold on to. His searches led him to Buddhism, which he reinterpreted to the extent that he could compare it favourably with Marxism by reworking the teachings of the Buddha. Ambedkar heeded the advice of the Buddha regarding not blindly trusting received wisdom and instead testing it out in real life. Thus, he questioned the mystic aspects of Buddhism and much of the myth surrounding the Buddha and instead opted for an activist and rationalist Buddhism aimed at bringing about social peace rather than only the peace of mind of the individual. Consequently, for Ambedkar the concept of "Dukha" or sorrow became the exploitation of the poor and Nirvana became not a metaphysical state or attainment, but a real society founded in peace and justice. With time the rationalism of Ambedkar's Buddhism has receded and it has become a faith.
How then can one be faithless and yet be effective as a social activist in India? This was the question that I faced when I first began thinking about becoming an activist in college. I read the Upanishads and the Bhagvad Gita and liked much in them but felt uncomfortable with the assumption of a supreme spirit in them. I read Marx and again felt uncomfortable with the teleological idea that history would progress inexorably towards a stateless utopia. The French philosopher Sartre seared my existence with his ruthless analysis of the self deception that we human beings practice of thinking that we do not have the freedom to make choices for fear of the potential consequences of making a choice and deflect this responsibility of making a choice onto God or a charismatic leader. Something that he called "Bad Faith". Then, I read his contemporary Albert Camus' "Myth of Sisyphus" and it gave me the clue to being both faithless and effective.

In the aftermath of World War II, the Holocaust of the Jews and the inhuman excesses of the Stalinist dictatorship in the Soviet Union, Camus pondered over the futility of an "absurd" life that has to be lived under the mindless oppression of the faithful and their institutions, whether of the state and the church or of the political parties ostensibly fighting for liberation. Camus came to the conclusion that the faithless person, whom he called the absurd hero, would have to carry on an endless struggle against the power of the faithful in pursuit of human freedom. To this end, he reinterpreted the Hellenic myth of Sisyphus, who was cursed by Zeus to perpetually roll a rock up a hill as it rolled down again when he reached the top, in what is possibly the most eloquent philosophical statement in support of faithlessness ever - "At that subtle moment when man glances backward over this life, Sisyphus returning toward his rock, in that slight pivoting he contemplates that series of unrelated actions which becomes his fate, created by him, combined under his memory's eye and soon sealed by his death. Thus convinced of the wholly human origin of all that is human, a blind man eager to see who knows that the night has no end, he is still on the go. The rock is still rolling. I leave Sisyphus at the foot of the mountain! One always finds one's burden again. But Sisyphus teaches the higher fidelity that negates the gods and raises rocks. He too concludes that all is well. This universe henceforth without a master seems to him neither sterile nor futile. Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night-filled mountain, in itself forms a world. The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy".
The struggle is important not the end. At once everything fell into place. I harked back to my early readings of the Upanishads and the Bhagvad Gita and reinterpreted some of the shlokas which had always inspired me. The obvious choice is of course the famous 47th verse of the second chapter of the Gita - "You have the right to work only but never to its fruits. Let not the fruits of action be your motive, nor let your attachment be to inaction". Read alone without the rest of the faith baggage of the Gita this is a stern statement of faithless effectiveness!!! Similarly another famous Shloka, the first of the Isaponishad, can be slightly paraphrased to remove its faith baggage and yield a gem of faithless effectiveness - "This entire universe is dependent upon primordial nature. Partake of whatever is given to you by nature and do not crave the wealth of others". While the verse from the Gita speaks of desireless work, the one from the Isaponishad speaks of desireless consumption!!! 
Later, I came to read about  the Greek philosopher Diogenes. He not only inveighed against the Gods and received wisdom but also more importantly stressed that human beings should lead a life of hard labour in harmony with nature and not accumulate property. Thus Diogenes used to scrounge around, beg and because private property had no sanctity for him, even steal to get food and shout out at the better-heeled citizens of Athens for living in luxury. His aversion to anything private extended even to his body and so he would bathe and masturbate in public!! He used to publicly say that the priests in the temple of Olympia were the "big thieves" and the rulers and the philosophers who went there to ask them to supplicate the Gods on their behalf were the "little thieves". This behaviour of his led the people of Athens to call him a "kunikos" or dog and this is how his philosophical tradition has come to be called "Cynicism".  Diogenes went an important step further in denying the paramount power of the state. Diogenes not only refused to acknowledge the power of the state he also berated people for owing allegiance to some state or other. He declared that he was a free citizen of the Cosmos meaning the whole of nature and the whole of the human race. So Diogenes can be said to be the first conscious atheistic environmental anarchist. 
 There are a whole host of colourful stories woven around this iconoclastic philosopher. On one occasion Diogenes was washing lettuce to prepare a meal when Plato came along and told him that if he had paid court to the ruler Dionysius he would not have had to wash lettuces. To this Diogenes replied that if Plato had washed lettuces then he would not have had to pay court to the ruler! On another occasion Alexander the Great came and stood next to where he was sun bathing in the street and said to him, "I am Alexander the Great ask any boon of me". Diogenes is reported to have said "I am Diogenes the Dog please get out of my sunlight". He once went round the streets with a lighted lantern in broad daylight and when people asked him why he was doing this he replied that he was searching for one true human being. His disciple Epicurus is credited with this question and answer sequence negating the existence of God - "Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is impotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?" 
Thus, one can live and work faithlessly in a country where most people are faithful, both those who believe in God and those who believe in grand theories of emancipation!!! However, this drastically changes the way one works for social and economic justice. Throughout my three decades as an activist, I have never sold dreams to anyone. I have always said that there is no guarantee that we will achieve whatever we have set out to do. Sometimes we gain some small victories but largely we have not been able to reform the unjust nature of centralised human society. So while Samson was eyeless in Gaza and relied on his faith, I am faithless in India and rely on my eye for rational action!!

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Give Me Red!!

The other day a conversation with some activists prompted me to wonder as to what is the most important aspect about the social change work that we do among the Adivasis and Dalits here in Madhya Pradesh, since its large scale societal impact is close to zero!! After some thought I came to the conclusion that it is respect for the views of those we work with. Even if an idea for some programme comes from us activists, we never implement it without first sounding it out with others with whom we are working. Therefore, what little impact is there at the local level is due not a little to the fact that the participants in the programme have a major say in its design and implementation. This applies to both mass organisational and developmental work.
When we launched the gynaecological health camps for women in the slums of Indore, the first thing we did was to conduct detailed discussions with the women as to what their problems were and what they were doing to address them. Initially we were a bit apprehensive as to whether the women would open up and come to the camps for clinical examination. Many women eventually didn't. This led us to spend more time in discussions with the women to gain their confidence. These discussions have led to very good insights into how society works.
One example that is striking is that of the management of menstrual hygiene. This is a problem area mainly because of the patriarchal taboos surrounding it. Women in India, mostly use cloth during the menstrual period and then wash and dry the cloth in the shade for reuse. They have to dry it in the shade because it cannot be dried in the open under the sun because it is against the patriarchal norm that anything to do with menstruation is dirty and should be kept private. for poor women in urban areas this has become a serious problem because of lack of space which results in lack of privacy. Matters have been further compounded by the unavailability of cotton cloth for use during the periods. Earlier women used to tear old sarees to use as menstrual cloth. However, cotton clothing has become expensive and so in most cases poor urban women wear only clothes made from synthetic materials which cannot be used for menstrual purposes because they do not absorb the menstrual blood.
There is a school of opinion that favours the use of sanitary napkins by poor women and it is suggested that the Government should reduce the taxes on these, as they are now categorised as luxury items and also subsidise their price. There are also many innovations for making sanitary pads which are much cheaper. In fact under the Integrated Child Development Programme, subsidised sanitary napkins are being supplied to adolescent girls and women from the Anganwaris or child care centres. However, the problem of disposal of the used napkins still remains for poor urban women due to the patriarchal taboo. The subsidised napkins are few and far between because they have been supplied only to a few women and most others will have to buy the expensive ones from the market which is difficult given their poverty.
So even today, cloth washed, dried and reused remains the most favoured option for poor women. Given this fact a solution has emerged in Indore. In the slums in which these poor women reside, the small shops sell red pieces of thick felt cloth as shown below which are used by the women during their periods. These cloth pieces have good absorbent qualities and are cheap to buy. Three pieces of cloth are sold for Rs 20 and they last for six months. A larger piece of cloth with strings at the end also is available at Rs 30 for three pieces for use by those women who do not wear panties and have to tie the cloth. They can be washed and hung out to dry outside also because of their deep red colour which camouflages the blood stains. Though most women still dry them in the shade there are some who dry them in the sun.
What is most intriguing is that a demand from poor women for a suitable solution to their menstrual hygiene management problems has been provided by the market in a very cost effective manner and not by the government or NGOs which are pushing them to use sanitary napkins. Initially we too had thought that we would help the women in the slums to form self help groups and provide them with sanitary napkin making machines so that cheap sanitary napkins could be made available to them. The NGO Goonj also prepares sanitary napkins from the used cloth that it collects for distribution to poor women. However, in both these cases a lot of management is involved whereas in the market solution of providing red felt cloth the problem has been solved at the individual level.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

The Stalwart Who filled Jails!!

This year is the fiftieth death anniversary of the firebrand socialist Dr Ram Manohar Lohia and it is an apt occasion to remember his militant legacy. He died at the relatively young age of fifty seven in 1967. I too am fifty seven now and despite having trod the same path of mass politics as him, am still alive and have done precious little in comparison!! Lohia needs to be remembered today because he fought relentlessly against the corrupt dominance of the Indian National Congress and his mobilisation strategies are extremely valid today. 
He is not much known outside the Indian socialist circle which itself has become very limited. A cursory search on the net does not reveal much with Wikipedia having an extremely brief entry. He was one of the founding members of the caucus of the Congress Socialist Party within the Indian National Congress in 1934 along with Jayaprakash Narayan and Acharya Narendra Dev. Jawaharlal Nehru encouraged these young firebrands because he was busy cleverly "burning the candle at both ends" to counter the Conservatives in the Congress led by Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. He played the mentor to them and gave them much greater importance than the mass following they commanded. Presiding over the crucial Lucknow Annual Convention of the Congress party in 1936, held against the backdrop of the British beginning to devolve power to the Indians and the emerging possibility of independence, he not only espoused socialism as the solution to India's and the world's problems but also nominated three members of the Congress Socialist Party to the Congress Working Committee. In this way he both countered the Conservatives and also co-opted these firebrands into the leadership and deflected them from pursuing subversive mass mobilisational work. 

However, once their purpose of buttressing Nehru's position vis-a-vis the Conservatives within the Congress was served, the Socialists found themselves rejected in the same way as the Gandhians after independence. They severed their connections with the Congress and formed the independent Socialist Party in 1948. Following exemplary democratic principles they also resigned their seats in the legislative assembly of the United Provinces and sought re-election. The Congress then used its art of winning by hook or by crook developed earlier during the 1936 elections to defeat the Socialists and push them into the political wilderness. 
Ideally the Indian electoral system should have been based on proportional representation to accommodate the vast diversity in the socio-economic characteristics of the population. In this system political parties are allotted seats in the legislature in proportion to the votes that they get and so even small local parties who can get votes higher than a specified threshold can find representation in the legislature. There would thus have been scope for a thousand schools of thought to contend and bring to fruition a much more vibrant and diverse democratic culture than had obtained in British India. Instead the first past the post system was adopted in which the candidate getting the most number of the valid votes cast in a constituency is declared elected. This latter system was to the advantage of the Congress party which could get to rule unhampered on its own without the pulls and pressures of coalition governance that a system of proportional representation usually gives rise to and would certainly have in the diverse Indian context. So the first past the post electoral system of the British and American democracies, which the British had introduced to suit their own agenda of keeping the unruly masses at bay, was retained after independence giving the Congress an undue monopoly of power in the crucial first decade and a half of governance under the leadership of Nehru.
The first elections to the Lok Sabha held in 1951 saw the Congress winning just forty five percent of the total valid votes but as much as seventy five percent of the seats. Similarly in the second elections in 1957 the Congress won forty eight percent of the total valid votes and seventy five percent of the seats. In the third general elections of 1962 the Congress won forty five percent of the total valid votes and got seventy three percent of the seats. The second largest party by way of votes won in all these three elections was the Socialist Party but due to the fact that their support base was spread much thinner than the Congress' they could not win seats in proportion to their votes. In 1951 the Socialists got ten and a half percent of the total valid votes but only two and a half percent of the seats. This is to be contrasted with the Communist Party of India, which won only three and a half percent of the votes and a similar percentage of the seats because their mass base was of a concentrated nature. 
Right from the first general elections in 1951 money power, muscle power and the state machinery were used to vitiate the sanctity of the electoral process in such a way that there was little chance of an ethical person being able to win elections. Both the Socialists and the Communists lost out because of this in most areas except in a few niches where they were in such great mass strength that they could effectively counter the electoral mal practices of the Congress. Losing out on state power in a poor post-colonial country like India with an underdeveloped economy and civil society and an over-developed state apparatus meant losing out on everything as the state was the main collector and commander of resources and distributor of largesse. Control of state power also provided the Congress with the opportunity to get massive financial contributions from the industrialists - the nascent Indian capitalist class, in exchange for policies and programmes favourable to them. This further reduced the chances of the Socialists or the Communists of winning elections. Even when the Communists despite mountainous hurdles did manage to cobble together a government in Kerala, the first democratically elected Communist government in the world, Nehru threw all political scruples to the wind and dismissed the government in 1959 to impose Central rule in the state. Defections were engineered with the dangling of sops to win away elected representatives and their supporters. Thus there was a continuous exodus of workers and leaders from among the Socialists and Communists to the Congress.
The net result was that both the Socialists and Communists got effectively sidelined in the Nehru era and parliament lost its capacity to act as a check on governance, which increasingly became of a strong centrist nature shedding even the little formal federalism that had been provided for in the Constitution. The extent of the Congress hegemony can be gauged from the fact that the first no-confidence motion against Nehru's government was moved only in the year 1963, all of sixteen years after independence by Ram Manohar Lohia, of which more later. Nehru became the supreme leader as head of both the government and the Congress party ruthlessly removing those who tried to stand up to him in opposition by overt and covert means and consciously promoting weak politicians without much mass following as the chief ministers in the states.  A patron-client relationship was set up beginning with Nehru at the top and a whole sycophantic pyramid going down to the lowest workers at the grassroots level all trying to dispense state favours.
The utter failure of the Indian state in bettering the lot of the millions of its poor citizens due to this unholy nexus between ruling politicians, industrialists, feudal lords and the bureaucracy and its devious attempts to camouflage this became apparent towards the end of the Nehru era itself when Dr Ram Manohar Lohia (He did his Phd from the Humboldt University on "Salt Taxation in India" and so was very knowledgeable about public finance) moved the famous first no-confidence motion against the Congress government in 1963. He alleged that whereas Rs 25,000 was being spent daily on Nehru the poor person was earning barely 3 annas or about 20 paise a day. The government response was that according to the estimates of the Planning Commission the average daily earning of a person were 15 annas or 95 paise and not 3 annas. In one of the most moving and well-researched of rebuttals in the history of Indian parliamentary debates Dr Lohia showed how the Planning Commission had arrived at its estimate by averaging the earnings of the richest people in the country with that of the poorest while his own estimate was based on a sample of only the poorest people of the country who constituted seventy per cent of its population. Member after member from the opposition who had been listed to speak on the motion gave up their time to allow Dr Lohia to put forth his case, which ruthlessly unmasked the reality of mis-governance and mal-development that Nehru's penchant for modern industrial development at the expense of rural sustainability and equity had led to. The "three anna - fifteen anna debate", as it came to be called, shook the complacency of the Nehruvian establishment for the first time in parliament and was to be a precursor of the eventual decline of the Congress party later. 
Dr Ram Manohar Lohia's greatest contribution was in the conduct of mass politics. He had stressed that jails were the best finishing schools for the people and activists of social movements and so they should be filled up to bursting in the course of civil disobedience actions  against the unjust laws and policies of the State. "Civil disobedience is armed reason" and "Jail Bharo" or filling up jails is its main weapon he said. While ridding the masses of the fear of incarceration, filling up jails en masse simultaneously stretches the state's disciplining power to its limits. The mass jail bharo programme advocated by Dr Lohia is a potent strategy for fighting the state but it requires that the masses and activists learn to make the most of their sojourns in jail to strengthen their understanding of political economy instead of treating them as avoidable aberrations. Unfortunately with his premature death the Socialist Party lost an able leader and even though his example did produce many militant socialists, with time the edge of this militancy has been largely blunted. 
We in the Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath tried to follow in his footsteps and for quite some time did a lot to fill up jails. However, with time our edge too got blunted in the face of the powerful state and so its been close to two decades since I last went to prison!! But the blueprint provided by Dr Lohia is still there and I am sure some day in the near future it will come in handy when a militant mass movement for justice once again takes root.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Injustice Against a People's Judge

The sordid story of injustice perpetrated against a Dalit Judge who stood up for the rights of the oppressed as reported by Dr Goldy George

Who is Prabhakar Gwal?
Prabhakar Gwal has been born in a Ganda community in a small village namely Nanakpali, near Saraipali of Mahasamund district. A community and region which has a history of bonded labour He has come up through all the pains his parents faced and bore the burden of the social system of caste in every day life from his childhood. After completing his early studies, he joined for law and become a lawyer. He practiced for 10 years after which he joined the judicial service in 2006. Life as an untouchable has given him the orientation on socio-cultural and political patterns of Indian society, which reflected in his tenure as a judge.

Gwal had reputation of an upright judge who had become an eyesore for the powerful politicians and bureaucrats, as he took cognisance of corruption related complaints and took strong action. He has questioned the manner in which the police have been indiscriminately arresting tribals in the conflict zones of Chhattisgarh.

What was his crime for the termination?
Gwal came into limelight after his remarkable judgement in which he sentenced five persons to six years imprisonment each in a case relating to leakage of question papers of PMT, being conducted by Chhattisgarh Professional Examination Board or Vyapam, in 2011. He passed the order as Additional Chief Judicial Magistrate Bilaspur.

In August 2015 he passed orders for to file an FIR and subsequent investigation into the role of the then SP and current IG of Raipur, Deepanshu Kabra and another police officer for their role in attempting to suppress evidence in the case. After this, an attempt was made to intimidate him by a local BJP MLA who had been a subordinate of the SP.

He has had a history of exposing corrupt officials and politicians. While Gwal was posted in Bilaspur, he had ordered an inquiry against government officials and Police officers, for the infamous ‘Bhadaura Land-Scam’. The land scam is known for involvement of a senior minister of BJP (Amar Agrawal). Similarly, he had ordered for inquiry of Bilaspur RTO officials. He was then transferred to Raipur, where he rejected to accept Closure Report in the case of IPS Rahul Sharma’s suicide.

Gwal had filed a complaint of intimidation against the BJP MLA and DeepanshuKabra in his personal capacity at the local police station. After this all hell broke loose and instead of action against the BJP MLA and Kabra, the High Court issued a show cause notice to Gwalwhich claimed that he has violated rules under C.G. Civil Service Conduct Rule, 1965, under which they claimed that he was required to seek permission of the High Court before filing such an FIR against the BJP MLA and the police officer. An adverse order was passed against him without any inquiry and his one-year annual increment was cancelled as penalty.
  
As a punishment, Gwal was transferred to Sukma district as CJM, in Bastar division. In September 2015, he took charges where he was subjected to unfair treatment by police and administration right from the beginning. The police and local administration did not provide him the usual security allocated for judges in conflict areas. In his tenure as a judge in Sukma, he realised early on how the police were carrying out large scale arrests and surrenders of what seemed to be innocent Adivasis. Not only did he conduct fair and speedy trials, he also brought to the notice of the higher judiciary the conduct of the police in Bastar region.

In keeping with his fearless attitude and his adherence to the facts and the law, Gwal also passed orders indicting a school in Sukma district for taking inordinately high fees. After he took cognizance in this case he received a call (of which he has an audio recording) from the District Collector who said that he should consult him before passing such judgments. After receiving this call, Gwal wrote to the District Judge and Chief Justice of Chhattisgarh, notifying them about the phone call from Collector where he explained that there was an attempt to interfere in judicial process and to influence the court. No action was taken upon his complaint. Instead he received multiple show cause notices as a response to his complaints against some of the sitting judges in the lower judiciary.

This was because this upright and dutiful judicial officer would insist on asking the name, age, village, father’s name and all relevant details of those arrested; mostly poor and innocent Adivasis who were produced before him. Rather than accepting the regular practice till then of permanent warrants produced by the police which contained no other details other than the name of the arrestee, Gwal chose to stick to procedure. He would also make it difficult for the police by cross examining about the alleged seizures including weapons and their activities. When it became obvious that the police could not establish any crime against those arrested, he would conclude that those arrested are ordinary villagers. Gwal went to the extent of communicating directly to those arrested through a Gondi interpreter, the language the arrestee understood.

This judge was so fearless that he would term the arrests of thousands of people being produced before him as Maoists as fake arrests; he wrote to the District Judge and even Director General of Police Kalluri that the police is implicating innocent people. He went to the extent of issuing warnings to Thanedars that he would send them to jail if they framed innocent people.

In short, the BJP-led government in Chattisgarh prepared an all-out war pro-people officials and Prabhakar Gwal turned out to be a victim of the nefarious design. The people of Bastar viewed a ray of hope in Judge Prabhakar Gwal, in otherwise bleak scenario of displacement and large scale repression. In a conflict zone like the Bastar, where due systems and guarantees, and law and order have been completely torn off, it needs a great amount of courage to challenge the vested interests and powerful sections to remain independent in a polarised atmosphere. The casual removal of a district judge, in contravention of procedure appears to reveal the interference of the government and the police in the judiciary to the worst.

The Termination Process
On the April 4, 2016 Judge Prabhakar Gwal received an automated message on his phone. He was in fact removed by an order of the High Court on April 1, 2016. The message said he had been dismissed from his post as Chief Judicial Magistrate, Sukma, Chhattisgarh in ‘public interest.’ The official letter, that he later received, stated that the State Government on the recommendation of the full bench of the High Court of Chhattisgarh had dismissed him under Article 311 (2) of the Indian Constitution. The order stated no reasons or charges for his dismissal apart from that his removal was in public interest. Prior to his dismissal, Gwal had faced a series of irregular transfers; show cause notices, though what lead to this dismissal is still unclear.

The Present Crisis
Prabhakar Gwal’s plight did not end up with his termination. His woes continued to haunt him on a consistent basis. Life is too difficult for him and he is a person of integrity and self respect that he would not express it to anyone in the world. Many of his dues have either not been provided or got entangled in procedural circus. Financial crisis is haunting him day in and day out as the day-to-day expense is turning out to be a serious affair. His two children studying in schools are at the verge of being thrown off the school. He appeal in the High Court has been dismissed. This is the context under which this appeal comes.

I appeal to you to express your support and solidarity in terms of –
a)      Legal support to pursue his case in higher forums and courts
b)     Financial support for children’s education and his personal support

Kindly contact him directly on the number and have further discussion about his case +919479270390+919826116714 prabhakar.gwalcg@gmail.com  
I am also hereby providing the bank details of Mr. Prabhakar Gwal in case you want to come up with some sort of financial support. No more 

PRABHAKAR GWAL
State Bank of India
30034101019
SBIN0002894

For further details please follow the links listed below

Monday, September 18, 2017

Cleaning The World to Make it Better

The first two things that I had to do on reaching Alirajpur in 1985 to work among the Bhil Adivasis was to learn their language and also improve my Hindi. Learning of the Bhili language had to be done by speaking it with the Bhils since it was an oral language without any written literature. Hindi, however, had a rich literature so just speaking it with others would not do and I had to read to be able to not only speak in it but also write it as given the inability to read and write of most Bhils at that time, we activists had to shoulder the responsibility of written communication on their behalf. Since as a Bengali, my Hindi was limited to what I had read of it as my third language in school upto class eight, I had a lot of catching up to do!!
I am a voracious reader so reading by itself was not a problem but at that point of time I was a diehard Marxist, even if an unorthodox one and also paradoxically a Vedantist and so deeply into Upanishadic spiritualism!! So literature that appealed to me at that point of time was that which had a proletarian political tinge or a spiritual flavour and steered clear of romance. I read many of the proletarian classics in Hindi by Premchand, Renu, Rahi Masoom Raza, Balraj Sahni, Yashpal and the like. But that was all prose and as we all know one's literary education in a language is not complete without reading and appreciating poetry. Hindi poetry, however, is dominated by romance and so initially I did not find anyone who could pique my interest, even such modern greats like Harivansh Bacchan and Mahadevi Verma. Then slowly I got to know the proletarian poets, Nagarjun, Sarveshwar Dayal Saxena, Adam Gondvi and Dushyant Kumar. However, the poet who really inspired me with his explosive mix of content, style and form was Gajanan Madhav Muktibodh. I have no hesitation in saying that I would not have been what I am today without having read him. This happens to be Muktibodh's centenary year and I feel the least I can do is to celebrate the lyrical power of this great poet.

I started the celebration of Muktibodh's centenary by first planning a consultancy that came my way by putting in it a trip to Sheopur which is his birth place. This is a small town in the northern part of Madhya Pradesh that was once a small princely state owing allegiance to the Scindias in Gwalior. Consequently, there was a small community of Maharashtrians there into one family of which Muktibodh was born in 1917. There is an active group there that researches Muktibodh's poetry and keeps his memory alive. After that I went back to a renewed reading of his poems which I have not done much of after the initial reading more than three decades ago. How things change over time. The context has changed considerably over the past three decades and I found that those of his poems which impress me now are not those that had inspired me earlier. Without much ado let me quote one such poem that now ranks for me as one of his best -

मैं तुम लोगों से दूर हूँ

मैं तुम लोगों से इतना दूर हूँ
तुम्हारी प्रेरणाओं से मेरी प्रेरणा इतनी भिन्न है
कि जो तुम्हारे लिए विष है, मेरे लिए अन्न है।

मेरी असंग स्थिति में चलता-फिरता साथ है,
अकेले में साहचर्य का हाथ है,
उनका जो तुम्हारे द्वारा गर्हित हैं
किन्तु वे मेरी व्याकुल आत्मा में बिम्बित हैं, पुरस्कृत हैं
इसीलिए, तुम्हारा मुझ पर सतत आघात है !!
सबके सामने और अकेले में।
( मेरे रक्त-भरे महाकाव्यों के पन्ने उड़ते हैं
तुम्हारे-हमारे इस सारे झमेले में )

असफलता का धूल-कचरा ओढ़े हूँ
इसलिए कि वह चक्करदार ज़ीनों पर मिलती है
छल-छद्म धन की
किन्तु मैं सीधी-सादी पटरी-पटरी दौड़ा हूँ
जीवन की।
फिर भी मैं अपनी सार्थकता से खिन्न हूँ
विष से अप्रसन्न हूँ
इसलिए कि जो है उससे बेहतर चाहिए
पूरी दुनिया साफ़ करन के लिए मेहतर चाहिए
वह मेहतर मैं हो नहीं पाता
पर , रोज़ कोई भीतर चिल्लाता है
कि कोई काम बुरा नहीं
बशर्ते कि आदमी खरा हो
फिर भी मैं उस ओर अपने को ढो नहीं पाता।
रिफ्रिजरेटरों, विटैमिनों, रेडियोग्रेमों के बाहर की
गतियों की दुनिया में
मेरी वह भूखी बच्ची मुनिया है शून्यों में
पेटों की आँतों में न्यूनों की पीड़ा है
छाती के कोषों में रहितों की व्रीड़ा है

शून्यों से घिरी हुई पीड़ा ही सत्य है
शेष सब अवास्तव अयथार्थ मिथ्या है भ्रम है
सत्य केवल एक जो कि
दुःखों का क्रम है

मैं कनफटा हूँ हेठा हूँ
शेव्रलेट-डॉज के नीचे मैं लेटा हूँ
तेलिया लिबास में पुरज़े सुधारता हूँ
तुम्हारी आज्ञाएँ ढोता हूँ।

Muktibodh's poetry gained in popularity and critical acclaim only after his untimely demise at the age of 47 in 1964 with the publication of his first anthology "Chand Ka Muh Teda Hai" or "The Face of the Moon is Crooked" in the same year. Surprisingly despite his continued popularity and the respect that he holds, very few of his poems have been translated into English and I could not immediately get hold of a suitable translation apart from the atrocious one done by Google!! So perforce I have to provide a translation of this poem myself so that I can convey why it is so appealing to me in the present context and give some idea of Muktibodh's genius to English speaking readers even if I haven't been able to do much justice to it!!

I AM FAR FROM YOU

I am so far from you
My inspirations are so different from yours
That what is poison for you is food for me

In my friendlessness my constant companionship,
In my loneliness the hands of comradeship,
Are of those whom you consider to be the dregs
But it is they who are mirrored in my pained heart
And so you continuously attack me!!
In public and in private.
(The pages of my blood filled Epic fly
In this fracas between you and I)

I wear the dust and waste of failure
Because wealth is available on the spiral stairs
through cheating and lying
But I have run on the straight tracks of life.
Even so I am angry with my righteousness
Unhappy with the poison
Because we need to be much better than what we are
We need janitors to clean the world
And I am unable to be a janitor
But everyday someone inside me shouts
That no work is bad
Provided that the person is good
Even so I can't push myself towards that.

In the world of movement outside that of refrigerators, Vitamins and Radiograms
That hungry girl child of mine is there in nothingness
In my intestines there is the pain of the small
In the cells of my chest is the shame of the deprived

Suffering surrounded by nothingness is the truth
The rest is all an unreal impractical lie
There is only one truth
That is only a continuous pain

I am an outcaste
lying under a Chevrolet-Dodge
in oily clothes repairing the parts
bearing your orders.

Like all great poetry this one too has many meanings and I will leave it to the readers to enjoy this poem and if interested read more of Muktibodh's poetry and the vast literarcy appreciation of his oevre. But what comes out clearly is its strong criticism of the caste ridden society in India that has been one of the main factors in preventing socio-economic justice for the majority. In the current context of our country literally being drowned in municipal waste I particularly like the mention of the fact that we need janitors to clean this world and make it better but that we, even those of us who reject caste, are not prepared to take up the role of janitors whether in the real or the figurative sense.

 



Monday, September 11, 2017

The Vernacular Killing Fields

Frankly I had never heard of Gauri Lankesh before she was assassinated. I say assassinated because there is surely a political undertone to such a planned killing and it is unlikely that it was done due to personal enmity. However, I have not only heard but also read her divorced husband Chidanand Rajghatta who is the New York correspondent of the Times of India. This huge difference in visibility between the two underlines like nothing else the insecurity that bedevils the vernacular in this country not only in the sphere of journalism but in every sphere because of the domination of English.
When I learnt that she was the editor and publisher of the Kannada print magazine Gauri Lankesh Patrike the first thing I wanted to know was how was it doing financially because running a print magazine has become a very difficult proposition these days, especially in the vernacular. A little digging revealed that the magazine was not making enough from its sales of about 15,000 copies and had to be cross subsidised by earnings from publications of books and also through writing in English by Gauri for other papers and magazines. Since the magazine was a hard hitting people's magazine it did not carry any advertisements, which are the lifeline of tabloids and even of the very high brow Economic and Political Weekly, so that Gauri could retain her editorial independence. Neither was the Patrike funded by philanthropists or capitalists like say the Wire, Scroll, Catchnews and such new internet magazines that are anti establishment are. Indeed Gauri Lankesh Patrike was the successor to the highly successful Lankesh Patrike launched in 1980 by her father P. Lankesh which at its peak had a circulation of 2.5 Lakhs and a readership of 4 million. It had a distinctly pro-people leaning but after Lankesh's death in 2000 and especially after internet news began catching on its influence and circulation have declined. Lankesh's writings remain influential still and it is mainly by selling these in the form of books and also publishing guide books that Gauri Lankesh was keeping the magazine afloat. 
Vernacular journalism as I have seen it at close quarters in Madhya Pradesh is a killing field. The stringers are mostly part time scribes and have to survive by publishing trash or extorting money from the corrupt in addition to holding down a distributorship of the magazine or daily for which they are stringers and they also have to collect advertisements. Those stringers who try to be honest and do fact finding to expose corruption are targeted and sometimes killed. It is revealing that all the fifteen or so journalists, including Gauri and Ramchander Chhatrapati who exposed Baba Gurmeet Ram Rahim , killed since the turn of the century are from the vernacular press. So on the one hand it is difficult to make ends meet as a vernacular scribe and on the other one has to put one's life on the line if one wants to do honest anti establishment reportage. 
Makes me wonder whether English isn't the worst curse that the British colonialists have foisted on us!! When I first came to Alirajpur I gave up writing in English altogether and read extensively in Hindi to improve my writing in it. For ten long years I did not write in English at all. Then when it came to earning money to survive, it turned out that there was next to nothing for writing in Hindi. We used to publish a monthly magazine called "Nai Chetna" in Alirajpur and I tried to survive and raise funds by selling this for some time!! It was a futile effort as it was only when I did research reports or evaluations in English that I would get paid heftily. It is the same as with journalism. Like Gauri funded her vernacular journalism by writing in English on the side so also have I been funding the vernacular activism of the Bhils, whose language incidentally is much worse off than Hindi and despite many efforts still does not have a magazine or daily, by researching and writing in English. In fact I got a prestigious fellowship for promoting literature in the Bhili language but all the proposals and reports of the work that I did were written in English!!
Gauri was a journalist writing in English when after her father's death in 2000 she took a conscious decision to quit that to take forward P. Lankesh's legacy of advertisement free Kannada journalism. It was a brave step which was reaching its end as it was becoming more and more difficult to sustain the magazine without advertisements and she was planning a Diwali issue for which advertisements would be sought. Her assassination is all the more tragic not just because of the silencing of a liberal and activist voice but because it comes at a time when honest vernacular journalism is in serious financial trouble and it has lost one of its accomplished practitioners who might have found a way out of this morass. 

Monday, September 4, 2017

The Last Breakfast

One of the most heart wrenching pictures in recent years, from the point of view of mass people's movements for justice in this country, is this one below in which Medha Patkar is breaking the fast that she had launched to secure just rehabilitation for the remaining affected people of the Sardar Sarovar dam. She broke the fast not because she succeeded in her objective but because it had become clear that the Supreme Court of India would not stand by the movement for justice of the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) anymore.
The NBA has launched many agitations and legal actions since 2000, when the Supreme Court  lifted the stay on the construction of the Sardar Sarovar dam and allowed it to proceed on the condition that the affected persons must be rehabilitated in accordance with the Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal Award. The actions, both at the ground level and in the High and Supreme Courts have mainly hinged on inadequate rehabilitation. Due to this the final installation and closure of the gates of the dam have been held back all these years. Finally in February this year the Supreme Court ordered that those landed people who had not been rehabilitated at all, around 700 families or so, would have to be given Rs 60 lakhs and the gates would be closed on July 31st.
This meant on the one hand that people like Bava Mahariya of Jalsindhi village and Surban of Kakrana village in Alirajpur district who had steadfastly refused to move from their village and not taken any compensation or land had Rs 60 lakhs deposited in their accounts while on the other thousands of landless people and those who had taken monetary compensation earlier for their land were left with very little apart from residential plots in inadequately developed resettlement colonies. The administration began issuing threats that people would be forcefully evacuated prior to July 31st if they did not move to the rehabilitation sites.
The NBA began mobilising these other people, who had not been compensated and rehabilitated properly, to resist their forcible displacement without adequate rehabilitation. Finally as the deadline of July 31st approached, Medha along with other displaced people began an indefinite fast to press for a just rehabilitation. The Government in its usual repressive way arrested the fasting activists after a few days and slapped criminal charges on them and put them into prison. Medha and others continued the fast inside the prison. In the meantime a petition was filed in the Supreme Court regarding the inadequacy of rehabilitation. However, the Supreme Court said that it had already decided the case and that complaints of inadequate rehabilitation if any should be filed individually by the concerned affected person in the High Court as no further public interest litigation would be entertained in the matter.
This closing of all doors finally forced the NBA to withdraw from the fast. The picture shows stalwarts of the mass movements of this country convincing Medha to break the fast in prison. The person offering the glass of juice is veteran Supreme Court lawyer Sanjay Parikh who has fought most of the cases for the NBA and other public causes pro bono. A major such case is that against the illegal clinical trials being conducted by foreign and Indian pharmaceutical companies in this country and another is the landmark victory for the Dongria Kondhs in Niyamgiri against Vedanta's bauxite mining. The others in the picture are Dr Sunilam a veteran socialist and activist fighting for farmers' rights, Arundhati Dhuru formerly of the NBA and now a gender activist, Akhil Gogoi a firebrand farmer's rights activists from Assam, Vinit Tiwari, an activist of the Communist Party of India who is at the forefront of the struggle against communalism and veteran activists of the NBA. All these activists have fought and are continuing to fight diligently against the oppression and repression of the Indian state but they know that it is difficult to succeed. Primarily because the state and those who run it have no conscience. Stokely Carmichael, the Afro-American Black Power Activist of the 1960s, once famously remarked that passive resistance of the kind being practiced by Martin Luther King can succeed only if the oppressor has some conscience which can be triggered into compassion by actions such as sit ins and fasts but that the American State had no conscience. The Indian state too has no conscience. Even the judiciary which did show some conscience for seventeen long years, finally decided to switch it off.
That is why this picture is so disturbing because it spells out the helplessness of activists fighting for justice in the face of state impunity and oppression. Medha had to stay imprisoned for more than a week after this breaking of her fast as the police had slapped serious charges like abduction and attempt to murder on her for which she was refused bail by the lower judiciary and so had to approach the High Court. There was a time earlier when Medha and other activists of the NBA had refused bail on being arrested on trumped up criminal charges and had eventually been freed on personal bonds. However, with age the resilience of Medha had declined. Once the great Indian socialist, Ram Manohar Lohia, had said that the only way to break the impunity and power of the state was to fill its prisons to bursting point with activists. However, not only did Lohia and the socialists or the communists not succeed in this but later on the activists of the mass environmental movements too have not succeeded and so prisons still remain a major instrument of oppression in the hands of the state. So instead of masses of people courting arrest in protest against the injustice being meted out on the NBA, eventually Medha had to seek bail and get out of prison.
I was reminded by the helplessness which is the underlying theme of this photo, of the plight of another stalwart of the NBA, Khajan, of Anjanwara village. He fought on against the dam refusing to take rehabilitation until he was the only one left in his village. Then just a year before he finally gave in and accepted land in Gujarat with a broken heart. After three decades of opposition and fighting and many trips to prison he finally had to opt for rehabilitation. Its not just the NBA but most other mass movements of the oppressed that all have to succumb to the power of the state and the forces who control it.
This inability on the part of social movements to break the wall of state power is a major reason for their not being able to sustain mass mobilisation against it. Another is the inability to convince the masses to fight in a sustained manner for their rights in accordance with an alternative vision of development and society. Reading a detailed new biography of Stalin last year, I came across an interesting bit of information that the Bolshevik party in its grassroots meetings used to promise the workers that bringing about the revolution would automatically put an end to their misery and this acted as an inspiration for them!! Today unfortunately we cannot offer such a simplistic solution to the problems that the masses face and yet that is what most people want - a simple solution to their problems!!
The many Godmen and people like Modi still offer such simple solutions to the people and carry themselves off for some time on the strength of their charisma. A charlatan like Gurmeet Ram Rahim can motivate lakhs of Dalit and backward class supporters to fight a pitched battle against the state against his conviction for rape while another charlatan, Modi, can subject the whole population to the utmost inconvenience of demonetisation and remain their darling, whereas a person like Medha has to break her fast in a prison surrounded by a few forlorn activists. The charlatans are backed by the wealthy and powerful who rejoice in the way these charlatans are able to take the masses for a ride and keep them away from the activists of social movements who would want them to revolt against the power of the wealthy on shoestring budgets. It's a catch 22 situation wherein people demand simple solutions which we can't give and so we are not able to build up big mass movements which in turn reduces our ability to give any solutions whatsoever. 
This is possibly the last time that Medha at least will be breaking a fast undertaken for justice given her advancing age and the final closing of gates of the Sardar Sarovar dam. its been a long and gruelling journey after all from the first fast that she undertook in 2001 for all of 21 days during the Sangharsh Yatra which has taken a heavy toll on her health. The Last Supper of Christ and his disciples did not put an end to the social revolution initiated at that time by them and so we too must hope that this last break of fast by Medha will only mark a passing phase and we can look forward to a day when justice shall prevail. Woh Subah Kabhi to Ayegi!! 

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

The Rigours of Indigeniety

Modern civilisation has reached such a stage that it is very difficult to remain indigenous anymore!! Our efforts to promote indigenous agriculture on our farm in Pandutalav is a case in point. For two years now we have collected indigenous seeds of rice, bajra (pearl millet), rawla (foxtail millet) jowar (sorghum), makka (maize) from remote adivasi areas where they are still being cultivated and tried to cultivate them on our farm during the monsoon crop. While maize has been a success the cultivation of the other grains has proved problematical. Primarily because we are the only ones cultivating them in Pandutalav where everyone else cultivates only hybrid varieties of maize. So the birds from early morning till evening come to feast on the ripening grain beginning with the bajra and rawla which are the first to ripen, followed by the jowar and rice. Last year there was no one to chase away these birds so very little could be harvested. Just enough for seeds for the next year and our own limited personal consumption came through.
This year we have gone about it in a more systematic manner. We have built a centre on the farm and there is an Adivasi couple who are expert in farming who are supervising our farming operations. Even so it is a very difficult task to keep the birds off the ripening bajra. Two scare crows have had to be planted in the bajra and a wire with empty tins has been tied to the scarecrow which has to be regularly pulled so that the empty tins bang against each other and make a noise. This is not enough, however, and so a slingshot has to be used to fling stones at the birds as Budibai is doing in the picture below.
Both Budibai and her husband Uttambhai have to take turns to keep the birds off the rawla and bajra all day. The Rawla has been harvested and within a week or so it will be the turn of the bajra and by then the jowar next to it will ripen followed by the rice. So for two months or so it is a daily exercise to ensure that the harvest does come in. What then does this do to the economics of indigenous grain production? It makes a big hole in it!! While there is still a fair amount of subsidy and marketing support for hybrid seed and chemical fertiliser based agriculture, there is none for indigenous agriculture. That is why, except for some remote hilly areas where it is difficult to transport fertilisers and the soil quality does not suit hybrid seeds, indigenous seeds are not being cultivated at all. So we are providing the subsidy to make it possible on our farm on a pilot basis.
To spread this kind of indigenous farming among the farmers nearby, they too will have to be subsidised to do so. Since there is very little likelihood that the Government is going to provide this subsidy, we will have to implement a project to do this and build up a big enough base of indigenous farmers so that a few years down the line indigenous farming can be revived in the area. In fact developing and establishing an indigenous and sustainable ecosystem of farming which is also climate change resilient, requires considerable investments in soil, water and forest conservation, composting and decentralised energy generation from biomass for post harvest processing.  This is a herculean task at present given the Government's support for chemical agriculture in collusion with the agricultural multinational corporations who rule the world of agriculture globally right from production to consumption.

Friday, August 25, 2017

A Foot Soldier of the Land Rights Movement

There are many ways in which protection of wildlife in this country coincides with the deprivation of Adivasis. The Palpur Kuno Wildlife Sanctuary situated in Sheopur district of Madhya Pradesh is a case in point. The sanctuary was notified in 1981 but Sahariya Adivasis continued to reside in the core area even after that. However, at the turn of the century it was decided at the national level to shift some of the lions from the Gir National Park in Gujarat where they were becoming over populated to Kuno as an alternative habitat. This prompted the Madhya Pradesh Government to initiate a programme to evacuate the core area of the Kuno sanctuary. Twenty four villages of Sahariya Adivasis were displaced and rehabilitated outside the sanctuary. As usually happens, the rehabilitation was not proper as only Rs 10 lakhs were sanctioned for each family which was inadequate. Thus, rigorous evaluation studies conducted by researchers have shown that there has been a fall in the living standards of the displaced Adivasis. Now there is a proposal to displace even more Adivasis because the wildlife experts feel that the area of the sanctuary will not be enough for the lions and cheetahs that are proposed to be introduced.
Even though the introduction of lions has been delayed due to the obstruction by the Government of Gujarat which does not want to part with any despite being faced with a serious over population problem and a lack of space for expansion in Gir, this will happen any time soon. The Madhya Pradesh Government has now decided to reintroduce lions from zoos and train them to adjust to the wild as it has got tired of waiting for the Gujarati lions. Once the lions come and then are followed by the cheetahs from Africa, then Kuno will become a hot spot for tourism. Land sharks from the cities, who are always a step ahead, have sniffed this opportunity and are zeroing in on Sheopur district to buy land beforehand at cheap prices close to the sanctuary that they can later sell to hoteliers. Legally the land of Adivasis cannot be bought by non-Adivasis but these land sharks are resorting to bribing their way through officialdom to buy the land without the Adivasis even knowing that they have lost title.
The Sahariyas are categorised as primitive tribes who are particularly distant from mainstream civilisation and so have been continually deprived of their lands even earlier by unscrupulous local feudal elements and trader non-Adivasis. Now even bigger crooks from Delhi and Punjab are moving in.
The only problem for the land sharks is that the Ekta Parishad, a mass organisation fighting nationally for land rights is active in the area and has been pro-actively taking up the cause of the Sahariyas for over three decades now. So the affected Adivasis come to the Ekta Parishad office in Sheopur with their woes and get both legal and organisational support to fight the land sharks.
Activist Jaisingh Jadon has led the fight for the Sahariyas in Sheopur. Jaisinghbhai is a non-Adivasi from the area who was inducted into the Ekta Parishad as a young man more than two decades ago and has since been working full time for the rights of the Adivasis. At that time there were no Sahariyas who could work as activists though now there are many due to the work put in by Ekta Parishad and the Mahatma Gandhi Seva Ashram. The latter is an NGO set up by the legendary Gandhian Subbaraoji who has spent more than fifty years conducting youth training programmes across India. Jaisinghbhai was inspired to dedicate his life to the cause of Adivasi rights after attending one of Subbaraoji's training camps.
Recently I had an opportunity to visit Sheopur and meet up with Jaisinghbhai after a long time. He is out of his house by 6.30 am every day on his motorcycle and off to the field as he says that people have to be buttonholed in their houses as they get up from sleep!! He then comes back to the Ashram office in Sheopur around 10 am to supervise the various projects that are underway. One such project is a subsidised canteen at the bus stand in Sheopur. This is a Government of Madhya Pradesh project and the Ashram has taken it on because it provides cheap food to the poor visitors to Sheopur who are mostly Sahariya Adivasis. On any given day there are fifty or so members of the Ekta Parishad in Sheopur on some work or other and they benefit from the subsidised canteen which sees a clientele of 300 or so every day.
The land rights movement of the Ekta Parishad has sustained for three decades and has had many achievements because of people like Jaisinghbhai who are the dedicated foot soldiers of this mass organisation.