The name Anaarkali in the present context has many meanings - Anaar symbolises the anarchism of the Bhils and kali which means flower bud in Hindi stands for their traditional environmentalism. Anaar in Hindi can also mean the fruit pomegranate which is said to be a panacea for many ills as in the Hindi idiom - "Ek anar sou bimar - One pomegranate for a hundred ill people"! - which describes a situation in which there is only one remedy available for giving to a hundred ill people and so the problem is who to give it to. Thus this name indicates that anarcho-environmentalism is the only cure for the many diseases of modern development! Similarly kali can also imply a budding anarcho-environmentalist movement. Finally according to a legend that is considered to be apocryphal by historians Anarkali was the lover of Prince Salim who was later to become the Mughal emperor Jehangir. Emperor Akbar did not approve of this romance of his son and ordered Anarkali to be bricked in alive into a wall in Lahore in Pakistan but she escaped. Allegorically this means that anarcho-environmentalists can succeed in bringing about the escape of humankind from the self-destructive love of modern development that it is enamoured of at the moment and they will do this by simultaneously supporting women's struggles for their rights.
Tuesday, December 10, 2013
Sunday, November 24, 2013
The first revelation is the sexual assault amounting to rape, as defined in the amended Section 376 of the Indian Penal Code, by Tarun Tejpal, the editor and part owner of Tehelka magazine, on one of his employee woman journalists. There has been a reaction from many well meaning individuals and social activists that this is an attempt to target the courageous journalism of Tehelka. However, in the aftermath of this revelation there have been many other revelations which show that not only was this not a one off affair and that Tejpal has sexually assaulted many other women and destroyed them earlier but that Tehelka has been killing many of its investigative stories after coming to an understanding with the Corporations who had come under the scanner of its journalists. Moreover, the company that runs Tehelka is majority owned by a businessman who has an empire valued at over Rs 10,000 crores extending from real estate to steel to a poultry chain on the basis of which he is known as the "Chicken King" of India. On the strength of this he has been elected to the Rajya Sabha as a Member of Parliament on a Trinamool Congress ticket and is the main person for the party in the Northern region. For the past three years Tehelka has been organising the Think Fest in Goa, during which this year the sexual assault took place, which has been sponsored by big Corporations and has had many reactionaries and dubious personalities as its invitees, even though it has been touted as a "forum where the brightest brains worldwide participate". This means that with time, Tehelka had lost its initial thrust for courageous journalism that exposed many wrongdoings of the establishment and also supported the fight of the oppressed for justice as it began compromising on its ideals to garner funds from Corporations and businessmen.
The second revelation is that of a media sting operation carried out on some of the candidates of the Aam Aadmi Party which showed them as being ready to accept heavy cash donations from unnamed sources without receipts for rendering favours to them. Even though it has been proved that the sting video is a doctored cut and paste job and the Election Commission has given the party a clean chit, the danger of such attempts at buying the party members will be ever present.
The common point at issue here is the financial sustainability of the fight for justice. Whether it is people centred journalism or political activism, the costs of carrying out these activities and the sustenance of those carrying them out are very high these days. Now the people in whose interest these are carried out are so poor and oppressed that they do not have the wherewithal to either buy the products of such journalism or contribute to such political action. In most cases, therefore, such anti-establishment journalists and political activists have to live on the margins and eke out a precarious existence. Tehelka and the Aam Aadmi party tried to break this and make a splash in a big way. Tehelka succeeded for some time but eventually it had to make compromises so as to secure funds from Corporations and businessmen who have the money and began slipping on its ideals. The Aam Aadmi Party too has been able to initially get a fairly good amount of funds but they are not enough to sustain the operations of the party for a long period of time. Even now there are a huge number of people who are working voluntarily for the party and all the funds garnered are being spent on the huge costs of the election campaign. For a long drawn struggle against the establishment, because there is very little likelihood of the Aam Aadmi Party coming to power in the Delhi assembly even if it does manage to win a few seats, though that too is doubtful, there has to be a more sustainable financial plan than just subsisting on a wing and a prayer as it is doing now. Many of those who have donated to the party have done so in the fond hope that it will indeed come to power or at least get a significant number of seats and if this does not materialise as is most likely then there will be a great fall in the donation rate. Most other parties that began from humble and principled roots too have faced this problem of long term financial sustainability and like Tehelka they have fallen back on donations from Corporations and businessmen in lieu of favours done to them. Thus, for the Aam Aadmi Party too, given the haste with which it has been formed a similar danger exists.
Even when the goals are not as ambitious as they are for the Aam Aadmi Party, as in the case of our own organisation, we cannot carry out our modest programme of action without external funding support as the people we work for and with are so poor that they can barely make ends meet. Therefore, our programme of action currently is not as radical as it could be and is definitely much less than what it has been in the past when we were operating almost exclusively without institutional funding and with great sacrifices being made by the activists. However, after some time such frugal and financially uncertain living becomes impossible and so many left for other more financially secure professions and those of us who are left are taking much more money to do the work we used to do earlier almost for free. Aiming big for radical social change is all very fine but given the fact that the poor do not have money and the purse strings are firmly in the hands of the capitalists, it is a little naive to expect that the latter will loosen them without extracting their pound of flesh in the form of a jettisoning of their ideals and radicalism by those who ask them for money!!!
Friday, November 15, 2013
When I first met them in 1985 they had no land of their own and were cultivating the side of a hill owned by the Forest Department in violation of the provisions of the Indian Forest Act 1927. This is one of the many colonial statutes that have been retained after independence. It makes the Adivasis who are mostly forest dwellers thieves in their own backyard. In Alirajpur during the 1950s, when the forests of the area were being assimilated into the Forest Department after the accession of the princely states into the Indian Union, the Adivasis were deprived of title to most of the land they were cultivating and left with only small parcels of land. The problem was compounded by the fact that the Adivasis practiced shifting agriculture at the time, had no recorded title to land and were not only illiterate but totally ignorant about the complexities of a modern centralised State system. The little bit of land that the Adivasis did get soon lost its fertility and they had to continue tilling that land as they could not shift to a new piece of land anymore. This combined with the loss of access to the forest for other uses and the penetration of the market economy and its frontmen, moneylending traders, soon pushed the Adivasis to the edge. So the Adivasis had no option but to illegally cultivate forest land by bribing thie Forest Department officials.
This is what Guthia and Chagdibai were also doing when I first met them. Initially the people in Attha and nearby villages used to pay bribes and also bear physical chastisement from the Department staff and there was no record that they were cultivating the land. Then they got organised under the Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath from 1983 onwards and began fighting for their rights. However, once the Adivasis refused to pay the bribes, the Forest Department increased its legal and illegal opposition. On one occasion the Forest Department staff raided Guthia and Chagdibai while they were sowing the seed on their farm. Guthia and Chagdi somehow managed to free his bullocks and flee with them but they had to leave behind the plough and seeds which were confiscated by the Forest Staff and kept in another Adivasi's house as they went further inside the village to raid someone else. Guthia came running to the KMCS office and told me what had happened. I immediately told him to take me to the Adivasi's house where the confiscated plough and seeds had been kept and we recovered them and put them back in Guthia's house. Then Guthia, Chagdi, another Adivasi and I went off to the police station in Bakhatgarh all of thirteen kilometers away by foot and lodged a complaint against the Forest Department staff for harassing Guthia and Chagdi. To cut a long story short over the past thirty years this couple has been at the forefront of the Adivasis' fight for justice in Alirajpur. However, the point of this post is not this tenacity in battle on their part but their exemplary work as natural resource conservationists.
Guthia and Chagdi along with other families in Attha have been building gully plugs and farm bunds to conserve the soil that gets eroded from the hillside and also planting trees, bamboos to improve the biomass availability. They pool their labour and are thus able to do a considerable amount of such hard conservation work. The picture below is of the new farm that Guthia and Chagdi have filled out in the gully next to their original farm that is even more productive.
Wednesday, November 6, 2013
First, let us see what are the prospects of the AAP. A few opinion polls have been published and broadcast which show that the AAP is going to put up a fairly strong showing in the forthcoming Delhi Legislative Assembly Elections. According to the latest opinion poll conducted by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies for CNN-IBN TV channel and The Week magazine the AAP will get between 19-25 seats, the same as the Congress, while the BJP will get 22-28 seats and so there will be a hung assembly. Arvind Kejriwal the leader of the AAP got the maximum votes of 25% of those polled as the most favoured for becoming the Chief Minister way ahead of the incumbent Sheila Dixit and the BJP leaders Vijay Goel and Harshvardhan. This is excellent by any standards but the only problem here like in the case of the earlier opinion polls conducted by other agencies is that the sample size is very small being only 2507 spread across 140 polling booths in 28 constituencies and the survey itself was conducted in just nine days. The one done by Cicero Associates and Consultants does have a large sample size of 34,425 respondents but there seems to be evidence that it is an out and out conjob.
Now the appropriate simple random sample size for a survey to yield statistically significant results that can be taken to be a probable indicator of actual outcomes in which the universe population is large enough for it to be possible to assume that it is a normal distribution is determined by three factors -
a). the estimated prevalence of the variable of interest – which is the percentage of people who vote in elections in this case as we are concerned with the voting behaviour of the population of Delhi. The total population size is not relevant because we have assumed it to be a normal distribution.
b). the desired level of confidence and
c). the acceptable margin of error.
Then, the simple random sample size required can be calculated according to the following empirical formula derived from the theory of normal distributions -
n= t² x p(1-p)/m², where
n = required sample size
t = confidence level at 95% (standard value of 1.96 for a normal distribution)
p = prevalence of voting in the study area which was 60% in the 2008 Vidhan Sabha elections in Delhi (standard value 0.60).
m = margin of error which is assumed to be 5% (standard value of 0.05)
thus n = 1.96*1.96*.6(1-.6)/(.05*.05) = 368
However the survey has to be a stratified one and not a simple one to take into consideration the fact that the population is not homogeneous and so the sample size has to be increased by a design factor for stratified sampling which is generally taken to be 1.5 and so we arrive at a figure of 553. This has to be increased by a further 5% to account for non-responses and other contingencies to get a final sample size of 580. However, this sample of respondents has to be surveyed in each of the seventy constituencies of Delhi and not spread across the whole of Delhi because then the sample size for each constituency becomes an absurdly low 8 respondents. Therefore for statistical significance the total sample size for the whole of Delhi should be 580*70= 40600. Moreover, each constituency has to be studied in detail beforehand to see what are the characteristics of the population in each polling booth so as to choose the stratified sample properly to reflect the population diversity. Obviously this preliminary exercise itself will be a pretty long drawn one and then the survey of 40,600 people also will take a lot of time. Finally the surveyors have to be well trained to discern frivolous answers.
Since such an elaborate survey is very costly and time consuming and requires a high level of expertise it is generally not done and what is done instead are cursory surveys like the one quoted above which have no statistical validity whatsoever and it remains a mystery as to why the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, a top notch research institution in India, which is adequately funded by the Government and various other institutions, is engaged in such fraudulent surveying for commercial purposes. This is why there is a move afoot, initiated by the Election Commission of India, to ban these surveys as they are more or less unreliable and have been so over the years. Though, to what extent they do influence actual voting in this country is a matter of debate.
Nevertheless, the achievement of the AAP so far is very good if one compares it with the performance of other people's movements in recent years that have tried to raise issues of corruption, injustice and unsustainable development but have never been able to come out from the margins of the mainstream electoral system. There is a tremendous groundswell of support for the AAP on the ground in various parts of Delhi and especially in the areas where low income people reside in very poor conditions. The party has also been able to muster a fair amount of financial, material and volunteer support, especially from the youth. Much, much more than many of the other mass movements for sustainable development and justice have been able to do. So let us assume that the above opinion poll predictions will be proved true and try and see what are the challenges that this will throw up before the AAP.
The AAP has stated that in the hung assembly situation that is predicted by the opinion poll quoted above, it will not support the other parties to form a Government because both the other parties will not agree to implementing the AAP's agenda of cleaning up corruption and providing cheap or free electricity and water to the people. This will mean that either the BJP and the Congress will have to form a coalition government together or there will have to be a re-election. Since the former is unlikely the latter prospect will loom large over the two mainstream parties. Since the BJP and the Congress will have spent huge amounts of money in the elections they will obviously try to avoid a re-election and the only way they can do this is by breaking the unity of the AAP and buying some of its elected legislators. So this is the first challenge that the AAP will face. All the candidates of the AAP are greenhorns in electoral politics and despite all the rhetoric of a prolonged screening process most of them cannot be assumed to be wedded wholeheartedly to the causes being espoused by the AAP. Thus, there is a real danger of their being bought over. This is what happened to many of the socialists, communists and other mass movement legislators earlier.
Secondly, even when parties formed from mass movements have come to power on their own, they have had to jettison their people friendly agenda once in power. Nehru famously had said that black marketeers would be hung by the lampposts once the Congress came to power in independent Inda but he did nothing of the sort and instead relied on the British colonial bureaucracy to use the colonial laws to oppress the people after independence. Later, all the other parties mentioned above have had to follow the Nehru line and use the colonial bureaucracy and laws which are still in place today to remain in power and favour the capitalists against the poor whom they ostensibly fought for. This is most evident in the case of the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha which were in the same situation as the AAP now is in. In fact even the Bolshevik Party which brought about the Russian Revolution soon found that it had to use the old Tsarist bureaucracy and capitalist modes of industrial organisation to sustain the system that it had inherited as total overthrow would have led to anarchy and dissolution and it ruthlessly put down all opposition from the vocal section of the workers and soldiers. Centralised systems have their own strong logic of perpetuating themselves and they do not let those who claim to change these systems drastically by seizing power in them, either through elections or through revolutions, to function according to their ideals at all. Not that this should be taken as a reason to not contest elections in a big way as the AAP is doing or not conduct revolutions like the Bolsheviks did.
However, it is important to keep this historical fact of slippage of mass movements from their ideals post electoral victory in mind. Mainly because many of the supporters and activists of the AAP including its leaders hold the view that they will not only come to power but that they will be able to implement their radical agenda once they do so. They are so busy living this dream that they do not have the time to think about why those who have so dreamed earlier have not succeeded and have instead become a part and parcel of the oppressive centralised systems they had initially set out to change. Generally the common people who vote in elections remain influential only during the short campaign prior to the elections and lose all power once the party they have voted for, comes to power. The leaders of the party then decide its future course and the probability is high that this will happen in the case of AAP also and the Aam Aadmi will find himself sidelined ( the Aam Aurat has been sidelined even before coming to power as only 7 of the 70 candidates of the AAP are women!!!).
Friday, November 1, 2013
Well, Remsingh learnt the ropes and became a capable field worker over the two years. Initially he would be intimidated by the Sarpanches and Panchayat Secretaries and was generally in awe of any Government official even a lowly contract teacher. However, slowly he developed the confidence to challenge Government officials and the elected representatives of the Panchayats. He had become an indispensable field worker of the organisation. Primarily because of the fact that he could read and write. There are many good grassroots activists of the organisation in the villages but due to the fact that they cannot read and write they find it difficult to deal with the bureaucracy. Most educated Bhil youth are not prepared to work as rights activists even for a salary and so it is very difficult to find anyone to work for the organisation as a full timer.
Then a few days ago Remsingh came and said he was leaving his job. He had got a job as a security guard in a private school for Rs 6500 a month and free education for one his children. Now once again we are left to dither along with a smaller team of workers. As one well wisher once said about the Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath, in the context of the fight to stop the construction of the Sardar Sarovar Dam - the organisation consisted of one and half persons who Quixotically took on the Indian Government and the World Bank at the same time.
Remsingh's departure made me ponder on the future of activism in this country. Given the difficulty of getting funds for such work it is not possible to pay much to full timers who work for justice for the deprived sections. Obviously the poor, for whom these activists work, cannot pay for these services that they desperately require. Governments quite naturally will not fund rights based activism as they are much more likely to put such activists behind bars. In fact both Government and Corporates have provided more options in academics from lowly contract teaching to the highest professorial jobs in universities to lure potential activists away from fighting for justice. Therefore both organic intellectuals from among the oppressed and middle class people these days, prefer to join academics than risk the uncertainties of a life of activism. So currently you have more people researching on people's movements than taking part in them as activists. After all if one can get a good remuneration sitting comfortably in an university as a teacher or researcher of people's movements and feel that one is contributing to a more just society then why would one bear the rigours of grassroots activism for a pittance? Thus, whether it is Remsingh who finds the job of a security guard more rewarding than the work of a field worker fighting for justice for the poor or a middle class youth who finds researching on people's movements more comfortable than actually fighting on the ground, the grass always is greener on the other side and the fight for justice continues to be fought with a skeleton staff!!!
Wednesday, October 30, 2013
One patchwork solution is to provide nutritional supplements to children through the Integrated Child Development Scheme in the Anganwadis and the Midday Meal Scheme in Schools and provide Nutrition Rehabilitation Centres for the treatment of the severely malnourished children who are on the verge of death. However, in remote areas this patchwork system also does not work. Recently there were deaths of five children in Vakvi village in Alirajpur due to there being so weak that their immune system did not work efficiently enough when they were struck by malaria. The Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath immediately brought the matter to the notice of the administration and a medical team was rushed to the village. The medical team first went by a particular route and could not reach the village because there was no motorable road to it from the Madhya Pradesh side. They had to then go via Gujarat to the village.
Given this sorry state of the State apparatus the KMCS undertakes its own nutrition rehabilitation programme wherein severely grade three malnourished children are identified and provided with nutritional supplements over an extended period of time to rehabilitate them. Below is the picture of Dhudhria in Akdia village at the beginning of the year when his weight was only 8.1 kgs when it should have been more than 9 kgs.
However thereafter the KMCS provided his family with support for feeding him well and explained the various measures that had to be taken to improve his nutritional level. As a result in September his weight had increased to 11.3 kgs. The difference in health is visible from the picture below.
These are all half measures and will not be able to solve the large scale problem of food scarcity that sits like a curse on the poor in this country and denies them nutritional justice. So the KMCS programme of action consists of improving the livelihoods of the people in Alirajpur so that they can access more food themselves without having to rely on doles from various Government or Non-Government agencies.
Saturday, October 26, 2013
Wednesday, October 16, 2013
In India there are many human rights organisations with the People's Union of Civil Liberties and the People's Union for Democratic Rights being the most famous. It is the smaller organisations which operate in areas and among people which are remote that lend depth and breadth to the human rights movement in this country. Many of these small organisations run on shoestring budgets powered by the energy of one or two individuals who have dedicated their lives to the cause of the deprived. This post is a tribute to one such stalwart, Kirity Roy, of the Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha (MASUM), a human rights organisation in West Bengal, who is pictured below.
Kirity has spent more than three decades taking up cases of custodial violence, custodial rape, torture & death, illegal detention and enforced disappearance from police custody, extra judicial killing and police ﬁrings. A concentrated effort to challenge the impunity of the State which severely restricts the freedom of individuals especially the marginalised poor through fact finding, documentation, public hearings and legal action primarily and sometimes even mass action. Not surprisingly he has often been targeted by the State and put behind bars himself and arraigned with many false cases. Even though his work is multi faceted one particular campaign of his deserves special mention because it is unique and no other organisation is doing this kind of work.
First a background has to be provided. Cow slaughter and export for slaughter is banned in India because the cow is considered to be holy by the Hindus. However, in neighbouring Bangladesh which is an overwhelmingly Muslim country beef is a major item of food and the hides of cows are in demand for processing into leather and leather products for export to the Western developed countries and so trade and slaughter of cows is legalised there. The demand for beef and hides in Bangladesh is much more than the indigenous supply there while the supply of cows is much more than the demand for beef and hides in India because this is met by the slaughter of buffaloes. Thus, a classical demand and supply mismatch of opposite kinds exists across the two countries and this has spawned a cross border trade in cows which is illegal in India but legal in Bangladesh.
There is currently a demand for two million cows from India and the trade value is US $ 1 billion. Thus, there are organised groups in both countries which bribe the police, the Border Security Force (BSF) and politicians and source cows from thousands of kilometers away and route them through the border between West Bengal and Bangladesh. However, since this trade is illegal the BSF has to show that it is trying to control it and this leads to repressive actions ranging from torture, rape and outright killing against people who smuggle the cows across in ones and twos without paying bribes or sometimes even after paying bribes. So ferocious is the repression of the BSF that the border has come to be called "The Wall of Death" with around fifty extra judicial killings of people every year and a total of more than a thousand killed so far. These people are the poor people residing on both sides of the border who in the absence of any sustainable occupation, take the risk of smuggling cows across. Here is a video of the inhuman behaviour of the BSF personnel
Friday, September 27, 2013
So I did not expect him to remember me from that brief meeting so many years ago and I was really surprised when he came up to me after a session in which I had intervened to counter something that one of the speakers had said and said how pleased he was to have met me after so many years. I was astounded to say the least. A person who had achieved so much academically and as an activist in the intervening period still remembered that I was around in a corner of the country he had visited so many years ago.
Immediately we got down to discussing the situation of grassroots struggles in this country. Jean confessed that he was pessimistic because all that he had thought would happen due to the passage of the good laws in favour of the poor had not happened and the bureaucracy and mainstream political parties were still eating away public money and depriving the poor. He said that his grassroots activism had come up against seemingly insurmountable barriers. Two of his colleagues at the grassroots in the fight to get MGNREGS implemented had been murdered by vested interests and this had set back the work of his organisation. He had resigned from the membership of the NAC because he found that it had lost its earlier cutting edge pro-people orientation. So both at the grassroots and at the policy level he felt that he had reached a dead end.
I, however, argued otherwise. I told him that the battle for justice is a long and hard one and one should have a great deal of patience and just peg away at moving forward by inches. Many great changemakers had come and gone and there had been many revolutions throughout history but given the power of the centralised State systems and the economic entities that controlled them the masses remained in poverty and deprivation. Instead of looking at 100 and feeling down that we had got only 10 marks we should look at 0 from where we started and feel up!! I told Jean that the Acts that had been passed in the new millennium had immensely helped work at the grassroots and now it is possible to use these to build up organisational work despite setbacks from time to time because it is possible to take the Government to court for not implementing these acts. So the fight for justice isn't as difficult as it was earlier and I gave him our own example in Western Madhya Pradesh. We had achieved much more in the last seven years after the passage of these new acts without once having had to go to prison than what we had achieved in the twenty years before that when we had gone to jail on many occasions demanding the things guaranteed in these acts!!! The struggle for rights is always a long one and the best attitude with which to approach it is that of a long distance runner.
Jean replied that this interaction with me had pepped him up and he said that he would visit Alirajpur some time soon to meet our colleagues there and get some tips from them on grassroots mobilisation. Now this is a great show of humility that is the true mark of a genius. Even when you have achieved a tremendous amount in life you still believe that you have not really done much and have yet to learn from others.