Anarcho-environmentalism allegorised

The name Anaarkali in the present context has many meanings - Anaar symbolises the anarchism of the Bhils and kali which means flower bud in Hindi stands for their traditional environmentalism. Anaar in Hindi can also mean the fruit pomegranate which is said to be a panacea for many ills as in the Hindi idiom - "Ek anar sou bimar - One pomegranate for a hundred ill people"! - which describes a situation in which there is only one remedy available for giving to a hundred ill people and so the problem is who to give it to. Thus this name indicates that anarcho-environmentalism is the only cure for the many diseases of modern development! Similarly kali can also imply a budding anarcho-environmentalist movement. Finally according to a legend that is considered to be apocryphal by historians Anarkali was the lover of Prince Salim who was later to become the Mughal emperor Jehangir. Emperor Akbar did not approve of this romance of his son and ordered Anarkali to be bricked in alive into a wall in Lahore in Pakistan but she escaped. Allegorically this means that anarcho-environmentalists can succeed in bringing about the escape of humankind from the self-destructive love of modern development that it is enamoured of at the moment and they will do this by simultaneously supporting women's struggles for their rights.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Technology and its Control

Technological innovation is undoubtedly one of the crucial aspects of the progress of civilisation. From the early use of stone tools and the discovery of fire, the human race has gradually improved its living conditions and countered to some extent the play of chance which rules in nature. Technology is important not only in improving economic and social life but also in the wielding of political power. Technology first created surpluses through agriculture and the domestication of animals which made human life less contingent on natural vagaries and also provided the leisure for further technological and human development. Once surpluses were created, however, private property also came into being and so the benefits of technology began to be differentially accessed in proportion to the individual’s wealth. Also it became necessary to provide security to accumulated private property. Thus, a considerable amount of research effort has thereafter gone into improving the technology of security provision simultaneously with the development of centralised state systems to ensure an oppressive order that could maintain a wealth differentiated socio-economic system. The control of technology, consequently began passing into the hands of a few and this process has been greatly accelerated with the advent of capitalism. Finally, imperialism resulted in further concentration of the control of technology and especially military technology. The imperialism of the Europeans was made possible by their superior naval technology initially and later it spread to other military spheres ending with nuclear and now remote and computer controlled smart warfare.
Another aspect of this control of technology is the neglect of people oriented technology that mostly uses renewable resources in a non-polluting and sustainable manner because such technology does not contribute to profit making in the same way as centralised extractive resource depleting and polluting technologies do. Moreover, technological research takes place to solve problems that affect the rich rather than the poor because the latter are not in a position to pay for the products that may be developed for their benefit. This is most visible in the sphere of pharmaceutical research where cancer, diabetes, heart disease and the like are heavily researched but diseases like malaria are not. No new antibiotic has been developed since the 1980s because there is a fear that the immense funds poured into developing a new antibiotic molecule will not be recovered by a mass prescription drug resulting from it.
It is in this context that we have to think about public control of technology and especially so in a country like India. The agricultural sector especially is hit by falling yields and rising economic and environmental costs due to the unsustainability of chemical external input agriculture including the unavailability of water. Similarly there is a crisis in the energy sector. There is a huge dependence on crude oil and coal which are a burden on the economy and the environment. There are enough simple technologies that can convert biomass into energy viably and the only challenge is to gear the agricultural and natural resource management systems to make this possible. This can provide renewable and comparatively less polluting energy not only for the rural economy but also for the urban industrial economy while completely obviating the need for external chemical fertilisers and pesticides and considerably reducing the need for water. The availability of energy locally would allow post production processing to take place in a decentralised manner tremendously increasing the employability of rural people. However, these decentralised community based technologies are neglected because corporations want to make profits from the centralised production and marketing of chemical inputs of agriculture and power and the centralised processing of rural produce.
The Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath has from the beginning stressed on the use of decentralised technologies for biomass enhancement through community participation. The schools that it runs also incorporate this alternative vision of agriculture and energy production in their teaching. Deshdeep Sahadev, a professor of Physics in Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur, has been associated with the education programme of the KMCS since its inception in the 1980s. His thrust has been always to make education enhance the scientific and technological skills of the students so that they are able to solve problems that they face in real life. This commitment led him to seek to develop high tech instrumentation for nano-science in IIT Kanpur. His logic was that all the great experimental physicists had developed their own instrumentation including Jagdish Bose and C V Raman and so if Indian physicists were to produce cutting edge research then they must control the production of the instruments also. He later formed a company of his own where along with his team he developed at a fraction of the cost of foreign manufacturers such complicated instruments as scanning tunnelling microscopes, gas chromatographs, physical quantity measurement systems and data acquisition systems without compromising on quality.
Deshdeep now wants to see if a composite decentralised community based technology for agriculture, natural resource conservation and renewable energy production can be developed in the area of work of KMCS. It would involve developing the education system locally and also induction of technological talent from outside to tackle the problem of the current unsustainability of agriculture and natural resource management in such a way that the people in rural areas are able to not only run the system but also develop it further in future. The control of technology must come back into the hands of the people and especially the Adivasis if the human race is to survive the challenges posed by environmental destruction resulting from the present control of technology by profit making corporations.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Reproductive Health and Rights as an Electoral Issue

Election time comes round and one finds all kinds of issues making their way to the manifestoes of political parties, the campaign speeches of the leaders and the television debates but one major issue that concerns half the population of this country never gets discussed - the reproductive and sexual health and rights of women in our highly patriarchal society. So patriarchal is this society of ours that even the few women candidates who do participate in the elections do not dare to break the culture of silence surrounding women's gynaecological problems for fear of antagonising the men and losing the elections. The Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath has been quietly working to get a better deal for its women members and has made reproductive health and rights of women a poll issue this time for what it is worth in this patriarchal world of ours.
A two day training workshop for the women village leaders from thirty villages was conducted in village Khatamri on March 17th 2014. The workshop was conducted by Subhadra Khaperde and Pinki Kirad as shown in the picture below -
The women were first introduced to the concepts of gender and patriarchy. Then the current understanding regarding what constitutes reproductive and sexual health and rights of women was explained to them as follows -

  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. 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.
After this each participant was asked to evaluate how far she enjoyed bodily integrity, personhood and equality in her own home. These were noted down and as it turned out the combined status of the participants was very low as they were distinctly powerless compared to their men. After this the participants were asked about their reproductive health (RH) problems. They were asked if they suffered from RH problems and the thirty women cumulatively gave the responses as follows -
Sl. No.
Proportion (%)
Hazy Sight
Waist Pain
Lower Abdomen Pain
White Discharge
Itching in Vagina
Burning in Urination
Uncontrolled Urination
Continuous Cough
Prolapse of Uterus
Less Menstruation
Irregular Menstruation
Excessive Menstruation
Pain during Menstruation
The reasons for this dismal state of reproductive health were discussed. From an analysis of the responses of the women it became clear to them that the main reason was the prevalence of patriarchy which curtailed their reproductive and sexual rights. The lack of gynaecological services from the public health system also came to the fore. The Public Health system considered women to be only mothers and provided some rudimentary maternal health services though even these were severely deficient but had absolutely no provisions for gynaecological treatment. Since there was a culture of silence around reproductive health issues, these were never discussed with the men and so they did not get proper medical treatment. Alcoholism of the men as a contributor to RH problems also was pinpointed.
In the final session a strategy for tackling this sorry situation was chalked out as follows -
  1. Reproductive Health meetings would be conducted in each village to assess the situation there.
  2.  RH camps would be conducted with the help of the administration so that gynaecologists from the district hospital in Alirajpur could provide their services to the women along with other clinical testing.
  3.  Men would be sensitised to the problems being faced by the women due their alcoholism.
  4. Efforts would be made to improve the status of menstrual hygiene.
  5. The neglect of gynaecological heath of women and their conversion into homemakers and childbearers would be made into a poll issue in the current elections.

Friday, March 7, 2014

The Plight of the Aam Adivasi

Today the KMCS Land Rights March team reached the village of Kotra which is where the great martyr Tantia Bhil finally kept his family after going into outlawed life during British rule. Even though he was born in Barda village and later stayed in Pokhar village his descendants are now in Kotra village. Like in the case of Bhima Naik here too the people are very poor with on an average about one hectare of agricultural land per household and with the surrounding waste lands all barren. They live in small huts and do not have adequate education, health, sanitation and potable water services. The Government has built a memorial to Tantia in Barda village but his actual descendants in Kotra are totally neglected. They have got together to build a memorial to Tantia Bhil as shown below.
 Tantia was known as Mama or uncle because of his munificence. He would raid the landlords who were the oppressors of the Bhils and the collaborators of the British and then distribute the grains and clothing among the poor. The slogan above the statue says - "Jab tak Suraj Chand Rahega, Mamaji ka Naam Rahega". Which roughly transliterates as - Tantia Uncle's name will act as a Boon,  as long as there are the Sun and the Moon". 
Unfortunately the reality is quite different. While there is now government recognition of the historic role of Tantia Bhil in opposing the British and their Indian collaborators in the Nimar and Malwa regions for almost two decades in the late nineteenth century very little is being done to ensure a decent livelihood for the large majority of the Bhils in Western Madhya Pradesh. The descendants of Tantia Bhil readily lined up to sign on the banner of signatures demanding land rights as shown below.
The campaign has revealed how very neglected the Bhils are in the Western Madhya Pradesh region despite being in a majority in the region. They were once the sole inhabitants of this region. But over the centuries they have been dispossessed of their lands and forests and this process has ironically hastened after independence from the British. The Aam Adivasi remains the most deprived section of the populace in this region and yet there seems to be no end to their plight in sight. Mobilisation on the scale of the whole region will require huge resources that the adivasi organisations like Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath clearly lack.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Land Land Everywhere but not for Adivasis

Madhya Pradesh JANPAHAL and BHOO ADHIKAR ABHIYAN report that they have organized a land rights campaign- ‘MARCH’ in more than 40 districts of Madhya Pradesh in favour of land entitlements and possession over land to Dalit (schedule caste) and Adivasi (schedule tribe) community. In the year 2002, the Madhya Pradesh government had issued/ distributed  the land entitlements (Patta) to 344329 families over nearly 7 lakhs acre of land for landless Dalit and Adivasi community households (Dalit-224353 families over 447861 acre land and Adivasis - 119976 families over 250715.72 acre land). But ground observations/realities are that only 20-30 percent Dalit and Adivasi family members have gained possession over the distributed land committed by government till date. It means more than 2.50 lakhs schedule caste and scheduled tribe community people are still "DENIED FROM THEIR RIGHTS OVER LAND" in Madhya Pradesh.   
On the same lines, under the Forest Rights Act (The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights Act, 2006), the Government had promised to issue land entitlements for tribal and other forest dwellers over their possessed forest land.  In Madhya Pradesh till 30th September 2013, a total of 481128 claims were filed by the Adivasi community and eligible forest dwellers. BUT A TOTAL  of 289995 CLAIMS WERE REJECTED by DISTRICT LEVEL COMMITTEES without giving ANY REASON.
This puts a question on the INTENTION OF THE GOVERNMENT to provide Land rights to Dalit and Adivasi communities. Government departments/officials which were supposed to help the most marginalised people to file their claims and complete the process for the possession of land have instead conspired to deny more than 5.50 lakhs (289995 under FRA and 2.50 Lakhs under 2002 Bhopal Declaration) families of Dalit and Adivasi communities. What is more atrocities are being perpetrated over these marginalised communities in Madhya Pradesh by Government servants when they demand their rights.
THUS, Land rights campaign and JANPAHAL Madhya Pradesh demand
·         That possession should be ensured to More than 2,50,000 families of scheduled castes and scheduled tribes over the government promised land under BHOPAL Declaration, immediately.
·         Total rejected 2,89,995 claims under forest rights acts should be considered and they should be issued the individual as well as community land entitlement by the government without any delay.
·         The landless families from schedule castes and schedule tribes should be identified and given at least 5 acres land as soon as possible (deadline should be declared by the government).
·         Homestead (residential purpose) land entitlement should be given on the possessed land by schedule caste and schedule tribe in Urban as well as rural area.
·         Women land rights should be given equal and legal rights over property and also ensured the ‘one stop crisis centre’ at all level.
·         Any kind of displacement should not be permitted without the consent of the affected group/ gram sabha people/members.

The Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath too is conducting a tour across the districts of Alirajpur, Dhar, Barwani, Khargone, Khandwa and Dewas in Western Madhya Pradesh as part of this March and its focus is on highlighting the neglect of the great Bhil Adivasi heroes who have been martyred in the fight for their rights. The idea being that since the Government is bent on ignoring the Adivasis, the latter will have to gird up to fight and what better way to do this than to relive the great fights put up by their martyrs. As part of this Shankar Tadwal, the Chairperson of KMCS and his team visited the village of Dhaba Baodi in the Satpura Hills in Barwani district which is the home village of the great Bhil martyr Bhima Naik on 6th March 2013. Bhima Naik fought a decade long battle against the British in the 1850s and 1860s concurrent with the first war of independence in 1857 but for a much longer time. He was finally apprehended and killed by the British through treachery. A picture of the meeting conducted in the village by the KMCS team is shown below.
The people of the village vociferously said that they had not been given any land both under the Bhopal Declaration and the Forest Rights Act. However, they were even more angry because of the neglect of their great ancestor Bhima Naik by the Government. It was a long standing demand of the villagers that the hill on which Bhima Naik's Fort stood should be protected and the crumbling fort  which is shown below should be restored.
The Sarpanch Sher Singh said that the Government instead of heeding their demand had instead sanctioned more than a crore of rupees to build a new memorial which is totally at odds with the traditional Adivasi culture and stands out like a sore thumb as shown below.

 There is a shrine inside the fort shown below where even today people come from far and wide to pay obeisance to the great martyr and it is taken care of by a Bhil Adivasi pujari named Vivek.
The dilapidated condition of the fort inside is such that unless repairs are undertaken soon the whole edifice will collapse as shown in the picture below.
Shankar told the people that under the Forest Rights Act they could file a community forest claim to take control of the sacred hillock and all the surrounding forest land and that he would mobilise the whole Adivasi community to build up pressure on the concerned Government departments to restore the glory of this important monument of Adivasi bravery. Presently the fort looks forlorn on top of the barren hillock as shown below.
The picture above is a telling comment on the plight of the Bhil Adivasis of Western Madhya Pradesh and the way in which they have been ignored by Governments in independent India. Not only have they been displaced from their forests, streams and lands but even their martyrs and memorials are in neglect. Even when the great Bhima's contribution is recognised by the Government it rides rough shod over the demands of the people and instead constructs a grotesque memorial building instead. The land rights campaign in general and this particular meeting has brought to the fore the injustice of there being land in plenty everywhere but not for the poor Adivasis.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Reality Check

Last week a meeting was held in Bisali village in Bagli Tehsil of Dewas district at the memorial for the four martyrs who died in police firing in 2001 while protesting against the high handed oppression of the Government in suppressing an Adivasi people's movement fighting for the actualisation of Adivasi Self Rule in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution of India. The memorial also has a central statue in memory of the great Bhil rebel who fought against the British in the nineteenth century - Tantia Bhil. These memorials known as "Gatha" picturise the martyrs as riding horses and armed in traditional gear as shown below.
The meeting, however, was about something else altogether. Alok Agrawal the redoubtable activist of the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) had asked for this meeting to be organised. He has been selected by the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) as the Lok Sabha candidate for the Khandwa constituency and Bagli assembly constituency forms a part of the former. He had asked me to organise this meeting so that he could speak to the leading members of the Adivasi Morcha Sangathan which is active in this area and convince them to support his candidacy. Alok began by saying that the time had come for people's movements to make a mark in mainstream electoral politics and the AAP with its stellar performance in the Delhi assembly elections in December and its short stint in power had shown how this could be done. He said that the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections provided a golden opportunity and if it wasn't capitalised on then the movement for justice in the country would be set back by another thirty to forty years. Mojiram Akharia who is an Adivasi from Dharaji village which is to be submerged by the Omkareshwar dam on the River Narmada  then got up and detailed how their struggle against the dam and the obdurate State Government had not resulted in any solution and that Arvind Kejriwal had shown the way to them on how to come to power through the elections and then get the people's agenda implemented. He also exhorted the people present to pull out all stops to get Alok elected to the Lok Sabha.
Jhanjhar Bhaidia, the veteran leader of the Adivasi Morcha Sangathan then got up and asked them why they had now come to the conclusion that electoral politics was the key to people's emancipation. He said that even if it was the policy of the Adivasi Morcha Sangathan to be indifferent to all elections from the lowest Panchayat to the highest Lok Sabha it allowed its members to fight elections or support political parties on their own. Consequently members of the AMS have fought at the Panchayat and Assembly election levels and supported some party or other at the Lok Sabha level. During the assembly elections of 2008 Versingh Davar of the AMS had contested and a big contingent of the Sangathan had taken part in the rallies organised by the NBA in Khandwa. However, when Versingh and Jhanjhar had asked the NBA to support Versingh in the elections then the NBA had taken the stand that they do not take part in elections and neither do they support any party considering the whole electoral process to be corrupt. Jhanjhar asked Alok as to why had the NBA now changed its stand when it had refused to support Versingh earlier.
Alok had no answer to this apart from repeating that by becoming part of the AAP phenomenon it had now become possible to win elections. In the same breath he said that since the NBA was a people's movement it did not have the resources of political parties and thus it required the support of the AMS. Then, I intervened and said that organising people's movements and electoral politics are two different ball games altogether. The AAP had performed well in the Delhi elections by mobilising huge resources from all over India and abroad both in terms of finances and voluntary human power. On an average Rupees 25 lakhs had been spent per assembly constituency and hundreds of volunteers had given their time and skills to the electoral campaign. This had created a mass upsurge in its favour through a publicity blitz involving door to door campaigning, hoardings, radio advertisements and the like. Thus, if Alok wanted to win the elections he would have to mobilise similar resources which in the case of a large Lok Sabha constituency like Khandwa meant Rs 2 crores at least. Given the fact the AAP's centralised resource mobilisation had mustered only about Rs 10 crores so far, there was little possibility of any support coming from the central kitty for Alok's campaign and so he would have to mobilise resources on his own. Therefore, in addition to appealing for support from the AMS, he would have to more importantly mobilise resources for a publicity blitz to cover the whole of Bagli assembly constituency because even at its best the AMS could mobilise only about 10000 votes which is not sufficient.
Later on we had a long discussion about electoral politics. People said that electoral politics had become extremely vitiated with money power and it was unlikely that it could be cleansed on the strength of idealism. Unlike many of our Adivasi activists in Alirajpur, the veterans here did not appear to be impressed at all by the AAP's Delhi performance!!! Deepsingh, another veteran of the organisation said that the farther we stayed away from elections the better it was and he broached the subject of the annual Gatha celebration to commemorate the martyrs on April 2nd instead.
Alok is not the only activist but there are many others of the people's movements, notably people like Medha Patkar, who have now jumped into the electoral fray enthused by the AAP's performance in Delhi. However, none of these activists seem to have given a thought to the crucial resource mobilisation aspect which was the main factor behind AAP's electoral success. Both door to door campaigning to cover each and every household in a constituency and a publicity blitz through hoardings, posters and vehicle rallies will cost a huge packet and without this it won't be possible for a candidate to convey to the electorate that she is a winning proposition.
And here lies the most important problem. People who have money, not only the upper class but even the middle class, do not go along with the views about development that people like Alok and Medha espouse. Arvind Kejriwal was clever enough to target only corruption and promise freebies but he took care to not fundamentally challenge the present development pattern and that is how he has managed to raise resources. In fact faced with the daunting prospect of raising resources at a much greater level for the Lok Sabha elections he even went and held forth to the Conference of Indian Industry that he was in favour of capitalism and only against cronyism. Nevertheless the daily contributions to the AAP rarely cross Rupees 10 lakhs these days and that is woefully short of the huge requirements of fighting a nationwide election. Thus, if Medha, Alok and many other activists have to garner funds then they have to give up some of the central tenets of their development philosophy. There is no way in which Adivasi Self Rule or decentralised sustainable agriculture  can be accommodated in the resource extractive development paradigm that holds sway at present. Even if Alok and Medha do declare like Arvind that they are for capitalism they are unlikely to be believed by those who hold the purse strings.
Even if we grant for the sake of argument that the activists of people's movements will be able to garner the necessary financial resources, the fight for a more decentralised system is unlikely to be won through winning elections with such huge expenditures. Winning the elections in this manner will require a jettisoning of the ideals for which the people's movements have been fighting. A lot more thought should be expended on how to take forward people's movements in an era of near complete capitalist domination instead of getting carried away by the AAP's victory in Delhi. Personally as an anarchist I find this rush of stalwarts of the people's movements across the country to join the electoral bandwagon of the AAP a little disconcerting!! Anyway the forthcoming elections will provide a reality check to all and sundry!!

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Rehabilitation Woes

One of the saddest stories resulting from modern development in India is that of those who have been displaced from their lands for some development project or other without adequate rehabilitation and resettlement. In most cases the Government which is supposed to take care of those displaced has short changed them with paltry monetary compensation using the colonial Land Acquisition Act of 1894 which is a grossly unjust law. The biggest sufferers have been the Adivasis who not only reside in areas that are the richest in natural resources that are crucial for modern industrial development but also are the easiest to cheat given their ignorance of the modern state and economic systems. In the case of the Sardar Sarovar dam on the River Narmada because of the fact that the displacement was to take place mostly in Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra, the Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal Award on the sharing of the benefits and costs of the project made detailed provisions regarding rehabilitation and resettlement of the people to be displaced which included land for land, house plots, civic amenities, education and health services. After a long struggle that is continuing many of those displaced from Alirajpur have been rehabilitated fairly well in Gujarat.
However, there are still some that haven't done too well. A case in point is that of the Nayaks of Kakrana village who were rehabilitated in Rameshwarpura in Vadodara district. The Nayaks, even though they had agricultural land, relied more on fishing in the River Narmada. They were indifferent farmers taking only a single crop in the Kharif season. During the peak of the struggle against the dam, the people of Kakrana village took part actively in opposing it. However, later a large section of the villagers decided to opt for rehabilitation and resettlement in Gujarat and the Nayaks also agreed to this. Each family was given two hectares of agricultural land in Rameshwarpura and there houses were transported there from Kakrana. However, basic amenities like water supply, electricity, schools and health centres were not provided. The Nayaks being illiterate could not make sure that these were provided. Moreover, the land that they got in Gujarat was of a heavy black soil variety requiring sturdier bullocks than they used in Kakrana for their light soils. The Nayaks who were anyway not very good farmers found themselves unable to cultivate these heavier soils. They consequently leased out their lands to the rich non-Adivasi farmers and instead began doing agricultural and other labour. With time their economic condition has deteriorated and today they are destitute living from hand to mouth even though on paper they are in possession of good agricultural lands. In all these years they have neither picked up the Gujarati language nor has the next generation been educated. A case of a gross cultural misfit. The Nayaks have a glorious history of rebellion against the British and have generally lived more by gathering, hunting and fishing than by agriculture. Special attention needed to be given to their needs while resettling them but that did not happen. Unfortunately, they separated themselves from the Narmada Bachao Andolan and decided to opt for whatever the Government was giving them. After all these years when finally some activists of the Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath came to know of their plight it is very difficult to intervene on their behalf as they are now in Gujarat. Attempts to get a few organisations in Gujarat to take up their case did not succeed because they said that they do not have the resources to put in the initial mobilising efforts and the subsequent long drawn intervention. The fact that the Nayaks themselves have been reduced to penury and not able to even agitate given their hand to mouth existence has made things even more difficult.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

A Tribal Mining Workers' Strike

The Prayas Centre for Labour Research and Action (PCLRA) has over the past few years spearheaded a fairly successful campaign of organising informal labourers in the brick kiln and construction industry across the states of Gujarat, Rajasthan, Chattisgarh, Uttar Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh in the face of determined opposition from the employers and apathy and connivance on the part of the Government and Administration. One of the great things about this effort is that the organisation continually seeks out new areas in which to intervene and further broaden the struggle. As part of this process they have now come out in support of a unique strike by tribal workers in the green marble mining industry in Udaipur district of Rajasthan. Sudhir Katyar of PCLRA reports -
Nearly 5000 tribal workers at the green marble mining area of Rishabdeo in Udaipur district of Rajasthan have been on strike for last three weeks. The workers are demanding an eight hour work day, registration under the Provident Fund scheme of Government, improved safety measures at mines to prevent accidents, and modest wage hikes. In fact the demands are already mandated by labor laws. However as is the case almost everywhere, the labour laws are followed more in breach.
 The mining area is located in a tribal belt that witnesses heavy out migration to Gujarat. However in the mines, nearly half the workers are from other states as owners find them more vulnerable. They stay at the site and work 12 hours a day. This puts pressure on local workers to put in longer hours. Almost five workers die every year because of lax safety arrangements. 
The strike has entered its fourth week. The employers, instead of negotiating with the workers, have foisted police cases on union leaders. The strike is unprecedented as the mining belt of South Rajasthan has never seen industrial action on such a large scale. The local tribal member of the legislative assembly (MLA) is himself a mine owner and he has ensured that there is almost no media coverage of such a big industrial action locally and also that the union leaders have been arraigned in false criminal cases. There has been little outside support. We appeal to all to support this action of mine workers. Please send messages as follows to -
Smt Vasundhara Raje
Chief Minister of Rajasthan
1012, Chief Minister’s Wing
Secretariat, Jaipur, Rajasthan
Ph 0141- 2227716, 2227687 (fax)
email - ,
Honorable Chief Minister Rajasthan
Nearly 5000 mine workers at Rishabhdeo, District Udaipur have been on strike for three weeks. Their demands like eight hour shift, paid holidays, security measures to avoid accidents are anyway mandated by law. We are dismayed to learn that the local police has acted in a one sided manner and foisted cases under various sections of IPC at the Union leaders. We understand that the local MLA of your party, Nana Lal Ahari, is one of the mine owners and is responsible for this one sided police action. The right to organize is a fundamental right and the police action has taken away this right. We appeal you to - 
1. Order the police department to take back the false cases against the Union leaders 
2. Take a sympathetic view to just demands of the workers and ask the administrative machinery to help them realize their legal demands.
With regards

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Grassroots versus Electoral Politics

Any mass organisation is as vibrant and knowledgeable as its cadres and volunteers. Therefore regular ideological and strategy related workshops have to be conducted to discuss various issues confronting the organisation. One of the major issues is that of land. Apart from the struggle of implementing the Forest Rights Act there is also the matter of the Government Land that was to be distributed to landless people under the Bhopal Declaration of 2001. The Government of Madhya Pradesh has claimed that as many as 7 lakh hectares of land has been distributed to 3 lakh 44 thousand beneficiaries. However, ground level surveys carried out by various mass organisations associated with the forum Jan Pahal have so far been able to authenticate that only 1 lakh hectares have been distributed. The KMCS had filed an RTI application with the District Administration for the list of beneficiaries in the district under this scheme so that the list could be verified on the ground. However, the administration has not replied to this request despite many months having elapsed.
A two day workshop was held on the 29th and 30th of December 2013 to review the various laws and policies relating to land and their implementation. Shri Anil Karne and Shri Rahul Saxena from Jan Pahal forum attended the workshop on the first day in which about seventy village level workers of the KMCS participated. Shri Anil Karne explained in detail the provisions of the Bhopal Declaration with regard to the award of Government cultivable waste land to landless people and the status of its implementation. This was followed by a discussion of the various reasons for the Government not implementing this policy despite its obvious benefits to the landless poor.

Shri Rahul Saxena dwelt on the provisions of the PESA which make the Gram Sabha very powerful in Adivasi areas and related how the Madhya Pradesh Government has systematically trivialised this provision and deprived the Adivasis of a powerful institution for advancing their development according to their own genius. He suggested that the KMCS should pursue a well designed policy to implement this provision. In the discussion that followed Shankar Tadwal of the KMCS detailed how the organisation had conducted an intensive campaign for the implementation of PESA and the formation and registration of Gram Sabhas in each and every hamlet and how the administration had prevented this. A picture of the meeting is given below.

On the second day the relationship of the KMCS to the Aam Aadmi Party was discussed in detail. Some people including the Chairperson Shankar Tadwal felt that the KMCS should join the Aam Aadmi Party. Others felt that the position of the organisation towards the AAP should be the same as it had towards other political parties - that any member of the KMCS was free to join any party but the KMCS itself would pursue its independent agenda. The issue this time had become a little complicated because some of the senior activists who had till now never joined any party were now in favour of joining the AAP.
The discussions that followed were equally interesting. The AAP Madhya Pradesh unit is keen that KMCS and especially Shankar should join it and Shankar should also contest the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections from Jhabua Ratlam constituency. This led to a detailed discussion regarding the fighting of elections. It was pointed out that the AAP had spent on an average about Rs 25 lakhs per assembly constituency in Delhi. This would mean that about Rs 2 crores would have to be spent for a parliamentary constituency. Moreover, the Jhabua-Ratlam constituency was spread out over a huge area unlike the congested assembly constituencies in Delhi. Therefore a huge amount of time, money and labour would be required if the whole parliamentary constituency was to be covered. This was clearly not possible for the KMCS as it could neither mobilise the financial resources nor get so many workers. 
Thus, in the end it was decided that the KMCS would retain its independent status but that those members who wanted to join the AAP would do so but no one would fight the Lok Sabha elections. Instead if the AAP did put up a candidate then the KMCS would campaign for that person in its areas of influence. If the AAP did not put up a candidate then some KMCS members would go and campaign for a candidate in nearby districts where there were candidates. 
Overall it was accepted that the AAP was a progressive party that had emerged in the democratic system and the KMCS should align with it and help it to develop as a radical new political force that could further the cause of Adivasi Self Rule. The great thing about the day's discussions was the tremendous number of views that were expressed by various members and the depth of the analysis that was brought to bear on the challenges of political mobilisation at the grassroots and the way in which electoral politics could be used to face these challenges more effectively. 

Friday, February 7, 2014

The Government Never Learns

Despite a resounding judgment of the Supreme Court in the Niyamgiri bauxite mining case in which the religious, cultural and livelihood rights of the tribals was upheld as being paramount, The Steel Authority of India (SAIL) and the Chhattisgarh Government are leaving no stone unturned to defraud the tribals in the Rowghat area of Bastar. The Campaign for Peace and Justice in Chhattisgarh reports -

In recent days, the Chhattisgarh police has been claiming that Maoists are behind any protest against the Rowghat mines leased to the Bhilai Steel Plant, and has been arresting and intimidating activists and villagers. 
Consider the following ten facts to understand what is really going on, and who is really violating the law.
1. The Rowghat Iron Ore Mine, according to the Company’s own maps, falls entirely within the Rowghat Hills of the Matla Reserved Forest. Yet the application for forest clearance to the Environment Ministry, says “there is no reserved forest in the project area”.
2. The project is right at the centre of an extensive wildlife corridor stretching from South Eastern Maharashtra to North Western Orissa. There are 8 wildlife sanctuaries, parks and reserves in this area. The Rapid Environmental Impact Assessment (REIA) itself admits that the building of a railway line and conveyer belt for the mining will stop wildlife migrations. 
3. The REIA describes this as a fragile ecosystem, with at least 26 rare and endangered species of Vascular plants which are on India’s Red List.
4. Forest Clearance has been granted only for 883.22 ha when the total mining area is 2028.797 ha. There is no environmental or forest clearance for the remaining area. 
5. No forest rights have been settled under the provisions of the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forestdwellers (Recognition of Rights) Act known popularly as the Forest Rights Act.
6. Fake and identical gram sabha certificates state that there is nothing of cultural or religious significance in the area. In fact, the Rao (pictured as mounted on a horse) after whom Rowghat is named is of religious significance to a large area beyond Narayanpur district. Many hills 
are the sites of clan festivals. This area is at least as culturally and religiously significant as Niyamgiri.
7. The proposed overburden dumps could destroy the drainage of the entire valley. 
8. The company claims zero loss to oustees, and also that there are no affected villages within 5 km of the mines. Google maps show this is blatantly untrue. 
9. Villagers were at the time of the EIA/EMP unaware of what was happening. Now they are opposing the mines and railway lines en masse and know that they will lead to their annihilation. They are opposing the fraudulent "NOCs" that were forcefully taken from them.. 
10. There is a proposal of 22 BSF and CRPF companies to ring the area. 
About six camps have been constructed so far. The Bhilai Steel Plant/SAIL has signed an agreement with the government to fund and train the paramilitary forces. The forces would be stationed in Rowghat area for the entire life of the mine. Chattisgarh Bachao Andolan activists trying to hold meetings on the forest rights act have been prevented, and their mobiles seized. Schools are occupied by these forces, in violation of the Supreme Court’s orders. 
The tribals, however, are in no mood to be intimidated into giving up their lands and their religious areas and despite tremendous repression have prepared to dig their heels in for a long battle.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Bhil Women in History

The Bhils have fought valiantly against their marginalisation by the mainstream society and their alienation from their lands. Along with the men on many occasions women too have fought shoulder to shoulder with them. Unfortunately there are even fewer records of these women fighters than there are of the men fighters. The history of these women fighters needs to be documented because they provide an inspiration to the present generation of Bhil women not only to fight against the centralised market and governance systems that continue to marginalise them but also against the patriarchal oppression they face in their own society. The short histories of three brave Bhil women are related here.
1.       Sursibai
Sursibai, a Bhil tribal of the Nayak sub tribe, was a resident of Panchmohli village of the present day district of Barwani in Madhya Pradesh in the nineteenth century. The two decades from 1837 to 1857 witnessed a series of dry years resulting in much lesser agricultural production than normal years. Despite the famine like conditions prevailing due to lesser agricultural production the British refused to waive the heavy taxes that they levied on the farmers. When the Bhil farmers protested they were subjected to beatings and imprisonment by the British. When this oppression reached an extreme Sursibai organised one hundred and fifty Bhil women into a fighting unit and gave them training in the art of warfare.  These women then vowed in front of their tribe Goddess Nagri Mata that they would not rest till they had freed their territories from the British and began their campaign. Sursibai had a son who was in his teens and his name was Bhima and he too was inspired by his mother’s example. In 1837 Bhima formed a fighting unit of his own with men and women trained in warfare. Thereafter from 1840 to 1864 Sursi and Bhima together led their tribe in a long and attritious war in the whole of the West Nimad region of the present day Madhya Pradesh against the British. Initially the fighting unit was five hundred strong but at the peak of the struggle in 1857 to 1860 the strength went upto thousands.
The local Bhil Corp of the British was not able to subdue the Nayaks and so additional reinforcements were brought in from Gujarat by the British. The Magistrate in charge of the Khandesh area south of the River Narmada forced the traders of Sendhwa town to deposit their money with the British. This money amounting to Rs 7 Lakhs was being taken secretly for safe keeping from Sendhwa when the convoy was attacked by a raiding party led by Bhima and Sursibai and they took away all the money saying it belonged to the poor Bhil farmers. At this time Tatya Tope the great general who fought against the British in 1857 came to Nimad and sought Bhima’s help to cross the River Narmada. Bhima successfully aided Tatya  to ford the river and Tatya promised to return the favour someday once the British had been removed and he left behind two hundred of his fighters to help Bhima in his struggles.
Once the British were able to subdue the rest of the country they turned their attention to the Bhil rebellion in Nimad. A big force under Captain R. H. Keating raided Dholabavri village and then on 13th February 1859 a fierce battle took place in Sursibai’s village Panchmohli. Bhima was able to escape with some of his men but many others including Sursibai were arrested and imprisoned in Mandleshwar. The British tortured Sursibai to get information about Bhima but she resisted all the torture including being deprived of food and water and died on 28th February 1859. The other Bhil inmates rose up in revolt and occupied the jail in protest and military force had to be brought in from outside to subdue them. Eventually many of them were executed after a summary trial and others were deported to imprisonment in the Andaman Cellular Jail. Bhima carried on his fight from the jungles and on 16th December 1866 launched a big attack on the British. However on 2nd April 1867 he was apprehended as a result of treachery and subsequently hanged.

2.       Kalibai
Kalibai was a Bhil teen aged girl residing in Rastapal village of the present day Dungarpur village in the 1940s. Once the Quit India Movement was announced on 9th August 1942 the people in Rajasthan which was mostly under the rule of Indian Princes owing allegiance to the British also came out in open opposition to colonial rule. Gandhian activists in Dungarpur like Bhogilal Pandya, Shobhalal Gupta, Manaklal Verma and others inspired by the Gandhian leader Thakkar Bapa established the Dungarpur Sevak Sangh. The Sevak Sangh used to run schools for Dalits and Adivasis in the district. Under pressure from the British the Prince of Dungarpur forbade the Sevak Sangh from running these schools once the Quit India Movement started. A more broad based organisation called the Praja Mandal was formed to conduct a campaign against this unjust closing of schools and the more general demand that colonial rule should end. The Prince took repressive action against the workers of the Praja Mandal and had his forces beat them up and send them to jail. This led to an intensification of the protests by the people.
The state police went to Rastapal village on 19th June 1947 to close the school there which was running in the house of Nanabhai Khat. Nanabhai refused to close the school and and lock it and give the keys to the police. The police then beat up Nanabhai severely and rendered him unconscious and took him away with them for jailing him. However, Nanabhai died from his injuries on the way before the police could reach their camp. After this the police beat up the teacher Sengabhai Bhil who had continued to teach the children despite Nanabhai’s death. After rendering him unconscious the police tied Sengabhai to their truck and took him away dragging him on the road. Unable to see this a student of the school Kalibai ran towards the truck with a sickle to cut the ropes and free Sengabhai from this torture. The police warned her not to run after the vehicle but Kalibai did not listen and reaching her teacher cut the rope with one swish of her sickle. The police were incensed at this and as Kalibai bent down to tend to Sengabhai they shot her in the back. Kalibai fell down unconscious and later died in the hospital in Dungarpur.
This unjust murder of a girl student of the school for trying to save her teacher incensed the Bhil Adivasis and they got together from surrounding villages and a massive twelve thousand people fully armed with bows, arrows and swords and their traditional drums descended on Dungarpur town. The Prince was forced to release the leaders of the Praja Mandal from jail and they calmed down the Bhil populace and convinced them to return. The people of the village constructed a statue of the brave thirteen year old girl Kalibai in Rastapal and even today a fair is held there on the occasion of her martyrdom.

3.       Dashriben
Born in a Choudhury Adivasi family in Vedchhi village in Valod Tehsil of present day Tapi district in Gujarat on 3rd October 1918, Dashriben grew up to be the foremost Gandhian Adivasi woman leader of the freedom movement. She came from a family that had a history of leadership of Adivasi struggles.  Her maternal grandfather Jeevanbhai Choudhury had been the first to organise the Adivasis of western India against the oppression of the British who had beginning with the promulgation of the Indian Forest Act in 1884 and the Land Acquisition Act in 1894 severely dispossessed the Adivasis. This devastation of the Adivasis continued with the ban on alcohol distillation and the introduction of licenses for selling liquor and during the drought of 1890 the British refused to reduce the taxes on Adivasi farmers and so they had to borrow at usurious rates from moneylenders who later usurped their land. Jeevanbhai organised a “Kali Paraj Parishad” or Black People’s Conference in Vedchhi in 1903 in which Adivasi from as far afield as Dahanu in Maharashtra and Dahod in Gujarat congregated to formulate a campaign for securing the rights of Adivasis.
The Swaraj Ashram was established by Gandhi’s son Ramdas and Vallabhbhai Patel in Bardoli in 1922 and Jeevanbhai and other Adivasi leaders then went and met them requested them to arrange for Gandhi to visit Vedchhi and provide guidance to the ongoing Adivasi struggles. After this Gandhi’s wife Kasturba attended the Kali Paraj Parishad organised at Shelpur village in Surat district in 1923 and he himself came to the Parishad organised the next year in Vedchhi village when Dashriben was just six years old. A Swaraj Ashram was established in Vedchhi and very soon hundred villages nearby had people wearing khadi and spinning yarn. Gandhi came again to Vedchhi in 1926 and then when Dashriben went to garland him with a handspun yarn he noted the golden bangles she was wearing and asked her not to wear them as there were many poor in the country who did not have proper clothes to wear. Dashri immediately took off her bangles and gave them to her father to give to Gandhi. Ever since then she never wore ornaments again.
Vallabhbhai Patel started the Bardoli Satyagraha for non-payment of taxes to the British to protest against their unjust policies in 1928. Patel took Dashriben with him to his meetings because she could sing protest songs very well which inspired the people. The Satyagraha went on for two years during which the Choudhury family along with other protesting farmers had to bear tremendous repression as the British confiscated their property for not paying taxes and also the police beat them up and jailed them frequently. Ultimately the problem was resolved with Gandhi’s intervention. Later in 1930 Dashriben took part in the famous Salt Satyagraha with Gandhi by marching to Dandi along with thousands of other protesters.
Dashriben used to study in the national schools set up by Gandhi in which a new education pattern called Nai Talim was introduced. She was studying in the national school at Maroli in 1933 when the Swadeshi Movement began and once again she took part in this along with other women. Women sat in Satyagraha before the traders of Surat preventing them from selling foreign cloth. The women were arrested and a case was filed against them. When the magistrate asked Dashriben what her name was she said “Bharat”. When she was asked where she resided she once again said “Bharat”. On being asked what she did she answered “ I work for India’s freedom”. Then the police put a gun to her chest and asked her whether she knew what would happen if it went off and she replied “ If I die then I will become a martyr in the cause of freedom and if I am alive then Bharat will be free”. The magistrate said then said that this girl is very dangerous and she was sentenced to a year in prison.
Dashriben first was sent to Sabarmati prison and later transferred to Yeravda prison in Pune. Gandhi and Kasturba were already in prison there at the time. Gandhi and Kasturba were prevented from meeting each other and they could only communicate through letters. Kasturba had to ask others to write her letters as she was non-literate. One day she asked Dashriben whether she would teach her to read and write and Dashriben readily agreed. For four months Dashriben taught Kasturba how to read and write and used to write her letters to Gandhi. Then she asked Kasturba to write herself as she had learnt enough. When Gandhi received the first letter written by Kasturba he was very pleased and wrote back to ask who had taught her. Kasturba wrote that she had been taught by her student Dashriben. Gandhi then wrote a letter to Dashriben commending her and saying that what he had not been able to do in all these years she had done in just four months!!!
After coming out of prison she went to study at the Sabarmati Ashram and there she met many leaders of the freedom movement and also Indira Gandhi with whom she began a lifelong friendship. Dashriben led the rally in Bardoli town on 21st August 1942 when the Quit India Movement was declared. She led a five thousand strong mass of people holding the tri-colour aloft with the intention of planting it in front of the Police Station. However, when they neared the police station they were baton charged by the Police and one baton landed on Dashriben’s hand. Nevertheless she did not let the tri-colour fall and handed it over to another protester to take away to safety. She was again sentenced to a year in prison for this protest march. After her release she married another freedom fighter Kanjibhai Choudhury in 1944 and they both began working as teachers in the Gram Shaala established in Vedchhi. After independence Kanjibhai became a full time social worker and Dashriben completed her higher education and took the job of a teacher. As a teacher she has taught thousands of Adivasi children and youth and raised awareness among them. Later after retiring in 1976 she once again became active in the social movement as the president of the Gujarat Khadi Gramodyog Board for ten years. Kanjibhai passed away in 1998. Thereafter Dashriben was active as a leader of the Adivasi Ekta Parishad till her passing away in Vedchhi on 2nd September 2013.


The above history shows that the Bhil Adivasi women too have been at the forefront of struggles for justice. After the compilation of this history a seminar was conducted in Alirajpur on 16.12.2013 where both men and women village level activists of the KMCS were told the stories of these brave Bhil women fighters. The need for women to come out in larger numbers and emulate these great fighters to ensure a better deal for the Adivasis was underlined by speaker after speaker at the seminar.