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.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Holding the Anarchist Flag Up!!

This year marks the completion of three decades of my anarchist political activism among and along with the Bhils of Alirajpur. Whatever may have happened in these three decades is not so important as to see what is the current situation in Alirajpur.
The modern Indian political party centric and first past the post election based liberal democratic political system has spread to every nook and cranny of this once remote district and so in each and every village there are active members of both the major political parties in Madhya Pradesh - Bharatiya Janata Party and Indian National Congress. So much so that the local government system of Panchayati Raj is nothing more than an adjunct to the higher levels of state and central governments despite provisions in the Constitution to make it an institution of true local self governance. The governments in India at all levels are currently excessively influenced by those who provide the money to run the political parties and to fight the elections and therefore there is very little scope for pursuing pro-people politics and this constraint exists in Alirajpur too.
The modern industrialised market economy too has penetrated to the remotest corners of the district. This penetration has been facilitated by the spread of mobile telephony and direct to home television. A further thrust has come from the increasing reliance of the Bhil household on migratory labour given the fragmentation of land holdings and the reducing productivity of their farms. Thus, the Bhils are now labouring cogs and eager consumers in the centralised market economy. The Indian economy in turn is an insignificant part of the global capitalist economy which is controlled by the financial might of a few corporations. Therefore, similar to the situation in the political sphere, in the economic too there is little scope for pursuing equitable and sustainable development policies.
Culturally, majoritarian Hinduism has made deep inroads into Alirajpur. Even though many of the Bhils still practice their traditional animist religion and its rituals, increasingly the youth are also celebrating the Hindu festivals and taking part in Hindu religious rituals. The distinctive names of the Bhils are vanishing as the new generation is being named with Hindu names. In matters of dress too the traditional apparels are on their way out and the Bhils have taken to wearing global fashions spurred on by what they see on television. Thus, parallel to the erosion of the local in politics and economics, the cultural distinctiveness of the Bhils too is vanishing.
The great thing, however, is that amidst this huge power play by forces that are much stronger than it is, the Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath has succeeded in maintaining its distinctive presence in opposition to them in all the three spheres of politics, economics and culture. It has done so mainly by utilising the provisions for anarchist practice in tribal areas laid down in various statutes beginning with the Constitution. The Fifth Schedule of the Constitution, The Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas Act, The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forestdwellers (Recognition of Rights) Act, The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, The Food Security Act, The Right to Education Act, The Control of Usury Act, The new Land Acquisition and Rehabilitation Act and the National Rural Health Mission all make the Gram Sabha very powerful on paper and an organisation that is determined to implement local self governance can put immense pressure on the government and administration to indeed decentralise governance and make the people powerful. The KMCS is doing just that and as a consequence solving many problems that the people normally face in a centralised and corrupt system. The Gram Sabhas in the KMCS villages are very active and have regular meetings to decide various action plans. Of course the militant history of the KMCS over the past three decades during which it has fought tenaciously for the rights and entitlements of the Bhils makes the forces inimical to people's power a little wary of cracking down on the organisation.So even people in Alirajpur who are not members of KMCS know it to be an organisation that stands up for the poor and come to it for help in times of trouble.

To do so, however, the KMCS through its sister organisation Dhas Gramin Vikas Kendra has to rely on external funding for meeting the expenses of its full time activists and various administrative, legal and travel costs. These amount to about Rs 25 lakhs annually and have to be accessed from institutional, corporate and individual donors. Primarily because the culture of consumerism has taken such deep roots that voluntarism has shrivelled and the ethic of monetary contribution to fund activism has also all but vanished while the costs of activism have increased tremendously. So, the work of the KMCS is not truly anarchist as it is not wholly funded by the Bhil community even though they do contribute substantial amounts in time and food.  If this external funding stops then there will be a considerable weakening of the organisation. External funding comes with its own conditions and so in many senses compromises have to be made to access it. This is the reality of the current compromised political activism that the KMCS and I practice in Alirajpur. Nevertheless, given the dismal state of things nationally and internationally as far as anarchist political practice is concerned it is heartening that at least we are able to maintain a minimal presence and hold the anarchist flag up amidst the capitalist, consumerist and majoritarian thrusts that have swamped humanity.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Serendipity of the Internet

Professor Swapan Bhattacharya is in his seventies having retired more than a decade ago from the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, Mumbai where he did cutting edge research in micro-biology. He settled down after that in Indore where a few of his friends in the Raja Ramanna Centre for Advanced Technology, which houses India's biggest particle accelerator, had got together and created a residential colony near the centre to lead their retired lives in. Swapanji wanted to do something to improve the level of science education in schools for under privileged children and also if possible do something to improve the sustainability of agriculture. However, he had not been able to make any headway because he could not find an organisation of his liking. Then we met on the Internet. He is interested in urban water and waste management as this is a problem that his residential layout in Indore also faces. He is a member of the India Water Portal and there he read about the decentralised water and energy management systems that we have implemented in our house in Indore and he got in touch with me. And he got solutions from us not just for water and energy management but also for his long term desire to do something in science education and sustainable agriculture.
Swapanji came to know about our work in Alirajpur and especially about the residential school for Bhili children that we run in Kakrana where some incipient work is also being done to conserve and promote traditional Bhili dryland agriculture. He expressed a desire to see the school. So we went down to Kakrana from Indore for a preliminary reconnaissance. He liked what he saw and after coming back roped in his brother in law from Mumbai who gave him his car as he wanted to buy a new one. Then on 8th December we went down in this car and Swapanji carried enough material with him to settle down in the guest room that we have in the school. As is evident from the write up that he has written, he has hit if off with the environment and the people there, especially the children who are his guides for various things, in the same way as he is their guide for education.
In this picture he has climbed up with two of the children to the top of the hill overlooking the school and Kakrana village with the River Narmada in the background. At this height mobile and internet connectivity is available whereas it is not there in the school itself below. So Swapanji intends to set up an internet hub here for his own researches and for the school children and teachers. The problem with development work in Alirajpur is not so much lack of funds as lack of skilled persons. There was a time in the late 1980s and early 1990s when there were as many as ten middle class youth both men and women who were working full time on a near voluntary basis on very limited financial resources and those were the golden years of the KMCS. We are still reaping the benefits of the intensive work we all put in for a decade or so then. Since then unfortunately there have not been any professional youths from the cities going and working there. Despite many requests sent out, no one has come to work except for one or two youths for very short periods of time. But here we have a seventy plus retired professor deciding to stay full time in this remote village and enthusiastically devising solutions for many problems that the Bhils face. Initially he intends to set up a laboratory to teach the children the rudiments of science and relate them to their own environment. Such are the advantages of the serendipity of the Internet. Swapanji writes -
This village Kakrana in M.P., is about 225 Km from Indore. I went there the second time (8th to 20th Dec 2014) to see if I could survive there without falling sick - it is a very dusty area but totally free of industrial pollutants. I did stay well and even climbed hills without any after effect.Hills are not vey high, of course, but quite challenging for me.
The long stay gave me an opoprtunity to watch the activities of nearly 200 students and 10 staff families including all the teachers of the school except two who come from a nearby village.
An interesting development within the first three days was very amusing and touching at the same time. The car in which I went was parked on the open ground, there being no garage, so that it was in my view. For some protection, a green plastic usually used for shade was laid over it. It so happened that some one was trying to catch a ball, missed and the windscreen was hit hard enough for it to develop a minor crack. It was reported by a student to me first after a couple of days. They pointed out that  the boy was not a resident student but came from a nearby hut, and that out of fear, he did not turn up for the classes after the event. My assurance that I don't blame him because it was a play ground where I parked the car, and that I will be angry if he misses the classes any more did not work. Even then he stayed home two more days, and only when a teacher assured him, he resumed but did not face me.I did not embarass him by trying to see him either.
This episode had a wonderful effect. Many students and two teachers started constructing a garage having failed to get a mason. 
For fuel they go about every 15 days  to the jungles about 20-25 Km away on the banks of the Narmada along the river on a motor boat.  The fallen dead trees or dried up wood on the ground that they find, they load up to the roof and return to the river bank of the village where a pick-up  hired van is loaded and driven to the school about two kilometers away.On the trip we spent a total of 10 hours with ten of us, comprising of myself, 3 students, 2 teachers, one cook and three labourers. So we had to cook our lunch in the forest. 
I also climbed a nearby hill accompanied by two vey young students, Rahul and Pratap. It was a wonderful experience.
Another important discovery was that these tribal children speak a language called Bareli, which has no scripts, and so no written matter in any form. The only book is a fable collection written in Devnagari by two NGO authors. They have written the stories as orally transmitted fables, in the book titled "Kahaneen Petaro" meaning box of stories.
Since the students know Hindi script, they were charmed by the stories as they read them, for the first time, in their own mother tongue. They borrowed the book from me whenever they were free from regular school classes.

Monday, December 22, 2014

The Charade of Self Rule

Panchayat elections have been notified in Madhya Pradesh and with this will begin another round of the intensification of centralised politics in the State. Paradoxical as it may seem, Panchayati Raj as it is practised in this State, especially the process of elections, actually strengthens the centralised system of oppressive governance, rather than promoting decentralised self rule. In centralised democratic systems due to the large numbers of people, it is not possible to have direct democracy with everyone participating in decision making. That is why there are elections to choose representatives to law making bodies and executives. However, if the unit of governance is small then there is no need for representatives and all the members of the general body can meet periodically to take decisions regarding their governance and development resulting in true mass self rule. Thus, ideally the third tier of governance in India, Panchayati Raj, when it was made compulsory through the 73rd Constitutional Amendment in 1993, should have been based on direct democracy with small governance units of twenty to thirty households that normally constitute a locality in a village. Instead, a replica of the centralised representative system was foisted on Panchayats also with election of a Sarpanch as the leader and Panches or ward members as the other members of the executive, from a Gram Sabha or general body. This general body consisted of several villages so that it became difficult for the Gram Sabha to meet regularly and transact governance and development on a regular basis. Once the executive is separated from the general body then the doors are opened for all kinds of skullduggery that we so frequently see in centralised systems where the elected representatives are only nominally accountable to the electorate as they are in reality beholden to the moneybags who fund their expensive elections. The same process of corruption has entrenched itself into Panchayati Raj and the Sarpanches and Panches are more interested in embezzling funds ably supported by the bureaucracy and the higher level elected representatives. In fact, there is a patron client relationship between the higher level politicians and the local politicians at the Panchayat level and they all work together to disempower the masses.  Each Panchayat election further reinforces this corrupt system of indirect governance as the money to be expended to win elections increases with time and so the newly elected representatives are more inclined to defalcate funds and act against the interests of the people.
The extent to which Panchayati Raj has devastated communitarian collective action can be gauged from a recent story.   The Barela Adivasis, a subtribe of the Bhils, of Jamasi village in Dewas district are preparing to celebrate the Indal festival. The Indal festival is celebrated by the Bhils periodically to give thanks to their Gods for ensuring good harvests. Every few years a family must celebrate the Indal and while worshipping their Gods also give a feast to the whole community. This, traditionally, was a way of distributing surpluses that may have been accumulated by a household to the community and thus maintaining equality and also strengthening community bonds.  Normally the Indal is celebrated in February or later once the farms have been cleared of their monsoon and winter crops and there is enough space for people to dance during the night long festivities. But this particular family had cleared a farm that had a standing crop of cotton and was preparing to celebrate Indal early. When asked why they were doing so, they said that with Panchayat elections slated for January, they were forced to prepone their celebration. Many candidates from the village would be contesting for the posts of Sarpanch and Panch and so there would be tremendous campaigning against each other. Typically the elections created great animosity among different localities in the village which lasted for a year or more. Thus, if the Indal were to be held after the elections, very few people would come to participate in the festivities as the animosity generated during the elections would be fresh. This would defeat the whole purpose of the Indal, as community participation in the festivities is as much a criterion for the success of the Indal as the worship rituals. There could not be a more telling comment than this on the way in which Panchayati Raj has broken up the traditional community, especially so in tribal areas in which community cooperation has been a way of life.

The Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath enthusiastically jumped into the electoral fray in 1989 when elections for Sarapanches and Panches was introduced in Madhya Pradesh well before the Constitutional Amendment in 1993. Many Panches, Sarpanches and block representatives were elected from the organisation, some unopposed. However, very soon they all became corrupt because they found it more profitable to accept the enticements provided by the Panchayat bureaucracy and the mainstream politicians, than to meet the demands of the electorate. So the organisation decided to work to empower the Gram Sabha instead of fight elections from the next time onwards and that is what it has been doing. From 2005 onwards with the implementation of the MGNREGA and the Forest Rights Act and now the provisions of the National Rural Health Mission, Right to Education Act and Food Security Act, the Gram Sabha has become very powerful on  paper and the KMCS works to make it powerful on the ground also. So much so that it does not matter any more as to who is the Sarpanch or Panch is in KMCS areas as the Gram Sabha is powerful enough to bypass them completely. In the forty to fifty villages where it has a strong base, the Panches and Sarpanches are all members of the KMCS but they have been elected on their own without any backing from the organisation and instead have had to rely on the support garnered from their dual membership of mainstream political parties. They have to listen to the Gram Sabha and if they don't they get sidelined.
The provisions of the Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas Act as incorporated in the Madhya Pradesh Panchayati Raj Act, make the tribal Gram Sabha even more powerful if it can be registered separately as an institution in every small tribal hamlet. The KMCS has initiated a process for this legal registration but the administration is stonewalling it and it will require moving the High Court by and by. The KMCS has already used the provisions to stall many projects of the Government aimed at displacing tribals but once the Gram Sabha in the small hamlet becomes a registered entity it will become a legal entity and make it easier for people to establish self rule. All this just shows how true self rule requires a persistent effort to make the Gram Sabha more powerful instead of participating in the Panchayat elections and making efforts to get the present form of Panchayati Raj to work in favour of the people in the face of forces that can easily coopt the elected representatives to sabotage attempts at building up the strength of the Gram Sabha.
It is in this context that one has to see the futility of the move by some organisations in Madhya Pradesh to initiate a Swashasan Abhiyan or self rule campaign around participation in elections and the election of honest and accountable Sarpanches and Panches. A regional training workshop was held recently in Kukshi by the campaign with the KMCS as one of the hosts. Those members of the KMCS who were keen on fighting elections attended the training. For the record let it be known that there are many people in the KMCS who want to fight elections including some of its leading activists as they feel the KMCS, being a small entity, cannot really fight the dominant system. The training concentrated on teaching people how to file nominations for the various elected posts and then explained what were the powers of Panches and Sarpanches. Many members of the KMCS pointed out that this was like playing into the hands of the established centralised system and getting co-opted by it instead of truly fighting for swashasan or self rule which could only be possible if there was direct democracy as experience had shown that some of the best grassroots activists of the organisation had become corrupt after being elected. Thus, the charade of self rule gets perpetuated in many ways by the machinations of the dominant centralised system and difficult as it is a counter movement for direct democracy through the Gram Sabhas has to be built up.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Children to the Fore

There is a major debate in NGO and activist circles about the compulsions of external funding. Among other things one major issue is that of having to follow the dictates of the funding agency. Often NGOs and mass organisations have to take up issues that they would normally not have. This makes them lose their core focus and become Jacks of All Trades ending up with dissipated impact. The Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath and Dhas Gramin Vikas Kendra have largely succeeded in maintaining their core focus on Adivasi rights despite taking external funding. Indeed the power of the organisation has increased in recent times due to taking directions from one particular funder instead of getting dissipated!! Action Aid Association India funds the Dhas Gramin Vikas Kendra for rights based work in Alirajpur. Action Aid raises the funds from individuals by asking them to sponsor the all round growth of children. Thus, apart from general rights based work, Action Aid lays special stress on the rights of children.
Now this is one area in which the KMCS had not done much earlier other than run some schools. Due to the direction given by Action Aid from 2012 onwards KMCS has become very proactive on child rights. Things have been made easier by the fact that the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act was enacted in 2009 and the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act 2012 which substantially increase the legal rights of children. Applying the modus operandi that the KMCS has applied very successfully over the past decade or so with regard to other powerful people friendly statutes like the Forest Rights Act, the Rural Employment Guarantee Act,Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas Act  and the Control of Usury Act, the organisation began pressurising the administration to run the government schools properly. In the span of two years there has been huge impact with the running of the government schools having improved drastically basically through making the teachers attend schools and teach and provide mid day meals. Many new schools have been opened and school buildings have been sanctioned. Though given the poor infrastructure and staffing the quality of education is very poor but at least the schools are running and the children are getting many benefits. Since very crucially in India, children are as good as their mothers given the huge malnutrition and ill health that plagues the majority of the population, the organisation has also run a sustained campaign to improve the reproductive health component of the National Rural Health Mission. Health services in the area are in even more of a shambles than they are nationally and so immense pressure has been brought to bear on the administration to hold special camps in the remote areas. The auxiliary nurse medics who were not visiting the villages but submitting false reports have now been made to visit regularly.
To further increase the pressure on the administration and also to showcase what has already been achieved over the past two years, the KMCS took out a massive rally of thousands of people and especially women and children in Alirajpur on 20th November 2014. This is the International Children's Day declared by the United Nations and this year is the silver jubilee of the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child by the United Nations General Assembly in 1989. The rally was led by the women and children as shown in the picture below
 
 The children from the Rani Kajal Jeevan Shala, the residential school run by the organisation were the main sloganeers of the rally vociferously demanding child rights and child protection as shown below.
The rally traversed the streets of Alirajpur making the presence of the organisation felt in this town as it has done on many occasions before but this time specifically through children and women power. Then it went to the District Hospital to present the Health Department with a charter of demands regarding the proper implementation of the National Rural Health Mission as shown below.
It is to be noted that the sign board says that the district hospital is ISO 9001:2008 certified but it does not have any diagnostic facilities beyond the rudimentary ones. People have to go to private hospitals in nearby cities for advanced treatment. This is the blatant level of mendacity being practiced by the Government. After this the rally ended up at the District Collectorate to submit the general demands regarding the education of children and also other development issues as shown below.
 A public meeting was held in front of the collectorate in which the general secretary of the KMCS Shankar Tadwal and others set forth the charter of demands that were to be presented to the administration as shown below.
Finally the District Collector came down from his office and accepted the charter from behind the closed gates of the Collectorate surrounded by policemen and it looks as if he is imprisoned by the members of the KMCS!!
The collector saw the detailed demand charter which listed extensively all the many shortcomings of the administration in implementing various statutes and development schemes and exclaimed that the KMCS had done extensive research that even he with all his staff could not do!! Shankar told him that the difference was that the KMCS was powered by people's resolve whereas his staff were powered by the taxes extorted from the people and yet considered themselves to be lords of all they surveyed. In the end this attitude resulted in false claims like the one about the ISO certification for the hospital. Shankar of course did not reveal to the Collector that the painstaking documentation of administrative lapse had been done and submitted to him because the KMCS intends to launch a sustained campaign for implementation of all the lacunae documented by using the Right to Information and Public Service Guarantee Acts in the days to come!!!
All in all it was a very impressive show and for the first time in its three decades of mass action the KMCS took out a rally on children's issues with children at the forefront which was extensively covered in the newspapers.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Childhood in Jeopardy

There is much talk about India being on the verge of reaping a democratic dividend. In 2011, of the total population of 1.21 billion, 430 million people were in the age group of 15 to 34 years and another 360 million in the age group of 0 to 14 years. Thus, it is being argued that while the developed nations will be burdened with an ageing population in the future, India, will have a large young population who will be able to use their skills to take the country forward. However, the crucial factor in this argument is that the population has to be skilled and therein lies the catch. With public investment in education, health, and skill development being woefully inadequate, the government systems for these being ridden with corruption and inefficiency and a large section of the population living in poverty and unable to provide for these themselves in any meaningful way, there is a serious question mark as to whether this huge young population will be educated, skilled and healthy enough to be able to deliver the expected dividend.
Be that as it may, what is of added concern is the security of children. They are not only subjected to all kinds of violence in their homes, in the schools if they happen to be attending them and even more so as child labourers in various occupations with some being downright hazardous but also they are often abducted without any trace. The Bachpan Bachao Andolan, had filed a petition in the Supreme Court citing the data compiled by the National Crime Records Bureau over the past few years of which in 2013 itself as many as 28,167 children were abducted and only about 40 percent of these cases had been investigated by the police thus indicating that the latter were culpable of dereliction of duty and should be hauled up for this. The Supreme Court took cognisance of this and issued orders to all the errant States to file affidavits giving details of what was the situation with regard to registration and disposal of children's abduction cases in their States. As is to be expected, the State of Madhya Pradesh did not consider it worthwhile to heed the Supreme Court's notice with the urgency it should have and gave a slip shod answer!!
The Supreme Court was not amused and ordered the Chief Secretary of the State, The Director General of Police and others to appear before it and file an affidavit giving the details as to what they had done to remedy matters. This finally woke these worthies out of their slumber and they presented themselves before the Supreme Court with the following details -
1. 34,753 children were abducted in the State over the period from 2011 to October 2014.
2. 30,247 of these including 18,354 girls had been recovered so far from among these and a special drive has now been launched to recover the remaining.
This raises a few pertinent questions. First, why is it that the police which is supposed to take prompt action to recover abducted children unwilling to do so. The reason is that it is woefully under staffed and already under pressure to contain other kinds of crime, maintain law and order and do security duty for VIPs. Thus, the safety of children comes pretty low down in its list of priorities.
Second, why did the Madhya Pradesh Government take the notice from the Supreme Court so lightly in the first instance. This is because there are many such notices from the higher courts that are served on the State Government for the violation of the rights of people and the former routinely gets away by dilly dallying and the cases get prolonged without coming to a conclusion. In the present case too, the petition by the Bachpan Bachao Andolan had been pending in the Supreme Court for quite some time and there had been many hearings earlier. However, the situation changed drastically when the Convenor of the Bachpan Bachao Andolan, Kailash Satyarthi, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize this year for his three decade long struggle for child rights and especially against child labour and abduction. The issue of child rights gained some traction as a result and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, whose bench was hearing the petition, must have read about and been impressed by all the work being done by the Bachpan Bachao Andolan and decided to come down hard on the recalcitrant police and administration.
The third and most important question is what lesson does this have for people fighting for the rights of underprivileged people in general and not just defenceless children. Since the State is not interested in spending money in providing free or cheap social services to the poor it will also not be interested in protecting their rights. Theoretically the courts should be a forum where the poor can go to secure their rights but they do not have the money to do so and even when an NGO or a mass movement approaches the court on their behalf, given the over load of cases in the courts, once again because in most cases it is the Government which is the biggest and most frivolous litigant, it is difficult to get any judgement in the favour of the poor. As the experience of the Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath suggests, the use of mass action and legal action eventually just about enables an organisation to retain a minimal presence in the fight for rights without bringing about any substantial change in the situation.
Finally, the piquant conrtribution of the Nobel Committee in the saga of ensuring child rights in India has to be considered also!! Kailash Satyarthi was nominated for the Nobel Prize, by the European Union which happens to be a major supporter along with European NGOs of the Bachpan Bachao Andolan. Despite sustained work over the last three decades, Satyarthi does not have many admirers in India in the NGO sector or in the Government and so he wasn't nominated by an Indian!! The European Union did not rest after nominating him but lobbied hard with the Nobel Committee which was also under pressure from the American lobby to award the prize to Malala Yusufzai. In the end this hard lobbying resulted in both Malala and Satyarthi being jointly awarded the prize. A huge achievement by any standards, achieved mainly due to lobbying by neo-imperialist powers but met with lukewarm reception in both their post colonial countries!! Anyway the first concrete result of the Nobel Prize being awarded to Satyarthi as far as Madhya Pradesh, which is his home State, is concerned, is that the Government here has now been forced to act to retrieve all the children who have been abducted in the past few years and let us hope the glare of the Supreme Court will continue to be focused on this matter for some more time. Otherwise childhood in Madhya Pradesh at least is in serious jeopardy!!

Friday, November 14, 2014

A Bard is No More

Mahipal Bhuria passed away on 12th November, at the age of 65, bringing to an end a life dedicated to the documentation, preservation and propagation of the Bhili oral folklore. He also wrote original stories, plays and songs in the Bhili language. He was a catholic priest but gave all his free time to promoting the Bhili language. At a time when no one else in Madhya Pradesh was giving any importance to the Bhili language including the elected Bhil tribal lawmakers, Mahipal single handedly embarked on a mission to document the folklore of the Bhils and analyse their anthropological and cultural roots from the early 1970s onwards when he was in his twenties. He initially started by transcribing the Bhili songs and folklore and then translating them in the Hindi language. Later he wrote in the English language, the more important of his voluminous works being "Religious Songs of the Bhils" and "The Nature of Bhili Folk Songs".
He became an acknowledged expert on Bhili culture and was closely associated with the broadcast of Bhili songs, stories and plays on Akashvani Radio Service from Indore. Later he developed primers in the Bhili language for the education of children in their mother tongue in Jhabua district from where he hailed, being born in the village of Bhagor. A  photo of his is shown below.
He was an affable person and went out of his way to make friendships with people, especially those who were of a similar bent of mind. That is how we came to know him as he sought us out once he read of the struggles of the Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath in the 1980s. He was especially thrilled that the KMCS used the format and tunes of the traditional songs of the Bhils and wrote new lyrics for them based on the struggles of the Bhils that were going on, to provide a new cultural front to the mass movement. What was begun by Mahipal as a solo mission, got a mass following from the 1980s onwards, as many other Bhil mass organisations also adapted the tradional Bhili folklore to produce new songs, plays and stories. Today, this trend has spread to the commercial sphere also with many popular Bhili bands having sprung up and there is a vigorous production of Bhili music and plays which has been boosted by the spread of mobiles. Thus, even though we do not have Mahipal among us any more, his legacy remains vibrantly alive and his pioneering work will always be remembered. These are our last respects to a great son of the Bhil tribe. 

Saturday, November 8, 2014

The Electrical Energy Conundrum

The other day I was involved in a debate regarding the indispensability of artificial energy use for development. After all intensified fossil fuel based energy use is what has spurred development since the industrial revolution in the eighteenth century and today we cannot even think of life without such energy. Especially crucial is the use of electrical energy which runs motors big, small and minute that power all aspects of our modern day lives. Therefore, I will briefly discuss the current global use of electrical energy and where India and more specifically the Bhil Adivasis of Alirajpur are situated. The biggest user of electrical energy worldwide in 2011 among big countries as opposed to small city states was Canada with an annual per capita consumption in KWh (1 KWh = one unit of electricity and consumption here is net of losses in generation, transmission and distribution, covering industrial, service, agricultural sectors and also domestic household use) of 16473 according to the World Bank. Among small countries which are almost wholly urbanised Norway heads the list with 23,134 units followed by Kuwait at 16,122 units. In Asia among the big countries, South Korea is at the top with 10162 units and Singapore among the small city states has 8404 units. Among the top economies worldwide the USA has a consumption of 13246 units, Germany has 7081 units and Japan has 7848 units. China has a consumption of 3298 units and India 684 which is the highest in South Asia. The lowest consumption is that of Eritrea in Africa at 49 units of electricity possibly because it is a war torn country.
Sticking to India and assuming an average household size of five persons and the share of domestic power consumption in total consumption to be 22 % ( Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation estimates), the average household consumption per day works out to about 2 units of electricity. The consumption of electricity for agriculture per household, assuming 65% population as involved in agriculture for a living and the share of agricultural power consumption to be 18% of the total, we get per household consumption for agriculture in rural areas to be another 2 units of electricity per day.Thus, a rural household on an average consumes about 4 units of electricity per day. This is obviously grossly inadequate if we compare it with electrical energy use in Japan for instance or even China. However, this statistic masks the fact that in reality most rural households in India do not have effective access to grid electricity either for domestic use or for agricultural use and their consumption is way below even this very low national average with about 40% of households still having no access to grid electricity. This is the case with the villages deep inside the Mathwar Reserved Forest area in Alirajpur, which form the core area of the Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath, where grid electricity consumption is zero and there is some minimal consumption from solar panels.
While countries like the USA and Japan have to seriously consider cutting down on their electricity usage given the high environmental cost of such usage, India has to improve its electricity consumption if it is to provide a better quality of life to most of its people but to even double the current consumption through fossil fuel based centralised generation would mean an immense environmental cost. Also given the asymmetries in distribution, the increased electricity generated would be unequally distributed leaving the vast majority still short of minimum standards. Thus, India is faced with a difficult conundrum with regard to electrical energy consumption - it has to increase electricity consumption but without adversely affecting the environment.
It is in this context that decentralised renewable electrical energy assumes importance. Currently renewable electrical energy generation through wind and solar systems feeding into the grid is about 10% of the total electricity generation but decentralised renewable electricity generation is negligible. All the thrust in renewable energy is for centralised generation to feed into the grid which is not really going to serve the needs of the vast rural population that is starved of electricity. Therefore, there has to be a policy shift for decentralised off grid or distributed generation catering to small village communities. This can be a mixture of biomass gasification based generation and solar photovoltaic panels. The former for the heavier needs of agricultural production and processing and the latter for household needs. It requires roughly 6kg of biomass to produce 1 unit of electricity and a rural household requires about 4 units of electricity for its agricultural operations and this means a biomass requirement of 25kgs per day which is not very difficult to ensure with forest conservation and reutilisation of agricultural biomass. Solar panels have become more efficient with time but the problem of storage still remains expensive. However, for providing 1 unit of electricity for domestic use not much investment is required. The technologies for distributed electricity generation are there but unfortunately the will to implement them on a large scale in rural areas isn't and so there seems to be no prospect of light at the end of the tunnel for the Adivasis in Alirajpur!!!

Friday, October 24, 2014

Relevance of a Celestial Battle

Today, in north and central India, is the day of Govardhan Pooja to celebrate the victory of Lord Krishna over Lord Indra. The legend goes that Krishna advised human beings to worship Govardhan, one of his manifestations, rather than Indra the Lord of Rain. This angered Indra and he either stopped the rains in some places or rained down heavily in others to completely destroy the crops of the people. Krishna then lifted the Govardhana hill filled with food and brought it to the people to save them from starvation and thus foiled Indra.
How do we interpret this legend? While Indra was only the God of Rain, Krishna was the overall God of Nature. Thus, the early Indians who were worshippers of nature, through this legend seem to indicate that they felt that a holistic view of nature would be more appropriate than a partial one. So the wisdom of the ancient people who initiated this legend and the resultant worship is very relevant today when we have not only fragmented nature considerably more through industrialisation but also devastated it with scant regard for the renewability and resilience of various ecosystems which are the basis of life on this earth.
I grew up in an urban setting in Kolkata and so knew only of Kali Puja and Diwali and had no inkling whatsoever about Govardhan Pooja that is held the next day. I first came to know of this when I came to Alirajpur. In fact the Bhils here celebrate Diwali in a different fashion altogether. For them this festival is a thanksgiving to nature for its bounty in giving them a good harvest. So they do not celebrate it according to the Hindu Diwali calendar. Each village has its own Diwali celebration in December or January after all the harvest has been winnowed and stored away in their houses. The picture below shows women using a saree as an artificial wind creator in the absence of natural wind to winnow red gram.

On the first day there is singing, dancing and feasting and on the second day the bullocks are worshipped and fed the grain that they have helped in harvesting. The food has to be prepared for feasting and for this festival small millets like Bhadi and Batti have to be pounded in pestles and then boiled. The picture below shows women pounding the millets -

The ritual of worshipping the bullocks and feeding them is an elaborate one and here is a picture of a bullock being fed grain after the worship -
Finally all the cattle and goats are let out from the house amidst loud cries and bursting of crackers. This celebration of Diwali by the Bhils or the Govardhan Pooja by non-tribal farmers is so full of meaning and practical considerations of the human bond with nature as compared to the empty festival of lights and crackers that we urbanites celebrate. After all given the huge darkness of money making perfidy that undergirds our lives and livelihoods, a symbolic celebration of light can only be full of hypocrisy!! The message of the Govardhan Pooja or the Bhil Diwali, the real Diwali which is yet to come this year, is clear - we have to become one with nature and pay our respects to its wholeness instead of fragmenting and destroying it as we are doing now, if we are to survive in the future. The celestial battle between Krishna and Indra for an appropriate and holistic relationship with nature has gained in relevance today faced as we are with a huge ecological crisis brought on by the greed for money.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Unto This Last

A man that is a householder, went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard. And when he had agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And he went out about the third hour, and saw others standing idle in the marketplace, And said unto them; Go ye also into the vineyard, and whatsoever is right I will give you. And they went their way. Again he went out about the sixth and ninth hour, and did likewise. And about the eleventh hour he went out, and found others standing idle, and said unto them, Why stand ye here all the day idle? They said unto him, Because no man has hired us. He said unto them, Go ye also into the vineyard; and whatsoever is right, that shall ye receive. So when even was come, the lord of the vineyard said unto his steward, Call the labourers, and give them their hire, beginning from the last unto the first. And when they came that were hired about the eleventh hour, they received every man a penny. But when the first came, they supposed that they should have received more; and they likewise received every man a penny. And when they had received it, they murmured against the good man of the house, saying, These last have wrought but one hour, and thou hast made them equal unto us, which have borne the burden and heat of the day. But he answered one of them, and said, Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst not thou agree with me for a penny? Take that thine is, and go thy way: I will give unto this last, even as unto thee. Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good? So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen.
— adapted from  Matthew 20:1–16, New Testament, King James Version
The crucial argument in this parable is that the last of the workers was prepared to work the whole day and it was not his fault that he got an opportunity only at the end and so he too deserved the same wage because he too has a family to feed. Thus, the reward for labour is delinked from the quantity and quality of labour itself and tied to the basic needs of the labourer. This is also the argument in the socialist dictum - "From each according to his ability and to each according to his need", first popularised by Louis Blanc and later taken up by Karl Marx, which too has its roots in another biblical parable - "And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common. And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all. Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, And laid them down at the apostles' feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need" - Acts of the Apostles, 4:32–35: 32
 This parable in fact strikes at the roots of economic inequality - the ownership of private property.
 Then there is the famous verse from the Gita (Chapter 2 verse 47) which says "to work you have the right not to its fruits, don't be the medium for enjoying the fruits of work and neither be lured into not working" which delinks working from the fruits of that work and stresses that humans to exist must work but that the results of that work are not to be sought after. 
Thus, the problem of economic inequality, its roots and the means to be adopted for its solution have been the subject of human discussion from ancient times and it is indeed something of an irony that it should still be so today!!! 
The American philosopher, John Rawls, too proposed something of the same sort when he suggested that the priority social objective of any State should be to maximise the welfare of the worst off person in society and this is what informs most welfare measures of modern states where redistribution of incomes is sought to be done through taxing the rich and subsidising the poor.
John Ruskin, the British philosopher, who quoted the parable from Matthew metioned earlier, in his book "Unto This Last", was a critic of Victorian materialism and industrialism and relied on an evangelical interpretation of Christianity to press for a more humane social system, which would use the surpluses gained from modern development to pull up the people at the bottom of society and create a level playing field for them. As opposed to the classical economists like Ricardo and Malthus, he refused to accept that resources were scarce and instead worked from the proposition that they were abundant but were being disproportionately and inappropriately used and advocated that if need be some of the new industrial and urban development should be jettisoned because it clashed with nature and human weal. Marx had the same views as Ruskin, with regard to the devastation of nature by industrialisation but unlike the latter the former was an out an out votary of modern industrial development as a means of freeing humanity from scarcity and so he down played this aspect expressing the hope that once communism was established, and the rule of capital and its dehumanising alienation of labour abolished, the relationship between man and nature would stabilise. With regard to the exploitation of humans under industrialism Marx felt that the abolition of private property would suffice to remedy this. However, Ruskin and other anarchists have felt that centralised industrial systems cannot ensure equality and justice even if the ownership of property remains in State hands and this has been corroborated by later developments in socialist countries after revolutions. As succinctly put in this quote that is apocryphally attributed to Kafka - 
"Every revolution evaporates and leaves behind only the slime of a new bureaucracy".
Gandhi, initially, was inspired by Ruskin to start his Sarvodaya Programme in South Africa, the principles of which were later elaborated in his book "Hind Swaraj" in which he also harked back to the Vedas and the Gita for more support for his anti-industrial and anarchist socio-economic programme. Gandhi in fact went one step further and said that those who do manual labour should be recompensed more than those who do intellectual labour as he felt that the former was more important socially than the latter.
However, the history of human development shows that private property and greed, which have been so inveighed against by both spiritual and material philosophers, has ruled society and as a result inequality has gone on increasing and is today protected by huge economic and military power against which both non-violent and violent protests have proved unsuccessful. Thus, removing inequality is a difficult proposition currently, especially as the capitalist control of the human mind through the media and academia have made inequality an accepted phenomenon for most people and they have become resigned to living with it. 
So those of us who would like to carry on the glorious ancient tradition that I have quoted extensively from above and reject INEQUALITY, will have to buckle down and fight as best we can against a very powerful and greedy system that thrives on it and has succeeded in conning the rest of the world into believing that concentration of wealth and economic growth are the only way in which we can develop as a race!!  

Friday, October 10, 2014

Inequality of Transportation

Today a huge number of Indians are on the move. Primarily because a considerable number of people are migrating for labour. A conservative estimate based on various government data is that every year 100 million people or about 25% of the workforce are migrating seasonally for labour. Probably it is even more than that. In Alirajpur the proportion is as high as 85% of the workforce. Migration has become a permanent phenomenon of the present form of economic development where agriculture has been severely under funded and industrial development has been predicated on cheap casual labour. To avoid the problems arising from unionisation of local labour employers prefer to employ casual labour brought from other areas by labour contractors. A vast majority of these migrants are poor labourers. Only a miniscule proportion of travellers are high flying executives who are frequent travellers on aeroplanes. Most people travel by train and the Indian Railways issues some 8 billion passenger tickets every year for short to long distance journeys including repeat ones for daily commuters and also less frequent ones for long distance travellers. Understandably, given this huge rush of people travelling all the time the Indian Railways cannot meet the demand. Things have been compounded by the fact that for long distance trains there are many AC and Sleeper Class Compartments which allow travel in relative comfort but on which seats have to be booked well in advance. There are only one or two general compartments in which people can travel without reservation at short notice. Therefore, these compartments are jam packed with some people having to stand and cover long distances of over hundreds of kilometres. Thus, while the well heeled and those with the luxury to pre plan their travel well in advance can travel in comfort, the vast majority have to really struggle to reach their destination. All this of course has happened because the Railways are being pressurised to cut costs and show profits so the general compartments which are loss making have been reduced.
There was a time when conducting mass rallies in far away places used to be a song as all we had to do was climb on to a train en masse and travel free in the four or five general compartments that used to be there. On one occasion we even invaded the reserved compartments. However, this has now become impossible. Not only are there just one or two general compartments which are already jam packed with people but also there are strict security arrangements and so it is practically impossible to invade the reserved compartments. Thus, the pressure on Railways to make profits has also put the brakes on mass mobilisation over long distances to attend rallies in places of power. While the mainstream political parties hire trains to ferry people to their rallies, the mass organisations obviously cannot do so given their shoe string operations and so such rallies have become a thing of the past mostly.
So due to the rush in trains now people have to rely on buses and various other kinds of road transport also which are not only much more expensive but also more accident prone. These modes of road transport too are over crowded as the picture below of a jeep over laden with passengers in Alirajpur shows.
Not surprisingly India has a high road accident fatality rate of 19.9 per 100,000 inhabitants per year which is more than the global average of 18 and 211.8 per 100,000 motor vehicles per year which is significantly more than the global average of 93.3.
Personally, in times of old when we were young and bold when Subhadra and I have slogged it out in unreserved packed compartments but this has become difficult these days and we rarely attempt it anymore. Last year on one occasion I had to do it but for a short distance of about 200 kilometres that involved only about 4 hours of standing travel. Recently Subhadra had to rush to Raipur to visit a relative who had been paralysed by a cerebral stroke. It was the peak Puja holiday season and somehow I managed reserved train tickets for her online but eventually one leg of about two hundred and fifty kilometres from Nagpur to Raipur did not get confirmed. So she had to rush out of the station to the ticket counter and get a general ticket to board the connecting train. As she came on to the platform the train started moving. She began running for the general compartment which was at the back but it was jam packed with men sitting at the entrance who refused to let her in. Luckily there was one Ladies only general compartment after that and she somehow managed to get onto that. No sooner had she got in and sat down next to the toilet because the rest of the compartment was packed with women another woman took out her wares of lac bangles and asked Subhadra to buy them!! Subhadra saw that she had two small children with her so she asked her where her husband was. The bangle seller said that he had not been allowed in to this compartment by the police and so he was in another compartment!!. Subhadra told her that she did not wear these kinds of bangles and instead offered to look after her children so that the bangle seller could go and sell the bangles in the compartment. The bangle seller eventually succeeded in selling Rupees five hundred worth of bangles!! The general compartments are packed with such marginal people trying to make livelihoods out of nothing and desperately travelling from one place to another.
To cut a long story short the inequality that is rampant in society manifests itself in transportation also with most people having to bear tremendous difficulties to travel while a miniscule few travel in luxury.