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.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Getting rid of Shylock

The NGO Sampark has also made a seminal contribution in yet another area. This is in tackling the problem of usury through self help groups. The Bhils traditionally had an informal credit support system called "uchhna" wherein anybody could get a loan from someone else in the community to be paid back without interest later. However, with the monetisation of the economy and the penetration of the money-lender trader "sahukars" who also doubled as tax collectors for the British this system slowly fell into decay and the Bhils fell into debt. Sampark introduced the concept of self help groups to the Bhils in Petlawad and inculcated the small saving habit among them. With time these SHGs were linked with Banks which provided them larger loans at interest rates much lower than that charged by the sahukars. The SHGs brought the people together again. Traditionally they had been together as their whole life depended on it but later they had been separated by the machinations of the sahukars and the state. However, when they scraped the bottom of the barrel and had only a bleak future as migrant labourers to look forward to they found the SHGs a good way out of the dead end. This augmentation of social cohesion is a by product of SHG formation but when attention is paid to this process then it can become a potent tool for organising people to demand much more than just temporary economic benefits. SHGs in tandem with Panchayati Raj Institutions can empower the rural poor no end and this is the direction in which future mass organisation work should proceed. Sustainable livelihoods can be possible only on the bedrock of social cohesion. Thus there is a need to look at the social and political potential of SHGs instead of dismissing them as cooptive sops introduced by the capitalist class for further depoliticisation of the masses.

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