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.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

The meek shall inherit the earth

When I had first set foot among the Bhils twenty-two years ago I was full of enthusiasm and had a strong belief that I would be able to contribute significantly to changing the abysmal circumstances in which they were eking out their lives. Over the years obviously I have lost much of that enthusiasm and the belief too has become weaker. One of the reasons for this is that the Bhils themselves are not always very keen to accept the advice that I give them regarding improving their situation. Not only in the more difficult sphere of politically challenging the state but also in the more benign one of adopting better agricultural practices.
Over the past two months or so I have been trying to convince many adivasi peasants to switch to sowing the Amrita variety of wheat which requires less amount of water. Though its yield is less than the other varieties like Lok One and WH 47, nevertheless overall for marginal farmers working with small working capital the economics of this wheat is much better because the cost of watering is so high that the lower yield is more than offset by the savings in this cost apart from the savings in terms of environmental sustainability. But I have had little success. So much so that Khemla who being an activist should know better too was not too keen on switching to this variety and I finally had to entice him by bearing some of the cost of the seed.
Imagine my surprise and glee therefore when Mojiram from Katkut village, where we had stayed for two years before coming to Indore, came to our office the other day with a thousand rupees in cash and asked me to procure the Amrita wheat seeds for him. After getting him the wheat I asked him why he had decided to try it when no one else was doing so and what he said in reply brought tears to my eyes.
His father Badri had died two years ago of Tuberculosis. About eight years ago while residing in Katkut I had advised his father to take the government supply of anti-tuberculosis drug. But due to some perverse reason he had not followed my advice and had instead persisted with medication from private quacks and occasional spiritual healing by "burwas" or adivasi medicine men. On a number of occasions I had told Badri that this would not serve the purpose and he should get himself treated with the government drugs but to no avail. Eventually he died spitting blood in his bed.
Mojiram said that when in the meeting I had taken in Katkut to promote the new wheat I had spoken about the way in which agriculture had become like a TB patient and was bound to die unless it was given proper treatment he recalled that I had time and again warned his father to take proper treatment for his TB but he hadn't and had to pay for it with his life. He had immediately decided not to repeat his father's mistake of disregarding my advice he said. The problem was getting the money to buy the seed. He had sold the only goat he had and come to get the seed.
Mojiram has never been very active in the sangathan yet some of the talking that I have done over the years must have sunk in enough to make him feel that I was talking sense and he had decided to put his money on that talk. Who knows it might well be that the ailing adivasi agriculture may one day recover again as more and more people follow poor and simple Mojiram's example. After all the meek shall one day inherit the earth as the biblical saying goes.


girish said...

This is a moving account, Rahul.

I ask out of complete ignorance: does the Government treat the Bhils as a special group and provide any financial assistance in procuring seeds or any kind of agricultural support (e.g. know-how)?

Rahul Banerjee said...

there are two aspects to this question. though there was a time when subsidies were given to the adivasis they have now dried up over the past few years due to the liberalisation policies which have led to the reduction of subsidies to agriculture. but even when these subsidies used ot be given they rarely reached the adivasis because of corruption.
the second aspect is about the knowhow. the knowhow in agriculture developed in the usa and popularised all over the world is that of external input based hybrid seed agriculture. in this water, chemical fertilisers and hybrid seeds are applied in large quantities to get high yields. While this did give high yields in the earlier phase over the years the yields have gone down and the costs have gone up because the natural capacity of the soil has gone down and the water resources have become scarce.
so what is necessary now is to provide subsidies to the adivasis to practice sustainable agriculture with lesser but resources.

Rahul Banerjee said...

i have discussed the crisis of modern agriculture in detail in the chapter 28, "the treasure of terra madre" in my book and it can be read here -