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.

Monday, February 4, 2008

How Green Was My Valley

After climbing up the last hill this is the view that one gets of Khodamba village. Its serenity immediately washes away all the tiredness of the two hour long up and down walk from Vakner village. That is currently the last motorable point from which to access this village which is buried deep in the hills bordering the Narmada river in Alirajpur district. Even today this niche of a valley remains unsullied by diesel fumes. The Bhil residents of this village still sow their lands with sorghum, maize, millets and pulses and use traditional water harvesting methods like this old man Madania has done for years together.

While he has been circumspect with regard to changing his lifestyle he hasn't been so with restricting his family and so now the subsequent generations constitute a pretty big and modern brood. The limited lands in the valley are not able to provide these younger ones with a full livelihood and so they have to migrate seasonally to labour in the booming construction industry in Gujarat. So they have discarded the dress of their forefathers and now become suited and booted.

Once upon a time in the late 1980s and early 1990s Khodamba was a place of dreams. I used to romantically think of it as the base of a liberated zone of anti-modernity that we would be able to establish against the prevailing mainstream rush of development. As a part of this dream we began an innovative education programme in Khudamba in which the children would be taught in their own language Bhili and they would themselves develop their own course material. Many youths from the cities would come to Khudamba to assist with teaching the children and building up the school. For them also it was a dream at that time. None of those impromptu visitors have been able to forget the few months or weeks that they spent there even though they later went on to lead their own lives. The photos here have been clicked by Narendra Patil who is the quintessential anarchist on his revisit to this village 16 years after he left it. Looking at these photos I couldn't help heaving a sigh at what could have been. The world has moved on and our dreams have died but the memories remain as fresh and as heartening as ever.

The people of Khodamba have changed too. They obviously want the road to come to their village also so that they can more easily take their produce to the market and vice versa. But in some respects they still retain some of the idealism of the early years of our activism among them. They have saved their forests from being decimated by the Forest Department. Moreover they are now threatened with eviction because of a proposed wild life sanctuary and so are once again reverting to the earlier confrontationist mode. However, things will never be as green as it used to be in this valley when I first went there.


Narendra Patil said...

Eighteen years ago during that two hours walk between Vankner and Khodamba I would be most of the time walking under the tree canopy. On this revisit I may have done that for less than 10 min. World moves on, even in those once upon a time pristine isolations. Dreams tend to die and memories wilt.
The complex of huts that we see in the picture houses a diesel powered 'chakki' and the brood is large. Once upon a time it was a single shelter, I would sleep around the fire with a family that was small. In the wee hours of the morning I would hear the gentle grind of a chakki and the lady of the house would be working on it with sweat beading her brows.

Rahul Banerjee said...

i suppose if some diesel fumes relieve the backbreaking labour of women then they should be welcome. i too have woken up many a time to the sound of the grinding wheel but have never found that sound to be gentle. i always felt that it was a wail. if men too took their turn at the grinding wheel then i would not have minded. i tried grinding flour on a few occasions and it wasn't a very easy thing to do.

Narendra Patil said...

How men relate to women and the urban elite with the tribal, west with east and north with south will essentially be delimited by the finitude of resources on earth.
May they workout the best situation for each other before they collectively topple over the ecological brink.
Rahul I know of the frugalities you practice and also know that you are happy in those choices. I do not demand hardship from people at Khodamba, nor wish for a wildlife sanctuary there.
But it is a shame on humankind that they cannot protect whatever small (and isolated) islands of space there is for wildlife.

Rahul Banerjee said...

wildlife is not a priority for those people. they have eaten all the deer that used to be there in the same way as they have eaten up most of the forests by converting them to agriculture and left only some stands near their houses. its a prisoner's dilemma situation where a person who does want to save the environment ends up losing both the environment and economic development as opposed to someone who goes all out for monetary gain and not only enjoys a lavish lifestyle at home but can also demand that the few remaining forests be cleared of adivasis so that wildlife can be saved and they can go and enjoy that too. those poor people in khudamba are doing a lot less to push us past the brink than the top 5% of humanity who are continually pursuing heavily environmentally destructive lifestyles. just cut back on the airplanes and airconditioners and direct that money to khudamba for sustainable development and we can bring all those forests and deer back without displacing them.

Narendra Patil said...

Our country roughly has 12% forest cover and 4% is protected (in the form of Wildlife sanctuaries and national parks). It has become difficult to preserve this 4%.
For the 'prurient apes' these protected forests are either destinations for enjoyment or are
resource for sustenance/development. Is it worthwhile to debate whether 5% with excessive consumption are more or less destructive than the 95% with meager requirements, what one
group does with overconsumption the other does by sheer number. There is just too many of this one dominant species and even where there are isolated cultures that grant 'intrinsic value' to other sentient life forms, it is a matter of time before they too succumb to the needs of their growing population.

Rahul Banerjee said...

i agree that human beings in general are destructive of the environment but the top 5% by universalising the culture of consumerism to satisfy their greed has led the way in this destruction. even in absolute terms the top 5% consumes and destroys more than the other 95%. the population growth rate has already begun slowing down but the consumption growth rate is continually on the rise and this is to do with the logic of capitalism which requires more and more to be produced regardless of the resources that might or might not be available.