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 25, 2008

Where has all the Sorghum Gone

The most revered Goddess of the Bhils is Kansari. She is the Goddess who symbolises the cereal jowar or sorghum. A Bhil family traditionally every few years or so had to celebrate the Indal festival in which it had to give a feast to the whole community and thank Kansari for her bounty. There is a beautiful epic song that is sung over two nights and a day during this festival that details the creation of the universe and the power and munificience of Kansari. This song venerates nature as nothing else I have heard. The Indal was an important festival in that it led to the elimination of the surpluses that a family may have accumulated from its agriculture and so maintained equality within the community and also discouraged the development of trade and the consequent extraction of resources from nature. The Indal in a sense is Bhil life and philosophy in a nutshell.
Tragically the Indal celebration has now become so rare that a family can manage to celebrate it only once in a generation and it goes into debt doing so. The reason is that the agriculture of the Bhils has become degraded as have their forests due to the depredations of modern development. The sowing of sorghum is continually going down to be replaced by soyabean as I had mentioned earlier and so the Bhils are losing their Goddess. The younger generation just dances at the Indal without knowing the tremendous significance of this festival from an environmental perspective. The gayans or traditional singers who know this epic song by heart are also slowly dying off one by one. In the picture below one such widely revered gayan is seen offering the prayer just before beginning a session of singing. This old man is no more and his sons say they do not know as much as he used to.

My friend John Abraham works with some Bhil adivasis in Ahmednagar in Maharashtra. They are definitely the southernmost group of Bhils. They have been fighting for legalising the possession of some government land that they have been cultivating for a long time but from which the government continually tries to evict them. Its a losing battle as the laws, the local non-adivasis and the administration are ranged against the Bhils and they along with John and his wife Reena have been accused of attempting to kill policemen. This when it was the police who killed three of their people including a very brave woman. Last year some of them managed to till some of the land and take crops of sorghum and bajra or pearl millet another vanishing coarse cereal that is extremely nourishing and tasty to eat. Here is a picture of one of them, an old man, swinging his sling to shoo away birds from his gorgeous crop of bajra.

These old men are the products of an earthy culture that was steeped in respect for nature and for humanity. They have become anachronisms in the present world which recognises only money.

No comments: